Keeping it together in a disorderly world – with a little help from Dirty Harry and jazz hands

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Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 12:15 pm

I’ve never been able to pat my head and pat my belly at the same time. I mean, pat my head and rub my belly at the same time. Geesh – it’s a challenge just to write it.

In fact, there exists at least one home movie from my childhood in which my inability to chew gum and march at the same time resulted in a massive pile up of two high school marching bands, 15 baton twirlers, and a fleet of tiny cars driven by big men wearing little leopard-spotted fezzes.

Among the long-time residents of my hometown, the mass of bent brass and prostrate percussion that was left in my wake is collectively referred to as the “Great Marony Twister of ’78.” Multi-tasking effectively is not my natural strength.

If I was a single man, without children, and I worked at a job which comprised solely of watching a car rust, such a deficiency would be no big deal. However, I am a married man, with four children ranging in age from 21 months to 21 years, and I am a high school teacher and counselor by profession.

If I had not found a way over the years to develop my multi-tasking skills, I would have become a single man, without children, working as a rusting car watcher long ago. Suffice it to say that, out of my love for my wife, children and work, I have learned to somewhat successfully do several things at once.

It was not always thus. In my distracted frame of mind as a twenty-something single dad who struggled to keep balance in a life that consisted of two jobs, graduate courses, writing, dating, and, most importantly, raising my daughter Kate, I was as inept at juggling as I was at marching.

I regularly showed up to appointments at the wrong time, or the wrong day, or the wrong month. I missed deadlines for soccer registration, school registration and auto registration. I lost Kate’s lunch box on the highway once, having forgotten it on the roof of the car.

My wallet, a pepperoni pizza, an Elmo plush toy and a tattered piece of pink blanket affectionately known as “Silkie” all met the same fate. I soon realized that I needed to pull my act together before I lost Kate along the side of the road somewhere.

Even 20 years ago, libraries and bookstores had shelves upon shelves of self-help books with titles like, “Unlocking the Inner Organized You” and “Surprising Traits of the World’s Most Successful, Rich, and Good Looking People.” I settled on “Multi-Tasking for Dummies.”

Luckily I skimmed through the book before I forgot it on the roof of my car. I quickly put to use the only two items I recalled from reading the table of contents: keep a prioritized to-do list, and keep track of appointments in an organizational planner.

Two decades and three children later, these two practices still work wonders to keep my life in balance.

I’ve also learned a few tips on my own:

It’s OK to say no once in a while – to my boss, to my colleagues, to my wife and my kids. In the immortal words of that bastion of harmonious living, Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

It’s also OK to ask for help once in a while. Networking with other parents to share the challenges of transportation to and from karate, soccer, Sunday school and the movies is a great way to ease the burden of compromised logistics, and a great way to get to know the other families that my children spend time with.

And it’s not just OK – it’s necessary – to make time to pursue my own interests. I’ve discovered that in order to keep the life around me in balance, I must first keep the life within me in balance.

I’m a much more productive person when I can carve away a little time each day to practice my interpretive dance routines. Without a daily dose of jazz hands and fan kicks, I’m useless.

My developing organizational skills and relatively newfound life of harmony were put to the test two years ago when I prepared to send Kate off to college, and Ethan off to kindergarten – on the exact same day!

Even with the aid of cross-referenced to-do lists and a laminated dry erase calendar, making simultaneous preparations for two such seemingly incongruous events is something akin to painting the kitchen cabinets while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: The outcome is apt to be messy and will most likely leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

The stress of keeping their enrollment forms straight was enough to make me scream out in my sleep. One such mix-up resulted in Ethan’s receipt of a $15,000 financial aid award to play for B.U.’s women’s rugby team. And to the admissions folks at Hampshire College, my daughter will forever be known as Katelyn Richard Marony.

When all was said and done, though, Kate made it to college. Ethan made it to kindergarten. And no Shriners or majorettes were injured in the process.

With Kate away at college, and Ethan, Aidan and Ava still too young to have much of an active social schedule, things are temporarily quiet. That’ll change dramatically once all three of them are in school.

Until then, I’ll continue to refine my daily to-do lists with the inclusion of bar graphs and pie charts and to fine-tune my organizational planner with a color-coded identification system.

Now, if I can only remember not to leave them on the roof of my car!

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