My day can be divided into four very distinct stages:
Stage 1: Cute & Cuddly Stage
Stage 2: Liberation Stage
Stage 3: Survival Stage
Stage 4: Mindless Stage
Cute & Cuddly Stage is between wakeup and babysitter arrival (8AM — not a second later).
Liberation Stage lasts until babysitter departure (6PM — not a second earlier).
Survival Stage is between babysitter departure and last child sleeping (this stage always lasts longer than scheduled).
Mindless Stage is between last child sleeping and when I’ve checked, rechecked, and re-rechecked my phone so many times that my mind finally surrenders to the question: what in God’s name are you expecting to find here?!?
In other words, my day – and my sanity – revolve around my babysitter.
Clinical psychologists might call it a pathological dependence, and it is, indeed, rather strange to be so helplessly dependent on a person who specializes in changing diapers and folding underwear.
The dependance – like most addictions – can lead to some irrational – at times, inhumane – behavior. Like when the babysitter claims she’s sick, and you want to reply: if it’s not terminal, get your butt to work (and if it is terminal, we expect you here between chemo treatments). Or when her delayed train induces the same eruption of panic as, say, nuclear warfare. We may call her “The Help,” but a more accurate description would deem her “The Savior.” We pray for her speedy arrival, and without her, we fall to pieces.
Weekends entail a 48-hour Survival Stage, without the luxury of Liberation Stage. Which is why weekends tend to be far less dreamy than we make them look on Instagram.
It’s a syndrome I like to call “FOMOC” — fear of my own children (children whom, by the way, I love to death – if you couldn’t tell). My wife happens to be a much better parent, but she also happens to be a much better everything. I, on the other hand, suffer from an overwhelming case of FOMOC, despite an overwhelming adoration for those very same children.
As kids get older, we discover more sophisticated permutations of the same system (think: school, camp, and anything else that creates a breathable distance between parent and child) — but the underlying force that drives these costly mechanisms remains the same: fear of my own children. Our kids don’t need to be educated so much as we need them off our hands.
If I sound crude, it’s either because I am an inept parent, or because I am an honest parent just calling a spade a spade. If humans are hardwired for procreation, we’re even harder-wired for parental absolution. It’s no wonder that our most child-loving moments take place from a distance— when the kids are either sleeping, or away, or both. “From a distance, there is harmony…”
But why is unassisted parenting such a daunting task?
What induces “fear of my own children” despite an equal and opposite, genuinely heart-melting love of my own children?
One word: emotion.
Parenting is so insanely demanding not despite the fact, but precisely because of the fact that it is the most emotionally charged task a human being can ever undertake. If we didn’t care so much, we wouldn’t feel so much, and if we didn’t feel so much, we wouldn’t encounter the internal meltdowns that so chronically characterize the parenting rollercoaster. We fear our own children because we love our own children — we love them so much that our deep, dense, dominating emotions hijack our systems until we go completely and uncontrollably haywire.
It is one of the great ironies of parenthood that the very children we absolutely die for, are the same children that inspire so many kill-me-now moments. Sad as it may sound in theory, reality confirms that when it comes to family time, quality and quantity seem inversely proportionate.
So, when our babysitter told us that she needs to revisit her country of origin (= somewhere very far that I never felt empathetic enough to ask about) for two weeks (TWO WEEKS!?!?) with an excuse we simply could not challenge (her mother died, and for some reason, we are taking her word for it without demanding concrete evidence) it launched me into full-blown panic mode.
Two weeks with my own children.
Two weeks in survival/kill-me-now mode.
Two weeks of — breathe, breathe, breathe — actual parenting.
Recovering alcoholics begin their twelve steps with: “admitting we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives have become unmanageable.”
So I guess it’s time for me to shamelessly admit that I am powerless over my babysitter dependence.
And that my life is about to become unmanageable.
Wish me luck.