I didn’t expect to have the conversation about the difference in male and female genitalia at such an early age with my son. Certainly not on my own. But I think I have the boundaryless no man’s land of single-parenthood to thank for that.
As I write this, I’ve been up since 2:00 am. I had one single, very unpleasant hiccup and then baby gave me a swift shot to the ribs. From what I could tell I hadn’t moved in a while – why the sudden discomfort, baby? With my first pregnancy, Little Man took us to the hospital in the middle of the night. I got up to use the bathroom and my water broke. Now every night when I inevitably wake up, I worry it’s going to happen when I’m all alone. I gingerly roll out of bed and waddle my way to the bathroom pretending that if I don’t open my eyes too much I’ll just fall back asleep. But hunger, or the realization that my husband is up across a five hour time difference, or thoughts about laundry and other mundane crap leave me wide awake by the time I return to bed. But tonight’s sudden and fleeting assault in my womb had me worried. This can’t be it, I thought, I’m so close to having the Hubs home – I am not doing this alone.
On the trip home from Accra to DC everything clicked. Little Man behaved in the airport. He got on the plane and requested his neck pillow and eye mask and passed out before we even started to taxi. We watched movies and tried to stay sane in the last hours of the flight. He even stayed pretty chill while I, 34 weeks pregnant, waited for luggage and loaded up the trolley with at least 150 lbs of crap between bags and a car seat. Then, like I was on a roid rage, I beasted our way through customs pushing the cart with one hand and a stroller with a two year old and all our carry-ons with the other, made it to a Washington Flyer, and we were on our way. (Not to digress, but this would never have happened in Ghana. A whole team of people would have helped the pregnant lady out of the airport cheerily helping to entertain the toddler all the way and expecting nothing – well maybe something small small – in return. Welcome back to the USA!)
Through all that I kept my calm. I felt good. I felt like I could do anything. I’ve got this.
Then the next day I was crippled by Whole Foods.
Being pregnant is no joke on it’s own without upped ante of transatlantic travel and a month alone with your toddler. And while I have met much stronger and more amazing foreign service and military parents who’ve had it much harder than me, for the moment – let me indulge you with my story…
These past few months I anxiously awaited single-parenthood worrying about what horrible things Little Man would do to me: not listen, run away, refuse to eat his peas, suddenly lose bladder control. And he did have some challenges adjusting. Sleepless nights, napless days…but the real baby through our transition wasn’t him. It was me. I was (still am) impatient, tired and always hungry. I did my best to fill up his days and keep him entertained in a new place hoping he wouldn’t have a meltdown all-the-while not realizing that I was only contributing to my own. Those tantrums usually took place while Skyping the Hubs, who I guilted with this is so hard and this isn’t fair instead of just saying I miss you and I need you more than I thought I would.
And I didn’t have to be (and wasn’t completely) alone anyway. Family offered to meet me and help out. Friends stopped in with dinner and greetings every night. I insisted I was fine.
Then there was the day that nothing was going right and my child told me to calm down. You know the kind of scenario where you maybe spill a cup of something and go to pick it up, but clumsily make it worse by continuously dropping everything you pick up or slipping in whatever you’re trying to wipe? It was of those days. After I let out a loud groan (scream? expletive?), Little Man looked at me and just said, “Mommy take a deep breath and count to four.”
He may have also told his Dad on Skype that night that, “Mommy said a bad word.” I told him to cut me some slack. Narc.
From there, I transitioned into nights awake, when he was finally sleeping well, worrying about how I screwed up our bonding time and will forever live on in my son’s mind as the mean parent who chases him around all day just saying “No!” to his every move. And this poor baby is already hearing nothing but a Negative Nancy. For a few days I couldn’t wait for him to head on a trip to Grandma’s house so I could just regroup.
At airport security, where I left Little Man to board his plane with Grandma, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy my time alone as much as I had thought. He barely seemed to care as we parted ways. And on my first night alone, I immediately regretted my frustrations at him for the past weeks. I wished he was in bed snoring right in my face and kicking me in my back. I was sort of relieved when friends invited me to sleep over for the weekend so I wasn’t alone during the blizzard.
I think I’ve done a good job of filling up my time flying solo. I wouldn’t say I’m a totally codependent person, but I’ve always lived with someone. This was probably the longest stretch in over a decade I’ve been so totally on my own. Sure I’ve used the break to catch up with friends – but with everyone working I’ve had a lot of time to myself. I’ve done well to fill that up with prenatal massages, gallery visits, restaurants I’ve missed, walks around my old stomping grounds, sleep – it was a good time out, but I miss my family and I’m ready to have them home.
More than anything, this time apart has been a huge reminder of how much I need them. And I shouldn’t say I’ve been totally on my own anyway – Swost Baby #2 has been filling our toddler’s void and kicking me in the night to remind me I’m not alone.
So I guess the lesson here is that the next time my Little Man busts in on me going to the bathroom and demands to have a conversation about why I don’t stand up to pee (because you should stand up to pee Mommy, you’re big like me!), I won’t get frustrated or annoyed by complete lack of privacy. I’ll go about my business then we’ll snuggle up on the couch to talk about it. At the end of the day, it’s pretty damn funny anyway.