The Multitask Queen at Rest

The Multitask Queen at Rest

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress


The Multitask Queen at Rest

“What can I do?” my husband asked as I dropped a torn romaine leaf into the bowl, my fingers shaking as though I’d had too much caffeine. I’d spent the afternoon creating a perfect chicken cacciatore for our dinner guests, who were due to arrive in twenty minutes, and the kitchen was a mess. I paused to rub a knot at the back of my neck that wouldn’t budge.

“Here.” I passed Gregg a knife and nodded towards the sourdough slices on a cookie sheet. “Butter the bread and sprinkle it with garlic salt.” As I rinsed a pan, my eyes slid first to the oven clock and then to the cookie sheet. Gregg was dotting the slices with clumps of butter, tearing the bread in the process.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” I said, drying my hands and taking the knife from his hand. “Let me do it.” I scooted him out of the way with my hip and deftly spread thin layers of butter to the crusts’ edges while reaching for the garlic salt. My temples throbbed and pain held a vice-like grip at the bottom of my skull.

“You’re not Mistress of the Universe, you know,” Gregg said, leaning against a kitchen counter with his arms crossed.

“Of course I’m not.” I winced at the irritation in my voice.

“Then stop acting like it.” Gregg took a deep breath. “Look at you. You’re stressing and you won’t let me help.”

I grabbed a napkin to wipe the dampness from my forehead and turned to him. He stepped close and tipped my chin to his face. “Are we having fun yet?” he whispered, making me laugh for the first time that day.

“Are we having fun yet?” We say this to each other when one of us manages to zap the joy from what should be happy events. His reminder showed me how easy it was to fall back to my old ways, those stress-filled days before my meltdown.

While raising three children, I’d crowned myself the Multitask Queen. I was proud of my ability to manage a home, teach full-time, carpool kids to school and activities, cook nightly, help my children with homework, and grade essays until midnight. Sure, I was living a high-stress life, skipping meals and exercise, but I loved the smug feeling of being indispensable. I didn’t see that, like Humpty Dumpty, I was primed for a great fall.

I tumbled from that high wall on a Monday afternoon in late spring. In the days before cell phones, my twins, Nick and Kim, were sixth graders and I was an English teacher in another city. I drove in a carpool and wrote the schedule on my calendar faithfully. This particular day had been hectic and I’d skipped lunch, again. At the last bell, I glanced at the calendar and confirmed that my reliable friend, Cathy, had carpool duty. I jammed in a committee meeting and grocery shopping before pulling into the driveway at 4:30. The house was empty. No messages on the phone. No answer at Cathy’s house. Where were my children? The other carpool moms didn’t answer their phones. How irresponsible of the usually trustworthy Cathy to take the kids somewhere without even a call! At five o’clock my chest hurt and it was getting harder to breathe when Gregg walked through the door.

“Quick,” I said. “Get back in the car and drive their school route. Stop by Cathy’s to see if anyone’s home. I’ll wait here in case they show up.” I paced the sidewalk, a cold sweat prickling down my back, listening for sirens, willing my children to appear. Magically, two precious figures rounded the corner with backpacks dragging and frowns creasing their faces.

“Where have you been?” I cried, my knees trembling. “I was about to call 911.”

“At school,” Nick said. “Waiting for you.”

“You had carpool today, Mom,” Kim said. “We called your classroom and waited forever before the others decided to walk home. Finally we did, too. You’re in big trouble with their parents.”

I must have written the wrong names in my calendar! Anyone could make this mistake, but I collapsed in a wave of humiliation and guilt, as did the image I’d so carefully fabricated for myself. I stumbled through the rest of the week, unable to make the simplest of decisions. I slept through the weekend, barely able to raise my arms. A doctor confirmed my blood pressure was sky high and I tested positive for anemia. This was my turning point. I had to delegate. My attitude had been that if I didn’t do everything myself, it wouldn’t be done right. But this left no time to care for myself, or to enjoy the love, happiness and laughter that I was missing.

Now here I was doing it again while preparing for our dinner party, forgetting that our friends only wanted to have a good time with us tonight, not a flawlessly orchestrated dinner. What I had created instead was a perfect recipe for stress.

Our company would arrive in ten minutes and still there was a dirty pot, the table wasn’t set, and I wasn’t certain if I’d hung a fresh hand towel in the guest bathroom. I looked at Gregg and groaned.

He grinned and said, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?”

My eyes surveyed the kitchen. The dinner was ready but the sink was greasy. Gregg picked up a sponge and went to work. “I can handle this.”

“I know you can,” I said, and my shoulders relaxed a little as I left the room. I thought of that life-altering day long ago and used the memory as a gentle reminder that when I separate myself from tasks and allow others to help, I’m filled with joy instead of stress. In the bathroom I glossed my lips and fluffed my curls. I rubbed a frown line from my brow and studied my face in the mirror. Let go, I admonished the woman in the glass. Accept the way that people do things, and if they’re not done your way, so what?

When I walked into the kitchen, the countertops were clean and the dishwasher was loaded. Gregg had lit a candle and the room smelled of fresh pine. I found him leaning against the deck’s railing, his back to me, taking in the evening. How grateful I am to have a husband to remind me what is important. When I share chores, I take a major step in eliminating stress. Do I want perfect garlic toast or an evening spent in harmony with my husband and good friends?

I stepped outside and wrapped an arm around Gregg’s waist. We watched the setting sun filter through the trees, causing their leaves to sparkle. The tightness in my neck had lessened and my headache was gone. To embrace the moment without a need to control it had set me free.

“I’m having fun now,” I said, and meant it.

Gregg squeezed my hand just as the doorbell rang.

~ Sarah Jo Smith ~

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