The 'mommy track' can be exhausting, but...

Being a working mom has given me new respect for working moms everywhere.

I actually have two jobs, but bring home a paycheck from only one. My other job begins when I get home after putting in a full day at the office. Sometimes, a "full day" can translate into eight or nine hours of writing, interviewing, making phone calls, attending meetings, covering events, shooting photos, and trotting back and forth to my editor's office a gazillion times.

But my other "job" is something I look forward to all day. When I feel overwhelmed, I have a couple of pictures and some hand-made art over my desk to remind me of why I do what I do. My son runs me ragged, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

It's true, taking care of little boys is entirely different than taking care of little girls. Like the saying goes, little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog's tails. It amazes me sometimes how fast a 5-year-old boy can move when he's keyed up and in the middle of playing a favorite game of "monster" or "shoot the bad guy" with his dad.

At the end of the day, I drag myself through the door, and if my son is home, I am warmly greeted by a small fry who immediately demands that I drop everything and pay exclusive attention to him. Never mind that it might be late and all I want to do is unwind for a few minutes. Sometimes, he wants to show me a new "trick" (which usually involves jumping on the bed and doing flips.) Sometimes, he wants me to put on a movie. Sometimes, he really just wants to spend some time with me after we've been apart all day. That's the best part of the day for me, just spending some quality time together. "Mommy, I missed you," he'll say. I'll admit, quite truthfully, I missed him, too.

I deliberately force myself to slow down, sit still, and let him climb up on my lap for a few minutes of "cuddle time" before I move on to other things. Sometimes, those other things involve constantly picking up toys strewn everywhere throughout the house. Yes, indeed, I am an expert now in the "mommy-stoop-and-scoop" maneuver, which basically involves moving from room to room picking up toy soldiers, mini-cowboy and-Indian figures, McDonald's Happy Meal toys, toy guns, toy swords, toy cars, game pieces, and unidentifiable pieces of broken toys.

His room looks like a cyclone tore through it. But, in all fairness, I was the same way as a kid. My mother, I'm sure, felt like tearing her hair out in frustration, constantly asking me to pick up my toys and clean my room.

My son is in kindergarten now, and it amazes me how fast kids grow up. Sometimes, when I look at him, I can almost swear he grew some more during the night and sprouted up another half an inch. He's a little chatterbox, and talks a mile a minute. (I hope to goodness that doesn't mean he'll rack up a big phone bill every month as a teenager.) He's at the point where he watches everything I do, and how I do it, whether it's laying out his clothes in the morning, cooking dinner, serving it, or running his bath water in the tub.

My husband valiantly tries to help out and fix him dinner or give him a bath sometimes, but, according to him, my son tells him at every turn, "Mommy doesn't do it like that," and "that's not how Mommy makes that." I had no idea something that seems so simple to me would take on such significance for my son.

So usually, I am the one who ends up doing bath duty, and fixing his supper (Sometimes I feel like Flo, the waitress from the TV show "Alice," when he asks for a second helping of something while watching a movie during dinner.) And of course, I get him to brush his teeth before bed, and read him his bedtime story, and say his bedtime prayers with him.

But there's one thing at the end of the day he insists on -- his dad putting him to bed. We try to stick to a nine o'clock bedtime. We're still working on that. But when he finally goes to sleep, there's peace and quiet in the house. Many a time I have gone to bed at midnight or later, only to rise at six the next morning to start all over again. Yes, I'm sleep deprived. But when I look in on him and see him sleeping soundly and peacefully in his bed under his Spider Man bedspread, it's all worth the trouble.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at: vbaldowski@henryherald. com.