Dan Rodricks: Vanished faces of a West Virginia boom town

Confessions of a mom at a new low

For The Baltimore Sun

This week I left my child at home with a woman I don’t know.

I am confessing here to what feels like a low, even for me, a mother who frequently pokes fun at her parenting “failures.”

It’s difficult to discuss it, to invite in the inevitable judgment from other mothers who would never have done such a thing. But years ago when my babies were still that, I made a promise to myself always to tell the truth about the joys and hardships of parenting, the amazing moments as well as the dark times.

Women don't talk enough about what motherhood is really like — or pregnancy, or nursing, or marriage or being a working mother. As a first-time pregnant woman and then a new mom, I often felt like I’d been thinly educated by an advertisement for the circus, where everyone exclaimed about the spectacular sights and the cotton candy but no one mentioned that the whole tent smelled like elephant poop.

So I’m telling you all that I left one of my boys at home for 6.5 hours with a sitter who, until that day, had never been to my house, never met my husband or them, and who I’d only spoken to briefly at a 3-year-old’s birthday party. Here’s why:

Over Mother’s Day weekend, both my boys spiked fevers of 101 or higher. By Sunday night, one son was sobbing in his bed because he felt so poorly. There was no way we could send them to school the next day.

But my husband and I had work obligations that we felt we couldn’t miss. I say “felt” because neither of us are heart surgeons. No one was going to die if we missed work for a day to stay home and care for our sick 7-year-olds. Still, being a working parent is a constant, winner-take-all tug of war. This time, work pulled harder.

So taking a sick day was out, none of our known sitters were available and our families aren’t a weekday option. Coming up empty on ways to keep my sick sons at home and still make it to work, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and cried.

How had we gotten to this place, where our work is more important than our boys, I wondered? How had we failed at planning so badly that we had no viable options for daytime sitters in emergencies? Why couldn’t we figure this out?

And then I remembered a young woman who’d been recommended to me by a newish friend. We’d met at the friend’s son’s backyard birthday party and then, several months later, we’d been reintroduced by text. But I knew nothing more about the sitter than what my friend had relayed. I didn’t even know her last name.

Still, I texted her, and miraculously, she was available and happy to come watch TV on the sofa with my sons, keeping the snacks and ibuprofen flowing.

So that’s why I invited a stranger into my home to care for my feverish boy, at a time when I most wanted to be there for him. (One son felt well enough to go to school.) That’s how it came to be that I fretted until 2:30 Monday morning and slept fitfully after that, worrying that I’d made the wrong decision. That is why, then, I slogged through the busy next day at work, getting to the day’s end on a hazy cocktail of worry, muscle memory and caffeine.

I love my job; I really do. And I enjoy the work itself as much as I enjoy the idea of being a working woman, what it means for my future and what it communicates to my children.

But it is really hard sometimes to be both worker and mother. At least it is hard to be both well.

The sitter turned out to be lovely, just as my friend said she would. I hope to hire her again under happier circumstances. Both boys are feeling a bit better, and there are no signs of fever yet from their sister.

In my head, I know all’s well that ends well. I just wish I felt it.

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