Not So Simple

Like many working moms, “Real Simple” editor Kristin van Ogtrop finds the perpetual quest for balance between work and family to be full of comedy and tragedy, triumphs and failures. In her new book, “Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms For The Half-Insane Working Mom,” van Ogtrop offers up a collection of phrases, lists, musings and essays—organized in alphabetical order—that illustrate the daily chaos that is the life of every working mom. Below are a few of her “necessary terms”:

EXISTENTIAL LETHARGY: The state you’re trapped in when you’re so overwhelmed that nothing— and I mean nothing—interests you, not even Starbucks or a York Peppermint Pattie. This state is particularly acute at the beginning of the school year, the end of the school year, and any time from November 23 to January 2, and on Halloween.

GUILT CURVE: The process by which your feelings of shame and inadequacy about being a working mom grow and then diminish. In my experience, the guilt curve is a bell curve, peaking when your first child reaches kindergarten, with a long tail that lasts until the day of your funeral.

“JUST VERY AMBITIOUS”: The worst thing anyone can ever say about you. This description is simply transparent code for “a complete asshole” and “would not hesitate to throw her own mother under a bus.” In short, you never want to work with, work for, or hire someone who meets this description. And if you yourself are ever described this way—well, you’ve seriously got to work on your message.

“NO VISIBILITY ON THAT RIGHT NOW”: The most glorious corporate-bullshit-speak I have ever heard from a person of importance who didn’t want to say “I don’t know.” It was during the Q and A portion of a management presentation; when I heard it I thought, I’ve got to try that at home. However, in response to questions such as “Do we have any ice cream?” it just confuses the audience.

KINGDOM OF NO: A magical land that exists only in your fantasies, where “no” is always the answer and you never feel guilty for saying it.

PERFORMANCE ANXIETY: The fear that you will show up at work one morning and realize that your mental hard drive has been erased overnight. The years of trying to remember important dates on the school calendar as well as the names of all the supporting characters in your daily work life—not to mention the gazillion passwords you have for the gazillion things in your life that can be accessed only online—will have finally taken their toll. You will be blubbering, speechless, spent, and will have to be carried out on a gurney.

QUÉ SERÁ, SERÁISM: Vital coping mechanism necessary for the health and survival of any working mother. Also known as letting things go; moving on; putting things in perspective; having your priorities straight; trusting fate; knowing things happen for a reason; not sweating the small stuff; not trying too hard.

USUAL SUSPECTS: The panel of forces you must consider before you commit to having a full-blown working-mother existential crisis. Before you allow yourself to question your entire life and any decision you have ever made, check: hormones, sleep deprivation level, messiness of house, whining level of children, ridiculousness of colleagues. If none of these is the guilty party responsible for your unhappiness, then you may indeed have bigger problems.

Excerpted from “Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms For The Half-Insane Working Mom,” by Kristin van Ogtrop. Little, Brown and Company, April 2010.