You’re Chilling Out — They’re Freaking Out. Why it's no fun to be a (Manhattan) mom in August

Published by Wednesday Martin

August is the laziest month. Dog days of summer. Lemonade and corn on the cob and lobster rolls. Lingerie trunk sales (okay, only in the Hamptons — my friend Blair invited me). Hanging out by the pool. Or on the beach.

If any of this rings true then clearly, you are not a Manhattan mother.

One of the cruelties of life on our little island (or in the Hamptons, where we resituate ourselves and our worries and our stresses for the summer, perhaps loosening up just a little bit, god help us) is that we women with children are perpetually out of synch. Like people who work in the fashion industry, for whom a warm spring morning conjures anxious thoughts of tweed and the fall collections, to be a Manhattan mom is to be always propelled forward in time at breakneck speed. Long before school ends, we are amassing lists of gifts for teachers and what to pack for sleepaway camp (Jesus! Six beach towels?!) Long before camp is over, we are scanning the list of counselors we owe tips. We are booking Christmas vacations now if we didn’t already do so last December. We are the opposite of Buddhists — we could not Be Here Now if you locked us in a room with a bunch of Pema Chodron podcasts and a bottle of Xanax.

Because there are so many things to do. And we’re doing them on top of doing other things. And we think if we just start a little earlier or push a little harder, we can keep up or even get ahead. For example, take my friend who runs her own fund. She texted me not long ago regarding a playdate for our two kids. From her flight. To Malaysia. And I wasn’t even that surprised. She has a nanny — who doesn’t have the English skills to be on the playdate scheduling. So she does it herself, during her free time high in the sky. The only free time she ever gets. Another mom friend tells me her favorite thing about business travel is being ahead of New York time when she's in Asia. "It's the only time I ever get a leg up on Manhattan--when it's twelve hours behind me, I can relax a little."

It's not just the working moms who are working it. I'm thinking of the day last summer — when I was doing dreaded Kindergarten applications along with everyone else applying to private school for their four year olds — that I went to a playdate with my then four year old son at a very nice woman’s house. I had done kindergarten applications before, for my now 12-year-old, and this hostess/full time stay at home mom, wanted to ask me whether it was normal that another friend of hers, a very high functioning and successful woman I know for a fact to be normal, was spending six hours per day every day of August working on her child’s kindergarten application essays. Should she be spending that much time on them, too?

That’s right, six hours per day on Kindergarten application essays. I told her I did not think it was normal, but in a certain way, sadly, it’s merely skimming the edge of abnormal. We take our mothering seriously, and it takes up a bunch of time, and it robs us of the present moment, to put it lightly. Sociologist Sharon Hays calls it "intensive mothering" and boy is she right.

And it's not just Manhattan. Right now, all over the country, mothers are way ahead of the rest of the population. You are making sun tea. We are making and taking our kids on dental, pediatrician, and getting-new-clothes-and-shoes-for-school excursions. We are buying school supplies. And in Manhattan, we are applying to ongoing schools for Fall 2014, and we are leaving our vacations WAY before Labor Day so our kids can start school sports practices or immersive Mandarin classes. We are on the "portals" of our kids' schools' websites filling sh*t out. We are supervising summer homework. We might be working a paying job on top of that. And we gnashing our teeth and thinking, “Eff you, schools, for wrecking my August!”

In the spirit of what August once was and what many of us would like it to be once again, I want to propose a new social movement: Slow Motherhood. Like the slow food movement and the slow movement in general, our main battle cry will be this: motherhood needs to slow the hell down. It needs to require less of us. It needs to happen in real time and allow us to connect with our kids and other mothers and other people in real ways. It needs to be less intensive, and more pleasurable. It is inconceivable that I got up early enough to be the first person to think of the term and propose the change, but I think it's a nice idea.  Item #4,867 on our to do list, then: schedule some time to relax next August. Get started on that right now. Have I forgotten anything?