Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that real life awaited me when I returned from a weekend of blissful warmth and quiet in Palm Springs. But somehow it took half a week to get back into the rhythm of caring for the girls, running the house.
It was the first time Ryan stayed home with the girls for this long and they were all very happy to have me back. Over the days after I returned Ryan kept saying that he had seen in a new way what it takes to parent alone. Ryan’s work has kept him traveling frequently over the last decade, but since his weekend with the girls I’ve noticed him choosing a red eye flight home over staying the night out of town, and leaving our house before dawn over leaving the night before.
But even with his sensitivity more honed, there is no getting around the demands of his job that keep him at work long days, up at his computer at night and frequently boarding a plane. Maybe there is no getting around the demands of this young stage of life. Young children, a young career. The demands are myriad and ever changing. But at least we’re in it together.
The relief that Ryan experienced when I got home, that peace at knowing there is another adult who will chase the kids and keep them from tearing down the house, is a relief I know well. Each night when Ryan gets home I breathe, sometimes for what feels like the first time all day, in the silence of the kitchen as Ryan chases, carries or wrastles the girls down the hall to get their jammies on.
Admire is not a strong enough word for what I feel towards single mothers. I literally don’t know how they do it. It makes me a little scared to think about it. Parenting is really, really difficult. Even with two supportive adults. The truth is, parenting is probably best done by a whole army of people with fresh patients and familial love and affection for the growing, challenging, ever-changing child. But in America, the “village” culture is not one we know. Very few of us live in walking distance from any family members let alone all of them. How different life would be, how different our children’s’ experience if we had a dozen relatives out our back door to send the kids to, or ask for help from or share food with. This is a fantasy I have sometimes: having family surrounding us literally, and supporting us. I have this fantasy more intensely when I have a week like I did last week.
I had only recently returned from my vacation, batteries recharged and patience restored, when both of my daughters got hit with a respiratory infection that had them both up at night coughing and sneezing. As it happened, this very same week, a very huge thing blew up at Ryan’s work: a disaster crisis kind of situation that had him up late nights and gone before we got up in the morning. And because fate seems to find deep amusement in our panic, the new renter whose application we had recently approved decided that he wasn’t going to sign the lease after all. And since sometimes Karma wallops us across the side of the head without warning—perhaps for some despicable wrong I committed in a past life—the week that the kids had kept me up all night for three nights in a row with coughing and sneezing, the day after Ryan left for a three night conference, two days before I planned to fly with the girls by myself to Phoenix, and the very day I had to show our duplex to four potential renters, I got hit with one of the worst viruses I’ve had since I was a kid.
My head throbbed with congestion. My sinuses endlessly produced thick mucus. My throat itched and was sore when I swallowed. My body ached, I had the chills, I couldn’t stop sneezing long enough to speak to renters on the phone. And Ryan was gone.
Ryan was gone and I felt very alone. I had to show the duplex. With the sick kids. There was no one to watch them and with a May first vacancy, no way to postpone the showings. Its days like these that have me questioning the appeal of all this privacy and independence we prize in America. On a day like this, living in a one room house in Peru with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents filling the surrounding village sounds far better than my big yard and quiet, empty house.
Having never lived in Peru or with my relatives filling my property, I am free to romanticize this vision. In reality I might go crazy having so many people, so many opinions filling my parental space, interfering in my marriage. But on a day like that day, a little interference sounded welcome.
We got through that day. Like we do. Mothers know that we can get through much more than we thought possible before we first gave birth. Motherhood pushes us to greater and greater extremes, stretching our boundaries and showing us what crisis really means. Yet no matter how extreme the crisis, we find ourselves getting through it. It matters little how angry, upset, tense, anxious, patient, calm or controlled we are. One way or another we get to the other side of those epically horrible days and live to see the next one coming.
Two days after I showed the duplex and got stood up by half the appointments, I was locking up the house, feeding the cat, checking the key for our house sitter, turning the heat down, running the dishwasher, taking one last load of laundry out of the dryer and finally packing up the car to drive my girls to the airport.
. When three hours later we boarded the plane, rolling Dora suitcases in tow and gum in hand, an older mom started clapping as we walked by. “You made it!” she said as if we were old friends. And I knew exactly what she meant. The hardest part was behind us. The wrangling kids and hauling luggage was successfully complete and we had made our flight. She probably knew from experience that on the other end of this flight would be help: grandparents, a husband. People to hold and carry and help wrangle.
48 hours after arriving in Phoenix, the girls came down with an intense stomach virus.
When our plane touched down back in Minneapolis last night at 10:45, I was relieved that we had made it. I was beginning to get sick with this new virus too and the girls were in as bad a shape as they’d been all weekend. Listless and weak, we loaded them and our luggage and our borrowed car seats (because I had been out of cash when we gate checked our bags and somehow the car seats mysteriously stayed in Phoenix) into our car. And even though it was late and we were delirious and sleepy, and being home meant having fewer adults around to help, it was comforting to be back in rainy Minnesota, in our own car.
And today as the girls and I stumble around in jammies, wading through dirty laundry and trying to find suitable things to eat, the sink fills quickly with dishes and the floors I fastidiously cleaned before we left fill with crumbs: the evidence of children living here. And Ryan is back to work, managing crises and wading through thousands of emails. And it shouldn’t surprise me that the unrelenting pace of life pushes at every door as soon as we get home, but sometimes the battle against this unrelenting pace looks unwinnable. Do we ever get on top and stay on top?
If we get into a good routine for a few days, something comes along to throw us off our high horse and we’re flat on our backs in the dirt again. Sometimes it feels unavoidable but then again maybe we do it to ourselves.
I push myself, holding myself to unattainable standards, saying yes to too much, trying to be too many things to too many people, never letting myself be tired or even lazy for a little bit, not taking care of myself when I’m sick. But that’s the American way.
We’re rushing at such a break-neck pace all the time there is no real way to get on top of our responsibilities. Because if we do, we just add something else or push ourselves a little harder until we’re at the point of collapse. Because until we’re at that point, that crisis collapsing point, we don’t feel like we’re working hard enough.
Even vacations, the events we plan to force ourselves into relaxation and rest, become a source of stress in the preparation, in the realizing that we will be unavailable to the people who count on us. Between the preparation and the catch-up before and after vacation, we literally get more worn down from taking vacations.
I never thought a sink full of dishes and a floor full of dirty clothes could make me breathe a deep sigh of relief. But today it did.
Ryan is home all week to help me with the kids. There is nothing on my calendar yet. My girls are sick. And it’s rainy out. It’s a perfect day to do nothing. To just be. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to get in bed with my sick daughter and read a book and fall asleep with them and nap until I wake up, resting in the full assurance that my sink full of dishes will wait for me, that the laundry will be just as dirty as when I laid down. And in that small way even though the pace of real life is unrelenting, and the reality if I can’t force it to slow down, I can stop myself in the midst of it and find peace in the eye of the storm.