When The Village Is Not Available

As Previously Published:  http://www.scarymommy.com/parenting-without-village-worst-days/

Last night was parenting misery at its finest. My husband was out of town, our part-time nanny and our back-up part-time nanny have both recently had changes in their schedules and are no longer available, my in-laws wouldn’t have been able to make it to our house in time, my close friend emergency contact was at an event and unavailable. So there I was. My village unavailable. Three kids. Hit with the worst migraine I can recall having in the last four years. The last time I had a migraine this awful, our previous full-time nanny had changed her dinner plans, come over for the last hour of the kids’ day, to just tuck them in because I was too debilitated to make it another hour. I awoke from that haze of a migraine to see the dishes in the sink washed, the house picked up, the kids in bed, and blissfully clean quietness. If I wasn’t already in love with our nanny before, I certainly fell hard for her at that minute, right then and there.

Well. Now the love of my life has moved to North Dakota (my former nanny—not to be confused with my husband), and there I was. Sharp, stabbing pain coursing through my left eye to the back of my neck, the nausea warning me as to what was to come, the dimmest light making me feel as if I was staring into the core of the freaking sun, barely able to keep my eyes open. I profusely thanked my type A self for pre-prepping dinner for the kids. I plated their food and poured them their drinks, then curled my throbbing, pounding, close-to-vomiting self up on the couch. I called out orders from the couch to my newly promoted baby-sitting five-year-olds. “Is your baby sister done with her food? Is she eating? Can you get her some fruit? Can you make sure she doesn’t stand up in her high chair? Can you make sure she doesn’t stick her fork up her nose?  Can you get her milk?” I had been so proud of my aspiring Martha Stewart self for making the most adorable fruit skewers with peaches, blackberries, grapes, and strawberries. Now I was cursing myself for making those damn fruit skewers, imagining my 21-month-old stabbing her unsupervised eye with a skewer. Thank goodness for my doting son that plucked each piece of fruit off the skewer for her and put them on her high chair tabletop.

It was five o’clock and I was on the verge of breaking down wondering how I was going to shuffle my kids to take a bath, brush their teeth, get in pajamas, and make it to the end of the night. I could barely move. The voices of my boisterous five-year-olds had never sounded so LOUD; they were like splitting daggers hitting me in my left eye. If I moved, I might throw up. If I spoke, this intolerable pain was going to become worse. I could feel her adorable, piercing brown eyes staring quizzically in my direction, wondering why her mama was curled up in the dark on the couch and not eating with her. She just kept saying, “Mama. Mama. Mama.” To which I answered sparingly. My five-year-old baby-sitters finally told me my 21-month-old was done eating. I took a deep breath (mostly to pep talk my stomach contents to stay within the confines of my stomach), mustered up the last drop of energy and cleaned her off. She kept saying, “Nose. Nose, Mama. Nose.” I looked at her nose. Sure enough, she had stuck a corn kernel up her nose. Had she ever done that before? No. Did I have any energy to react? No. I took some tweezers and pulled it out. “Nose. Nose, Mama. Nose.” I looked up further. Ah yes. Another corn kernel jammed up the crevices deep into her left nostril. I thanked myself for choosing to go through the years of schooling and the years of training that made me a master of foreign object removal from toddler noses. If this was the pinnacle of my MD degree, it had made it all worth it. I removed it. Checked one more time. No more corn kernels. I reminded myself that next time I asked my five-year-olds to babysit, to add to the list of sub-standard expectations, “Can you  make sure she doesn’t stick food up her nose?”  I gave her a meek talking to, using half my energy to speak to her and half my energy to keep my nausea at bay. It was 6 o’clock, and she usually goes to bed at 7. But hey, what’s an hour. So she went to bed at 6:15 because I had no more left in me to make it another hour. I was lucky to be able to put her into pajamas, a night-time diaper, and to remove one of her pigtails.

I called down to my five-year-olds to come upstairs, get their pajamas on, and we would reconvene in my bedroom. I announced it was a bath and tooth-brushing national holiday and no one was getting proper hygiene that night. They lounged in bed with me, and watched indulgent amounts of cartoons—My teacher says TV is really bad for your brain. Duly noted, my dear daughter. Thank you for the public service announcement—while I curled up under the covers, and made a cameo appearance only to expel my stomach contents in the bathroom. In never before recorded history, I asked them to please tuck themselves into bed. They rolled with the punches. My son hugged me, kissed me, “tucked me in”, and turned off all the lights, and hushed his sister, “Be quiet. Mommy is sleeping. Stop talking to her.” And without much more fanfare, I heard their doors click closed and silence. I felt so, so thankful that the day was over, even more thankful for the best kids I could ask for, and laid in the dark willing this fierce pain in my head to subside.

The pain did subside, and today, I am back to myself. I remember a colleague saying that a sick child was no excuse for not coming to work. That everyone should have a back-up to their back-up to their back-up. Well, some people are not so blessed with a village to take care of their kids. And while I am that fortunate, sometimes, the stars just do not align. I am so lucky that for me, these moments are fairly rare. I don’t know how you do it, parents out there without a village. But I am in absolute awe of how you make your family work, whatever your family looks like. Keep it up, all you parent warriors. It isn’t easy, but man, if your children are fed, their teeth are brushed most of the time, they take a bath some of the time, then hey, from where I stand, you are killing it.

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Valentine’s Day

To my husband,

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I have something to tell you. I came home yesterday, and I didn’t tell you about the worst part of my day. I didn’t tell you, because it was so hard to say even once to that daughter yesterday that her father had colon cancer. It was hard to tell her that the reason he had been bleeding for months was because that cancer has been growing inside of him, undetected. When she brought in her father, the first thing she told me was, “I want a full work-up. We need answers. We cannot leave until you have done a full work-up and we have answers. Do everything. We need answers.” I wish what I found wasn’t the answer. I see her face, looking at me, slightly bewildered, in disbelief, as I told her the news that made her world cave in. Her tears followed, and so did mine.

I felt guilty to be able to damper my own emotions by leaving work. By not talking about them. I can make that choice, but she cannot. She will talk about it and talk about it, and continue to break down as she calls and tells her sisters, her mother that is at home, the rest of her family. I told her the news, and her world changed forever. Her dad was my last patient of the day. I saw him at the very end of my shift, and I stayed late to make sure he was taken care of. But that is all I did. Because then I left, and I came home to you. I came home to our beautiful, laughing, loud children, racing in our beautiful home. I came home to their squeals of “Mama!” and their hugs that nearly knock me over. I came home to our healthy, fortunate family.

I told her daughter first. I wanted to prepare her before I told her dad. When I went in to tell her dad, she started to cry. He said, “So, I’m going to surgery. Well. When I go to surgery, then you can go ahead and go home. Now, what are you crying about. There is nothing to cry about.” And this made her cry harder. Because there he was. Her dad at 89. Still her dad. Still taking care of her. He will always be her dad, and whether he is 35 or 89, he will love her with all his might. Sometimes he gets confused, and sometimes he can’t answer my questions because he doesn’t remember when he last ate or if he has been sick, but his love for his daughter—this he will not forget. He has loved her from the moment he met her. This is imprinted in who he is. This is their life together. This is their family.

My mind was wrapped around this family all evening. I came home and breathed in the smells of our 21 month old. I snuggled a little bit longer with our five year olds. I felt the comfort of your love and the way you busy yourself with taking care of me when you sense that I am limping along that last stretch of the day. I am eternally blessed with so much. And left at work, is a family sitting on the edge of those waiting room chairs. Waiting for answers. Hoping for the best, fearing for the worst. I feel thankful. I feel guilt. I feel happiness. I feel sadness.

I know Valentine’s Day is a contrived holiday, but I’ll happily take any reminders in whatever shape and whatever form they come. Today, I remind myself that there are so many people I love so deeply. I am thankful for their health and their presence in my life. Today, I remind myself, that above all else, I have you. You are my forever partner. You are the amazing father to my children.  You are my rock. Many decades from now, we may forget what we ate for lunch, we may forget if that cough was from last week or last month, but we will remember that we love each other. We will never stop taking care of one another. We will never stop putting each other first.

To be honest, I didn’t get you anything for Valentine’s Day, and I truly don’t want anything from you. All I want is time with you. All I want is to spend a day, just you and me. Because that is how all this wonderfully exhausting chaos all started, and at the end of every day, that is all that truly matters to me. Time spent with you. Time spent with our amazing kids. Because sometimes, tomorrow is the day that you hear the news that makes your walls crash. I hope that day is far away, but today, I will cherish what we have, I will love it all, thank my lucky stars, and count down the minutes until I get to see you after my work day.

I didn’t tell you about the worst part of my day yesterday.  I didn’t need that heaviness in my chest to grow heavier.  I just needed to be with my family. I watched you play with our squealing, joyful baby girl as she rolled around the floor with you, and called out, “Mama, look!” as she stood gleefully on your chest, bouncing up and down at your expense, listening to your overemphasized grunts to her jumps put her into fits of giggles.  I couldn’t help but imagine my patient with his daughter and feel comfort that they had had moments just like this one.

There are big things that happen. Big amazing things. Big devastating things. There are little petty things that bring our days down. But my favorite things are the every day mundane things that give us joy. That build our family. Today, I am reminded of this healthy, full life we have. This is our life together. This is our family.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I am thankful that today, we have nothing to cry about. I love you with all my might.

A Plea From My Fifth Grade Self

I sat there, heartbroken.  My first fight with my fifth grade best friend.  I can’t exactly remember what it was about.  Her choosing another partner for a project?  Me sitting by someone else during a student assembly?  All I remember is coming home from school, head held low, heart heavy, feeling conflicted and unsure.  My fifth grade self experiencing the growing pains of friendship.

I remember sitting on the couch after school, feeling listless.  My mom was busy in the kitchen making dinner.  I remember her haphazardly wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, her hands still damp, when she asked me, “What’s wrong?”

My eyes welled and a building army of tears threatened to charge forward, as one single drop went rogue and rolled down my left cheek.  Between dramatically sucked in breaths of air, I told her about my fifth grade heart broken day.

My mom, half-heartedly listened.  Then she smiled and said, “Oh Cindya” (she called me ‘Cindya’), “This is just a little fight with your little friend.  Friends come and go.  It is not something to be so upset about.”

I realize now she was right.  A trivial tiff between elementary kids.  Definitely nothing to be devastated over.  Yes.  There is a litany of worldly issues more worthy of our time.  However, in that moment, to that fifth grade version of me, there was no “seeing the bigger picture.”  Her comments only added to my insecurities and rejection on that day.  I vowed to remember that.  I vowed to remember that while my emotions may be a childish reaction to an inconsequential event, they were my emotions nonetheless, not to be dismissed.  I vowed to remember how I felt in that moment and to remember its importance when I was a parent myself.

So that is what I remember.  I sure don’t remember the fight.  And ultimately, my mom was right.  My fifth grade best friend is now a Facebook friend whose adorable pictures of her sons I like when I see them.  I wish her a happy birthday once a year when FB reminds me.  So yes.  It was not something to be upset about.  And yes, some childhood friends come and go.  And yes, there are innumerable experiences and issues that have since come to light that have much more significance than that day’s events.  But, as I dive into parenthood, I remember the voice of my fifth grade self.

The issues of your children may seem trivial to you.  You, as an adult who has gone through so many more life experiences.  You, as an adult that realizes how incredibly lucky your children are to grow up with what they have.  You, who are aware of so much more that is going on in the world that needs our efforts and attention. You may think that it is important to have those discussions of everything that we are fortunate to have and about the more worldly issues to provide your child a more global awareness outside of her trivial fifth grade world.  You may even think, it would be the perfect opportunity to discuss how confrontation and adversity is a part of life and this may be a moment to build on your fifth grader’s strength and character.  Well, my fifth grade self is telling you, this is not the time for that discussion.  At this very moment, what your child needs is your attention.  Your empathy.  Your validation that these emotions they are feeling are real.  That reactions and processing new experiences, good or bad, is worthwhile.

In not minimizing their emotions, you are in turn not minimizing them.  You are supporting them and reinforcing their confidence in how they navigate this moment’s challenge and conflict.   Let them know it matters, because to them, it truly does.  It matters as part of their growth regardless of whether this issue is fleeting or ultimately forgotten.

Help your child build the confidence to acknowledge these experiences that will help them mature and start to solidify their own sense of self so they can join you in tackling the bigger issues. And every other day, please do talk to them about the things that we are facing as a nation and beyond.  Teach them that they are part of a global picture.  But right now, go ahead and let them feel.  Let them be a fifth grader.