Winning the Amazing Race

Parenthood may not have the rewards of reality television, but the challenges are the same

I don’t know about you, but I’m completely hooked on The Amazing Race and can’t wait for the new season to get underway. I love the dynamics of each team, the strategies they use to beat out each other to the destinations, and all colorful and different places around the world the teams travel to. Plus, let’s be honest—as I’m nestled into my couch on a Sunday evening, I love watching half the contestants make total asses of themselves in foreign countries. But, a few years ago, when my eldest daughter was just two, a work conversation with a colleague got me thinking: Maybe I like The Amazing Race because really, isn’t that what every day is like for parents?

Being a parent—like being a speed-obsessed world traveler—means being practical, honest, and making lots of tough decisions. Start with clothes in the morning. The questions I ask aren’t about couture and my intense relationship with a Ken Paves-like stylist. Instead, it’s how does post-baby body look in that pre-baby outfit? Is that a hint of camel toe, meaning I have to undress immediately? How long can I get away with baby weight as an excuse for clothes not fitting properly?

The next challenge for any Washington parent heading off to work is the commute. Slow drivers and red lights are my mortal enemies. Mere seconds can count toward how the rest of the day plays out. I’m chronically late, but one bad cab driver or sequence of Washington’s famously unsynchronized red lights can break the day.

Stores are full of difficult decisions and calculations. Which line is shortest at Target? What time is Trader Joe’s the least crowded? Which cashier packs fast enough to avoid a meltdown by my two-year-old who’s dangerously close to an overdose on fruit gummies. A slow cashier or person who writes a check (who are you, check-writer person? and seriously—checks?) can sabotage an entire outing.

Even if everything goes right and I’m left with extra time, I still have to make decisions. How fast can I cross the Beltway, run a final errand, and get back home before the school day ends to pick up my oldest kid? Will I get fined if I’m late again for pre-school pickup? And can my younger child handle one more trek in and out of her car seat without going stiff as a board and screaming bloody murder?

I can spot the childless adults a mile away, can’t you? They dilly dally through the mall, glance in store windows, and wonder if they’ll browse in that store or move on to the food court. Maybe they’ll catch a matinée! Sometimes I look at them with longing and think about the days of yore, the good old days of free afternoons with nothing to do.

And weekends! For childless adults, they’re a time to catch up. As a full-time working mom, I had to meticulously plot out each fragment of each weekend when my darling daughter was napping so I could make the most of it, cramming in my garden time or gym time, stocking up on groceries, or working my way down the errands list.

Unlike The Amazing Race contestants, though, we’re not given an envelope of money or free trips from for winning each segment. I’m leading the charge if the kids eat some of their dinner, someone didn’t melt down in public, I wasn’t late for everything, and we have clean PJs.  

Even though my life is chaotic and jam-packed and I don’t have time to linger at the mall, that doesn’t mean I’m not on the trip of a lifetime.

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