Thursday, April 10, 2008

(In)Capabilities

Yesterday Julia had her post-surgery follow-up at the metro children's hospital an hour from our town: a renal ultrasound and then a checkup with the pediatric urologist who performed her surgery in early March. The morning involved an hour's drive each way, appointments at two different busy urban medical practices in two separate locations (including negotiating parking situations at each), and a 50-minute wait between the ultrasound and the follow-up consultation. Total time involved was nearly six hours (leaving the house at 7:45 a.m., arriving home at 1:30), and covered both morning snack and lunch.

When this appointment was scheduled shortly after Julia's surgery, I planned to deal with it all myself. In the past, with both girls having this particular congenital urinary-tract abnormality, Christopher has been forced to take MANY half-days (or longer) off from work as we dealt with multiple medical appointments for pediatric tests, check-ups, and, of course, Julia's surgery itself. For most of these time-consuming, out-of-town appointments, Christopher has been the one to take Julia to see the doctors, because I've been nursing an infant and therefore needed to be the one to stay home with Genevieve. (When Genevieve went through her own tests last May, I took her so that I could nurse her, and Christopher stayed home that day with Julia.)

Because that's how it is in our house: with no local grandparents and no nanny, there's just Christopher and me. It's up to us. One of us takes one child to whatever appointment it is that day, the other one of us stays home with the other child. That means missing work. It doesn't help that our small town does not have medical care in this particular specialty (pediatric urology), so every time we're due for a test or consult or procedure, we have to make a two-hour trip for it. Even if we did have a regular sitter for our girls, she'd have high-school or college classes to attend; no teenage sitter is going to be free for 2/3 of a regular weekday. What other choice do we have?

In a fit of guilt and worry over all the time Christopher has taken off work already this year (remember those 15 medical and dental appointments in February and March? remember those days I was a non-functional zombie with a killer sinus infection? the days I had to attend professional conferences to collect CEUs to keep up my psychologist's license? our trip up north for Easter? and on and on and on?), and in some kind of temporary-insanity delusion about all the things I should be able to do on my own, as a stay-at-home-mom--what's wrong with me, anyway, that I keep making my poor hard-working salaried husband take time off from his own job to come and help me with mine?--I had decided that Christopher should stay at work yesterday and I would take both girls up to St. Paul for Julia's appointments. I could do it. I would do it. I would figure it out.

Only, I started lying awake at night, weeks in advance, worrying about how in the world I was going to do it. Get Julia up early, get both girls ready to leave the house before 8 a.m.? Drive alone for an hour with no one else in the car to entertain Genevieve, retrieve dropped sippy cups, stem the tide of a 19-month-old's tantrums? Find the hospital (a different one from the other two we've been to previously)? Find the correct parking ramp? Get both girls down the ramp and into a large urban medical center and up to Radiology on time? Keep Genevieve occupied during the ultrasound itself, while also attempting to comfort and be near Julia? Deal with potty visits and diaper changes and snack amidst all this? (When would I have time to do that?) Get out, back to the car, and across several blocks to find the next building and repeat much of the above scenario? Entertain both girls in two different waiting rooms at two different times? Get through the consult with the surgeon with even a trace of lucidity, while keeping the baby from spilling Cheerios all over his exam-room floor (and then picking them up and eating them)? Get done and then need to find someplace to obtain lunch food, and feed them? Get everyone changed, bathroomed, and back to the car in the far-away parking deck, and then drive an hour back home at naptime, with two tired, grumpy girls who never sleep in the car?

When we drove, last weekend, to visit some friends with a new baby--friends who live near the medical center in question above--and it took the constant efforts of the non-driving parent, for the entire hour's drive each way, to deal with the wee ones in the car (well, let's just say it: to deal with Genevieve), I realized there was no way I could take both girls to these appointments by myself yesterday. And so, I stayed home with Genevieve, and Christopher once again took most of a day off from work to bring Julia up for her renal ultrasound. She's got one more test scheduled in June, and most likely he'll be doing it again then. And next month Genevieve will be due for HER next round of yearly tests, so we've got that, too.

I don't know what to think about all this. Part of me still believes I should be able to do this myself; that, as the at-home parent, it's my job to handle the children's appointments so that my spouse can attend to HIS job. That's it's unfair to Christopher's boss and co-workers that every other week there's some new family need that requires leeway in terms of his in-office hours. That regular people--people going to work every day and STAYING THERE for eight hours, five days in a row--are looking askance at our household and thinking, What's her problem? Can't she handle mothering on her own?

And then there's the part of me that throws up my hands and says, not right now I can't. Not with two children this young, and this close in age, neither of them in real school yet, no hours at all, ever, free of the care of both of them at the same time when it would be easy to schedule myself a dental visit and have no need for alternate childcare. Not with atypical (though, thankfully, not dangerous) medical needs that require ongoing professional consultation in a city an hour away. Less than a year ago, they were both still in diapers, after all; a month ago, one was still nursing. Both of those factors made things even more complicated.

It's hard and time-consuming, for both parents, to have children this small and have no back-up for help with the childcare, no "net" for all those real-world occasions when grown-up life does not mesh with full-time parenting. Most days I feel like a very capable parent, and most days I don't give a thought to what anyone else might be thinking about what I can and can't do. And then there are times I think, Good Lord, I need a wife of my own, to help me with everything I'm trying to do at home by myself!

And I wonder, did at-home moms/housewives have more of a support system in generations past, for circumstances such as these? Did more of them live near extended family, so there was always a grandma or auntie across town to help with the occasional no-children-allowed dentist appointment or other obligation? Were there more women at home all day with their own kids, so if you needed to drop your baby with a neighbor while you brought your older child to the doctor, it was easy and expected? My at-home-mom friends are all way too busy--all with their differing preschool and early-childhood-class schedules, toddler tumbling and baby swim--to be free to take one my kids for a half-day while I ferry the other one out of town for a medical procedure. Everyone's got their own toddler and babies; everyone's trying to get through their own weeks, fantasizing about having their OWN nanny or in-town relatives for help now and then. It seems harder, these days, to be home full-time with one's children, because many of us who are seem to have less help doing it.

Are we incapable, or super-capable? Does it depend on the day, the month, the year? Also: when does Mary Poppins float down out of the sky to help out?

9 comments:

Rob Hardy said...

Maybe just ordinarily capable, but super nonetheless. I was lucky that Clara, as a faculty member, could often duck out between classes to do an odd spot of nursing or damage control after one of my nervous breakdowns. But Christopher has a 9-to-5 kind of a job. Get that boy a professor job so he can slack off like the rest of them!:-)

Mom said...

You're right on about my generation having other at-home moms to help out. We didn't have nearby grandmas to leave you with, either, but I could always count on Joan or Sylvia to be able to watch you, along with her own kids, while I took someone to the doctor or took myself to a dentist appointment. And then I would just reciprocate!

Shan said...

Mom--
But that was when we were all older (I was four by the time we first moved there). Maybe that makes it easier than caring for babies/toddlers, i.e. moms were more able to take on additional children if everyone was at least, say, out of diapers and capable of semi-independent play? Plus perhaps no one had the busy schedules they do now? My best friend here currently has classes for her two toddlers four days out of the week (and the day she doesn't have anything, I have "school" for my two)!

Mnmom said...

Oh Honey, you are WAY too hard on yourself. No human parent can handle two children that young at a major medical appointment. You MUST lean on your friends, and let them lean on you. Have a good open discussion with them.

We moved to Nfld in 1997 when my twins were 3, and had another soon after. My woman friends and I watched each other's kids all the time, even though some were working and some weren't. In my opinion, a good friend will give up her ECFE class to help you out in such a situation, and you'd do the same. If not, and I say this gently, you might need some new friends.

There's not a woman alive who can do it all, and if you find one and you look closely, something important is missing. I'm just feeling so sad that you think this situation somehow implies that you are incapable. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You need backup, and you need it now.

donna said...

Do you have a friend in the city who could babysit G (or J) while you did took J (or G) to her appointment? In theory, this would be asking less (time) of the friend since you wouldn't need to factor in 2 hours of travel...

Or, if a friend was willing to take some time off from work to go with you to the appointments - or at least to have lunch with you (or coffee in one of the waiting rooms) in the middle of the hectic day. Sure, it's not the ideal way to spend time together, but working mothers (esp those of young children) often have to be creative in the ways they spend time with their friends and not feel guilty about not seeing their kids on the weekend.

The reason I bring this up is because I've done something similar. I took a day off shortly after my friend had her second baby - I cooked dinner, picked up lunch (and her older son from his half-day preschool), and cleaned her bathroom and kitchen. While (I'll admit) it wasn't the most fun we'd ever had, it was good to just spend time with her and her kids and that made it all worthwhile. (This was nearly a year ago and I haven't seen her since because life feels too hectic unless we get creative in the way we spend time together.)

Shan said...

You guys are so sweet, making me feel more normal for needing help with things like this! ;) Thanks for ALL your comments. I agree mainly with Rob: Christopher needs to get a slacker job. ;)

To be fair to my local friends, I never asked any one of them to watch Genevieve so I could take Julia this week. I knew all three of my closest friends had classes for their toddlers that morning, and to me that meant "unavailable." It didn't even occur to me to ask if someone would skip their class to help me. Maybe we'll ALL have to figure out ways to be more helpful to each other as the months and years go on. Right now we all seem so overwhelmed; I feel like asking anyone else to step in and take over for me would be like guaranteeing that their week would be even harder than it already is. But, maybe that's just life sometimes. (It goes without saying, I hope, that I am ALWAYS willing to reciprocate.)

And to Donna: I actually did have one friend meet me up in the Cities last May to help me with Genevieve's round of tests. She's a working, childless woman, and she met me at the hospital and had lunch with us. She helped me with the baby, though I still left Julia home with Daddy that day. As for a friend in the city who could babysit one of the girls, I never even thought of such an idea. I DO have a wonderful friend up there who could possibly do this (hi, Squabby!); the other is now working part-time, going to school full-time, at home with her babies, AND doing in-home daycare part-time, so....not possible. But thanks for the idea anyway, because I bet that could work out with the other good friend-mom I'm thinking of.

Rob Hardy said...

Have you seen this? You should be included; you're to top mommy blog that I read!

MamaKel said...

Hi Shannon - I love your blog because you are real! As a mom of a baby Genevieve's age and my second due in June, I am learning from you. This blog made me realize how happy I am to be moving next week (near my parents). It is so important to have a community to raise a child. Thanks for the perspective. - Kelley

Shan said...

A big thank you to Rob, for the link to the very interesting Wall Street Journal article about mommy-blogging ("dooce" in particular; one of my favorites, the one that singlehandedly allowed me to survive my hellish postpartum recovery from my oldest's birth, almost 4 years ago now!), and, even more, for the sweet shout-out about the list. I'm gonna make a list of my own sometime--Best Mommy-Blogs Most People Have Never Heard Of But That A Few Awesome People With Great Taste Read Regularly--and put myself at #1.

And to Kelley, however you found me, thanks for your very sweet comment. It's SO nice to know that there's someone out there who may be taking something positive away from my writing, because I've benefited from the words of many other parent-writers out there in the blogosphere myself. Sometimes it keeps you going, you know?