My experience of parenting veers between feelings of isolation and connectedness. Not isolated from Sophie — she’s sick this week, and wants me to hold her absolutely all day long — but isolated from adults, from anyone who can speak more than three-word sentences.
I live 70 miles from my work and the biggest problem with that is not the long commute (a prius, a pleasant drive, and plenty of podcasts of ThisAmericanLife make my twice-a-week commute almost bearable). The biggest problem with that 70 miles is that it precludes socializing with my coworkers. Nobody wants to commute 70 miles on the weekend, no matter how much we like each other. Thus, I’m relegated to finding friends on the playground or at yoga class and I’m not too good at that. I’m still nostalgic for the activist community I left behind in New Haven.
This week, though, was a week when I felt connected. T came over Tuesday evening with her daughter and the two girls played together so long that they ended up taking a bath together, which was adorable. Then after the girls both went to sleep, Ben had a great little good-bye party. It might have been the simplest party ever: I got him apple pie, he got pizza, someone else brought donuts, and lots of people brought British beer. It was the perfect low-stress say-goodbye-to-America-for-a-while event. It reminded me that, actually, I love my new San Diego community almost as much as the old New Haveners.
Then on Wednesday, my mom-friends astounded me.
Short story: On Wednesday, Sophie was too sick for daycare but I had to go to work.
Longer story: I realize that “have to go to work” is a relative term. I could have called in sick; no one will die if I don’t teach them American Studies. Still, on Wednesday, I had four one-hour meetings with grad students that were important to each of those students, and had already been overly-postponed. I also had to teach a once-a-week three-hour-class that I hate to miss. I have a work ethic. And I also have a need to get out of the house.
Usually, when Sophie is sick on Wednesdays, I take the morning off from work, then Ben takes the afternoon off. Almost every other day of the week, I can take the whole day off, but not Wednesdays. This Wednesday, Ben couldn’t get the afternoon off. It was his annual performance review meeting, it is three days until he leaves the country for six months, it just wasn’t a time when he felt he could miss work for a child’s cold.
So I emailed my mom-friends. They emailed their mom-friends. It was too early for phone calls, but email alone launched a web of support. Between 7 and 8 am on Wednesday morning, Jane’s nannie’s friend, Tori’s daycare-teacher’s-daughter, and Raquel’s sister-in-law all tried to rearrange their schedules to watch Sophie on Wednesday afternoon. Jane even offered to leave her two children with her husband, to cover the last hour before Ben got home, when the nannie’s-friend couldn’t.
Eventually, Sophie’s daycare-teacher also offered to take in Sophie, since Sophie had already spread her germs to everyone anyway, and afternoon is mostly nap-time. So I chose to leave Sophie in the most familiar space. She sat in a chair by herself, sleepily watching the birds, coughing and staying separate from the other daycare kids, calling out for Momma & Daddy. I feel terribly about leaving Sophie there, but grateful that Sophie’s daycare teacher allowed it — and I am beginning to recognize that most of parenting entails feeling guilty for one thing or another.
And my Wednesday classes and meetings were the best they’ve been all semester. Exhausted, getting sick myself, but still able to teach, perhaps because my haziness made my students step up their thoughtfulness.
Then all day Thursday, I got to hug Sophie, and procrastinate grading the 127 midterms I ought to be working on. I felt lonely again on Thursday, so it’s worth remembering how many folks are there to help me, even at 7 am.
Ben leaves on Sunday, and Sophie and I will have six weeks alone together, until we join Ben in Britain. In the next six weeks, I think, we’re going to be needing that network of help even more.