By Wendy Rhein
I didn’t blog last week. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say, that rarely is the case. I always have something to say. It was something else. Trust me, I had a very good reason.
Last Monday I went to pick up my 2-year-old from daycare and he wasn’t there.
Every parent’s worst nightmare. Somehow, my baby and three of his two-year-old classmates had gotten out of a (supposedly) locked playground, up a hill, halfway down the block, across a street, down another block, across ANOTHER street, and most of the way back. All without the two teachers noticing. A Good Samaritan found them and walked them back to the school, saying he probably would not have noticed them had they not been walking “so orderly” down the street. Four little kittens, all in a row.
I arrived at the daycare and had exited my car when I heard the man yelling at the teacher far on the playground, saying that they had lost kids. It didn’t register to me, lost kids? What does that mean? Is he some crazy person? I steeled myself, thinking that I would confront him and keep him from the children who were on the playground. Protect them from this dog-walking fiend! Except the dog-walking fiend was the one who was protecting the children, MY child in particular.
He brought them back. If he hadn’t? If he hadn’t been outside at that moment? The sick, horrifying, vomit-inducing possibilities rise up in my mind frequently and unabated. The possibility that my youngest could have met unspeakable harm enrages me. Poor Sam knew something was wrong. When he saw me he bolted across the street and leapt at me saying “trouble, trouble, trouble, Mama.” Still clutching a dirty blue shovel from the playground, my baby said “lost mama, cross street.”
How anyone, let alone two trained professionals, can lose four children at one time is unfathomable to me, even a week later. I have spent hours obsessing over how it is even possible. Even using one’s most basic senses, one would notice T-4 children. Sight? Yes, you’d see them, or not. Hearing? Four fewer kids make a lot less noise. One of my primary rules of parenting – if there is too much noise, I need to intervene, too little noise, the same. Touch? When was the last time someone counted these toddlers, laid a hand on a head and counted off to ensure they were all there?
It has been an unsettling week for all of us. Not getting the answers I needed, I pulled Sam from that daycare center. I did not feel he could be safe there. Sam has lost his community of friends and his routine, not to mention the increased anxiety that affects his sleep. He knows he was lost. He knows something happened. Trouble, trouble, trouble Mama. None of us are unaffected. Nathan was with me when we “found” Sam and he’s been asking many, many questions about what could have happened to his baby brother. He insisted on going with me to look at a new daycare option late last week, through tears telling me that he had to be sure that th the fences were high enough and the doors had locks. He had to make sure that Sam would be safe. We all have lost sleep, we all have felt anger and resentment.
I’m the mom, the only parent my sons know. It is up to me to keep them safe. First and foremost, we keep our children safe. As a working parent, like most parents of kids in care, I researched, I talked to people, I sought out recommendations and I checked state licenses and complaints. I thought I had found a place that would cherish my child and care for him when I couldn’t. And in the end, I had to walk my child and three other little ones across a street and back INTO the daycare center that was supposed to be watching over them.
Being a working parent is hard enough, guilt-provoking enough, that we should not have to worry about whether or not our babies are going to be there at the end of the day. Ever.
By: Wendy Rhein
As soon as he saw the little blue uniform on the boys not much older than he was selling popcorn outside the Safeway, Nate wanted to be a boy scout. The child has a thing for uniforms, and adventure, and probably most importantly a strong sense of civic duty. I take responsibility for that last one. The first two, not so much.
I was really torn about letting him join the Boy Scouts Association because of its homophobic reputation and regulations that the organization sadly reaffirmed this week. I postponed the discussion. I talked to him about the commitment, about what that would mean in relation to other activities. I spent several weeks balancing his requests to join the local troop and my own sense of not endorsing or supporting such a place. We’re boycotters! We stand up for what we believe! We demonstrate our values with our time and money! Heck, it was this same kid who asked if we could stop going to Chik-Fil-A because a it was none of their business who loved whom!
It didn’t help that my mother told him that every president in the twentieth century was at one time a boy scout. His political aspirations already confirmed, this still-to-be-verified testimony only reinforced his pleas.
Over several months Nate would tell me about scouting. He wanted to earn badges, go camping, build a pinewood car (or have ME build the car), volunteer in his community, and sing Christmas carols at the senior center. And yes, all of those things sound great to me. I could see real value in him being a part of a group where adult men spent time with their children and offered supportive leadership to other boys. I could see the value in the organized community engagement and the skills and independence he could learn while building a rocket or making a campfire. But I wanted that for ALL boys, not just the straight ones.
I walked into the local pack open house last fall with a real chip on my shoulder. I was, I admit, hoping he would hate it. I was hoping I might hate it. I sought out one of the leaders, introduced myself, pointed out that we were a family without a dad and would that be a problem? He laughed and started to point out all the single parents in the room. The gay couple and the family with not one but three moms. I calmed down a little. As one would expect, Nate loved it.
So began the first of what I am sure will be years of soul searching about what to do when my beliefs and my children’s wants or desires collide. I admit to being at a loss as to what to tell him about this group that he has come to love; the policies they hold that are ultimately counterintuitive to what I instill in my sons, and where that amorphous policy-making body fits with the more welcoming and open troop we see on weekends. I am not inclined or interested in causing a seven year old the pain of choosing my (his?) beliefs over an activity he loves. I am telling myself that if he was witnessing this in his own group, his own backyard, he would be able to tie to something real in his world and grasp it.
We are a scouting family. And I hate the national association policy to shun gay scouts and leaders. I hate it. I struggle with what action to take or not take, knowing that doing what would come naturally to me will really hurt my child and keep us away from some people we have come to call friends. He isn’t alone in this either. When I see my son standing straight and tall in his blue uniform, a little straighter and taller than normal, I am proud of him for finding something he loves and sticking with it. Our troop is welcoming but I know not all of them are, much like not all schools, churches, temples, or families are. It was much simpler to answer when it was just me to consider, but who wants to hurt her own children? Certainly not me and not those parents that have to tell their sons, the ones like mine who only want to camp, build cars from balsa wood, and sing Christmas carols at the senior center, that they are not welcome here.
Another Article on the Scouts
By: Wendy Rhein
There are never enough hours in the day. We all feel that way at different times, I know. Not enough hours to finish the laundry and actually put it away instead of dressing for the week out of the plastic basket in which you tossed the hastily folded clothes. Not enough time to cook seven healthy, seasonal, variety-and nutrient-rich dinners for your family while maintaining a full time job. Never enough time to work out, date, or bathing suit shop, or do whatever it is that you are truthfully just putting off because your heart isn’t in it.
I’m just saying.
As a single mom of two my “there aren’t enough hours” is literally about time. I don’t have enough time to make the time that I need. In other words, I am skimping on alone time with my kids.
In an average 24-hour period, they spend about five waking hours with me a day on a week day. That doesn’t sound horrible but bear in mind that it includes the 2 ½ hours before they go to daycare/school in the morning when I am less than fully awake because they get up at an ungodly hour. I need at least the first hour to inhale my coffee and grasp the reality that we’re starting a new day. Again. Our real quality time of that day is found in the 45 minutes that I drive Sam to daycare and then Nate to school. I cherish that time. We talk, Nathan reads out loud to us, Sam points out everything he can see from his perched car seat and practices new words with an excited shout. BUS! BIRD! MAN! BACKPACK! CRASH!
On the flip side of the day everyone is exhausted (Nate), irritably hungry (Sam) or running around to get dinner on the table before a major meltdown occurs (me.) Bedtimes can be good, yes, with stories and snuggling and clean smelling kids. Or they can be a living hell. It’s a toss up.
But what about real quality time? Time one on one, doing an activity the child will not only enjoy but find mentally, physically, and spiritually fulfilling? What about those long chats that they will remember when I’m long gone, the kind memorialized in life insurance commercials?
There are times when I find myself thinking about life before Child Two. When one-on-one time was more manageable because we were one-on -one for 48 hours straight on weekends. I don’t believe that life was rosier or easier Before Sam (appropriately abbreviated B.S.) but that kind of solitary bonding was a given. Now it takes work, and planning, and usually a sitter to make it happen. I think I am setting the bar too high, honestly. I need to be better about giving myself some credit for the small things like our morning commute time. Or our Saturday mornings in the farmers market where they get atrociously expensive organic bison jerky simply because they both do a bison jerky happy dance that melts my heart. If you ever need a lift, watch a two-year-old scarfing down jerky and dancing like the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow.
Like most of us, I have this mental ideal of who I need to be as a parent that is basically unattainable. She’s not real. She isn’t me and she’s not the mother that they clearly adore. So what that our one-on-one time may happen at 4AM when Sam wanders into my room and wants to play peek a boo beneath his blankie; or at 7PM when Nathan needs a high five for completing a fractions worksheet that he cried over. The mom I am with them is real. She’s busy, she’s committed, she is fiercely focused on them when we are together and examines her parenting decisions every day. Regardless of the lack of sunrise fishing trips at the end of long piers or mommy and me yoga classes, my kids seem to be doing fine with the time they have with me. Time will tell.
By: Wendy Rhein
As hard as it is to leave home and travel for work, I find myself relishing the small pleasures of a few days in a hotel. I’ve written before about being a single parent and traveling sans children – the meals, the laundry, the permission slips and play dates. Half the work of a work trip occurs before I step foot into an airport.
But once I arrive at my destination, and check into a hotel, I exhale and take stock of the small joys of work travel.
A crisp, and more importantly, empty bed. No hidden pacifiers between the sheets, no dirty socks left under the pillow. (Don’t ask me why but Nathan leaves his dirty socks under the pillow.) This bed holds the promise of a full night’s sleep. Alone.
A clean bathroom, a toy-free tub, and matching towels.
A door to the bathroom that will actually stay closed when I close it instead of bursting open with a small hands shove when I’m taking a shower, followed by an insistent voice that I better come quick because the top of the lizard cage has ‘mysteriously’ come off.
A full-sized ironing board that I can leave up without fear that it will land on someone’s toddling head or used as a surfboard, or both. I actually travel with clothes that need to be ironed just for this satisfaction.
HBO, not the Cartoon Network.
The happy sheen of independent travel wears off in about 36 hours. I miss the noise. I miss the early morning snuggles. I miss seeing their securely loved faces when I walk in the door at the end of the day. I miss milestones like the last day of school and a field trip to the zoo. As much as I can temporarily enjoy the freedom of eating a meal in a restaurant without a kids’ menu and being able to complete a whole conversation with another adult without interruption, I am always relieved to get back home to my grungy and cluttered tub and the dirty socks left under my pillow. The sterile hotel room can be fun for a bit but my real life has all the perks I need.