I knew I’d be preoccupied with parenting, but figured I’d find my pockets of time for work during Kaspar naps, and at night. I usually work while he’s at school in the mornings, and then do less brain-intensive tasks once he’s gone to bed. I expected I’d be tired by the end of the week, but also that things would go relatively smoothly. I intended to keep things pretty close to home—I set up a few playdates and stocked our fridge—where our environment is perfectly conducive to our normal routines. Things got off to a rocky start, though; on the night that Aaron flew out, Kaspar suffered an allergic reaction to fish, which he’s previously eaten without a problem. It was borderline epi-pen territory; he developed hives around his mouth after taking his first bite, and proceeded to frantically rub his eyes and face… with his fish-covered hands. I moved him to the couch, grabbing my phone and the epi-pen on the way, gave him a Benadryl, held his hands (as he rubbed his head on every cushioned surface within reach) and closely monitored his symptoms for any sign of lip-swelling or breathing difficulty. The Benadryl worked, thankfully, but not as quickly as I’d have liked, and not before my own adrenaline stores had fully emptied into my bloodstream. I skipped my own dinner that night and, after getting Kaspar into bed, checked on him obsessively until I climbed under the blanket with him several hours later. He slept like a rock. I did not.
We were up, the next morning, by six, and I got him situated on the couch with his hemp milk and Thomas the Tank Engine looped on Netflix. I then moved on to preparing something caffeinated so that I could move on to actually parenting properly. I gazed over our kitchen-bar-thing while boiling water and saw Kaspar contentedly nodding along with Thomas’ musical number… while also clawing the crap out of his own legs. Now, Kaspar’s usually at least a little itchy all the time, but he’ll normally stop scratching when I remind him that it worsens the situation, or when I both moisturize his skin and distract his attention. In this case, none of these interventions worked. It took me until that afternoon (after some Googling, and sending phone pics to our pediatrician) to realize Kaspar had Poision Oak all over his legs (unrelated to the fish incident , obviously). As a result, the next several days were spent on constant scratch-patrol, and Kaspar slept terribly, despite a steady Benadryl supply. (I’m not a big fan of medicating, at all, but the boy had Poison Oak) Naps were nonexistent. He’d sleep for two-hour spurts at night, then wake up and remain awake for hours-long scratching/talking marathons. I’d give up entirely on getting back to my work by about 1 or 2 am, then bring him into my bed—where at least we had some room to spread out. I’d settle him down and start to nod off myself when-- scratch. Scratch-scratch – I’d snap back to a semi-wakeful state to keep Kas from shredding his skin.
This situation felt just about identical to what we went through in the thick of Kaspar’s eczema/allergy days, right after he received his nine-month vaccinations and before we had any clue what was going on. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to be kept awake all night, for nights on end. At a certain point, the body determines that you’re staying awake because, clearly, you’re being hunted by a bear or something, so it offers up (more) adrenaline, which you can feel surging up and down the spinal cord and into the base of the skull. It doesn’t stop when the baby goes to sleep, finally, either. I tried to be nice throughout this process, but I was also exasperated. And stressed. And tired. And, later, guilt-ridden about my own double-personality that resulted from being denied even a hint of personal time or space, as well as the most basic of tools for human functioning (sleep), when all I wanted was to feel like a human. By day, I’d feel badly about the night before, and badly for Kaspar, in his discomfort, and I’d do my best to be patient and fun and super affectionate. By night, I’d hold out for a while, but I’d eventually start sighing loudly, groaning in frustration, swiping Kaspar’s hands away from his body and imploring him to “Sleep! Just sleep.” He didn’t seem disturbed by my outbursts, really, but I didn’t like hearing myself speak that way. It sounded mean, in the dark, before dawn.
The most frustrating part of all of this was that I couldn’t just leave my kid awake by himself so that I could go get some sleep in order to be a nice mom (sometimes we have to cut our losses). He not only insisted on my company, but he was (and always has been, to some degree) awake because he was uncomfortable. He was scratching. He’ll do damage if left to his own devices. If someone else were hurting my child, I’d fuck them up, you know? But this is my child hurting himself. (Albeit not deliberately) It's excruciating. Worse for him, of course, but tough for me to cope with sometimes. Calamine lotion was a big help in the midst of this; it helped to quell Kaspar’s poison oak itch (and to dry up the rash), and by Wednesday we were coasting pretty well—scratching was at a minimum, our days were happy, despite lack of sleep—but he continued to wake endlessly throughout the night. He just wouldn’t stay down. I’m sure some of this had to do with Aaron being gone, and with Kaspar’s normal school routine being concurrently absent; things had changed without much warning, and Kaspar has no idea what “a week” or “California” (of “work” for that matter) even mean.
On Thursday night, I sat down to do some work at 10 pm. Kaspar woke at 10:15. I called Aaron at midnight. I knew he was working on an animation test for a big studio where he’d toured with a hiring big-dog that day—he had about 18 hours to complete the thing —but I felt myself on the brink…. With Kaspar sitting up next to me in my bed (I’d gotten him to sleep twice since he first woke up, but he called for me within minutes after I snuck out of the room, both times), I told Aaron I can’t take this, I can’t juggle several jobs and be a mom to a kid who never sleeps, who’s never slept like a normal person and who now wouldn’t let me leave the room. I told him the week had been a bad thing for my work, and that I was going to need time, once he was back, to do damage control. I told him I was getting emails and that I couldn’t even write back. I told him I couldn’t shower without Kaspar pulling the curtain off the rod and getting water everywhere in the room. I told him Kaspar was demanding I turn on Thomas all day and screeching the second he didn’t have his way. Then I told him not to worry—I was fine, we were fine, we were having fun — but I was losing my mind and looking forward to seeing him-good-luck-on-your-test-I’m-sorry-to-have-interrupted… Oh, and our car broke down, so I’d had Triple-A take it away. (The car ended up being okay …).
I’m sure I sounded actually crazy.
Aaron listened very sweetly and reassured me that he’d provide the time I needed, and agreed that Kaspar, while delightful, presents us with some unique challenges that can really, really suck. The next day, I apologized profusely to my editors (via emails, sent from my phone) explaining the situation and emphasizing its temporary nature. Luckily, the people I work for mostly have kids of their own, and were understanding and flexible. Empathetic, even. I got the bare minimum of work done for the week—what had to happen did, thanks to my wonderful friends who came and held down the fort while I escaped to my office for an hour or two, twice — but I mostly just surrendered to the situation. I had a clingy, poison-oak-covered, and surely very tired kiddo on my hands. He clearly needed my full, 100% (200%, counting the night shift) attention. And I could, I would, give him that. (Because someday he’ll be fifteen and not want my attention at all… and long before that, his dad would return and we’d trade nights, per usual, so we could each get some freaking sleep). I can take this; I can do all of these things. Sometimes better than others, but I'm doing it.
Despite running on way-under empty, despite the poison oak, and despite those rough nights, I think we did pretty well, all things considered. I gave in to Thomas requests more often than I usually do (survival, yo), but I also kept Kaspar busy (and happy) with walks, swing-time, books, and even some South-by-Soutwesting (a la our favorite rock star friends, Jessie Torrisi and the Please Please Me). Kaspar had a fun week, I’m sure of it. That’s what really counts, for me. And although I wish I hadn’t lost my patience with him at night when he was uncomfortable, there were a few times during the day when he wanted my attention and I—in the middle of something else—told him he needed to wait. Without two parents and a whole family dynamic, Kaspar was forced to adapt to adjusting to my needs, too—to some degree—as I sometimes couldn’t respond immediately to his desires. He didn’t like this, but I think it was important for his two-year-old self to realize that, while I love him with my entire being and will do everything within my power to keep him healthy and well, I am not his personal slave. (Moms: we’re people, too).
He was, surprisingly, a little shy with Aaron when we all finally reunited at the airport. Kaspar wanted me to hold him, and wasn’t quite ready for a Daddy-hug until we made it home (though he was perfectly happy to receive the little gift Aaron brought back from Cali during the ride). He’s continued to be a bit clingy with me this week, but has mostly returned to his usual easygoing self. He even slept through the night, alone, in his bed, two nights ago. (Last night? Not so much) Aaron’s stood by his word and helped me to some much-needed family-free work time, and my mom arrived yesterday for a short visit, during which she’s mostly babysitting… which is exactly what she wanted to do (we’ll see them again next month when we all travel to Asheville for her birthday). That’s good, because, honestly, I love my son but I’m a liiiiitle burnt out on him at the moment. Just kinda getting over that now, and it’s been almost a week since Aaron returned.
I’ve gotten my work done. I feel sane again, if still somewhat exhausted. I started to feel myself getting sick—like, physically depleted—toward the end of last week, so I’ve been cooking some extra nourishing meals, downing fresh juices and attempting to go to bed before midnight, with mixed success. That’s all helped. The Ayurvedic practitioner I recently saw, for myself, made the point that when the body and mind go at it, working against each other, the mind will hold out for a long time (especially with people as good at this particular trick as I am), but ultimately—every time—the body wins. It’ll force a person to rest by developing illness. I really felt this happening last week, and I was frustrated that I wasn’t in control of the circumstances so as to address it, but I guess making that crazy call, and carving out the time this week by enlisting help where it’s available, are my ways of finding my way back to a place of semi-balance. (I actually also had a two-hour phone appointment with the pediatric Ayurvedic specialist in Colorado I’ve mentioned a few times… It was very promising, and I hope Kaspar’s allergy and sleep situations will continue to improve, steadily, under his care).
I’ll admit, after last week, that I don’t think I could survive being a single parent, all things considered. So knock on wood that never happens. And if I never hear the sound of scratching again in my life, I’ll be a very happy woman. As it stands, I appreciate my husband very much, and am planning to take a little (NON-networking) vacation of my own, sometime in the fall, when my UT work cycle slows… I will not be bringing my lovely husband with me, though. Or our loveable little boy. I’ve never had a night away from my mom-post, and I think it’s about time I got one… or five. Stay tuned.
Do you ever parent solo when your partner’s out of town? Or, all the time because you’re a single parent? How do you make it work?