Where I confess I’m a stick stirring my own pot of craziness

by Paige Parker

urlSunday, my 21-month-old daughter caught a nasty virus. Her temperature shot North of 103 degrees; her chest rattled; her nose ran; her eyes took on that dazed, watery quality of a child with a flooded immune system.

Her illness led to many sweet hours of snuggling with her on the couch as she sucked down Popsicles and watched a Barney marathon, asking me after each episode, “Mo’ dinosowr?”

It also meant four days without day care.

Four days of negotiating with my spouse over who would miss work, and how much. Four days of orchestrating pick ups and drop offs, canceling appointments and making excuses.

Four days of obsessively checking my email, knowing I couldn’t answer any of it. Four days of my spouse working until past midnight to catch up on everything and everyone he’d shorted that day.

Four days of me questioning whether my work — the part-time, low-paid teaching and the mostly unpaid, piecemeal writing — has value. Am I a writer, or someone who scribbles around the margins?

Four days of feeling like a stick stirring my own, bubbling pot of craziness.

Four sick days.

“That’s sick,” I’ll hear my students say sometimes, by way of a compliment. Not to me. Never to me. Never, “The way you raced in here from dropping off your kids with minutes to spare, then gave us your undivided attention for 80 minutes, then sprinted out again to pick up groceries and a prescription, damn, we see you’re busting your hump, and that’s sick Paige.”

No. They would never say that. Why doesn’t somebody say that to me? I would like someone to say that to me.

Actually, that is not true. I try mightily, while at work, to pretend like my family does not exist. Like I do not have a 5-year-old’s birthday party to plan. Or shoes to buy the daughter whose feet just decided to grow. Or cupboard coordinates to give a husband who cannot find the raisins.

At work, I dress up way more than necessary because I want to look in the bathroom mirror and see a professional woman, instead of someone who, an hour before, was wearing a snot-stained brew pub hoodie and cleaning dog vomit off the floor.

I would never presume that my students have tidy personal lives just because they don’t have kids themselves, but for some reason, I want them to look at me and see someone who is always managing, always on, never vulnerable, always chatty and handy with a quip or a curse word.

Maybe it’s because I’m an adviser. I want them to see me as someone who, from the imaginary vantage point of her hopping career, immaculate home and argument-free marriage, is actually qualified to give advice.

That’s sick, right? Compartmentalizing like that? And these sick days, they blow the myth to confetti.

I longed to have kids. Sometimes, amidst the chaos, when I am exhausted, it takes a huge effort to remember that.

I heard the Arcade Fire song “The Suburbs” today, and the lyrics reminded me of how much, six years ago, I ached to have children:

So can you understand
Why I want a daughter while I’m still young
I wanna hold her hand and show her some beauty
Before all this damage is done
But if it’s too much to ask, it’s too much to ask
Then send me a son

And I got both, the son and the daughter, by grace alone. And they’re stunning. Who knew they’d get sick so much? Not me. Nope. Don’t kids come sealed in plastic?

I dropped one of them off at daycare this week, set her down on  her classroom’s linoleum floor, chock full of Ibuprofen, knowing she was probably too sick to be there, to buy myself two hours to work.

Two hours.