Tuesday, December 7, 2010

because we're all in the same big boat

I've been away from the blog because we've been away on vacation! To LA! Without kids! Mitch was invited to present at UCLA and I went along while my mom stayed with Frances and Clark. Sunshine! Ocean views from our (Santa Monica) hotel! It was fabulous and warm (I left here with a tiny bit of snow on the ground, and returned to much more snow on the ground. I had to dig the car out in just my little sweatshirt and no gloves...), and I got to see two old friends, which was renewing in ways I didn't see coming. 

We took the redeye home. Redeyes always seem like a good idea--get on the plane at 11:30pm (which means an extra full day in LA) then sleep while in transit (cuz why would you want to be awake for that anyway?) and arrive at 9am, rested and ready for the day. But the reality is that you step onto the plane already bleary eyed and then only sleep in 2 minute increments because you're sitting upright in a tiny airplane seat forcryingoutloud and besides, the seatbelt sign keeps dinging on and off. 

At least my mom stayed an extra day here, so I could sleep once we got home. It all worked out. 

At LAX there was a young mom at security with a baby strapped to her chest--maybe 3 months old? I had been watching the baby earlier with a kind of yearning I've become familiar with and will discuss later, and I didn't realize until I heard the screaming that she had a toddler too. My guess is he was not yet two, and the poor mom was trying to get her million bags organized for security and the kid kept running off. She'd go get him and drag him back by the arm, and drag him she had to because as soon as she touched him he went boneless and screamed and flopped on the floor. A couple of times she left him there on the floor for a moment, lolling around on the ground, while she again tried to organize baby crap diaper bags shoes belts phones on the conveyor belt, and the kid would get up and run off. Then she'd go get him, and again with the screaming and flopping. She couldn't pick him up or get a good grip on him because of the baby on her front who thankfully wasn't hollering too; he was rather mesmerized by the lights on the ceiling. 

As soon as the security fella checked my ID with his little pen light and scribbled on my boarding pass with his highlighter, I made my way to the mom and toddler. At that specific moment she was simultaneously trying to hold him by the arm and lug a suitcase up onto the conveyor belt, and he was 90% on the floor. I just said, "Let me help you," and scooped him up. I didn't know if he'd let me hold him, but he did, and the crying didn't get any louder though it didn't let up any either. I didn't worry about that, just let him cry and tried to jolly him a bit and simply keep him from running off while the mom dealt with everything else. She looked so surprised when I picked him up, and then enormously grateful, and then she paused and stood there a moment, her hair falling in her face. It took me a minute to realize she was crying. 

Before that moment I sympathized with her (and greatly) but when she started to cry I suddenly knew what she was feeling, and I could feel the echo of it in my own chest. I remembered the exhaustion and desperation and trying-my-best-because-what-else-is-there-to-do-but-slog-through and oh I felt for her. I should have known she would cry. That's what I always did when strangers rescued me. The reason the tears come at those moments of rescue is because 1) the sheer gratitude that someone else sees your suffering and simply wants to help is overwhelming, and 2) you would be doing nothing but crying anyway if only you were able to pause for a moment to feel what it is you're feeling. 

The mom only cried for a moment and then got it together and thanked me, and thanked me again, and then again, and that was when I realized she didn't even speak english. Damn, she must have been even more overwhelmed than the average distressed mom. 

And THEN. The dad appeared. Seriously. Where the hell had he been? Had he just been at a different conveyor belt station, leisurely taking off his shoes and getting his bags in order and ignoring the screaming? Good grief. He didn't even take the kid from me right away. What the hell??? She was already wearing the baby, probably sleep deprived and sore nipples, her back aching from the wrap, and why was she left to drag the toddler around in the first place? Damn. Although we've come a long way, it's true that women are still assumed to be the ones fully responsible for the kids. Hello postpartum depression! And then the dads don't understand why the moms are emotional or overwhelmed. Or worse: sometimes they don't even notice. 

Now, to be fair, I don't know anything about their situation. Maybe he was dealing with legal crapola and passports and being hassled by TSA while she tried to get their shit through security. That they were of another culture (unnamed) I see as relevant. It's a culture that's typically rather misogynist. But still, if I can see she's struggling and I don't even know her, can't he? 

But the flag I'd like to fly here doesn't have to do with dads, but with us moms and the others we witness. I want to call you to action: Help those moms you see struggling! Help each other! And I think it's important to not just ask, "Do you need any help?" politely waiting to be invited and perhaps uncertain about interfering. Instead, straight up offer: "What can I do?" or "Here, let me hold the groceries while you get the baby in the stroller." When Frances was 5 months old I flew with her by myself to NYC, and as I got to my seat on the plane, the woman in the row behind just stood up, held out her arms, and said, "I'll hold the baby while you get settled." I almost cried then too, so grateful not only for the help, but also that someone would know the struggle inside me. 

Being a mom of a tiny baby feels so lonely, so alone. When most people see a mom and a baby, all they see is the baby and her incredible cuteness. What a beautiful thing to have other people see us moms too, and know our struggle behind the sweetness that is the baby. Both exist at the same time: the wonder of a small baby, and the anxiety and fear and exhaustion of being a mom. We need to tell each other we're not alone, give a shout of support--You can do this! and remind each other that there are people around willing to help, to be kind, to offer a hand. 


RaLynne Parry said...

You nailed it again - a post that any woman who is a mother will totally feel and relate to. Thank you for sharing your experience and being willing to help in that moment, you are a compassionate, strong woman and I admire you so much!Loves and misses.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Cali. I got tears, too, reading this one. Someone SEEING and stepping in to help in your struggle as a mom.... Priceless. Kristen