Well, that is true. Why have I never offered a bit of childcare respite to Wendy before? I’ve seen how crazed her days are.
Abashed, I spend the day determined to nail Wendy’s life, and that means faking my way through two meetings. She’s already sent me PDFs of all her training materials and bullet points on what I need to cover today, and let’s face it—she tells people how to do more stuff. I can tell people how to do more stuff! Watch less TV, right? Cook on the weekends. Maybe exercise with your kids so you can kill two birds with one stone. I’m all over this productivity stuff. Right?
Cut to me coming home that night with a layer of flop sweat dried on every inch of my body. It turns out that the people I had meetings with today are not exactly new to the concept of getting things done. The first client showed up with a branded planner—made by Wendy, because who knew?—and every single inch of it was filled with meticulous notation. She had already done away with the low-hanging fruit: TV, sleeping. She was on to trying to cram forty-eight hours into every twenty-four. I spent a lot of time making mouth noises and praising what she’d already accomplished.
And then there was the meeting about prospective pro bono work, a home for woman parolees that wants Wendy to coach their clients as they make the adjustment from prison life. Now, how can Wendy go and do cool, meaningful things like that and still be such a pain in my rear? I didn’t get into that at the meeting, but I did definitely delegate my fool head off and have all three of Wendy’s staff sit in for the session to cover for me.
Then I looked over what felt like a thousand different ink samples to try to figure out which blend of cost and clarity was the way to go for next year’s planners, approved layouts that all looked exactly the same to me, and signed off on payroll in a program called QuickBooks, which has neither quickness nor books involved. Then there was bumbling around her scheduling app trying not to mess things up, a Webex conference I accidentally logged into on two devices, and the ensuing chaos of that feedback loop. Oh, and there was the constant in and out of her most junior staff member, a young woman who simply cannot do the simplest task without telling Wendy about it before, during, and after.
The truth is, I’m starting to understand that the work she does is relentless, and I feel sort of ashamed over how quickly I’ve lost control of her household. Her grays just started coming in—and here I thought I was the only woman our age going gray—and I keep forgetting to shave her legs, since normally I wear jeans every single day, and Seth’s toothpaste spit is once again crusting up the bathroom sink. I’m so exhausted after her long days of meetings and work and kid wrangling that dinner is becoming less gourmet and more boxed with each passing evening. If I didn’t have Bridget doing her own wash now and Linus picking up after himself, all would truly be lost.
And then there’s this keynote speech, and if the vodka doesn’t work and I have to give it, it’s going to be an absolute disaster. I’ve seen the research she did for it on her office computer, and it’s chock full of extremely daunting advice, like how you should never go to sleep at night without knowing your next seven days are planned and “goalmapped.” You should always be the first one in the household to wake up, because that is when studies show people do their most effective work. Assuming you can stay awake. Multitasking is bad, but also, when you are driving, you should always have a notes app available that you can dictate ideas into. Best to have a similar setup while in the shower. Stay away from distractions like social media, except when thinking outside the box, at which point consider following new people to change your perspective. Also good for changing your perspective: sitting in a new place in your office or home or working out of a coffee shop. But not a coffee shop with distractions, obviously. And try to never eat while you’re working. So a silent coffee shop where you’re the only one there, at five in the morning, without your phone, and with nothing to eat.
Just as I’m about to go home and probably—let’s face it—get a rotisserie chicken on the way, a text comes in from Wendy reminding me that tonight’s the night she has a video call with her sister, Ruthie, back in Alabama.
I have time now before the gala, she adds. Come do it at my house. I’ll sit in the background and help you out if you get stuck.
I sigh and point her Jeep toward the village. Parking in front of my own house feels surreal, but not as surreal as having the door answered by myself, only much, much prettier.
“You look amazing,” I say to Wendy.
She smiles. “Yes, YOU do,” she says smugly, doing a quick spin in a beautiful new outfit I’ve never seen before. “The girls did this bun, and Samuel and Joy helped me pick out the dress.”
I gape. It’s so bizarre looking at yourself, only not yourself, in your home, talking about your kids and your clothes and your hair as if they don’t belong to you. I am hit with a hot blast of longing—I would give anything to be able to step back into my own body right now, this instant, just to give my kids a hug.
“Hey!” Wendy says. “Are you crying? Don’t be crying. The vodka is coming. The end is near.”
I press my lips together and nod. “It’s just that it was a long day today. Your life . . .”
“I know,” she says. “Tiring. And just wait till you meet my sister. I’ll log on. You take some deep breaths and pour yourself a glass of wine.”
I follow Wendy’s instructions, reluctantly impressed at how she can keep managing one thing after another, day after day, even in the most trying of circumstances, without losing it entirely. But once I am sitting in front of a Zoom screen, I realize where the excitable genes in the family ended up.
“Oh my stars, Wendy! You’re so on time today!” declares a bright blonde with an even more lilting drawl than Wendy’s. Ruthie’s voice is chipper, and her hair seems to bob when she moves her head, like it’s excited too.
“Thanks!” I say, stupidly. “I mean, light day at the office?”
Her eyes bug out. “Liar. I know you’re going straight home after this to commune with your inbox. Matter of fact, where are you?”
I look up at Wendy, who is miming something that looks like a clown juggling beach balls. Ignoring that entirely, I say, “I’m at a . . . a friend’s house. I’m, uh”—now I watch Wendy gesture like she’s putting out a house fire with a garden hose—“watering her plants.”
“Now, isn’t that nice of you. You drinkin’ her wine too?”
I blush. “She offered,” I say. “And things have been busy at home.”
“Isn’t it always? To be honest, I thought maybe you wouldn’t show again.”
I frown. “For my sister?”
Ruthie rolls her eyes. “I need a drink too!” she says. “I’ll get the first round, har har.”
She pops off the kitchen barstool she’s perched on with the same relentless energy Wendy has, and while she’s gone, I pause the camera. “What do I say to your sister?” I ask Wendy.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Wendy replies. “She talks constantly. Just lean back and let it wash over you.”
“Did you turn off your camera? Who are you talking to?” Ruthie asks, bouncing back faster than it would take me to open the fridge, much less pour a glass of wine.
“Nobody. Well, I was texting my, ah . . . friend. Celeste.”
“The bee-yotch with lunch boxes?” she asks. Before I can answer that, she raises her glass in the air and says, “A toast! But wait. Before you drink yours, look at mine!” She holds up a highball glass that’s clear and fizzy. “Guess what I’m drinkin’!”
I peer at it. “Uh . . . gin and tonic?”
“I’m drinking Sprite!” she says in her pretty drawl. “You know what that means!”
I do not at first, but she fills in the blanks. “I’m pregnant!”
You don’t need to be this woman’s sister to know that a high-pitched squeal and a hug are the correct response to this news. “Congratulations, Ruthie!” I say. “This is so exciting!” I look up at Wendy, and her eyes are wide in happy surprise, and despite everything, I wish I could go over there and give her the biggest hug at the news.