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Political Snoozes: Why a Working Mom Just Can't Stay Awake This Election Season

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I fell asleep during Monday night's debate. That makes four out of four. I nodded out during the discussion regarding the United States' relationship with Israel, and woke up to the talking heads declaring the victor. During the town hall-style debate, I fell asleep about three sentences before Romney's "binders full of women" remark. I didn't learn about it until I saw a couple of biting posts on Facebook the following day, and by then much of the moment had passed.

I wasn't always this way. I was once politically and socially active and engaged. In college, I tutored inner-city kids. During my third year of law school -- a time most students spend partying because their post-graduation law firm jobs are already secured -- I founded an on-campus human rights organization. Within months it had hundreds of members and was attracting prominent speakers.

But now? Frankly, I'm just too tired. I'm the mother of two small boys, ages 4 ½ and 23 months, and I work full-time as a corporate lawyer at a sophisticated New York law firm. My days start before the sun rises and, if they end at all -- because there are always middle-of-the-night wakeups to be had -- they end many hours after it sets.

Take Monday, for example. My little one was up at 5:30 a.m. All four of us were at the doctor's office for the kids' flu shots -- the boys dressed and fed, my husband and I fortified with coffee -- by 8:30 a.m. The doctor, of course, was behind schedule, and by the time the boys had been poked with needles and placated with lollipops, I knew we were going to be late for school. I handed the 23-month-old off to our babysitter, rattling off instructions about play dates and dinner, and ran to catch the bus to school with the 4-year-old.

My day was a series of back-to-back meetings and calls, the last one ending half an hour later than expected. My husband was out that night for a work event, which meant I had no flexibility -- I had to get home on time in order to let our babysitter go home herself. So instead of walking the 30 blocks, as I usually do, I hopped in a cab and shot uptown, arriving in time to usher the kids, as calmly and as lovingly as possible, through tooth-brushing, pajamas, stories and bed. Then it was back to the laptop for me, which I finally put aside just a short while after the debate had started.

All of this is in no way unusual, not for me, nor for any mom who works outside the home. There is no start or end to my workday, just as there is no start or end to the time when I'm doing the things I do for my family. I check my email first thing upon opening my eyes in the morning, seven days a week. I coordinate playdates, childcare and healthy dinners from my desk in between meetings. It's a revolving door existence, a constant shifting of gears from fast-paced businesses-minded efficiency, to gentle patience and nurturing and back again.

Sometimes it's incredibly overwhelming. Usually, I try to stay organized; my husband and I send each other Outlook calendar invites for all of our family members' activities, for example, so we don't have to worry about coordinating schedules. I rely heavily on my mother and mother-in-law, all-star grandmothers, who make themselves available for after school pick-up and babysitting on a weekly basis. I accept the fact that I will always have a domestic to-do list stretching weeks, if not months, into the future, and turn a blind eye to things at home that drive me bananas -- like the fact that we have been using a blanket as a window shade in my kids' bedroom since early September because I haven't had the time to deal with replacing the one that broke -- so that when I am home I can give all of my attention to my kids.

Most importantly, I try to focus on whatever is the highest priority at any given moment. When I am on a call with a client, it is that client's business needs and objectives. When I walk through the door at night, it is my kids and their day, their moods and their need for my love and attention. I move through the day in bite-sized increments, one after the other.

Oftentimes, the really big things, like national and international issues, get lost. Because I'm constantly putting my head down, focusing on the moment and the task at hand, it's hard to know when to lift it back up and look at the wide world. Of course I want my kids to grow up in a world that is kind and compassionate, with options and opportunity, and I know the choices that are being made in the national arena now are setting the stage for the world they will inhabit as adults. In light of that, I try to keep up with the big issues -- I read the newspaper as often as I can, keep the news on in the background in the morning and read the New York Times Magazine (almost) every week. Sometimes, though, I fail to keep up even with that.

The young, idealistic person inside of me -- the part of me that remembers constantly discussing the latest developments -- is appalled at my lack of engagement. But my and my husband's highest priority today is making sure that my kids themselves are kind and compassionate, well-adjusted little people who are well-taken care of. And there just isn't enough time for much else.

So I can forgive myself for having fallen asleep through four debates this election season... as long as I make a promise not to sleep through election night.