On my shoulders

NS June 9th, 2010

I stood in Noble Boy’s room at 9.15pm last night, rocking him, singing to him softly and with tears running down my face. I was slightly annoyed that he wasn’t in bed yet, yes, but it was much more than that; it was the crushing weight of responsibility for his health and well-being.

Earlier in the day, he had had a scary episode upon waking from his nap, wherein he screamed and raged and kicked and writhed with such force and for so long (25 minutes) that for a moment I thought he was having a seizure or was choking.  He howled and turned red and bent his back in such contortions that I feared it would snap. The terror in his eyes mirrored my own. What was happening to my little boy? He arched away from me so violently that it felt like Rejection itself had inhabited his limbs. I sat on the floor and cried with him, both of us desperate for whatever it was to ease its grip.

Finally, it went. He choked out, “Mama!” and held his arms up to me, ready for a cuddle. He clung to me like a baby monkey and sighed great big hiccuping sobs into my neck. I rubbed and patted and sang and whispered and soothed. Fifteen minutes later he was running around after his sister, laughing and chomping on a snack. He was fine but I felt like a ghost for the rest of the day.

So that night, when he wouldn’t go to sleep and I heard him crying in his cot after NH’s third attempt at calming him had failed, I climbed the stairs once more and scooped him into my arms, even though I had a ton of work to do downstairs. He needed lots of cuddles and reassurance so I had a long time to stand there in the dark, thinking.

I was thinking about my first doula client interview, which is today, and the conversation I’d had with my mother-in-law when I’d had to ask her to come watch the children while I raced off to the dentist at 4pm and then straight onto a train at 5 to be with the client at 6. Noble Husband would leave work early and be home by 6 to relieve her, would that be okay? It was, but only just. She had other plans and would have to change or delay them accordingly. I felt bad. I felt guilty. I felt frustrated.

This work-life balance stuff, the childcare arranging and juggling, the endless ‘favours’ being called in — it’s all on my shoulders. I’m the woman, I’m the mother, I’m the one who has to try to carve out a career after her other commitments have been met. For my husband (and most other ‘breadwinners’) it’s the other way around; work comes first and family is squeezed around its looming pillar of worth. I can’t go anywhere or do anything on my own without my mental tally of who I can count on, what time x or y has to happen and how early I can get NH home. It’s exhausting.

Taking care of these little people all day, trying to make a career work and creating my own sense of self…it’s really difficult to feel confident and autonomous when you’re dependent on others for everything; their salary and cooperation (NH), their flexibility and willingness (mum-in-law) and your children to not to scoop the contents of your heart out, day by day.

Eventually, I realised that NB was not going to let go of me and settle in his own bed so I carried him through to mine. I laid down beside him and stroked the soft skin of his arms and face as he took comfort in the warm milk and closeness my body provides. He drifted off to sleep, finally. And even though my eyelids were heavy and I wanted to stay with him, to stay cuddled up with my baby, I knew a mound of paperwork and dishes awaited me downstairs. I disentangled myself from his embrace and crept away, stealing one last glance at his face in the moonlight.

Sometimes, the weight on my shoulders is lifted just long enough to set me afloat.

20 Responses to “On my shoulders”

  1. Dan says:

    I know that feeling, although my own are mixed up with a different set of sexual politics.

    And I am ashamed to admit that if the kids are sick and we’re both working it’s generally Kerry who has to take the day off. Although this is partially due to nature of my job and the fact me not being there has significant consequences
    Dan´s last blog ..Beaches, goats, and pools My ComLuv Profile

  2. Charlotte says:

    ‘family is squeezed around its looming pillar of worth’ – that would be my life. Great way of putting it, NS, because the ‘worth’ of work is so much more than its financial value. It’s the fact that it comes first, and it puts those who work first.

    I relate to your post on every level and I sincerely hope that your first interview as a doula went swimmingly!
    Charlotte´s last blog ..Ten Things That Make my Day My ComLuv Profile

  3. TheMadHouse says:

    I have sat and read the peice over nad over again and I have tears in my eyes, as I am sort of going through similar. I need to find work for financial reasons and it is killing me. I missed the minimads terribly yesterday, so much so it made me cry. I am finding a balance hard at the moment
    TheMadHouse´s last blog ..drowning My ComLuv Profile

  4. Chris says:

    Oh gosh, so much I identify with here. I’m sorry you had such a day of it yesterday,it’s awful when they have the terrors whenever they occur and that pushing away cuts to the heart. They recover so quickly and bounce back and I know that feeling of standing in the wake, wide eyed and wondering.
    I walked away from my ‘career’ 14 years ago when DS1 screamed his way into my life and stole my heart and the juggling is only just easing now that he is 14 and can take some responsibility for his younger siblings.
    I have found having to ask for help and apologising for inconveniencing others to be the hardest thing along with not having my ‘own’ money for such a long time (I’m working again now, around the children of course).
    Fantastic post and so well written as always. You capture the essence of those feelings so well.
    Chris´s last blog ..Standing Up For What She Believes In My ComLuv Profile

  5. Gappy says:

    I can really relate to this aswell. It seems that just to be able to do the simplest thing away from my home, I have to call in favours, and swap things around, and if one thing goes wrong it puts everything out. It is exhausting.

    I’m glad your little boy is feeling better. Best of luck with your doula interview. x
    Gappy´s last blog ..Mine’s a Lime and Soda My ComLuv Profile

  6. Mistress of Boogie says:

    Oh, you’ve set me off again, dreaming of a (post-feminist revolution) world where family and work are given official equal importance and it’s a recognised and accepted fact that each ‘family unit’ will organise the two in its own unique way. A world where flexitime is not only accepted but is also seen to be the only rational way of working. A world where…oh, I could go on and on, but I’m busy filling out a job application form for a job I’d love but in all reality when push came to shove I wouldn’t be able to accept anyway because it’ll probably be long, unsociable, un-family-friendly hours…

    Could somebody please send the revolutionary bus my way – I want to get on!

  7. Tracey says:

    Oh, this is exactly why I haven’t gone back to work, even though my babies are now big girls. (And I do remember those night terrors…. and them being sick, and needing me.) I am too scared – or too selfish maybe? – to try and juggle it all, especially with no family back up. I know that it will fall to me to do the mental tally, the figuring out of the logistics (and getting the kids from A to B to C after school). I think I would go either crazy, or bitter and twisted and resentful.
    Mind you – in the meantime I’m going crazy wishing I was working.
    (Excellent post! – thanks to PRG for the referral!)
    Tracey´s last blog ..Chasing the weather My ComLuv Profile

  8. Emily O says:

    What a tough day, empathy here. The tantrums they have can be terrifying, my toddler turns 2 in a few days and he’s in the midst of these raging tantrums. Sometimes I think he scares himself, he scares the rest of us! The work-children balance is hard. Like you I’m trying to balance work and looking after children. I took mine to a meeting on Monday and luckily they were well-behaved. I’m straight with the people I work for and explain I’m a WAHM with three pre-school children and everything I do is a balancing act. I’m lucky that everyone I work for is incredibly understanding about this. I have days like you, but I remind myself this time is short-lived. Hard as it is, in a few years they’ll be much less dependent on us and although we’ll relish some time for ourselves I think I’ll also look back on these baby days with fondness and slight sadness that they’re gone.
    Emily O´s last blog ..How honest are you with first-time parents? My ComLuv Profile

  9. JulieB says:

    Can’t really comment as fully as I would like, as i am doing this on my phone whilst at work (ha). Just wanted to say beautiful post, and one that I can really relate to. x
    JulieB´s last blog ..Earrings for babies – for or against? My ComLuv Profile

  10. Sandy Calico says:

    Re the post-nap screaming and crying, P did it for months. I used to dread getting him up and had to make sure the baby was up and fed first so that I could cuddle my eldest. He still does it occasionally. My niece does it too. It’s the strangest thing. Cuddles and distraction (TV, if you can stand it) seemed to be the answer.
    Re the balance, we’re going through something similar thing too. I asked my OH if he could take a day off work so I could go to a blogger event and be a proper grownup for a day. He started moaning about using up HIS holiday. I pointed out that as a SAHM I don’t get holiday. He’s taking the day off now.
    Good luck with the doula appointment. If I was having another baby, I’d hire you x
    Sandy Calico´s last blog ..Time My ComLuv Profile

  11. I know that feeling – I struggle frequently with the fact that in any other household I would be the supported breadwinner but in this household I’m not despite Mr’s job being less secure and potentially less lucrative

    And yet by prioritising so I do the evenings rather than the mornings I do get to put them to bed and to have those lovely cuddles in the evening as they fall asleep

    Hope he’s ok today
    Muddling Along Mummy´s last blog ..Please stop telling me what to do My ComLuv Profile

  12. Expat Mum says:

    Going through something very a propos at the moment but won’t start ranting on your blog!
    My second child used to have night terrors and wake up screaming only he wasn’t awake and we were told to hold him but not to try to wake him up. It used to have me in tears on a regular basis.
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..Hey – That’s my Reputation You’re Messing With My ComLuv Profile

  13. monkey girl says:

    NS – you’ve put it so well, I totally empathise and welled up just reading your post. I have two “littlies” (1 and 6) and spend most of my time having arguments with myself in my head around the children, housework, cooking the meals, childcare, can I justify a mocha frappa, i don’t bring any money into the household i just spend it, the teacher has invited me on the school trip – can i get the childcare to go, but i’d rather use 6 hours of childcare to have a day to myself rather than on a trip with 30 6-year-olds – is that selfish (yes) what is the answer – oh who knows, i’ve got to go now and cook everyone’s dinner….

  14. Definitely know that feeling – I want to work but deliberately shy away from lengthy freelance projects because I know that I don’t have enough childcare/help/time. I realised when we lived in London that I had to bite the bullet and pay for daycare 3 days a week, even though my earnings were barely enough to cover it. But it’s hard when you’re a freelance and don’t know where the next job is coming from.
    nappyvalleygirl´s last blog ..Things I have learned in the past week….. My ComLuv Profile

  15. Sandrine says:

    It would be so good if you could have a childminder at least while you’re setting up your business, so that, like your husband, you can actually concentrate on the work you’re trying to do while you’re trying to do it! Is there anyway you could pull that off? It must be so hard once you’ve spent a bit of time not working outside the home and bringing up children to convince people that this is not your natural state and that you’ve got as much of a right – and duty? – to try and make a living as your husband! I’m glad both my husband and I have fairly undemanding (academic) jobs so we can both be flexible. I hope your boy is fine and that he doesn’t scare you like this again!
    Sandrine´s last blog ..Papers and tiny computers. That’s all. You can dump the rest. My ComLuv Profile

  16. i know that feeling. Some days are just so hard.

    Nothing ever seems to prepare you for these kind of days.
    snafflesmummy´s last blog ..British Mummy Bloggers – Call For Posts My ComLuv Profile

  17. Nova says:

    Bit late to this although I’ve had this tab open on your blog for well over 24 hours…taken me that long to read it fully.Not a stalker!
    I’m sorry your son is suffering with that.Sounds terrifying for you both. I hope it stops very quickly.
    I can relate to so much of what you say and could write a whole post on it here….I won’t bore you though. I hate asking for help and like you I feel guilty and I can never stop worrying whether I am putting someone else out…even if I’m paying them to look after the children. :0S

  18. Yes, yes, and yes. I feel you on all fronts, en force. Not to diminish the stress and responsibility of being the bread-winner, I WISH that was all I had to worry about. Getting up, having my breakfast made for me, grabbing my bag-lunch (which was also made for me) and coming home to a clean house, paid bills, happy kids, and a hot meal where I then play with my children for an hour or so before they go to bed and I have a cocktail.

    I swear I’m not bitter, really, it would be nice though for this mothering/wifing gig to not be such an underground club. Everyone should know how freaking hard it is and what a strain it takes on an individual and there should be more support.

    But now I’m “should-ing” all over myself.
    Jessica – This is Worthwhile´s last blog ..Social media interactions: How not to be an assholeMy ComLuv Profile

  19. blues says:

    So beautifully written. A very real glimpse into the struggles of doing the juggling act. I’m not there yet, or I guess to that extent, but know it will be a new struggle in my marriage. I already struggle with it and we don’t even have kids. We have a couple of nights of football and a birthday party and suddenly the overwhelming accumulation of plant watering, laundry, dishwasher emptying, etc, etc, etc. that needs to be done invariably seems to fall on me. I’m the one worrying about the meat that is gonna go bad in the fridge if somebody doesn’t cook it. I’m the one with the mental shopping lists. I like to think that when kids come it will be obvious that I need more cooperation, but I know it’s going to be hard on us, hard on me. And it’s hard to balance the harmony with what’s right.
    blues´s last blog ..I’m fine, really, I just needed to go for a jog and to say the fuck-word ten hundred timesMy ComLuv Profile

  20. Strawberry says:

    My mother told me of an awakening she had when I was little, my sister a baby. She had something to attend, and asked my dad if he could be sure to be able to watch us on the day. Later, he came and told her that *he* had something he needed to do that day, and she’d have to arrange a babysitter. Usually she would have, but this time something clicked in her head and she told him that, no, he was supposed to be watching the kids that day so *he* would need to arrange his own babysitter. Which floored him, because she is the mother and these things always fall on the mother, don’t they? The dads just make their plans and… go.

    Re the arching: this is what E2 did for her entire first year (crazy arched back and inconsolable screaming) and it was because she was in so much pain from her inflamed guts (caused by the food allergies). I’m sure there are a million things that cause the same behaviour, but just something to keep in mind if it continues.
    Strawberry´s last blog ..Thank God for the PeacetimesMy ComLuv Profile