Mothers: Are You Suffering From Logistical Overwhelm?

by Leigh Anderson

Last week, my older son started kindergarten and my younger son started preschool. It was an immediate and rather shocking transition for me, but not because I was tearfully battling grief and nostalgia over my babies growing up. No, it was due to a new condition that I have dubbed “Logistical Overwhelm.”

For me, Logistical Overwhelm was prompted by the sheaf of papers the schools handed me, which included calendars showing the days the boys are off or have half days. I entered those dates into my paper calendar (yes, I still like a paper calendar; something about writing things down with a pen soothes me) and then I entered them into my electronic calendar, because having reminders to alert me of events is critical. Then I posted the calendars on the fridge and sent a pic to my husband.

Then I entered the days that my older son has after-school activities and the days he doesn’t. I emailed our babysitter to confirm her regular hours and to ask her if she could pick up extra hours on short days or holidays. On the advice of a friend, I scheduled doctor’s and dentist’s appointments on the holidays.

I considered the differential between the end of the preschool day and the end of the elementary-school day, how fast I can walk between the two schools, and if the younger child would nap better at school or in the stroller and if I should perhaps sign him up for an extended day. I noted which days they get lunch at school and which they don’t. I asked my husband about his work schedule and when he was available to run one or both kids to their flu shots, noted that on all calendars and emailed the dates to him. Then, finally, I planned out my own week and tried to build in enough advance work so that a potential day of “my kid puked this morning and has to stay home” doesn’t leave my colleagues in the lurch.

And that was just the first week. Of course, I tried to map out coming weeks too, locking in the sitter when I could and assigning pick-ups to my husband when he’s off from his teaching job. Once the calendars were completed in triplicate—a chore that took a few hours—I breathed a sigh of…well, not relief. More like the sigh of “I may or may not be adequately prepped for battle, but I guess we’ll find out.”

I can hear you all now: There’s an app for that. Or, you and your husband need a shared Google calendar. Yes, I’ll work on the electronic solutions. But frankly I’m not really an app person, because they make me feel like a slave to the prompts from the phone, like a trained seal who leaps into the air and barks every time the chime sounds. I generally feel better if I glance at the paper calendar at the beginning of the week and then at the beginning of the day and then just remember what the day’s obligations are.

Except that it has all become too much to remember: Which kid needs lunch in the stroller and which one wants pizza at school? Which kid needs to come right home after school for a music lesson and which one can stay out and play, and who’s going to watch each one?

I can only imagine how much worse this gets with each additional child. A dear friend who has a demanding job and children at different schools told me that Logistical Overwhelm is the reason they stopped at two kids: “Another kid and I would have had to quit my job to deal,” she said. As it is, she spends precious minutes each work day fielding texts and reminders from her phone on each kid’s whereabouts and the inevitable surprises: One kid forgot her violin. The other’s math tutor is stuck in traffic.

What is the solution? I don’t know, a third parent, I guess—someone who wants to be and is good at being the production manager of a household. But I’m not down with polyamory, so that’s out. At the moment, my iPhone is the deputy parent: Someone who is currently reminding me to get my own flu shot and set out my bag of permission slips the night before.

Logistical Overwhelm—either it’s my new band name or it’s a medical condition that I need to see a doctor about. Just as soon as I enter the appointment into my calendar.