My husband wrote a book and he has been traveling for the past two and a half weeks and it has been fine and horrible and lovely and numbingly lonely.
I have had help, from my parents, my parents-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law and his brother. Our regular babysitters have come a couple times during the week for a few hours.
The horribleness has not come from the lack of help or from the help not being helpful. Everyone is helpful and loving and encourages me to rest and eat and take some time to myself. Sometimes, I do those things, but there has been work for me and there are meals to be explained and two sets of stairs to tackle, with a toddler either strapped to your chest or in one of your arm’s, a stroller in the other. That is not easy for anybody, especially not people who aren’t used to it. Because everything changes all of the time and my helpers aren’t here five days a week, I am the shepherd. That isn’t a complaint, it just is what it is. OK, maybe it’s a complaint, but I take responsibility. I did this, I had a kid, I know, I know! I am lucky, I know! My husband will eventually come home, I know.
When someone who is usually there, is not, moments get longer, and shorter too.
Like: the time it takes for your child to stop trying to walk up the metal slide before he face-plants. You watch him and you wait and you wait and you wait. He waves away your offers to help him go down the slide. Why would he ease on down when he can claw his way up? He body-plants and there is blood and the time it takes to calm him down feels like forever, but it is not forever. It is not yet 5 o’clock. And there are other slides on this playground. There are also ten year old monkey-bar swingers into which a tiny human can crash. And abandoned bottles of Pepsi to procure and suck on. Whatever. You resign yourself to the sun never ever going down. You navigate the capable crowd for your focused, bumbling wonder boy.
When your person, your partner person, is a person who can see you at your most haggard and naked, your shell-shocked morning face not at all alarming to this person, in fact, that shock often softening into OK-ness BECAUSE of the good humor of that person, their absence is fucking rude. It doesn’t matter why they aren’t there or that it is supporting everybody or that it is wonderful or that you aren’t even jealous, but proud, so proud (it’s a fucking fantastic book, you should get it). That doesn’t matter at 5:30 am or at 5:30 pm. When you are the only one getting up with your kid in the morning and putting that kid to bed at night, not to mention spending many other JOYFUL hours with them, for a certain number of days, you have to push your other person out of your mind entirely and replace them with inane worries or chapters of the book you’re reading. Or lists, compacted like nesting dolls in the open spaces in your mind.
Solo parenting moments are lovelier and more awful because they are all yours. You get to take credit for everything. We FaceTime with my husband and I say, “Sly said this and THIS and he tried to leave the park and he is such a champion.”
I imply, AND YOU MISSED IT.
I imply, I AM THE CHAMPION.
While my husband is gone, I take a photograph of my kid, of me with my kid, smiling. These are the photos I tag and I frame. I should frame a picture of myself sitting on the floor, my back against the couch, wearing an old flannel shirt that was once so pretty and has now been washed into oblivion, a handful of magnetic blocks in my hand, my eyes completely vacant. The caption, or my explanation to a friend commenting on it hanging on the wall beside a framed photo of my beautiful, sun-dappled smiling baby, would be Actual Motherhood. Or Actually OK. Or Leave Me Alone.
And that’s the thing, being left alone is so nice at first. A fingernail’s worth of tears and then we’re doing it, Sly and I, and the day chugs along like an old dusty fan, pleasant, if slightly less effective. First nap, second nap, everything in between, with or without hitches, and we make it to the bath and to his darkened room and I shut the door and he “hellos” himself to sleep while the voices from one of my familiar podcasts chirp from my laptop and everything gets put back together. With no other person to distract me from my metaphorical zombie Japanese rock gardening, the books find their way to their shelves, toys into their basket (we only have one basket, I know, it’s Brooklyn, SORRY), crumbs and untouched peas into the compost, highchair tray into the sink, water running gently over my son’s accidental food oil paintings, dirty clothes that didn’t make it to the hamper in his room mounded on top of the printer, baby carrier wadded up on the window sill, wallet put back together and cash retrieved from under the play kitchen. It’s the most soothing meditation. I am hungry but I will get to eat soon, so soon. There is no one with whom to make a decision, no one to suggest we just order or we just cook. Every single minute is mine to squander and squander it, I might (I WILL), but the thing is that I am trapped here alone in my tower, my perfectly lovely tower, and I get to make up the games and the rules and abandon them whenever I want. I can’t abandon my child. I don’t want to. But this night is mine and the floors are so empty and clean.
It goes downhill from there and it is predictable. I miss my husband because he is the best company in the world for me. Also, I am used to him. And I don’t want to get a babysitter because I’m too tired to go out by myself. Probably that is what I should do. Shit, I really should. I should go out by myself or meet a friend or several friends. I should see a movie. Wouldn’t that be a gorgeous thing, buying a ticket at the counter, fishing in my backpack for Sly’s leftover cheddar bunnies, two and a half hours of world in front of me requiring nothing but my semi-consciousness, maybe not even that? But I feel cheap and beat and, as I’ve said before, I am wont to be reclusive.
Next time, I’ll go to the movies. This time, I will rake away at my sand when the day is over and remember that I am not actually alone. There is someone else in my apartment and for at least half the day, he, like his dad, is very good company.