Two lanky girls stumbled into the coffee shop. One following the other. They both wore glasses. Their gait was either demonstrative of high intelligence or the insecurity that comes with being a pubescent teen. Or perhaps both. Unshowered and with that fresh-out-of-bed look, they plopped themselves at an empty table next to mine around 7:50am. They neither moaned nor threw sugar packets at one another. As what appeared to be their mother and father proceeded to order coffee for themselves, the girls stayed seated at the table and occupied themselves. One with a smartphone, the other with a book. The whole scene was so serene. So unfamiliar.
‘Will my kids ever be capable of that?’ I asked myself. ‘Or is this self-entertaining business only reserved for intellectual, well-behaved, bookie kids?’ Oh, sure, my kids could join me at this coffee shop, but they would be the center of attention. In this case, that isn’t a good thing. At present, mine constantly require some form of supervision or some need to be met. Picture a game of ongoing ping pong until you no longer want to play. Change one diaper, change the next. Nurse an infant and run after the toddler about to throw a glass bottle. Glass bottle!? Where did he get that glass bottle anyway?
Here I am, escaping my own progeny for three hours at a coffee shop, for my own sanity. Actually, for the health of the whole family. Because if I don’t, I may just hurt someone. And I am not just throwing words around, friends.
On the heels of Tall Mountain’s work trip number five since mid-March, I needed a bit of a reset. A time to debrief what happens when I am sleep-deprived and stretched to my limits. A time to process these long days of solo-parenting, trying to keep the household together around the clock. A time to understand how I can be swept within minutes from absolute tenderness and infatuation for my kids to the evil tyrant, wreaking havoc and terror in my home. I am so ashamed of myself. I am so surprised by what I am capable of. I am so humbled by this stage of motherhood. Father God, forgive me, for I am weak. This shattered vessel desperately needs your grace and your mercies, that are new every morning. Can it be that these are available to little old me?
Was it really so important that little guy cleaned up his toys in the living room? Was it really so important that little miss got full naps? Was it really more important for my home to be presentable than for me to get a few minutes of sleep? How could I have brought my own flesh and blood to fear and trembling? How does it escalate so fast? And why on earth is she still needing to be fed all-night long? I promise you, I was a much better mother without kids. I never bribed, I never spanked, I never raised my voice, I never shook with anger, I never cried with fatigue and in utter desperation.
So, putting my own stay at home mama pride and judgement aside (judgement towards myself – I mean, if this is mainly all I do, certainly I should be able to hack it, right?), Tall Mountain and I went onto care.com for the first time last night. We’d thrown the idea of an extra pair of hands around for a while. Forcibly, it was back on the table again. With help, I could do that professional work that keeps me otherwise busy from 10pm-midnight, research new opportunities for our family, care for myself and my household or catch my breath – especially while TM is on further overseas trips. Alongside the French that the kids are getting from me, I have always wanted a French speaker to support our minority OPOL language. I had shrugged off the possibility, thinking we would never find a match, right here, in the middle of America. I no longer remember how but last year, we had indeed found Lucile, babysitter extraordinaire. She helped out so we could enjoy a couple date-nights one full year ago. And then she broke the news she was leaving back to France.
Back to square one. Six head shots popped up after we entered all our requirements: not too pricey, French-speaker, car owner, older than 21, cleared background check, kid lover, available at our proposed times. We weren’t just looking for French citizens per se. As I have written previously, we long for our children not to become little French kids or little American kids, but rather to become lovers of their world. That might help explain our reaction to what happened next. One profile picture caught our attention immediately. She wore a black head-covering in her photo and wrote that she actively participates in raising her siblings. I don’t doubt it! TM smiled, saying “What about her, babe? I think she might be a good fit. What do you think?”. As I read Fatima’s bio, I slowly started to get hopeful and even excited at the prospect of a non-Westerner helping to care for our children. I had never thought about this idea before. I have always adored that fierce but loving mother-hen-like nature so characteristic of many African, Arab, Asian women. It brought me back to my new middle-aged mama friend from Mali who I met at the library last week. Within three minutes of meeting her, she ordered my son around, getting him to obey and giggle at once: Ayodelé, tu lâches la boutan dé l’ascenseur tout da sweet! T’écoutes ta mama, ah?!* she lovingly yelled. No Westerner could ever get away with that. But that is besides the point.
You may find it peculiar how we could think that a Muslim girl might align with our family’s values enough to care for our most cherished possessions. While we have yet to meet Fatima, I think we fell in love with the potential for intercultural and interfaith exposure for Ayo and Délice. We also know Muslims to care deeply for family and siblings, to know how to cook (minus during ramadan – hehe) and to be responsible from a young age. Sadly, Fatima got back to us this morning saying she was out of country for two months. Now, we have to decide if we will wait until the Autumn to interview her or if we look into other leads in the meantime.
While solo-parenting will never be easy, it is exciting to imagine a helper that won’t just keep our children busy but may even enrich their view of the world. Not to mention, give this weary mama a break. After a long week, the prospect of someone like Fatima coming by to hold a baby from time to time in the Autumn, so that I can get down to Ayo’s toddler level and ask him if we can clean up together, is more freeing that anything I have heard in a long time.
*Get your paws off that elevator button right away, Ayodelé! You listen to your mama! (more or less ;-))