Lately, I've been stressing about how frenetic our lives are. The Experts tell me young children thrive on routine. Knowing when and where and with whom and for how long they'll play and eat and bathe and read and snuggle and sleep is Important.

These are the details of life that elude me. Sometimes I make a halfhearted play for predictability, but it never lasts. We stay up late enjoying visitors' company; we take a trip with an unavoidably missed nap here and a very-early morning there; Dave's work turns completely ape-crazy and the only chance my kids have to play with their daddy is three states away smack dab in the middle of the night. And, Experts be damned, my kids have an incredible father, and there's no way in he** they're going to grow up not enjoying his weirdly spectacular company whenever they possibly can.

I tell myself: It's okay! Real life is unpredictable! Flexibility is a life skill! They'll thank you later! And I'm usually pretty convincing.  But there are days -- like last Thursday, for example -- when I just want to lay every ounce of my once-joyful spontaneity on routine's bitter alter, in a sacrificial conflagration to the twin gods of sanity and calm.

I suppose, if I'm going to tell the story, I need to rewind to the beginning of our latest little road trip, to a travel plaza somewhere between Baltimore Harbor and the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Phineas -- who has been beautifully potty-trained for several months -- had an unfortunate encounter with an extremely powerful and equally over-zealous automatic flusher. He. Was. Terrified. I took a few minutes to calm him down, we hit the road and I didn't think about it again (because, seriously -- Who wants to dwell on these things?).

But then I noticed my boy eying every unfamiliar john with deep suspicion. And there was an incident in Boston that resulted in leaving most of his clothing in a Beacon Street yogurt shop trash can. No bueno.

Phin's plumbing paranoia came to a head a few days later, when we were escaping Manhattan's brutal heat wave at the MoMA. During a rather delightful conversation about expressionism, (Me: "Kandinsky didn't paint things, he painted feelings." Hettie: "Well, he made a mistake, because that's a flamingo."), it became apparent that Phineas needed to pee. I found a bathroom with a real door and a comfy chair and encouraged Phinny to, uh, take advantage of the environment. He did not respond well.

In fact, he became completely, utterly, bloodcurdlingly hysterical. So much so, that the responsible citizens in the corridor started enquiring whether all was well. So much so, that apparently they didn't believe my through-the-door explanations, and decided to track down a security guard. So much so, that the security guard felt compelled to forcibly pound open the door, just to be sure his art museum's family lav wasn't becoming a crime scene on his watch. And I really can't blame any of them. The ensuing conversation was impressively awkward for all parties.

By the time I turned around, Phinny had flushed and put himself back together. His visage returned to its typically-angelic state, he sweetly convinced me he was "all empty." Ten minutes after that, I realized my rookie mistake when he wet himself in the museum courtyard. One pair of new underoos and some mod shorts later, I stripped the moist child down to nature in what I thought was a quiet corner of the store, and later realized had a giant glass wall overlooking three floors of escalators. Nice.

Nevertheless, happy clean and fresh, we headed to a playground uptown for a picnic with friends. En route, Hettie had an accident. I dealt with this less compassionately and more time-efficiently than I had Phinny's recent indiscretion, commanding her to thoroughly drench herself in an anemic splash fountain. Dinner, punctuated by episodes of intense child-on-child violence and two mad dashes to the bathroom up the hill, was nonetheless delightful.

Old friends are good for the soul. And as I strolled back to our hotel through the lovely, smelly, masses along 5th Avenue, bewitched by the sultry too-late night, I couldn't help but feel profoundly blessed. I let myself bask in the collective sweetness of Willa strapped to my back, Hettie dozing off and Phinny, twisted around and smiling up at me, periodically mumbling randomly affectionate "I love you's." Hmmmm. Why WAS Phin sitting like that...? "On your bum, Buddy! I don't want you falling out." "I can't mom. If I turn around, the poop will squeeze out of my shorts."

That Smell wasn't The City. That Smell was My Child.

And that's when I may have lost it. Dave may have found me across the street from his office, whimpering on the sidewalk outside of Banana Republic. And I may have died a little when I realized he had to go back upstairs in a few minutes, and I'd be pushing that double stroller and dealing with its malodorous cargo by myself. And I know this just reveals how blessed/soft/spoiled I am, but I really did feel defeated.

Like most parents, I spend a fair bit of time obsessing about how I'm screwing up my kids. I'm tortured by mistakes I know I've made, and also the many more I'll blunder through over the next couple decades. I can draw a straight line from one too many road trips, to potty training setbacks, to a lifetime of missed potential and regret. I imagine, cringing, conversations they'll have sprawled on some therapist's tufted leather sofa -- and realize with dread that the conversations I can't imagine are probably the worst of all.

But here's one thing I know for sure: I love these stinky, hysterical, brilliant, naughty, gorgeous, surprising little creatures with a fierce completeness that shocks and amazes me. And heaven knows I'm trying to do right by them.

That night, after girding my loins and taking fresh courage, after putting the girls in bed and peeling the brand-new poo-filled shorts of my son, after a hot bath for him and a cold Diet Coke for me, I put up my feet and I called my mom. I'm pretty sure, 30 years ago or so, she had her down days, too.

Your reward for suffering through that ridiculously long blog post is this ridiculously cute image of Phinny in another recent (and bathtub-less) hotel. He looks happy, right?