The art of chaos

This column — my debut in Minnesota Parent! — was turned in late. 

Here’s why: Working motherhood is kind of for the birds. I’m a freelance writer and have three kids under 5. I know. If you look up “total chaos” at Dictionary.com, my family’s photo is riiiiiight there. 

My 3-year-old, the middle kid, was going through the final throes of some speech evaluations, a staggeringly emotional and personal experience that feels not unlike doing open-heart surgery on yourself as you fill in the circles on Scantron sheets: Always, sometimes, never, always, sometimes, never. Asking yourself: Would he hop on one foot six times in a row? Does he jump off the stairs with both feet (I don’t know, I typically discourage him from jumping off the stairs at all, EDUCATION PROFESSIONALS!) Can he stack more than eight blocks? Can he name 20 objects in the house? (Yes, and no. He knows them, yet cannot speak them. But there’s no circle for that.) What day, time and hour did he sit up unassisted for the first time? What’s his rising sign? What is the rate at which his fingernails grow, in microns? 

While pondering these questions, I absentmindedly slid into the driver’s seat of someone else’s minivan after dropping my daughter off at preschool. 

Then the baby came down with a 104-degree fever: Roseola. 

Daycare hours changed. 

In the meantime, I was trying to stay on top of the laundry a five-person family creates. Sitting on hold with our insurance company over another mystifying letter. Squeezing in a so-overdue haircut in which I went from a legit Cousin Itt to a person who still has hair halfway down her back despite jettisoning two feet of it. Even my library is pressuring me: Two of my requested books came in and the due date is tight, man.

So … without further ado, here I am, tapping away at my kitchen table while my 1-year-old plays in a tiny, waterless inflatable pool, stacking cans of Play-Doh, the 3-year-old snoozes upstairs, and I’m about to pick up my 5-year-old at preschool.

So, what is there to know about me? Well, I keep thinking things will chill out soon, but the abovementioned is turning out to be a pretty typical week. From the first “Mamaaaa? Daadaaaa?” morning call, some kind of existential countdown clock hovers over me in grayscale, hands whizzing around — like in those old silent movies — in which I have to hurdle All The Things, including Unanticipated Ones, until the kids are peacefully tucked in bed again. And we all know that is rarely a peaceful process!

I feel like there’s this overarching judgment: Working mothers aren’t attentive to everything — that we can’t be, that we use our kids as an excuse AND our work as an excuse as to why things aren’t done. And on my bad days, that’s the line I buy into as well. But when I think about the sheer amount of decisions I make and tasks I accomplish on a daily basis, I feel like Wonder Woman. I mean, I have grown and fed three humans from my body through four Olympics. And, drumroll please … I’ve forgotten to pick up my daughter from preschool … only once! 

Every time I think I’m going to circumvent The System, something else pops up. I’m dating myself as being of “advanced maternal age” by saying it reminds me of that John Mellencamp refrain, “I fight authority; authority always wins.” 

I’m fueled almost entirely by Peace Coffee’s Guatemalan Blend, which runs like a blessed river through my professional espresso machine directly into my bloodstream, thanks to my incredible husband, William, who gave me the gift that keeps on giving. 

If that makes me a cliché, just know I’m a cliché who also wears red lipstick to distract you from the dark circles under my eyes, that I support you as a parent and that I’m here and ready to talk about anything. 

But know this first: You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be okay.


Katie Dohman lives in West St. Paul with her three kids, two dogs and one husband. She loves them a lot, which is good, because she can’t remember the last time she slept a whole night through. (Her columnist photo — up top — is by Cadence & Eli Photography.)