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Sweating the Small Stuff

A parent’s love is paramount. But housekeeping counts. by Laura Broadwell

By 7:30 a.m. on a recent Friday, I was convinced that I was the most disorganized —if not the most negligent—mother in the world. On that cold, drizzly morning, I was trying to help my daughter, Eleni, get ready for school, and I was beset by one problem after another. For starters, our hamper was overflowing (Saturday is laundry day). As I rummaged through Eleni’s drawers for warm, clean clothes, I had the sinking feeling that my 5-year-old would be going to school either in shorts or new stretch pants that were already too small. Her T-shirt selection was dismal; half of her hair clips were missing; and her new fuchsia suede sneakers were already scuffed and dirty. My goodness, I thought, as I tried to pull Eleni together. How did this happen? And why am I such a bad mother?

Eleni, of course, was unfazed by it all. Five minutes later she was eating breakfast and happily chatting away. As my inner demons roared, I stole a glance at my little girl—in purple stretch pants, scuffed-up sneakers, and butterfly-emblazoned top—and began to calm down. Okay, I mused. My daughter is (relatively) clean, well fed, and happy; and I’m (somewhat) in control of this mayhem. How bad can things really be?

When I decided to adopt a baby, six years ago, I knew I was ready to be a mother—at least in the grand sense of the word. I was willing to sacrifice time, money, freedom, and personal needs to care for a child. I was prepared to do whatever it took to create a stable, loving home for the two of us. In the years that I’ve been a single parent, though, I’ve learned that it’s usually not the big (or grand) stuff that proves the most difficult, but the little things—like running out of toilet paper, milk, ready cash, and hair clips—that threaten to send me over the edge.

Recently, Eleni and I were talking about her birthparents. For the first time, she seemed to comprehend that there was a mommy who had birthed her, and a family, half a world away, who perhaps thinks of and misses her. As Eleni asked questions, I tried to respond honestly and delicately. When our conversation was over, I knew I had handled it well.

By all accounts, I was justified in putting up my feet and calling it a day. After all, I’d accomplished something really big. But self-congratulation fizzled as I remembered the overflowing laundry bin, the near-empty refrigerator, the multiplying dust bunnies, and the approaching hour of a party that Eleni was to attend. In no time, I was back to the whirlwind of keeping up with the minutiae of our lives.

Meanwhile, subversive thoughts filled my head. What if I staged a walkout this weekend and refused to do our chores? What if I chose to lie blithely on the couch, leafing through magazines, while Eleni watched cartoons? What if ….My fantasies mounted until they were interrupted by a sweet but urgent voice. “Mom, is it time for my party yet?” Eleni asked. “And what am I going to wear?”

I looked at my daughter and felt a rush of responsibility, devotion, and love. In that moment, I shelved my revolution. Much as a part of me wanted to go on strike, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. As a single mom, I’ve not only got to sweat the big stuff—but the mounds of little stuff (and dirty laundry) too.

Laura Broadwell is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of the “Raising Eleni” column on She adopted her daughter in August 1999.

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