Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The 500 Hats of The Average Mom

A few months ago a woman from Pennsylvania named Robin spoke to our church women's group.  She had come with her husband who was a guest preacher for a series of services.  We are always happy when the wives accompany these eastern preachers and we are especially happy when they consent to speak.

Robin and her husband were former missionaries in addition to being parents of a number of children and also pastoring their church and I think running a business.  I got the sense that Robin was a calmer soul than me despite her busy life, so I listened closely when she talked about how to make it all work.

One thing she said especially intrigued me.  She suggested that women take a few hours or a day several times a year and evaluate all their current roles and then pray about what they should be doing in each role and set goals accordingly.

That sounded very wise and deliberate, as opposed to flying by the seat of one's pants like I usually do.

I decided to do this exercise after the rush of school, weddings, and travel was over.  But while the rush was still on, I started a list of all of my roles, so I'd have that done when I finally had a few hours to evaluate and pray about this.

The list grew.
And grew.
Longer and longer.  More and more.  Like Bartholomew Cubbins' hats, one popping up after another.

It was terrifying.
Did I really have this many people depending on me?

You know those Mother's Day cards that gush about how Mom wears so many hats and if you paid her for each sub-career she has, she'd be earning a 7-figure income?  Nurse, counselor, dietitian, cook, seamstress, teacher etc etc.  I've always thought they were a bit contrived.

So I tried to stick with actual different divisions and jurisdictions and people in my life.

Of course first of all there's [1. Child of God] which takes top priority, and then. . .

Actually, let me tell you about my day yesterday and eventually this will actually be relevant to you.

So Paul was still sick with this mysterious fever when we got up yesterday. [2. wife of Paul] but let me digress to say that since he has so many different roles, they translate into different roles for me.  [2a. Minister's wife] [2b. Principal's wife] [2c. Seed cleaner's wife]

I didn't count "nurse" as a separate role but maybe it should be because we had at least 3 sick folks in the house and I am always the go-to medical person here.

I made coffee [3. hostess]  for my brother Fred [4. sister] who had hauled my dad [5. daughter] to Oregon on his semi truck, no small feat for either of them.   Dad is to stay with us until his new apartment in my brother Marcus's basement is finished.

I took Dad's temperature as well and was happy to see it had dropped a bit, since a sick 97-year-old is a scary thing.  He ate a good breakfast [Cook isn't a separate role either, I don't think, but it feels like one.]

I typed up a list of work for Jenny [6. mom] who was in a big hurry because her cousin Allison [7. aunt] was coming over for the day.

I also dug out the hedge trimmer and weed-eater [8. groundskeeper] for a young friend who needs work for two weeks and loves to work outside so I hired her [9. employer] to clip things into shape around here.

Not long after that, we all watched as the neighbor's [10. Neighbor] windrower rounded the corner of the ryegrass field by the house on the first cut of the field.  Then he didn't cut any more because the field must not have been quite ready.

Later I heard a cat meowing by the steps and ignored it because I was sure it was Jerome, the dumb stray that comes around.

Then Jenny told me that Claudio, our huge beautiful black cat, [11. pet owner] was hurt.  He was lying out in the shade by the grapevine.  I was horrified to find his front left paw all mangled.  On closer inspection things got much worse.

Apparently the poor thing had been hunting in the field like he does, and went through the windrower, Paul said. There was no option but to have him mercifully put down.

I don't think I can count "funeral director" as a sub-role of "Mom," but what farm mom hasn't prayed and given tribute and comforted beside the graves of cats and goldfish and crickets and dogs and bummer lambs and maybe a chicken or two?

Or maybe we just take this more seriously than some.  I'm still queasy over Claudio's injuries.

The day went galloping on with more cooking, cleaning, laundry, [12. Housekeeper] taking of temperatures, answering of questions and phones, and taking of guests up to Washburne Heights, to look out over the valley like Moses on Mt. Pisgah's lofty height, where we tried to view our home but did not have binoculars, and did not take our flight either, not having a glider on hand like Steven wished we did.

Of course I had to give some thought to upcoming deadlines [13. Writer] [14. Speaker] and also make some publishing decisions [15. Agent/Publisher/Businesswoman which is definitely a different role than writer].

The day ended with sitting around the living room listening to Fred's stories, like the time he and two friends took a shortcut and drove down a runway in a Jeep with the lights off, but the friend didn't know that since the last time he'd done this, the runway had been extended and now it stopped abruptly with a 20-foot dropoff at the end.  They hit so hard the Jeep's wheels were splayed out, and then they cleared a fence, and bounced down a slope, and finally came to rest in a creek.  They all walked away from the accident, miraculously, and lived to tell about it, and the one guy's RN mom tied a series of knots in Fred's hair above the gash on his scalp, and the guy's dad came the next night and quietly hauled the Jeep away, and any scattered pieces of it he could find.

Oh wait, I was talking about roles.

There still remains [16. Friend] [17. Counselor, an informal role but its own job for sure] [18, 19, 20. Daughter,- Sister,- and Aunt-in-law]. And [21. Teacher].
And a few I can't recall off hand.

And the ones still to come: Mother-in-law.  Grandma.

Of course we could argue until the coffee was all gone about how I divided these categories, but here are some thoughts on this exercise.  And a few insights I'd like you to share.

Since I am not the only woman with this many roles, by far, and some of you have many more, and they are much more difficult.

As I said, a few thoughts:

1. Maybe it's not so wise for some of us to take Robin's advice and make a list.  Because
2. It's terrifying to see how many balls you're juggling at once.
3. I tend to think I'd be happier with fewer.
4. But I can't go dropping them now, in the middle of the circus, and neither can you.  People who matter are depending on us.
5. Which is why we all need that time alone to pray about this.
6. Oddly enough, I could list older women who are nostalgic about these super-busy days, and who went a little stir-crazy when their roles got reduced by about 2/3 due to their age.
7. So maybe the crazy days are happier than the quiet days ahead will be?
8. But how do you do it, you who wear even more hats than I do, and more challenging ones, such as Breadwinner, Missionary, or Marathoner?  And mom of many littles?  And Caregiver for special needs children or parents?
9. How do you know when to start laying balls down because there are too many, and when you're getting too old, and how do you transition gracefully into a more sedate phase?
10. Or is retirement not a Scriptural concept, as I've heard some say, and we should all be so fortunate as to die busily juggling, half a dozen balls in the air at once.

I'd like to hear from you, really I would.


  1. Oh, do I know how you feel. I'm heading back to Oregon soon to visit for a few months, and I'm already wondering how my husband is going to manage the house (and not even the kids!) without me, because honestly, I don't think he realizes all I do during the day.

  2. As I was reading your column,I took some time to make breakfast for my son. While frying the potatoes, I thought, "You know, I don't think I should list my roles...I can't really do anything about 95% of them anyway, and it would just make me weary,(and maybe a little depressed) to look at the list." When I finished reading, I was amused to see that you had much the same reaction! So, blessings to all who have multiple roles and who are daily driven to turn to God for strength!

  3. Who cares? Just do the best what is set before you and go on. If you mess up, learn from it and resolve to do better next time. In the meantime be aware you are doing it all for Jesus which gives one a completely different perspective.

    Oh, yes, we did have five children and I wear lots of hats including mother-in-law, grandma...:-)

  4. Oh, I love the phrase " mom of many littles" and I loved that role too. I had four boys under the age of 4 1/2. I have two smalll grandchildren and maybe someday I'll be the nana of many littles.

    But as I dropped roles, I added more. I am a knitter of preemie hats, maker of quilts, a librarian, a blog writer.

  5. Oh yes, I can identify. Yesterday the Dr. asked me if I was "too busy"..... to really take time for my own health. I had to admit that I am but which balls should I drop? I know that some people think I should drop my sewing and quilting but I think otherwise, I don't get to do that enough....that is my relief valve, just like puttering in a flower bed is for others. So, we just keep going as well as we can and hopefully, someday, it'll all turn out ok. :)

  6. I had many roles for many years (five kids, boarders, etc.). Now my husband & I are in Costa Rica learning Spanish & living with a Costa Rican family. We have a bedroom & bath. For the first time in my adult life I don't shop, clean, cook, or do laundry. I study Spanish and try to find people to talk to, with a little social networking thrown in. In seven weeks we go to Ecuador as missionaries, and our lives will change again. I think flexibility and contentment have been and are my chief lessons here--thanking God for what He has provided even when it's not the way we would have done it.