I’m Totally Fine (Help! Help!)

May 6th, 2017

I find that I have to fight the instinct to blithely assure The World that I am “fine.” It’s all good. No problems here. Everything is under control. We don’t need any help, thanks.

Sometimes it’s legitimate. A kind soul offered my kids and me a ride home from church last week when she saw us about to sally forth on foot in the pouring rain. But my offspring genuinely like walking in the rain so I wasn’t being a martyr when I declined. They had new umbrellas and we were looking forward to the puddle-stomping opportunities.

But sometimes I’m not fine. Sometimes I’m struggling and overwhelmed and don’t want to admit it, for reasons that I honestly cannot even articulate but are probably tied up in wanting to look competent – or at least fully sane. (My aspirations in that regard vary with the day, depending in large part on how many times one of my children has accused the other of breathing too loudly. Sometimes competence feels out of reach and I’ll settle for not appearing stark raving mad.)

My ex-husband had a run-in with the lawn mower that put him in the hospital briefly and necessitated minor foot surgery. He’ll be fine, but I ended up having my kids with me for thirteen nights straight, which is quite a lot more than would typically be the case, given our custody arrangement. It was a long two weeks, for all of us.

When my aunt offered to come down from Cincinnati one weekend to help, I almost said we were fine. And then I caught myself. No, we weren’t fine. The house looked like a tornado hit it, we were out of some critical groceries, and my left eye was starting to twitch every time I heard the word “mommy” – which is to say, pretty much constantly.  So instead I said, “Yes, please come.” I needed the companionship and the presence of someone else whose name my children could chant repeatedly All Day Long.

I found myself on the other side of the ask-for-help paradigm a few weeks ago when I got a frantic call from a close friend with a childcare crisis. A family emergency had hit at the same time as a work engagement and both parents had to be out of town – could their kids stay with me for a couple of days?

Add a second six-year-old boy and another four-year-old girl to the mix in my house for three nights? Yes, absolutely. There wasn’t anything to think about, beyond the logistics of how to get everyone to school in the morning. When someone trusts you enough to ask for your help, you give it if at all possible. A request like that speaks to the depth and strength of your relationship as it is the ultimate expression of vulnerability. I can’t do this alone. Please help. I believe that stepping into that space for another person – holding them up when their world is falling down – is both powerful and beautiful.

It’s also hard and I couldn’t do it alone. Seeking help sometimes sets off a chain reaction in the support network. I called in my own backup troops of friends and family to deal with the influx of kids. My parents fixed dinner while my friend took on extra shifts in our gymnastics carpool arrangement. Another friend let my eldest child hide out at her house when the extra energy at my house reached overwhelming levels. Others let me know by text or call that they were on standby, should a need arise.

Parenting is a team sport. There’s just no other way to do it successfully. There will be days when we’re fine in our own little bubbles, but those bubbles can pop unexpectedly. And in those moments, you’ve got to let the ones who love you hold you up. Or at least let them fix you dinner and mow your lawn.

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