It is Christmas morning, 3am. I am wide awake after 5 hours of sleep. I need more, but my mind is full of all the things that need to be done. All the things I'm not getting done while I sit here in bed and soothe my restless son.
Motherhood is tough. Being a stay at home mom is tough. It is hard work. It's my little, incredibly active baby boy dismantling my home bit-by-bit. I find myself cleaning up one mess while he makes another mess. Or two. Or three. It's being behind on laundry, on taking meds, on brushing teeth. It's needing a nap when your child is still running around and jumping off furniture. It's trying to listen sympathetically when your partner has a rough day at work. It's seeing the dishes piled up because it's hard to do them when you've got a baby on one hip. It's not getting to shower unless you want to have a child playing in the water at your feet. Ah, yes. Motherhood.
Women aren't meant to raise children on their own, home alone.
Let me say that again. Women aren't meant to raise children on their own, home alone.
Raising children is supposed to be a group effort. Family, friends, neighbors. Community. I remember growing up with my mother's friends and their kids around all the time. With the neighborhood kids playing in the front yards and sidewalks and streets. I remember when 10 year olds used to babysit, no problem. When putting a baby on a blanket in the front yard with a dog to watch him was perfectly ok, because there we people around. I remember my uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins coming and going. But this is America in the 21st century, where kids grow up in a culture of fear, and the nuclear family, as horribly dysfunctional, isolating, and destructive as it is, is the rule, not the exception. The American penchant for mobility, for chasing the dream, instead of staying near one's childhood home (assuming ever there was one)is destroying the fabric of our society. But that's another post entirely.
My family is over 200 miles away. My partner's family is 2000 miles away. My primary core of friends is 700 miles away. And I've got some wonderful neighbors, but they're either working or elderly and frail. I've tried connecting with other stay at home moms in the area but we are all so... busy. It's tough to make the time just to get together. And then there's always the kids to keep an eye on. So it's just me. Well, not just me. It just feels like just me.
Little Man's father is a wonderful man. He's kind and gentle and generous and tries to be emotionally and physically available. But he works a lot, supporting our family here in the Bay Area on one income so I can stay home with the baby. He gets stressed and tired and needs his down time, here at home. So I try to balance my need for a break from unrelenting motherhood with his needs, which means I put his needs before my own. And with the baby come first and him second, I'm running not just third, but last. And I'm tired.
I try to remind myself that in order for me to take care of them, I have to take care of me. But I don't have the time. Especially not since I've been handling my Uncle's Estate and my Grandmother's Trust. Getting the hoarder mess cleared out. Putting the house up for sale. Putting on a new roof and fixing termite damage and getting the plumbing working again. Realizing with horror that the conditions my uncle lived under were so much worse than I'd feared when he stopped letting me into the house. Oh what a mess. It was so bad I put on protective gear before I entered it, and the main bath had to be gutted to the studs just to get the smell out, never mind the biohazard filth. That bad.
So much to do, and my Little Man needing me. Constantly. It started wearing me down, eclipsing my enjoyment of him, interfering with my ability to feel maternal. Resentment blooms in my heart when I think I've got him settled down for a nap and he wakes up when I'm in the middle of something I've put off for hours, days, weeks because he comes first, and there isn't anyone else to help. It tears at me that I'm feeling resentful, that I'm getting short with him. This isn't the kind of mother I want to be. This isn't the kind of mother Little Man needs me to be.
I don't have the energy for Christmas. I got as far as putting up a little tree. I haven't bothered wrapping any presents. I've given M his gifts as I've gotten them, and the Little Man has been getting his gifts as they come in. At 18 months he's too young to understand Christmas, or any of the fuss. So I'm sparing myself the additional stress. I'll make a nice dinner and we will stay at home and it will be just the three of us. And it will have to be enough. Because I can't do more.
In desperation, I looked for drop-off daycare facilities. Nada. You'd think, in such an urban, affluent area as the Peninsula, there would be facilities that provided as-needed daycare. Nope. Not a one. I searched from SF to SJ. If I want to join a health club or visit a shop, I might be able to find child care for an hour or two. But if I need to go to the doctor, see a dentist or a lawyer, I have to bring the baby or arrange for his father to be at home. I'm supposed to be doing physical therapy for cervical compression due to carrying the baby around so much. Yeah... right. If I want day care I have to pay $250 for part time slots with very set hours (8am-12pm) or full time slots at home daycare centers ($400-$500) that will allow me to drop off as-needed. Or, I could pay $25-45 an hour for a sitter/nanny to come in. For a 3 hour minimum.
I need a break! I told M as I cried on his shoulder, struggling just to take a deep breath. I need a break. So he took over the baby for a few hours. A few times. He really makes the effort. But it's not enough. It's too late for an occasional few hours to make a dent on this crisis brewing inside me. I spent precious sleeping hours thinking about the problem. Honestly evaluating where I'm at, what my needs are, what solutions are out there. What I need, I recognized, is a few weeks off from being a full-time mom. I need to farm the little guy out to someone else for a little while, so I can get centered again, and hold there. And to get centered, I need to get all the other stuff handled -- the estate paperwork organized, the investment property renovation work on track, the house cleaned and organized and re-baby proofed to take a climbing toddler into consideration. Oh, and the site for the spa we bough each other for Christmas prepped before delivery on January 3rd. The messy state of my house has quietly eroded my ability to find inner peace. I have no sanctuary. No where to go to relax and go 'ahhh.... home'.
I seriously considered enrolling my son full time in day care when his father put his foot down. The Little Man has been raised in the attachment parenting style, he's used to co-sleeping even for naps, he's had very little interaction with groups of kids except for the few hours a week at the local indoor playland -- tossing him into daycare where he's one of 5 or 7 or 10 kids per adult isn't going to be good for him. It's going to be a big shock. Are we really going to risk making matters worse, risk him being more clingy, risk having to do months of clean up work with him, just to give me a few weeks off?
He pointed me to Care.com and UrbanSitter.com -- Find someone, he said. I'd looked at Urbansitter.com and I just couldn't see paying $25-45 an hour to have someone come in and babysit, especially when most of what I need to do is here at home. I need him out of the home. At Care.com I posted a job. Got a half-dozen responses from people willing to sit for me for at target rate of 4 hours for $50. And then I struck gold. A stay at home mom with two kids contacted me, saying she didn't run a day care per se, but she did babysitting for other stay at home mothers, and some after-school daycare, too. Cautious optimism sputtered inside me. Wouldn't it be nice if someone offered as-needed daycare? I contacted her. Explained my needs. I need 3 weeks of 4 hour blocks of day care on W-Th-F, and then I've got family visiting. After that, I'm hoping to go more to an as-needed, drop off care, maybe a day or two a week. Was this something she could accommodate? It turned out she's less than a mile from me. I visited her home (so clean and organized!) and met her two children. Let the Little Man play with them for 45 mins or so. He was very active. I made sure she knew how active he is (so active that other mothers say "My! He's...busy!") and she said she had a nephew like him. And of course, while we were there, he jumped off a little chair in her daughter's room and hit his head on a toy. ("This happens all the time," I explained to her. "He's a climber.")
She agreed to take him for 10 days, for 4 hours, for $50 a day, starting this Friday. I'm calling it my Christmas Miracle.
I'm really hoping that this will be enough. That I'll be able to get everything I feel I need to get done, done so I can enjoy my son again. So I can stop feeling resentful when he reaches for me, can stop feeling angry at myself when he cries and all I want to do is walk away. I know that when I feel this way he picks up on it and it makes him clingier. It's a cycle of negative reinforcement and it needs to stop. And I think, I hope, that this will do it, that three weeks and $500 will buy me time enough for me. Time enough for love to replace resentment again.
Here's to a better, less eventful, less stressful new year. Bring on 2014!