Parenting without a Village

I breathe in the cold brisk air. I can do this, I tell myself. And with one big grunt, I heave the garage door handle up with all the strength I could gather. Not one budge. A hot coal fire races around my belly. Every now and again, I forget that the c-section and tubal ligation  I had was just five weeks ago. I should not be over doing it- doctors orders. However, it has been snowing hard for five days and I am aching to get out of my house – drive somewhere that is not here! . So far, it seems Mother Nature is not going to let us. The snow is packed up so high; I cannot get the garage open. Our only option is another walk, but we live in suburbanFraserValley, the sidewalks are stacked with the leftover snow from the plowed streets

.        My two-year-old daughter, Alexa, asks if we are going yet. I sigh as I tell her we are going to play in the snow instead. I layer her with more clothes and the five-week-old baby with more blankets. Carrying a sleeping infant in her carseat in one hand, and my toddler’s little hand in the other, we step back out into the white, white world.

       I would sell my soul to the devil himself if I had help today. I am so tired and sore from the birth, and I know I just need some sleep. I congratulate myself for getting my tubes tied at the same time as the caesarean. I cannot do this again, alone. All our family members that used to live close have either moved or passed away. There have been two deaths this month- my maternal grandmother (heart attack at 94 years old) and a dear family friend (cancer). My mom died almost twenty – five years ago. My dad and I are estranged (long abuse story). My in-laws are spread across the country. I have friends, but they have their own families and the same weather predicament as I do. So when my husband walks out the door at half past six every morning, I am the village raising the girls until he returns home ten or eleven hours later.       

 My sister and her husband live an eight-minute car ride away. They are the only babysitters we have that we can trust and afford (free). They have their own lives and trying to start a family. My husband has one sister who lives a few towns away but they have not spoken in many years.

     Before we had kids, our village used to feel bigger. When I was pregnant, I had many co-workers, friends and family offering help. I felt we would be okay with all the help around. But when our first baby arrived, the offers never materialized due to careers, pregnancies of their own, health (grandma and my godmom had physical ailments and could only be sympathetic on my baby issues) and a general freak-out amongst our friends who had never been around a baby. We were truly on our own.

      And so, I have had to take my girls everywhere – from the hair salon to banks, doctors, lawyers, funerals, Weight Watchers and grocery shopping. I refuse to hermit myself and use them as excuses to not do things. That would be the easy way. This way I show them that you make the best of what you have. They are my life and I need to do things to keep our lives going.

Like when Michael had to leave for two days because of work again. I was scared to be solo parent for the next 48 hours. I prepped as much as I could by making extra bottles and meals. We were not as worried about our baby as she sometimes does not see him in the morning or night because she is a good sleeper. Our three year old is Daddy’s girl. The first day he left, I kept us busy in her usual routine. Thankfully, it was a pre-school day so she had play time and I had a tiny break with just one kid. I made a favorite dinner of macaroni and cheese. They both went down first night at 7:10pm. I was not sure what to do with myself. I had prepped so hard to have the house needs done that I actually had to do something for me. Girl Guides knocked. I turned them away (blame Weight Watchers). I crawled into bed with a book and was out at 9:30.

The second day was much harder. We did not have any plans and no friends were available to play. The girls were cranky therefore trying on my last frayed nerve. That night Alexa, (the three-year-old) was up screaming for daddy for six hours. After he returned and all was well, it perplexes me after all that, I have just as much done when he is home as when he was not at home.

It is hard to forget how her arrival wreaked havoc in our marriage in the early months. I was shell-shocked at the end of the day. He did not get up at night much with us because he is a heavy sleeper and works in construction. I did not want him sleepy up a ladder or roof. It got to me, the power I gave him to continue on the life he knew before and after our baby arrived. It was partly my fault; I encouraged him to have his weekly guys’ nights. I did not take any personal time for myself. He still expected me to be the old me.  One night after I had been awake for thirty-six hours because Alexa was cutting her eyeteeth and would only sleep if I were rocking her. I could not wait until Michael got home. Alexa and I did not make it out of the house all day due to my lack of energy. I walked all three floors of our townhouse at least a hundred times.  There was not one person who could relieve me so I could nap. Too tired to eat or even having a free hand to make anything, I just kept her as comfortable as I could. It amazes me that our neighbor did not complain about the sound. During the dinner hour, I missed Michael’s call because of her vocals; I checked the message and my blood boiled. I almost went to the bar he was stopping for a quick after work drink. I kept my anger in check for Alexa’s sake. I got her ready for bed and miraculously she went to sleep in her crib. I climbed into bed but could not sleep. The only sound was the traffic humming outside. I waited in the dark until I heard the key in the front door exactly one hour after he left his message. When he stepped into the bedroom and closed the door, the land mine that has been charging in me-exploded. He came out in defense. Out came all the anger and frustration that I have held in since getting (a surprise) pregnant  vented out before I could stop it. By one o’clock in the morning, he was on the couch sleeping and I remained in our bed.  I made a decision that I was ready to call it quits on this marriage. I am the sole parent even if he is here or not. In the morning light (after four hours of un-interrupted sleep), we talked and talked. We cleared the air. Both of us promised to try better to help each other. I started to actually feel like I knew what I was doing. That all changed when the stick turned blue with baby number two,

      It is tough to hear moms complaining when their own mothers cannot come watch the kids so they can go to the spa or off somewhere with their husbands. On the Halloween party day at Alexa’s pre-school, it was just Jessie and I representing the cheering squad. I tried to get a seat on the end so I could take pictures for Michael (who was out of town) and keep one hand on Jessie who was cranky because it is past her afternoon naptime. It was so crowded by the time we got there I had to sit on the floor off to the side of the classroom. The room filled with grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, aunts and uncles of her classmates. Jessie was clingy to me as I tried in vain to find the camera in the diaper bag. Crap. I see it in my head sitting on the coat rack at home. I tried to take pictures with my camera phone. It was hard, given our low view. After the scarecrow song I caught Alexa’s eye-the look of pride she beamed to me dissolved any pity I had.

My heart aches every time I am at the store or mall with my girls and I see my toddler

 watching intently at a grandma with her grandchildren. I give my girls everything I can but I cannot give them family in their daily lives. A sad twist of life that my two daughters only have one grandma who lives afar and passes through town for small visits every few months.

At her tender age, my eldest daughter has known, loved and lost two great-grandmas and a foster grandma.

Now being a mom makes me miss mine so much more. There is so much I would have loved to know about when I was as a baby. My time between my mother dying of cancer when I was ten until I finally moved out at sixteen was a very dark and abusive by my father’s wrath. To say I was bitter at my mom for leaving us would be an understatement.

I had a huge village growing up. During my mom’s multiple stays at the hospital, both sets of grandparents would take turns caring for my younger sister and I. We loved it but it was tough not having our mom to do stuff that other moms did. I remember being over at sleepovers and seeing my friends’ moms doing things my mom could not do. My mom could not bake or stand long in her later years due to the side effects of chemo. She did watch me ice skate every chance she got. My mom told me she loved me every day,many times a day. Her favorite line was that she loved us more than a million oceans which I tell to my girls’ daily.  I did have to fix dinner some nights when my dad worked and no one could help. I got to watch shows with her late if she did not want to be alone. I think that is why I still love Young and The Restless (her favorite soap) I would play dress up with her vast collection of purses.

The weeks passed by after she died,  people stopped coming. Little did I know my mom was the glue that kept her family to us. Her family did not like my dad. My grandparents and aunts had been there to help because they knew that she was on borrowed time. My sister and I were shuttled around for Thanksgivings and Christmas time.

The house seemed very quiet this year at Thanksgiving . Since last Thanksgiving, before our youngest daughter was born, our world lost eight loved ones (four cancers, two heart attacks and two killed). The losses never showed its immense presence until the holidays.

We began the day casually in our pajamas until ten o’clock in the morning. Then it was out for a trip to the park in the gorgeous fall sun. There were no early wake-ups to put the turkey in the oven or no crowded house like the ones we had growing up during the holidays.

I watched Jessie munching away at her peas and carrots in her highchair. Alexa sitting like a big girl, scooping mashed potatoes with her fork into her wide-open mouth. Sitting across from me was my husband of almost seventeen years. Only four dinner settings on our table. I know I should be thankful on our youngest daughter’s first Thanksgiving but I am not. All there is this Thanksgiving are burnt pots on the stove showing evidence of my attempts to make my first Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us.

Our baby (who turns one in eight days) starts to convulse in giggles-the kind that starts from her toes- because her three-year-old sister is making faces. I break out of my pity party and say a silent prayer of thanks for my babies and marriage. Our family is smaller but healthy and happy.

As much as I am the primary care giver from 6:30 am until 5pm and nightshifts, I still need the village that I have. This is what it is like to be a single parent. I do not like it or want it. My village may be small and messy but I will take it. We end up parenting our way with no outside influences. Our village is our home that has no back door.

 

 

 

 

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