Here is how you have a perfect morning: Step one: Get up early. Really, really early. If your kids need to be at school at, say, 8:06 a.m., and you want to be at work as soon as humanly possible after that, then get up at five. Five thirty at the latest. This means you should go to bed—lights out, no reading, no TV, no sex—at exactly 9:00 p.m. Note: you will never ever achieve this.
Step two: Read a lot of books about good-habit formation, though not at bedtime. (See above.) Listen to them on your commute, if you must. Practice intentional cuing and habit stacking. Make sure you put your pills next to your toothpaste next to your contact lenses next to your antiaging serum. Otherwise you will forget the pills and the serum, because it is very early and you can barely see without your lenses. Only after you have touched all these things can you go have coffee.
Step three: Go back in time to the evening before, and set your grind-and-brew coffee maker to automatically start at 5:00 a.m. Failing this, stare absently at the kitchen wall for four minutes until coffee is ready.
Step four: Drink coffee and make three lunches, two with no vegetables for your children and one with nothing but vegetables for yourself. Put a tiny pouch of Goldfish crackers in your own lunch bag at the last moment and feel rebellious, then wasteful, because some mothers would buy a large bag of Goldfish from Costco and divide them into reusable snack cups themselves.
Step five: Sit in glorious caffeinating silence with your phone for twenty straight minutes. Then rush through a shower before the kids have to get up.
Steps six through forty-five: Wake up the kids.
Get out the cereal boxes and milk and bowls in the hope that they will at least pour their own cereal this time, just this once.
Put the cat bowl on the counter next to the kid bowls to remind them to feed the cat that they swore to take care of.
Write a note for the husband, who is sleeping and will still be sleeping when you leave, reminding him of the daughter’s softball tryouts tonight and the son’s field trip tomorrow.
Go wake up the kids again.
Find a purple skirt in the wash that you forgot to move to the dryer last night.
Be accused of “never doing anything thoughtful” for the child who wants the purple skirt.
Ask same child to eat breakfast.
Wake up other child again.
Put on socks for other child because they are “not stretchy enough.”
Check on purple skirt in dryer—adjust it to high heat.
Pour skirtless child’s cereal, and deliver it to her in front of TV.
Encourage son to go back to room and put on clean underpants.
Momentarily meditate on the sad state of your own six-year-old underpants.
Notice you need to leave the house in seven minutes and somehow the cat has not been fed.
Beg children to feed cat.
Look at son’s wardrobe choices in confusion.
Remember purple skirt, take it out, and stretch it out so the shrinkage isn’t so obvious.
Ask daughter to put it on.
Take remote control.
Listen to frenzy of complaining and whining over their show being turned off during the “best part.”
Tell everyone to put on shoes.
Find everyone’s shoes.
Get in car without your own shoes.
Go back inside for shoes.
Go back inside for lunches.
Go back inside to add laundry update to husband note.
Pull out of driveway.
Realize it is 8:04.
Change radio station from “boring news” to top forty.
Listen to seventeen minutes of commercials for unregulated weight-loss aids and used cars while in the carpool lane.
Drop off children.
Return home for forgotten gym clothes.
Try not to wake husband.
Feed angry cat.
Race to work.
Arrive to office twelve minutes late.
Ignore receptionist’s unwanted request to let her blow-dry your hair for you at your desk.
Make note to buy office hair dryer.
Though I am a celebrated productivity consultant with a standing segment on the local news, a monthly column in a top-one-hundred blog, and a small line of daily planners, there are some areas of my life that could, possibly, do with some improvement. The stress level in my house is generally a bit higher than I’d like, and I do drag around some mom guilt with me everywhere I go. My husband, Seth, is better looking than me, and it’s getting more pronounced as we age. As I sag, he weathers. And my kids, Bridget and Linus, are a smidge lazy. Just a smidge. And maybe not actually lazy so much as just living in a different time than the one in which I grew up. My “lazy” is another mother’s “unhurried and uninhibited.” Their sloth is another woman’s “carefree childhood.”
But that freaking purple skirt may kill me.
I had to go to an actual mall to buy that skirt. I had to go into a store that had a Wall of Sound approach to identity branding and try to also listen to my eleven-year-old girl try out being a sixteen-year-old. But not an actual sixteen-year-old, with period cramps and zits and low self-esteem. No, a sixteen-year-old from a Netflix series who lives on a cruise ship with her single father, the captain, and her best friend, the rock star. That is who my daughter thinks she is in her purple skirt.
I thought I would avoid this by not naming her Mercedes or Kennedy, but it turns out girls named Sarah or Catherine or even Delores will also be tweens someday. And my tween has figured out that the purple skirt is cool but not that it is uncool to wear the same skirt three times a week. And so I have gone from doing laundry four times a week to doing it every. Single. Night.
And I know exactly who to blame for this.
As I pull into my neighborhood every night, after working my demanding job and running to my kids’ activities, I see her. She likes to sit outside. In her front yard. She sits there after dinner—her dinner, which is at six on the nose, of course, and has at least two fresh veggies on the side—and drinks a glass of red wine in plain sight of the neighbors, normal people who are rushing to their homes with cars full of pizza or rotisserie chickens and children who spend approximately ten hours a day under the supervision of other people. Normal people do not appreciate the sight of Celeste Mason, ass in real teak adirondack chair, feet on matching stool, having a nice glass of pinot while her three perfect children romp in her perfect front yard after their perfectly nutritious home-cooked meal.
I am one of those people, in case it is not abundantly clear. I do not appreciate that Celeste, for reasons incomprehensible to me, bought a series of Vogue Teen sewing patterns for her own eleven-year-old tween daughter and let her pick out fabrics and then made her a custom wardrobe of styles that could only be matched in “coolness” by overpriced low-quality knockoffs at the mall store that does not do free shipping. I do not appreciate that her daughter noticed aloud the one time my daughter wore the Purple Skirt to school with a two-day-old grass stain on it. I do not appreciate that suddenly my daughter is friends with the kind of child who has grass-stain-removal tips at top of mind, or that she even has something against grass stains, which, until these two girls began to “hang” together, were nothing but a badge of honor at our house. Until Celeste’s family moved into the house backing onto mine, a skirt of any kind would have been nothing but pure inconvenience in Bridget’s mind. Something you had to layer over shorts anyway to make any kind of meaningful play possible.
Now, if that’s not bad enough, Celeste Mason has encouraged her daughter to join my daughter at tonight’s softball tryouts. Presumably in a bespoke skort.
Vengeful, I pull into the diamond’s parking lot. I hope the tryouts go long and Celeste has to miss her front yard wine tonight. In fact, I hope Zoey, her daughter, makes the team and Celeste has to forgo her wine for the entire season. I hope she has to drag her two other kids to the hot, sticky ballpark every weeknight and stop at the sandwich shop on the way and feed her toddler Sun Chips for dinner all summer long.
I spot Bridget as I find a good parking spot facing the field. She is sitting with Zoey Mason on a large, water-resistant picnic blanket spread with plates of orange slices, ants on a log, sweet grape tomatoes, and . . . good god, is that homemade kombucha in jelly jars? And there, in the center of it all, is Celeste.