I think that most people want to feel like they are part of something. Families, churches, college alumni—it doesn’t really matter. They just want a group identity. People like being an “us”.
Starting yesterday morning I have been babysitting my friend’s two year old. It’s going quite well, I think. He even slept well. He woke up at four with a dirty diaper. Noah had to change the sheets but he’s used to that. Noah couldn’t get him back to sleep (that’s normal for the kid) so I spelled Noah at five. I pulled the boy up onto my chest and rubbed his back. I talked to him softly about how happy I am that he is visiting us. I told him that he is a wonderful little boy and I’m glad I get to spend time with him. I told him that I loved him and I’m happy to take care of him. He went to sleep with a smile on his face.
I am doing something with my life. I am helping people grow up. We are not a culture that values stay at home parents. We treat it as an unfortunate occasional necessity when people can’t afford to pay day care because they don’t make enough money. I don’t make money. I do things that earn small amounts of money occasionally because that way I can take care of budget shortfalls without having to talk to Noah about it. Noah doesn’t really like talking about money.
We have had to start talking about money more lately. We have fairly large specific goals. Ok, how do we get there? It is feeling pretty humiliating to me that if we are to save money the only option I have is to deny myself things. To be fair, not all of the denial will be to me. I don’t make money. Sometimes being dependent feels humiliating. I’m having a hard time with the fact that I don’t feel like I am helping to build a life with Noah. I feel like I’m sitting at home and waiting for him to bring me a life.
I feel fairly guilty that I want to be with my kids this much. I have no interest in finding a job. Who would take care of my kids? The idea of them being with someone they didn’t know freaks me out. They are still so dependent.
Babysitting shows me a lot of this. He’s not mine. I don’t have an innate understanding of all of his needs in order. I have, in fact, specifically resisted learning even though his mother rattled it off every single time I talked to her for over a year. I have mostly trained her out of that. Learning a baby is hard. It is work. You have to sit there and stare at that person and figure out what the fuck do they need? Their needs are different from mine. They need slightly different foods and liquids than adults. As they age their needs are going to change. I have to figure them out and adapt. That’s my job.
I’m struck by the fact that refusing to call domestic labor “womens work” means that women who stay home are treated like they aren’t doing any work at all. It doesn’t earn money. Therefore it’s not work.
Right now the sweet little boy is crying. He misses his parents. There literally isn’t anything I can do about it but tell him I understand and I’m sorry he is sad. I cuddle him when he wants it but he doesn’t always want to be touched. I get that. Watching him struggle with this tells me so much about my life. I was closer to Shanna’s age the first time I was sent away. I had more understanding of time. He is genuinely terrified that he will never see his parents again. Barring some hideous childbirth accident (You had better not read my blog while you are in labor) he will see his parents again soon once his mom finishes bringing his younger sibling into the world. He doesn’t get it. I can tell him I like him and I am glad I get to spend time with him all day. He’s still going to be sad. I am not his mom. I am just not as good. I know. I really really understand.
Then the storm passes and he plays again. He’s starting to try to play with the girls. He doesn’t have a lot of exposure to other children. Group play is a learned skill. It’s neat watching how he learns it. It makes me cry when I think there is the real possibility that I will spend more birthdays with this boy than I spent with my mother. In two more years I will have lived with Shanna longer than I lived with my mother consistently. Who I am now is already a bigger chunk of my life than any other stage. I have more consistency and routine and stable people. I struggle so hard with this.
I feel scared because every day is a whole new step in doing something hard that I have never done before. I have never stayed this long. I have never been part of anything like this. It’s all new.
I have this image of myself being a nasty, hateful person. I try very hard to pay attention to what I say. My tone of voice is often harsher than strictly necessary, but my words are gentle. “Oh that was an accident. Let’s practice cleaning up.” “That happens. Everyone makes mistakes.” “I love you. I want to spend time with you. Thank you for being here with me.” I am so overwhelmingly grateful for the ways in which I get to spend the hours of the day. I have to steal time on the computer. I’m not bored. Well, sometimes I’m bored. But I don’t have time to kill. Sometimes I’m doing rote work that doesn’t engage my mind and I am trying to find my zone on that. It’s an every day challenge.
How do I do this? How do I be this person? I’m really gentle with kids. Sometimes I don’t enjoy being gentle. I get so frustrated. I don’t want to clean up any more messes. I don’t want to gently say, “That’s ok. Let’s try again” when a kid makes an enormous mess. I want to scream and jump up and down. I want to hit. But I don’t. I take a deep breath. I close my eyes. I think, “If this is a day they remember, what will that memory make them feel?” I say it nicely for the 3,523 time. Everyone else can be impatient and difficult to adjust to. I’m going to help them learn how to do things without having to feel bad. No one is bad here for having an accident. Accidents happen to everyone. Accidents are value neutral.
He’s not crying. He’s pulling apart my broom. Calli is “typing” next to me on the couch. Shanna went to try out the shallow pool in the back yard. I can see her from where I am sitting. There is about 2” of water. Technically a drowning risk but come on people. I can see her. I doubt she is really going to get in. It’s pretty chilly at this time of day. Nope. She is going to poop on the ground instead. Right. I cleaned it up. She’s in her room for a while. I think it’s time to get off the computer. I have laundry to fold and dishes to wash and kids to talk to.
I’m scared that I won’t be good enough. But I just have to be good enough for a little while. I think I can do that even though it’s scary.