Last night was parenting misery at its finest. My husband was out of town; our part-time nanny and our back-up part-time nanny have both recently had changes in their schedules and are no longer available; my in-laws wouldn’t have been able to make it to our house in time; my close friend emergency contact was at an event and unavailable.
So there I was: my village unavailable, three kids, hit with the worst migraine I can recall having in the last four years. The last time I had a migraine this awful, our previous full-time nanny had changed her dinner plans, come over for the last hour of the kids’ day, to just tuck them in because I was too debilitated to make it another hour. I awoke from that haze of a migraine to see the dishes in the sink washed, the house picked up, the kids in bed, and blissfully clean quietness. If I wasn’t already in love with our nanny before, I certainly fell hard for her at that minute, right then and there.
Well, now the love of my life has moved to North Dakota (my former nanny—not to be confused with my husband), and there I was—sharp, stabbing pain coursing through my left eye to the back of my neck, the nausea warning me as to what was to come, the dimmest light making me feel as if I was staring into the core of the freaking sun, barely able to keep my eyes open. I profusely thanked my type-A self for pre-prepping dinner for the kids.
I plated their food and poured them their drinks, then curled my throbbing, pounding, close-to-vomiting self up on the couch. I called out orders from the couch to my newly promoted babysitter 5-year-olds. “Is your baby sister done with her food? Is she eating? Can you get her some fruit? Can you make sure she doesn’t stand up in her high chair? Can you make sure she doesn’t stick her fork up her nose? Can you get her milk?”
I had been so proud of my aspiring Martha Stewart self for making the most adorable fruit skewers with peaches, blackberries, grapes, and strawberries. Now I was cursing myself for making those damn fruit skewers, imagining my 21-month-old stabbing her unsupervised eye with a skewer. Thank goodness for my doting son who plucked each piece of fruit off the skewer for her and put them on her high chair tabletop.
It was 5 o’clock and I was on the verge of breaking down wondering how I was going to shuffle my kids to take a bath, brush their teeth, get in pajamas, and make it to the end of the night. I could barely move. The voices of my boisterous 5-year-olds had never sounded so loud; they were like splitting daggers hitting me in my left eye. If I moved, I might throw up. If I spoke, this intolerable pain was going to become worse. I could feel her adorable, piercing brown eyes staring quizzically in my direction, wondering why her mama was curled up in the dark on the couch and not eating with her. She just kept saying, “Mama, Mama, Mama,” to which I answered sparingly.
My 5-year-old babysitters finally told me my 21-month-old was done eating. I took a deep breath (mostly to pep talk my stomach contents to stay within the confines of my stomach), mustered up the last drop of energy, and cleaned her off. She kept saying, “Nose. Nose, Mama. Nose.” I looked at her nose. Sure enough, she had stuck a corn kernel up her nose. Had she ever done that before? No. Did I have any energy to react? No. I took some tweezers and pulled it out. “Nose. Nose, Mama. Nose.” I looked up further. Ah, yes, another corn kernel jammed up the crevices deep into her left nostril.
I thanked myself for choosing to go through the years of schooling and the years of training that made me a master of foreign object removal from toddler noses. If this was the pinnacle of my MD degree, it had made it all worth it. I removed it and checked one more time—no more corn kernels. I reminded myself that next time I asked my 5-year-olds to babysit to add to the list of substandard expectations: “Can you make sure she doesn’t stick food up her nose?” I gave her a meek talking to, using half my energy to speak to her and half my energy to keep my nausea at bay. It was 6 o’clock, and she usually goes to bed at 7. But hey, what’s an hour? So she went to bed at 6:15 because I had no more left in me to make it another hour. I was lucky to be able to put her into pajamas and a nighttime diaper and to remove one of her pigtails.
I called down to my 5-year-olds to come upstairs, get their pajamas on, and we would reconvene in my bedroom. I announced it was a bath and tooth-brushing national holiday and no one was getting proper hygiene that night. They lounged in bed with me and watched indulgent amounts of cartoons. (“My teacher says TV is really bad for your brain.” Duly noted, my dear daughter. Thank you for the public service announcement) while I curled up under the covers and made a cameo appearance only to expel my stomach contents in the bathroom.
In never before recorded history, I asked them to please tuck themselves into bed. They rolled with the punches. My son hugged me, kissed me, “tucked me in,” and turned off all the lights, and hushed his sister (“Be quiet. Mommy is sleeping. Stop talking to her.”) And without much more fanfare, I heard their doors click closed, and there was silence. I felt so, so thankful that the day was over, even more thankful for the best kids I could ask for, and lay in the dark willing this fierce pain in my head to subside.
The pain did subside, and today, I am back to myself. I remember a colleague saying that a sick child was no excuse for not coming to work, that everyone should have a backup to their backup to their backup. Well, some people are not so blessed with a village to take care of their kids. And while I am that fortunate, sometimes, the stars just do not align. I am so lucky that, for me, these moments are fairly rare.
I don’t know how you do it, parents out there without a village. But I am in absolute awe of how you make your family work, whatever your family looks like. Keep it up, all you parent warriors. It isn’t easy, but man, if your children are fed, their teeth are brushed most of the time, and they take a bath some of the time, then hey, from where I stand, you are killing it.