At 10:15 am on Monday, I got a text from Zelda’s nanny, who we expected at around 11:30 am: She was sick, and she needed to stay home. I wanted to throw the phone across the room, but I just stared it, then looked at my daughter. “It’ll be fine,” I told myself. “Today will just be a disaster. Like every other day.”
I pulled out my calendar for the day, flipping to Monday (it’s made of paper). I hadn’t done any work since Thursday, and I’d spent all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with my family. On my list, in order, was: Shower (yes I penciled that in); write column; edit another piece; call with an editor; brainstorm and write a different piece; grocery store (followed by a list of things we needed); find a dog groomer (we just moved so I don’t have any go to services); find a plumber; make travel arrangements for a wedding in July; make doctor’s appointment for Zelda; and finally, “have new ideas.” I put this into my schedule every week, because these days, I’m left with so little time to simply sit and think that “having new ideas,” something I’ve never been short on, is now a chore I add to a list. All of these things would go a hundred percent undone today. I would instead spend the day playing, reading, singing, and just hanging out with my daughter. Sounds pretty great, right? It is, I know: I’m fortunate to have another wonderful, dependable person to care for Zelda when I need to work, and I’m fortunate to be able to spend entire days at a time with her whenever I want to. But.
What I hid from Zelda was the admittedly awful, nearly monstrous truth: When I got the text from my nanny saying she was sick, I didn’t panic because I was now fucked and unreliable for all the people and other things I’d planned to accomplish — though that was a huge part of it — but because I wanted to work that day. I wanted to accomplish things. I wanted that time to myself. To read, to think, and to “have ideas.” After three solid days of entertaining a fifteen-month-old, I wanted a change of pace: not to lounge around or to sleep, but to do other things, anything almost!
A change of plans, unavoidable, why strain against this? I argue with myself each time this happens. Enjoy it, she’ll be grown soon! the mother part of me reasons. This is insane, I never get anything done! the old part of me, the person I was for the first thirty-six years of my life, nags. She is dying hard. She is angry to no purpose, a lot.
Monday went well enough. I know better than to try to squeeze things in with Zelda. The moment I’m composing a quick email is the moment she will fall, crashing to the floor, leaving me feeling guilty and reckless. I don’t bother: I give up and give in. I didn’t even have time to warn all the people I had to blow off. I had to worry about what to feed the little monster. We went to the grocery store, me wheeling her around in the cart, her laughing, me feeling my phone vibrate every so often. “What are you doing?” I felt like it was asking me. In the afternoon, as she clomped around the living room proudly in her new sandals, I grabbed at her, pulling her towards me. She smells so good, where does that come from? Not such a bad way to spend the day, after all.
Parenting requires flexibility in amounts which are completely, absurdly outside the norm. “I don’t have a backup!” I am fond of tragically yelling when I’m at my wit’s end, and it’s true: I don’t get to be “sick and in bed” anymore. That simply is not an option. I remember my mother dragging herself around at 6 am, making breakfasts and packing lunches in her robe, and the odd handful of times, when she was very sick and in bed, we cobbled together some pathetic version of dinner with my dad and older brother. These times were so rare I’m not sure if I actually remember more than one: her not being there was simply inconceivable. My husband is around a lot more than my own father was, but he is “employed” in a way in which I am not: in the morning he gets up and leaves, and doesn’t return for upwards of twelve hours, and he travels occasionally for several days at a time. I work from home. This is a luxury before you have children and a mixed bag once you do: You get to be home in case anything bad happens while the nanny does the work and hangs out with her. But you also get interrupted a lot more often by all of the distractions of home. You have to deal with the mailman or the garbage; you see the neighbor; you stop working when you realize the ceiling collapsed or there is no water. Parenting simply requires you to constantly be at the mercy of someone else who has no choice but to demand your full and undivided attention twelve to fourteen hours a day.
A search of my inbox for the words “sorry” and “baby” turned up twenty-two emails. I remember, pre-kid, thinking “how great that must be, to always have an excuse” when a friend with a child cancelled, always brutally last minute, too: “Kid vomited all over me, sorry!” Now, I see. Whatever you cancelled is being replaced by a much more insane way to spend a few hours. I make excuses to editors, and they’re real: I’m unreliable only because I have no choice, and I hate it. Almost a year and a half in, it bothers me still.
“She’s not a job, she’s life,” I say to whoever will listen. But having a child this young does resemble a job in a few ways, and it’s meaningful for me to admit them: I love Zelda; everything she does is amazing. “Wow, again? Okay, put the blocks in again. Great job!” I smile, and mean it. I love when she puts the blocks in the thing and then dumps them. She can be a little repetitive; she can be a little trying; at times, like seeing your boss in the hallway, you duck into the bathroom and pretend to be taking a shit so you can avoid another conversation of meaningless pleasantries. I mean this with love, but, everyone needs their own space, even mothers and their babies, and when you unexpectedly don’t get it after days of the same things over and over, it can make you feel panicky. I do, and I have given up trying to change it, or allowing myself to feel shame over it.
Zelda’s nanny recovered and by Tuesday I was ready to do some work. I sat down at my computer, in my office, just feet away from the kitchen. “Nana! Nana!” I heard Zelda squealing, requesting a banana. For a moment, I fought back tears. Then I opened my Gmail in a new tab. “Sorry, yesterday was a disaster,” I typed.