This week I attended Drew’s graduation from Level 1 of his preschool. He performed three songs in the ceremony, two of which involved musical sticks of some variety, multiple hand-motions and an abundance of blank stares. But we clapped, oh how we clapped! Then he walked across the stage and enjoyed his first public handshake, which was a little like watching a nervous Danny Devito approach Dirk Novinski like his whole body was about to be clutched.
Meanwhile, Madeline is also trying to graduate. To crawling. She’s done it once or twice, but she mostly drags herself from place to place like a tubby little alligator. Her elbows plow the floor — shoulders alternating dexterously, bottom swaying with the motion of her legs pushing, pushing, pushing. And suddenly, she’s in the bathroom. Or the hallway. Or about to dive headfirst off the bed. Once she actually crawls, she’ll be a pink Tasmanian blur, kicking up clouds of baby powder and striking fear into the hearts of twentysomething males.
Graduation is great. It means moving up and out and beyond. It means a task is done. But it also means no school — and endless days of hot/hot/hot weather with no intervening schedules. Just blank reams of time, days drifting by as if on unmotivated breezes.
SO…WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM NOW?
I know a lot of moms relish this time they’ll have with their kids. They just can’t wait to get them home for the summer. I feel this way for about a minute, and then a slow panic starts boiling in my stomach because…WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM NOW?
Well, I had a babysitter start.
She comes two mornings a week so I can go to Panera and get some work done or head to the store. Tiny Fey says in her book that the term “nanny” gives her class-warfare anxiety, but it makes ME nervous because I always told myself I would never be the mom who had a nanny. If someone were going to screw up my kids, it would be ME. Or Mrs. Cosby. Phylicia Rashad’s manager, however, would not return my e-mails.
Plus, my “babysitter” is getting her degree in early childhood development. And is nicer than me. And cuter. And more willing to interact with finger paints.
She shows up at 9 and I hang around casually like the compulsion to bolt for the door isn’t beating inside me like a gorilla; I show her the bottle, the craft I’d prepared. Yes, I’d prepared crafts, $80 worth from Hobby Lobby. This is my consolation. If I’m giving up two mornings a week, I will at least provide activities — yarn, glue, paint — the VBS without the Vacation or Bible. Or School, really. Just the glue.
I think how different this is from other mothers and their young. Penguins, for instance, standing in the freezing tundra for weeks with their babies on their feet, shielding them from the icy blast. Or monkeys. Or pandas. Heck, even spiders keep tabs on their young. Name me one animal that hires another animal to baby-sit in the dangerous ecosystem that is life on earth.
I tell myself it’s to get some work done. I have to write. To edit. To e-mail. And, well, I do. But the truth is, if I didn’t have work to do I would make up work to do, because sometimes the extra two hours a day with the kids is just enough to feel like 150 cotton balls have been stuffed down my throat.
I am the cucumber and my kids are the vinegar. I call the nanny to avoid a slow, disfiguring death inside the Mason jar that is my house.
A friend of mine recently got back from a Mediterranean cruise. She described in great detail how enamored the cruise staff was with her precious toddler. They wanted to hold her, feed her, play with her. One man wanted to look inside her mouth because he had a daughter at home about the same age and he wanted to see how many baby teeth (approximately) she might have. One woman, the hostess at the restaurant, hadn’t been on leave from the boat for a year and had a two-year-old back home — she had missed half her life. Others had been away from their families even longer and were paying people to care for their kids while they worked this job they so desperately need.
Stories like this make me hug my babies tighter, give me a smidge more patience than I once had, oil the wheels of my brain in dark hours. But stories like this only go so far.
For some reason I still need the nanny, and I haven’t really reconciled with this yet.
(For more from Julie, visit wetbehindtheearsblog.com.)