I'm thinking about fear today, since it's what I felt for a good bit of it. And just as inexplicably, in a way. It's a fear I've actually been waiting for, a fear I've been anticipating for most of my life: the fear of caring for a child by myself at home during the day. I remember thinking about it a lot as a teenager and in college. I could not understand how I would survive a day with its mouth wide open ahead of me, all alone with a baby or a small child. I couldn't imagine anything more empty and depressing. I wanted kids; I just didn't know how I would get out of bed. (I think this was, in part, what I worried about when I left my job to be at home with Henrietta.)
I've been spoiled since Henrietta was born. Sam's had paternity leave, and aside from night-wakings, we've split this parenting thing pretty 50/50. We spend our days trading off taking naps when we really need them. When we need to run errands, often we all go together. We're so accustomed to doing this together that when we're on our own, we have trouble figuring out how to take a bathroom break; we're so used to just handing her off. It has not been a bad gig at all, really. I feel guilty for any complaining I've done.
But today, with Sam still recovering from his stay in the ER, I had my first taste of being at home for a good bit of the day alone with a baby who's on the move, which is somehow different from one whom you can set down and trust will be in relatively the same spot when you return from grabbing a glass of water. Sam is teaching one class in the mornings now, so he was gone from ten to noon, and when he got home, it was clear he was completely flattened by the chemicals they pumped him full of while in the hospital, so I sent him to bed. To bed until he woke up on his own.
|On the move.|
I ended up holding her with one arm to my hip, and hauling out a mountain of laundry with the other arm, dumping the laundry in the middle of the living room, and perching her atop it. I felt quite clever for thinking of this. I turned on an audiobook, and handed her a brightly-colored sock whenever she fussed or her attention strayed to the fireplace or the room with the cat litter in it. This worked, more or less. It took an hour. And part of me thought, "Wow, that took an hour?!"And the other part of me thought, "That, only took an hour?!" There were so many hours to go.
|On the laundry.|
I realized that we have next to zero support system around here. We have friends, but they're near the city, an hour or so away. And I have a few friends at church, but they have their hands full. In a week like this, when you begin it with a 911 call, you really need someone to help. You need someone to take the baby for a few hours while you reassemble the world. I even called someone to ask for help--which, folks, is huge for the likes of me--but she wasn't home, and by the time she got back to me, the baby was napping and it didn't seem like it mattered much anymore.
Except that when she did nap, I hopped on my computer to get some work done, and the whole time I felt my heart beating fast, anxious and worried. I kept having to check myself, wondering what I was feeling frightened of. I realized I was frightened of the end of her nap. Sam was still sleeping. I didn't know how many hours I had left in me.
When she woke up, I fed her and changed her, then let her climb the stairs to our bedroom, and the two of us woke Sam up. I broke my word, but it was five o'clock, and he'd been sleeping for nearly five hours, and I justified it as worry that he wouldn't sleep tonight if he didn't get up for awhile. But that wasn't it. It was the hours. I didn't think I had any more.
When I got Sam up, the three of us stayed on the bed for awhile while Sam slowly returned to the land of wakefulness, and I tried not to complain about his nap. Complaining about a gift-nap is so uncharming.
Sam and I got to talking about the train whistle, and Sam went to get it. We had thought perhaps she was just overtired when we last tried it. But today, in full daylight, just after waking from her nap, Sam made it whistle and she burst into tears again. She trembled and climbed deeper into my lap. Sam put the train whistle away in a drawer and carried the baby downstairs. I went in the bathroom to put my hair up, to get it out of my face. I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time.
Sam said, over dinner, that he felt like a bear who had been shot with a tranquilizer gun, slept for days, and woke up to find his paw had been amputated. So while he tried to help with our bedtime routine, he mostly sat in a chair, asking if she was ready for bed yet so he could sleep. I sent him off to sleep, and wrestled the baby for another two hours before she'd settle down. And while I wrestled, I thought about this blog post, which I had started, and I thought, no no, you're not supposed to be that honest. Don't finish it; don't post it; hit delete and go to bed. There's something wrong with you that you're afraid of a day at home with your baby. Talk to your therapist about it, not your blog. No one will relate. They'll have all sorts of advice you should have thought of already. You're too depressing, too sad. They'll say you're depressed. Maybe you are depressed.
(I went to bed without the last part of this post, and now it's 1 a.m. and I just spent an hour getting her back to sleep, and now I have it:)
This should be the part where I tell a sweet story about something special that happened that made it all worth it again. And I could tell it that way: After we pulled off her day clothes and before we put on her pajamas, I tickled the warm, soft skin of her baby torso and she giggled and I laughed. It was a lovely moment. But still, by the time I got her to sleep for the night, I rolled my shoulders and shook my arms like a fighter sent back to her corner of the ring. Leaving her room, the word in my head was "depleted." I felt depleted.
I'm not depressed. And I'm a pretty good mom. And she really is a pretty good baby. She didn't have any meltdowns and she napped beautifully. She's teething, but I know things could be so much more difficult, and that they will probably get more difficult. If anything, I'm still swimming in gratitude that my husband didn't die of a heart attack on Monday. Even imagining the magnitude of that grief mapped over a day like today is overwhelming. So we were an average mom and an average baby on a fairly average day, and this job is still the hardest job I've ever had by far. The day was lonely and long and difficult. And if I have anything to say to my younger, frightened self, it's that: this day was lonely and long and difficult. And maybe I'll get more help tomorrow, but even if I don't, I'm going to do it again.