Balance

I was thinking, “One more week till I get to see Ben and get to finally have a vacation,” and then I remembered that actually, I already live in a vacation town. So I took Sophie to the beach today. A friend texted me that the memorial day crowds were bad at our beaches, but on the way there, another friend wisely pointed out that I could simply go to the least well-marked beach around here, the one whose entrance requires walking through a campground. It worked out perfectly.

Sophie has been scared of the beach ever since I accidentally dropped her in the water, but even before that, she was finicky at the beach, endlessly striving to clean up all the sand, as if she were Sisyphus.  So today we took it slow. We sat on the wooden stairs for a while, until she was truly ready to get to the sand. I made some really nifty sand castles with her pail, while she sat in my lap attempting to avoid all contact with the sticky sand, until finally, it seemed to click together for Sophie: she realized that the beach is fun.

The beach was so much fun today that she stopped talking, instead simply grunting her pleasure for a whole 45 minutes of nonstop guttural ejaculations. “Uh, uh, ahh” there’s some rocks to climb on, “unnnh, unnh,” here are smaller rocks we can pile up, “uhhh, uhh,” let’s experiment more with sand, “uhhh uuuuuuh,” the children over there have a kite, “uhh, ahh, bird,” there’s a seagull flying with a fish in its mouth. We stayed far away from the water, and I think she finally relaxed on the beach. After having her full of sand-digging and rock-piling, she climbed up all the beach-stairs herself, stopping for only one extended bout of sand-sweeping.

Then, at the top of the stairs, it turned out there is a summertime burrito stand. I had not known. It is the most fabulous location to eat a fish taco, and it was a pretty good fish taco too. The people next to us got a whole pail of oysters, and a large Italian Ice that intrigued Sophie. We will have to return there soon. Sophie played with another child’s toy-car, and another child’s beach-shower-dancing, and her own ball, until it got very difficult to leave to go to our friend’s house, for the next part of our wonderful day.

We needed such a good day after yesterday. Yesterday, Soph woke up at 5:30 in the morning, which is only 45 minutes early, but it was enough to leave us both tired all day. I spent the morning at work, at graduation — glorying in the strangeness of academic robes, relishing the beauty of my students’ families, along with the tedium of this annual ritual, and the chance to chat with my colleagues. I told the babysitter I would be back by 12:30. Then I told her it might be 1:30, because graduation went later than I expected. Then I hit Memorial weekend traffic.

I didn’t get home until 2:15, exhausted and hungry, and I made the mistake of feeding myself first instead of putting Sophie down for a nap. Thank goodness, at least, that my babysitter could stay almost two hours later than planned.

Soph was in a good mood from her young babysitter, but when her exhaustion hit her, she also remembered that she was angry at me for leaving her all morning. She was door-slamming, lung-screeching, kicking angry. 

These are the times that I most miss Ben: when I’m exhausted but my daughter is punching me in the nose, and attempting to refuse to stay in her time-out spot, and just absolutely going banshees on me. These are the times when I understand how parents can ever get violent with their children. Not that I would ever be violent, but at these times when I’m holding Sophie’s hands firmly so she can’t slap my face again, placing her back in time-out again, I can see where the urge comes from — and even having that glimpse of empathy for violent parents frightens me. 

There was no chance of a nap now. 

I know I’m not the first person to be a single parent. What do other single-parents do in times like these, times when they’re exhausted, with kids who are exhausted and out of control? I decided that what they do is they turn on the tv. So we put in the DVD of “Wall-E,” which turned out to be the perfect choice. Sophie started making forts out of sofa-pillow cushions. We both recovered our equliibrium.  

We recovered so much that we even ended up going to a friends’ barbecue for dinner. I had thought that having a tantrummy child would mean skipping the q, but I decided we needed dinner anyway, and I didn’t feel like cooking. Soph fell asleep in the car-ride there, from 5:15 to about 6, finally getting part of the nap that she so desperately needed. That was the best I could do yesterday to provide my child with a nap.

She woke up crying, but calmed down and put on her good behavior as soon as she realized that there were adults other than Momma around. I got to have conversations with people who aren’t even Moms. It’s sad how hard it is, sometimes, to escape the Mom-o-sphere — and how much time I spend even in these non-Mom conversations still talking about Mom stuff. Soph kept tripping and hurting herself, still tired, but we were both having a good time anyway, so we stayed till 8, which is past Sophie’s bedtime — but what else are you going to do with such a late napper?She fell asleep the minute we drove away from our friend’s house. I put her to bed straight from the car, because that’s how asleep she was. No bath, no tooth-brushing, not even any pyjamas.

It was one of those days, days that to non-parents might look like I was making terrible parenting decisions, but also a day that I trust most of my blog-readers understand: it was a day when I made the decisions that let Sophie and I get through the day. Skipping brushing her teeth, watching a whole 90 minutes of tv, sleeping in the car, way off schedule: these are the compromises that let me stay sane.  

But yesterday was also the kind of days that made me happy that today was much more straightforward, healthy and on-schedule and still full of friends. Today, Sophie helped me clean the house before we went to the park, then for her nap at its ordinary time, then the beach and another friend’s house.  Today was a day spent mostly outside. Today balances out yesterday’s mid-afternoon movie. And I’m glad I had both days.

I’m going to miss this town, these friends, this weather when I go to Britain next week. 

And I’m going to love getting back together with Ben. And getting out of my car, into more adventures like today, I hope.

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