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Pack Mule

November 21, 2009

How many items can a Mommy carry in her arms at one time before she falls over?

It sounds like the set-up to some riddle. Only there is no punchline. More accurately, we could make it into a word problem for middle school math class: “If a Mommy has a minivan filled with eight bags of groceries, three folded umbrellas, two shed jackets, four children’s art projects, one Kindergartner, one preschooler, and one baby, how many trips must the Mommy make in and out of the house in order to get everything and everyone safely inside?”

I had a moment this week where I was attempting to carry everything inside in only one trip. The baby was propped on my left hip, held to me by the crook of my elbow. The hand on the baby’s side was carrying three grocery bags by the handles. In my right arm, I had my purse slung over my shoulder, my oldest son’s backpack on top of that, the boys’ school art project tucked under my armpit, two more grocery bags slipped over my wrist, hanging by the handles, and my empty coffee mug in my hand. I closed the minivan door using only my pinkie (said minivan door left ajar by my forgetful boys who had already raced into the house carrying only their juice boxes). I actually managed to make it up the narrow walkway and three sets of stone steps covered with wet leaves to my front door without dropping anything.

It was only when I attempted to open the storm door (which sticks, so you have to pull it hard), when things started to fall apart. I felt the artwork go first, fluttering to the ground into a rotted pumpkin puddle, followed by my coffee mug clattering down the stone steps releasing a chip of the plastic no-spill lid on the way. In an attempt to re-balance my load, I lost one of the grocery bags carrying a gallon of milk, but managed to catch the next with the eggs and bread before they crashed down. By now, I’m squatting in front of my stuck storm door with the baby in a football hold to keep her from falling, when it strikes me that I am no longer a Mommy. I’m a pack mule.

It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to make the frequent trips back and forth from the house to the car. (Well, it’s not ONLY that.) It’s the worry over what to do with the baby if I go back out again. Do I leave her strapped in her car seat in the minivan by herself while I trek back and forth to unload? Do I bring her in the house with her brothers, unsupervised, while I go back out to the car? Either way, she’ll scream when she sees me walk away, leaving her behind. Taking her with me, back and forth doesn’t make much sense, either, because that reduces the amount I can hold each way. So I attempt to do the impossible and carry everything inside in one trip.

My neighbor actually laughed at me the other day when she saw me loaded down with everything at once. “Are you really going to try to do all of that in one trip?” she asked, with a disbelieving tone. “Mm hmph,” I replied through the papers I had clenched in my teeth. It’s a wonder I don’t have arms like Popeye or the Incredible Hulk from all the carrying I do.

It’s got me working on my boys to be better helpers now. It takes longer to get out of the driveway with all of the nagging to carrying their own backpacks and artwork and jackets, but it does make the trips inside easier for me. I’ve also learned to bag more cleverly in the grocery checkout line. If a bag contains cookies, they actually fight over who gets to carry that one inside for me. I’m always up for tricking my kids into working for me.

You know, motherhood comes with so many gifts. The hugs and snuggles, the rewarding swell of pride, those are all great. But there are some not-so-prime gifts, too. The silvery stretch marks, the dark circles under our eyes, the saggy breasts, and the calling to become a pack mule. For me, I even got a brand new set of saddlebags with my motherhood membership. It’s just too bad I can’t put them to a more practical use.

(first published in my “Because I Said So” column on

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