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The 36-Hour Day

with Lylah M. Alphonse

I'm a full-time editor, a part-time writer, and a mom and stepmom to five amazing kids, ages 1 to 14. For me it's not about finding balance, it's about the daily juggle-- my career, my commute, freelance work, homework, housework, married life, social life, and parenting-- and finding the time to get it all done.

To learn more about Lylah, check out her Work It, Mom! profile and read her blog at

Work-life balance FAIL

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle, Working? Living?


Yesterday, for the first time ever, I was late picking my little kids up from preschool and daycare.

It was a crazy day — my husband is away, things at work are extra tense, I had a phone interview to do while driving home (we could also title this post “Safety Fail” — or “Yay, Multitasking,” I suppose), and traffic was at a standstill. The 40-mile dash to pick up the kids before 6 p.m. took almost two hours, and I breathlessly punched in the keycode at their school 10 minutes past deadline.

I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when there’s a per-minute late charge, and your kids have been there longer than usual that day anyway, every second counts.

Every traffic light seemed to take longer than normal. As my clock clicked over to 5:59 p.m., it seemed to stop measuring time in minutes and start measuring time in dollars. “You know there’s a $5 per minute, per child, charge for picking up after 6 p.m., right?” the not-at-all-happy-to-still-be-at-work caregiver told me as I scribbled my name onto the billing form. I must have gasped, because she thought for a second and added, “Or $1 a minute. I don’t remember. Either way, it gets expensive.”

My little kids — the last two there — were happily playing with trucks and cars when I bolted into the building, and they looked up and greeted me with an enthusiastic “MAAAMAAAAAAA!” So I know they’re no worse for wear. But I still feel horrible.

It’s not just the blow to my wallet (though I’m really, really hoping that it’s $1 per minute per kid, rather than $5. I can swallow having to shell out $20 extra for being 10 minutes late, but $100? Shoot me now). It’s a blow to my SuperMom status — or, really, the illusion of it. People still ask me “How do you do it all?” and days like this make me feel like a fraud, because the truth is that, some days, I can’t do it all — not even when I have to.

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22 comments so far...

  • This is my biggest nightmare, literally have woken up in the middle of the night worried about this or from a nightmare about this. Thank my lucky stars it hasn’t happened yet (yeah for flexible work hours and high-tech where nearly everything can be done remotely).

    Aimers  |  April 16th, 2009 at 8:51 am

  • Yesterday it was my husband’s turn to pick up as I had to go to work at my second job. Thanks to the “tea” party people, he couldn’t get to daycare before closing so I detoured and picked up our daughter and took her with me to my second job. Luckily the manager on duty thinks she is adorable and was thrilled to see her. The best part was my husband could make it there since it was a different traffic flow. I am fortunate in the fact that on normal days - daycare is just 10 minutes away - barring any traffic accidents. I understand and feel your pain and I think that every mother who has a kid in daycare has had it happen at least once. It does not make you a bad mother just over extended time wise as most of us are. Hang in there - and it should only be $1 a minute and if it is more - ask for the warning. The daycare that my daughter attends gives warning before charging late pick up fees.

    AM  |  April 16th, 2009 at 9:14 am

  • We have the same thing but our place closes at 5pm!! That sucks but its the best place and I wouldn’t trade it. However, I have friends who have their children there. We have signed up on the roster to be allowed to pick each other’s kids up. So, it has gotten to the point where we don’t even call each other. If we see it is 4:57pm and one of my friends kids is still there, I sign her out and vice versa. We wait out front in the grassy area with the kids until each other shows. We have saved lots of money this way and maybe you could find someone to do this with, too?

    Oceans Mom  |  April 16th, 2009 at 11:52 am

  • Watching that clock click to 6:00 is the worst. One day last year, in the midst of holiday shopping, I was 40, yes, FORTY, minutes late to pick up my daughter. I commute 65 miles and I made the first 63 miles in the normal amount of time. When I got to my town (home to a big mall) at 5:30pm, traffic just halted. I made it the one mile to my son’s daycare and got there at 6:03. We raced out to the car and crawled the remaining mile to my daughter’s after school program and got there at 6:40. I raced in, my son in tow, and the director took one look at me and gave me a huge hug. Thankfully she didn’t charge me the $1/minute fee since I am usually on time and was very understanding, but I was pretty mortified.

    SG  |  April 16th, 2009 at 11:55 am

  • LOL when my kids were 4 months old, I got two speeding tickets in one week trying to get *home* from work. My nanny would clock out directly at 6pm and I couldn’t reach her, or my husband or my in laws to help me.
    When the cop pulled me over for the second speeding time, I had a full blown panic attack–couldn’t breathe, sobbing hysterically, babbling about needing to get home by 6. He gave me a number for a depression hotline, but gave me the darn ticket anyway!

    I went home, fired the inflexible nanny, and got on some medication to help my overwhelming anxiety. Things have not been that bad since. :-)

    spacegeek  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:03 pm

  • Lylah - you are STILL supermom - you got there didn’t you!
    I had the pure luxury of having my son in private care when i worked outside of our business - there were no time limits or over charges - just simple courtesy of a phone call if running late - something I KNOW was a blessing.
    My faux pas is 2 fold - has to do with superSCHOOLmom. First there needs to be a rule book - I never had leprechauns wreaking havoc on St pat Day morn - my kindergartner was devastated that ‘Lucky’ had not come to our house with his antics and left goodies behind - apparently Lucky is cousin to Santa, Easter bunny & Tooth fairy!!!! Will NEVER happen again!
    Second mommy faux pas 7:45am - ‘what do you mean the party is TODAY!’ Fortunatley I know that if I hit the 4 lights correctly, I can drive to the grocery store have 5 min to shop & be back to school all within a 30minute time slot. We reaffirmed that data on this morning of mommy forgot to buy the assigned items for the party.
    Now - I live via my palm pilot - between hubby, son, race car team, businesses & numerous organizations - I CAN do it all with my PDA -Personal Diva Assistant - or pretty damn close!

    Pammy  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:16 pm

  • Wow. My husband does at least half the pickups in our family (daughter’s daycare is on his commute, son’s afterschool so close to home it’s on both our routes), and I’d say he’s late maybe once a month or so. I can’t imagine him ever personalizing or catastrophizing it like this.

    Shakti  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

  • Aimers: I wish I could do more remotely most days!

    AM: Thanks, I’m going to check into it with the director today. $5 per minute per kid! Whoa…

    Ocean’s Mom: That’s a great idea… I’ll have to look into that.

    SG: Mortified. Yes, that’s exactly it!

    Spacegeek: I’m so glad things are better for you!

    Pammy: Thank you so much. I think I need to use my Personal Diva Assitant more often…

    Shakti: That’s really interesting. Do you think that’s because of who he is as a person, the fact that he’s the dad instead of the mom, the fact that society tends not to look to fathers to “do it all,” or do you think it’s maybe just not that big of a deal?

    My husband usually does pick up, but he’s away this week, so I’m doing it all. Maybe that’s why this dropped ball seems especially bad to me…

    Lylah  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

  • I had a similar occurance but with opposite reactions. My husband and I take turns picking up our 3 year old anytime between 4:30 and 5:00. About a month ago on my day to pick her up I got stuck in a meeting until 5:30 and didn’t make it to daycare until 5:45, they don’t close until 6, so I was fine with them but my daughter still hasn’t let me live it down. She was the last one from her class there and her two teachers had left so she was with a teacher she didn’t know and I guess it must have really bothered her because at least a couple times a week she reminds me that I was late that one day and she makes both my husband and I promise that we aren’t going to leave her at daycare when we drop her off in the morning. Holy smokes you would have thought I had left her there for hours instead of 45 minutes longer than usual - geez! LOL

    Danielle  |  April 16th, 2009 at 1:20 pm

  • The balls I drop have been spending time with friends (cancelling) and taking care of myself (primping, exercising). Sadly, I’ve lost friends because of it - each of those ones are SAHMs) but the remaining ones I consider my true ‘forever’ friends : )

    I think I’m OCD with picking up on time - it’s the one thing I seem to be really good at!!! Thankfully I work from home and can leave whenever - so my work suffers but I can always work for a bit once we get back home.

    ~Monica  |  April 16th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

  • I’d check with the center. We had times when we were late and they waived the fee.

    But I can relate to the “FAIL” feeling. The first Friday Alan was in a daycare center, I showed up at 7:15 for a 6:30 pickup and worst of all it was Alan’s 2nd birthday! (I think they waived the fee that day due to weather related delays.)

    Leslie  |  April 16th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

  • Ok, this is really wierd, but I did the exact same thing yesterday. You have told my story exactly, except my commute to pick them up is 35 miles, took me 2 hrs and I arrived at 6:15pm. I was yelling profanities at the cars in front of me that usually don’t come out of my mouth, as traffic just did not move! I arrived running to the infant room to get my 8 week old, who just should not have to be there 11 hours a day, and then down the hall to my two year old that was sitting down reading a book by himself (so sweet). To top it off, they handed me two accident reports to sign, one because another kid bit him and another because a kid scratched his face. AM I THE WORST MOTHER EVER? Is it all worth it? Ugh, I ask myself this question everyday!

    Sam  |  April 16th, 2009 at 3:17 pm

  • Being human is tough sometimes. Remind yourself that you’re a good mom, and you’re a loving mom. And hope that fee is $1, not $5!!

    Daisy  |  April 16th, 2009 at 4:21 pm

  • BIG OUCH! As if it’s not difficult or costly enough!

    But, most important, the kids are safe and that’s exactly what we do best.
    It’s on these worst of days that we really prove that we can “do it all.”

    Joan Goldner  |  April 17th, 2009 at 5:18 am

  • I wants understud about work-life balance.

    surya khanal  |  April 17th, 2009 at 7:16 am

  • I can totally relate. Last night I was at a magazine launch party, talking to the editor and I missed my daughter’s mom/daughter neighborhood book club. (She had to get dropped off by someone else.) I got there an hour late just in time to pick her up. I felt awful! At the same time, I was glad to have the 1:1 time getting to know the editor - or better yet, having face time for her to get to know me. It’s not easy! We are pulled as moms and working women.

    Melissa Taylor  |  April 17th, 2009 at 8:51 am

  • It’s not easy to stay on track with all we have to do everyday! We’re human.

    Once, my routine was upset and it threw me off. Normally, I would get off from work, pick up my son at his school, pick up my daughter at her preschool, and head home via a 25 mile, at least hour-long commute during rush hour. One day my son didn’t have school. He stayed at my home with my mother. Because I didn’t have to pick him up that day first, I somehow assumed that I had no pick up to do, and headed straight home. I was 2/3 of the way home when I realized that I was missing my daughter. Then I had to wait for the bumper to bumper traffic to reach a turn around point on the highway before I could turn back. Then I rushed - luckily aganst the rush hour traffic now - to the daycare to pick her up. She was a little worried, and the school director would have rather been home by then. I felt a little incompetent, but I laughed it off. Things happen.

    D  |  April 17th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

  • I feel like I drop balls every day. My husband stays at home and takes care of our twins, lucky, right? But, the resulting burden of endless hours @ work and tiresome evenings at home have left me out of touch: with my friends, husband, and self. Balance…something I always considered myself…until now.

    Meredith  |  April 18th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  • I think Shakti’s husband has the right attitude. If it was an everyday occurence it would be a problem. But in the real world, traffic jams happen, trains are delayed, bosses ramble on and on in meetings that refuse to end. Its not like you were having cocktails and a spa treatment. I think you should congratulate yourself for making through your husband’s business trip!

    Chris  |  April 19th, 2009 at 9:10 am

  • So, since I’m not superhuman - and I only have so much energy after being stuck in rush hour for 2 hours a day both ways to work -
    And since I usually try and make dinner for my fam of 4 each day - coupled with homework demands and constantly trying to figure out my next move with career and biz -
    My hubby is out of work and just trying to hold it together with faith.

    I am encouraged though - that in between all of that, there are special moments that come and that a mama must steal -
    We are the glue that holds the marriage, home and balance together -
    Planning is key and being in sync with the hubby is a must -
    It can be done - just have to have the faith to know that you ‘can’ and that a perfect mother DOES NOT exist… no matter what your friends (sahm) say -

    Latrice  |  April 19th, 2009 at 11:38 am

  • Deep breath. Really not that big of a fail. Really. Cut yourself some slack, mama! It happens. Life happens.

    Robyn  |  April 20th, 2009 at 11:22 am

  • Got the signals crossed once with who was doing pick up and got a call from the after care (10 minutes prior to close) that no one showed up. Mind you work is 30 minutes away if all the stars align, most days is closer to 45! Of course no stars aligned that day and it took an hour!!!!
    Bless the center; because we’d never been late before and they realized I really had thought that pickup was taken care of, I was charged the $10 flat fee (for 1st 10 minutes or any part thereof) but not the entire 40 minutes.
    Now probably obsess a little about pick up but better that than another late day.

    Mich  |  April 22nd, 2009 at 6:27 pm

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