Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Five Minutes

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Every morning starts at a deficit. The day has not even begun, and I'm already behind. I hear shouting: "I want to take a shower!" "I don't want to take a shower!" "I need to take a shower!" "Get up!" It could be my husband. It could be one of my daughters. It could be my subconscious. I mean to get up before them all, to sit quietly and listen for guidance for the day, some instruction that will steel me when my plans all go to hell.

I bolt out of bed, and the demands begin.

"Mama, pick me up," the oldest might say if she's still half asleep and willing to let anybody bring her to the bathroom for her morning whiz. But if she's awake at all, and I go near her for a kiss, a pat on the head, a "rise and shine," she moans, "I want Daddy!"

My husband has tried to break her of this habit. He lists all the reasons why she should love me and treat me like the goddess that I am, or at the very least like someone who never puts her out in the snow ever, even though I may feel like it . . . daily.

We're five minutes behind schedule. The teacher will frown at me if I interrupt her circle time again. Baby girl is wriggling into things never appropriate for the weather. If it's hot, she's trying on sweaters. If it's cold, she wants a bikini. If it's a nursery school day, she's got on a pirate eye patch and nothing else. If you go near her when she is in this aura of make believe, she could very well eat you for breakfast, me hardies, or burst your eardrums with the screams.

Ten minutes behind and the heat builds in my chest. When it gets to my throat, there is nothing I can do, and we're all in trouble. Sickeningly sweet smelling toothpaste gets loaded onto Care Bear toothbrushes and carried downstairs along with Dixie cups to deal with teeth on the go, if it comes to that. It usually does. Then there's food.

Both girls get two dollops of yogurt smothered in honey with sides of toast, sliced fruit, and if they are still really hungry, some Cheerios.

Desiree is always still really hungry.

"Can I have pancakes?" she says.

"No." Dad and I say.

"French toast?"



My husband always caves at the eggs.

Fifteen minutes behind.

We haven't made the bus since the first week of school when I had schedules for everything, so that's that. Desi gets a ride. But not before whining about anything she can think of. She's very creative. If there's nothing handy, like "I don't like the tag on my shirt," or "this jacket is a baby jacket" then she recesses to the past. "Remember the time you yelled at me because . . . and it wasn't my fault."

I imagine threatening her with bodily harm. My mom used to do that all the time, and it worked because I had experienced bodily harm. I knew how it felt. My daughter, however, has not come across it, and it would raise my blood pressure even more to have to explain my threat. Loses its punch somehow if they don't get it right away.

"Whine about one more thing, and you will have a serious repercussion." Bodily harm she doesn't get, but repercussions she knows, including their full range.

"Like what kind of repercussion? No dessert? No play date?"

"Like no talking for a whole day! Do you think you could stop talking for a whole day?" This makes her laugh, and she forgets her whining crusade. We are almost out the door, and I see hope for a fight-free ride to school when Baby Girl insists she come with us.

"I want to go to school with Desi!"

Can we slip her into some shoes quickly enough to make it before the second bell? As long as there is no more fussing!

Desi kisses Devany, "I love you, kasha (we still don't know what kasha means)." But Devany doesn't want to be kissed and bats Desi away. Desi bats back and connects with some flesh, and the tears start.

"Don't hit your sister!"

"She hit me first!"

"Devany, why did you hit Desiree?"

See now, this would be a fuss.

In the car, Desiree apologizes to her sister, and I sigh with relief because we'll just make it into the school at the second bell if there are no more delays, and I'll have a chance to start the day all over again.

In by the second bell. Out in time to get Little Bit to nursery school.

Three hours to myself. Do I listen to the radio? Read the paper? Work out? Do laundry? Pack up the summer clothes and pull out the autumn ones? Go grocery shopping? Meditate? Work on my novel?

Two hours and thirty minutes left. I work out and listen to the radio and read the newspaper all at the same time.

One hour and thirty minutes left. I eat breakfast/lunch and take a shower.

One hour left.

I work on my novel. It was much more exciting when I started it seven years ago, before kids, before I knew what I know now. Time is precious. It takes me twenty minutes to recognize the words that I've written as mine, then another twenty minutes to lament the fact that these words aren't mine anymore. I stare at the pictures on my inspiration board -- a Buddha, a Billy Collins' poem called the "Lanyard," a picture of myself when I was paid to write. I want to cry. Twenty more minutes and I'm writing now from this new person's mind -- fragmented with just this bit of time to get something -- anything -- down at all.

Time to pick up baby girl from nursery school, then Desi at the bus stop.

Desi jumps off the bus so glad to see me she kisses me and hugs me and hugs her sister.

Today was a computer day, a gym day, a journal day she says. A big kid talked to her on the bus, and she's beaming. She even asks about my day, what I did, and I smile grateful for her interest and whatever it was I did do. For five minutes, from the time we get off the bus until we get to our front door, all is right with the world. My kids love me. I love them. They are happy. A few words at a time I am getting that novel written. My life is charmed. I'm so happy I could scream, "Hot diggity!" And then, I put the key in the door, and it all starts again. The deficits.

But for five minutes, everything is even.

Dionne Ford was a newspaper and television journalist before turning her focus to creative writing. She was recently awarded a fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where she worked on her first novel, Picking. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Dennis and her daughters, Desiree and Devany.

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