Hug time: parenting when the world is too much

I didn’t know what had happened in Las Vegas. Maybe I could leave it alone. Maybe I could pretend I hadn’t seen it. Maybe I could find out what happened later, after the coffee kicks in. At least after the sun is up.

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Monday October 2nd. It was an early morning here. We’d all been sick for almost a week and we were finally starting to feel more alive. So surely sleeping past six was too much to ask. We were testing our freshly healed stomachs with black coffee, laughing at Wyatt as he played with his baby doll Carter. “Aw, are you showing him outside?” Papa asked. No, we realized, as Wyatt carefully wedged each of Carter’s little plastic feet under the edge of the mini blinds and left him there to hang upside down. We laughed and laughed.

Of course I had to take a picture. Of course I had to instagram it. “Are you posting that right now?” Evan asked. Of course I was. Because it was hilarious, and I’m addicted.

Within seconds of clicking that irresistable Instagram icon, I saw it: the words “Pray for Las Vegas” on an attractive graphic. It caught my eye immediately, but didn’t register at first. There’s been such a constant flow of tragedies and disasters recently it can be hard to keep up. Another account I follow had posted something similar, and I quickly realized this was a new one. I didn’t know what had happened in Las Vegas.

Maybe I could leave it alone. Maybe I could pretend I hadn’t seen it. Maybe I could find out what happened later, after the coffee kicks in. At least after the sun is up.

Of course I had to look. Of course I had to find out, to read the brief statements: breaking news, awaiting confirmation, sources report. More than 50 dead. Hundreds wounded. “The deadliest mass shooting in modern history.”

I noticed my husband watching me. He already knew. Because this is our lives now: consuming the most horrific events before breakfast. Before it’s light out. “Did you see it?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said, because what can you say when it happens again, and again, and again?

So I posted my picture with a cute caption. I pulled my baby close to me. I tried not to imagine going to a concert, leaving him behind with his grandparents as we’ve done before. Never coming home. We changed the subject.

We rallied for the day. My husband went to work. Alone with my tired but busy eighteen month old, I did my best to keep up. To keep my head above water. How are we supposed to do this? How are we supposed to parent when the world is so hard to face? Basic adulting seems like a lot to ask on days like this, and I’m supposed to be a full time role model? Who signed me up for this? Because I am clearly not qualified. My Facebook news feed, the stay at home mom’s best frenemy, was a swirl of shared, liked, and reacted-to screengrabs of stranger’s tweets, carefully worded heartbreak, too-short graphic content warnings on auto-playing newsreels, thoughts and prayers, outrage at thoughts and prayers, indignant defenses of thoughts and prayers. I kept reading, refreshing, hoping to find comfort. None of it helped. Are you surprised?

I put the phone away. We went outside. The sun had come out. We had spent the last eighty degree day of summer indoors sleeping and watching movies, but we weren’t going to miss this sunny October afternoon. We bundled up in boots and sweaters and went out without a plan. We walked around, smelled the herbs, checked on the ants under the rock border of the garden. My eyes fell on a mostly bare circle of dirt in the side yard. Short green shoots betrayed the over abundance of asiatic lily roots hiding under the dirt. I’ve been meaning to thin out for a year. Maybe even get rid of them completely, to convert the space into a kid friendly area with herbs and edible perennials. Big dreams, I know. We pulled out a shovel and a yard waste bin and got to work. The earth was soft from recent rain. The lily tubers came out in massive knots. We got into a system. I would say “back up” and lift up a heavy ledge of earth and roots. We would sift through the dirt together with our bare fingers, separating dirt from fat rhizomes and twirls of thin roots. “Here’s a root,” I would tell Wyatt, handing them to him one by one. “Throw it in the bucket.” He would repeat “root,” “bucket,” and “throw.” His boots fell off and dirt packed into his socks. Sometimes he would wander off to try to turn on the hose or investigate the ants again, always coming back to sink his hands in the dirt, to throw roots into the bucket. We got warm and took off layers and our fingernails turned black with soil.

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my helper

Eventually he started rubbing his eyes with the back of his dirt covered hands. So we left our shoes and socks at the door, and I carried him to the tub. One warm bath and a clean outfit later we snuggled into the big bed in his room with a book. This time we read Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell. I’ve been getting a lot of comfort from children’s books recently and this is a new favorite. It is so sweet. You can see the author read some of it here.

Ever since Wyatt got really good at sleeping in his crib, he has refused to fall asleep in bed with us. Even when he calms down with a book, he gets restless and active if we lie there with him for too long. I’m grateful he sleeps so well alone, but I desperately miss the snuggles. Every now and then though, when he’s sick, or very, very tired, and the planets align just so — he drifts off in my arms. It’s so rare and sweet I’m usually too excited to fall asleep myself.

I felt it happening that afternoon: his arms relaxing, his heart rate slowing, the busy sucking of the binky quieting and stalling. I have to transfer him to the crib, I thought. I have to get up. I have so much to do. I thought about the bookkeeping due for work. The dog hair and cracker crumbs on the floor. The utter lack of ideas for dinner. (The news I’m not reading.) For a moment I even thought about sneaking away to my own bed, where I could actually sleep alone, undisturbed, the perfect temperature.

And then I thought about March 25th last year, when a tiny bird landed on the podium of a white haired man from Vermont. A politician who believed that healthcare is a right and that climate change is real. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but that bird is really a dove, asking us for world peace. No more wars.” I remembered holding my two day old son close, and kissing him, and crying with joy and maybe some postpartum hormones, and just overflowing with hope for the world I had brought him into. There was evil in the world but we were heading in the right direction. We had a president who was a man of integrity, who respected women and people from other cultures. We were working on the important issues. We were about to get a woman president. I believed that things were pretty good and they were going to get better.

I thought about June 12th last year. I was processing unthinkable news before I was fully awake. Evan had taken Wyatt out to the front room to let me sleep. I was still breastfeeding all night every night. By the time they came in to check on me and bring coffee I had read the news. I was crying, thinking about the many friends and family members I’ve shared evenings with in bars like Pulse. It could have been any of them. Any of us. Because it can happen anywhere. “There was a shooting in Orlando,” is all I said as I reached for my baby with both arms. Our president then was a man who spoke eloquently, tenderly, and from the heart. A strong and scholarly man who I had seen cry more than once, had heard sing Amazing Grace in Charleston. Who never failed to comfort, no matter how dark the horrors we faced.

We live in a different America now. There’s no comfort from our new “Comforter in Chief.” We have a president whose words of ridicule, violence, and self praise can be counted on only to inflame his supporters and critics alike. Whose version of “Presidential” behavior is to read woodenly from a teleprompter like a child being punished. The circus of his crumbling administration, our battered Constitution, and our nation’s declining reputation has become our every day reality. I struggle every day with fear and grief for the world my son is inheriting.

But we can’t give up, right? I’m more upset by world events since I became a parent, and less able to ignore, to be apathetic. The stakes are too high. I have a tiny helpless baby over here who is becoming a big boy way, way too fast. It’s up to me to either fix everything in the world or find the right balance of protecting him from it and preparing him for it — STAT.

I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to start. I don’t know what to do when it’s all too much.

I looked back at the book we had just finished. The world is so big.. and yet so small. It’s time that we embrace it all. That’s something that we all can do. Start with the one who’s closest to you. (Hug Time, by Patrick McDonnell.)

So for today, I held him close. I texted my husband “dinner’s gonna be late.” And I held as still as I could with my neck pressed against the wall and I let my tiny baby sleep until he woke up confused and sweaty and cranky, ready for dinner that wasn’t ready for him. I don’t know what to do tomorrow. But for today, that was enough.

One thought on “Hug time: parenting when the world is too much

  1. Ugh. I feel you. David and I have started meditating in the evening after Nora goes to bed because it literally feels like the only way to wash off all the crummy news of the day. I knew parenting was going to be a challenge, but I feel like it’s even harder with all that is going on. There is a constant buzzing feeling in my body of stress and worry and sadness that it difficult shake. Walking in forest also helps.

    Like

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