swimming in those waters

This morning while brushing my teeth I discovered a small, irate monster dwelling in my breast: guilt. I’d heard of so-called “survivor’s guilt” but until that moment didn’t realize I’d been mired in it.

It’s useless to try to describe, even though I love to write, I love to come to a point or make a point and feel well-expressed. It’s simple: I feel guilt. I feel guilt no matter how hard I work, how correctly I conduct myself, and especially when I’m not over-working, when I know I could be doing more or better. I feel guilt sometimes (but not always) when I’m going about my business – when I’m telling my mother I’m taking an embroidery class next Monday. What right do I have to make plans, to rub the point in further that I have a life to move on to while my father does not?

I visit my parents this afternoon after the girls I babysat have been picked up by their mother. My mom tentatively feels me out for coming back over at 3:30 to sit with my father while she gets her hair done. I support my mom having time away so much that I’d probably do just about anything to help her acquire it.

So this means instead of coming home and letting my kids play with the new toy I bought them (yay pizza!) while I lie down or take a bath or even sew a little, instead I will come home and take care of my children’s needs quickly then bike back over there and sit with my father and watch him struggle to breathe. This is a decidedly less pleasant affair than watching someone struggle to breathe who is going to recover. This is watching someone over a period of days slowly be strangled, but there’s a lot of free time to say stupid things like, “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” but mostly just sit and feel so completely ineffectual and feel like it’s your fault. True story.

When you are supporting people who are experiencing a loss people will tell you “it must mean so much to them” and “they know you are there and it gives them peace”, but I have no particular knowledge that in any way my presence, my hugs, my deliveries of food or juice or water, my talk, my silence, my prayers do any good at all. I know they comfort my mother; she tells me this. I know in no way if I help my father, at all.

If I wasn’t pressed for time I’d write more: that the idea of “help” is selfish (there is very little I can do), the idea of “guilt” is selfish (it’s all about me!). The concept of being present, while your loved one suffers and dies, is all I can do, and sometimes it’s hard to do even that.

Break time is over. Time to get going back.

don’t look under that giant woolen hat – for about four days

I am notoriously bad at “people math” – that is, if we have one guest over I suddenly don’t know how many plates to set out for dinner. So you can imagine the fact that today starting at about 6:30 AM I’m taking four extra children (three from one friend for most of the day; a regular Tuesday three-hour gig with my friend’s daughter E.) and farming out one of my own children (Suse, to school) means that at this very moment I’m not sure how many children I’m taking care of (OK, it’s four now since E. just left).

But I also knew the real dealbreaker would be the 9 month old. I can handle a passel of toddler / preschoolers pretty good but babies – the care of a baby immediately sets you back to this odd formula that is both simple but easily missed. Baby crying inconsolably? You try everything and then you go back to the check-the-diaper and try-to-feed-it ritual, even if you just changed a diaper, even if you just fed them. What’s amazing is how much diaper you change; I forgot about that (two Poo Specials by 8 AM). You also pray for a nap (literally, honest-to-God pray) and tell yourself you’ll rest while they nap but then don’t.

Five minutes ago I finally got the rather sad, very full, completely dry baby sporting a large, quarter-shaped shiny spot on his forehead from either a burn or rug-burn (yes, and I wish I could say I was joking but he did get injured on my watch – I think I’ll spend the afternoon finding and kicking puppies, just to make myself feel better). And don’t think little baby T. isn’t surrounded by as many blanket retaining walls as I could muster! The older three are playing in the living room nicely, I’m listening to Elvis and about to wash dishes – again (I’ve made ten meals so far today! not including the breakfast enchiladas I scarfed for myself). Most of the way through my shift and we’re all safe and (relatively) sound.

The oldest four in my crew are phenomenally well-behaved, sweet children which goes a long way to making the day an enjoyable one. Even amongst the phenomenal task of dressing six people for a walk in our cold sunshine we get these great teaching moments: before embarking for a treasured destination I ask these four, “What happens if we get walking and T. starts crying and crying and crying?” A., the oldest in my flock today says, “We’ll stop to nurse.” Four pairs of child’s eyes beam their headlights on me in silent query and I laugh and say, “Do you think I can do that?” “No but look,” says A., “You trick T. by putting him against you like this and then give him his binkee.” “You know, that is a great idea,” I tell her, “but it doesn’t work – it actually makes him mad. Great thinking though!” How smart are these wee ones?

People that do what I do every day for a job? They deserve more compensation than they get paid, and a lot more accolades for their work. P.S. it took me a full ten seconds to think of the word “accolades” because having a baby also makes you temporarily mentally disabled, apparently when you’re not even sporting nursing hormones.

of goatsbusters and lo-fi

Today I sustained my first new bike injury. While attempting to strap a cardboard box on my rack (taking a moment to giggle immaturely) the bungee I was using, too short, snapped back and whacked my left index fingernail. I was kind of impressed with how badly this hurt. I now have a nasty bruise under the fingernail and I hope something gross and infected doesn’t result. Meanwhile I have Ralph put to work with a Stud Finder (another giggle) to put a hook inside the house for bike storage. Because yes, my bike will be living inside with me.

The local bike shop, I could see myself hanging out there – if I was someone who knew anything about bikes or had more money to spend on them. I have a hard time describing the shop owner T. Firstly, he is a very knowledgeable bike technician and a total pleasure to talk bikes with. Secondly, he is a little bit… different. Personally, I think he’s kind of cute but maybe that’s because I get inexplicable crushes on focussed mechanical savants who look like they don’t have girlfriends. At my parents’ last night while I talked about my new bike my husband asked why all bike shop owners are a little odd (he said “weirdo”, okay) and I said, “No wait, what about…” and then stopped. Because, well. He was right. I guess there was one bike shop owner in PT that wasn’t so much weird as arrogant. But the other two shop owners – woooo! And I had a crush on one of them, too.

Tonight we continued our pleasant weekend experience by a babysitting gift from our friend A. When Ralph and I arrived to pick our children up – after a lovely, lovely dinner at home including uninterrupted conversation – the children were in various states of costumery / undress and watching Ghostbusters (only one of the best family movies ever). On our way out with our two reluctantly-departing children we travelled out the back way to visit A.’s baby goats but the little creatures were apparently sleeping. I didn’t know goats took time off like that especially when there was the off chance we were delivering late-night alfalfa.

Then while home Ralph bathes the children and I start come chocolate rye coffee cake (for tomorrow’s breakfast – I’d love to make this a Saturday night / Sunday morning tradition) and mix up a batch of laundry soap. Sophie mistakes my grating Fels Naptha soap as a cheese operation and asks for a taste, which I oblige and we laugh at her nose-scrunching reaction.

I love weekends. We sleep in, I make Ralph do stuff, I clean the house, I cook for my family and we cuddle late into the night. Good times.