“Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, ‘A house guest,’ you're wrong because I have just described my kids."
- Erma Bombeck
About once each month I’m in charge of packing the family to take a trip, usually to visit family in New York or my father in Maine. After eight years, I’ve become an expert packer – I bring enough clothing for a family of four so I only have to do laundry every two days. If I bring more clothes to do less laundry, the bag becomes too full for a small Mazda 3 hatchback, along with the other odds and ends that need to fit in the trunk.
My husband usually packs his own clothes, but this is not a time-saver for me nor does it ease my responsibility. I must report temperature highs and lows and chances of precipitation for the days we will be away. Since he runs and he’s taller than the rest of us, he gets to bring the most clothes and footwear, and he takes up the most space inside the suitcase.
If we are traveling for a holiday, I often must bring a fancier set of clothing for all of us, which will not be a part of the clothing rotation for the other days. Especially for the Hanukkah/Christmas visit, this becomes a challenge since gifts also must cram inside the trunk.
It’s difficult not to forget something with all of the items I need to remember. Besides clothing, I must remember the cord and charger for camera and hand-held video game systems, and my cell phone and laptop. We also need snacks and water for the ride. And the toiletry bag, with everyone’s various practical and beauty products (plus three or four medicines, just in case). Now that I straighten my hair, a blow dryer and flat iron are also required.
If this is not the most exciting post so far, it’s by design, for it’s tedious to be in charge of packing and coordinating everyone’s STUFF. Invariably, something is forgotten, and when it is, it’s my fault. Once, I forgot my husband’s pajama pants, and another time, his socks. Last visit, my son began repeatedly clearing his throat. “Did you bring his allergy medicine?” my husband asked. I hadn’t, since his allergy season usually ended by October, and he hadn’t had problems for weeks. My responsibility. My fault.
I am the family coordinator, which means that every day, everywhere it’s my responsibility to make sure that every one has what they need, whenever they need it. I’m not the best family coordinator, since I screw up a lot. I’ll collect my children from school and ask, “How was your day?” “You forgot to pack me lunch. You know I hate (fill in the blank).” Am I subbing without time to stop home before I pick up the kids? I’d better make sure I bring my son’s piano books, my daughter’s ballet bag, or their Taekwondo bags. Who has gym which day? Schedule doctor appointments? Visits with friends? I’m in charge to know who does what when where and why (and sometimes, how).
At this point, I know I sound like a self-proclaimed martyr. I don’t do it alone and my husband certainly offers help. But I still need to know it all, and then I can delegate from there.
Today I hit my responsibility breaking point – a tantrum of sorts. It wasn’t a proud moment. I was feeling good because this trip I remembered every single thing. We all had socks, underwear, pajamas, cords, toiletries, snacks, medicines, books, and bits. I did not forget one single Hanukkah, Christmas, or birthday present. When did the trouble begin? Yesterday, I was helping my daughter get ready for bed, as I’ve done just about each night for seven years.
“Where are my pajamas?” she asked.
“On the floor, in front of your door,” I answered.
“Those?! I already wore them two days.”
Sigh. “I know, but if you wear them one more day, I just have to do laundry tomorrow and I’ll be done for the trip.”
Yes, I did explain that to my seven-year-old.
After I showered, I placed my pajamas in the basket, and then ordered my children to brush, wash, and get dressed as I pulled my husband’s clothes from the bathroom while he was taking a shower.
“MOM! Where are my socks?!” my son demanded.
Oh no. Did I forget to wash a pair? Sometimes* my son kicks them off in the middle of the night and forgets to put them in the laundry. At home, I periodically check the bed for lost socks. “Did you check?”
I opened the drawer to see: underwear, pants, two shirts, and (drum roll) socks! “They’re right here.”
“Oh, I didn’t see them.”
Then my sister-in-law and her children came over, and my son was packing to sleep at his cousins’ house. Reminding my son to get a toothbrush, I then went to the basement to retrieve his clothes out of the dryer. I folded a change of clothes for tomorrow and rifled through the dryer for his pajamas. I found the Pants. But. No. Shirt. Then I had a meltdown, calling my son down, explaining how hard leaving his dirty pajama shirt on the bed had made my life.
I felt bad that I made a big deal about it. Sure, I did ask him to make sure that his pajamas were in the basket this morning, but it was really a pain for me rather than a travesty. First he was annoyed that I was enraged, but he apologized. It wasn’t my best moment as a mother or as a human being, but sometimes it feels thankless. Don’t they see how much I do? Can’t they make the effort to blah blah blah?
Then I decided to post about it to get it off my chest. Now I feel better.
Oh, my husband came up with a great idea. When my son comes back tomorrow, he's doing a load of laundry.