Friday, November 19, 2010


I am a multitasker. I'm a firm believer that there are very few things that can't be done simultaneously. Walking and chewing gum. Listening to music while cooking. Checking email while giving birth. Really, what is the point of stretching out activities when the more efficiently you can check things off the to-do list, the quicker you can go to sleep?

One of my all-time favorite books is "Cheaper by the Dozen," written in 1948 by Frank Gilbreth Jr., a real-life father of 12 who was some sort of scientist/efficiency expert. The dad took multitasking to a degree rarely seen in a person with a Y chromosome. The only actual example I can think of involved the father writing foreign language snippets on the bathroom wall so the family could memorize French phrases while on the toilet... or perhaps bidet.  The story covers the 1930s and 1940s, when there wasn't as much "stuff" to multitask--no iPhones or self-parking cars--and his military-style approach to layering activities was done with such spirit it is almost amusing to think that in this day and age such task-mastering would probably lead to a Child Protective Services call from a disgruntled offspring.

My principle particularly holds true when it comes to socializing. We have to eat and drink anyway, so why not combine catching up with a friend with lunch? For the sake of decorum, I would prefer that gossiping while chewing should not be combined... but who am I to judge if the urge to interject a comment is too great to wait until the guacamole has made it all the way down your esophagus?

So when I became a parent, it was perfectly natural to pair infant-rearing with daily-necessity activities. A trip to Whole Foods can be a way to teach about colors and shapes. A drive to H&M (which also has a kids section!) is a legitimate way to access the carpool lane on the freeway. And a gynecologist visit is a great opportunity for the baby to reminisce about old times. 

Once my children were old enough to participate in "enrichment" activities, I found that I made friends with other mothers in the groups. Aha! Who knew that a child could be a means to a BFF end? When the children were babies and toddlers, their playmates were selected purely on the basis of my fondness for their mothers. Kids of easy-going, slightly snarky mothers were frequent playdates, whereas overly neurotic, child-rearing-book-reading moms were lower on the list. If a mom let it be known that she carried hand sanitizer to sterilize objects her child might touch, she was on her own.

My children are several years apart, and we lived on different coasts when they were young, so the mom friends I made on the East Coast when my son was in kindergarten were 3,000 miles away when we were on the West Coast for first grade. I found myself a working mom in a new city where, like my previous home, moms had bonded over playdates in those precious early years when kids had preferences for many things, but not really friends. Luckily, I had a second chance when child #2 entered the schoolforce...

The moms I hung with at drop-off or pick-up at the beginning of preschool became my buddies and we easily mixed among each other's kids and spouses. Multitasking was possible even on behalf of others--what a concept--such as a mom picking up my daughter with hers for a playdate when I had a late appointment and couldn't easily pick my daughter up. Birthday parties (with wine) were a time for us all to catch up and gossip, for the good of the children, of course...

So imagine the rude awakening when my kids matured enough to want to have a say in who they played with! The offspring of the mom who shared my political philosophy was now playing in the sandbox instead of the dress-up area. The child of the mom with the dry sense of humor called my daughter a poopyhead and now doesn't want to play princesses together. The son of the mom who works in the same field as I do is now off-limits because my daughter only wants to be with girls. Her new friend at school has a mom I haven't met because dad is the drop-offer/pick-upper, but the family photo on the wall of the classroom shows an effortlessly chic mom who might be too trendy and edgy to let see the inside of our Craig's List-decorated home. Navigating the pre-school mom-child social dyads is rife with potential minefields. If a child breaks an item at a sympathetic moms home, it becomes a cute story; at an unfriendly mother's abode, a potential lawsuit. 

Recently I was at pick-up at my daughter's school when a woman I had never seen came up to me and asked if I was the owner of one of the cars in the awkwardly shaped school parking lot. Why was she asking? Well, she said sheepishly, she was backing out and she nicked my fender... I was parked at a jaunty angle, she explained (however, she didn't use the actual word "jaunty," that is just one of my personal favorite words and I like to work it in when I can). My car has one or two nicks already (I am from Boston where we park in tiny spots using bumpers in the way they were named... to bump other cars out of the way), but that didn't mean this mishap wouldn't make for future awkwardness at birthday parties and playdates. I asked how old her child was. She told me that her daughter was a good two years younger than mine--well out of possible playdate range.  Crisis averted.


  1. I was a transplanr to our small southern community (it can't even be called a town, it is just a sign in the highway saying turn here) and I never fit in with the other moms. I was always that weirdo from California. Suited me just fine...I didn't have to worry about wearing overalls and letting my roots get two inches long between dye jobs.
    Thanks for the laugh! Great post!

  2. Hi, Cath! Being a transplant is not for the meek! I, too, am from a foreign land (New England) and my cultural charms are not always appreciated here (Los Angeles). In grad school here, I had a professor who told me my fast-talking and thoroughness in answering exam questions was a sign that I was anxious. Well, yes, I am anxious... but the signs have nothing to do with my speech or exam answers.... my insomnia and chronic nervousness are more relevant signs of my anxiety. :) Best, Karen