I awake before 6:00 a.m. because I have an important assignment that no one else can fulfill. My daughter's nanny is ill and at 10:00 p.m last night, she called with worry in her voice, and desperation, "Can you come watch the kids?"
Fortunately, I am free until 1:00 p.m., and double fortunately, her father works from home on Wednesdays, so yes, he can come and fill in for me when I leave.
But, it's unusual that we are able to help--not so unusual she needs help.
Nannies get sick, need time off, attend sister's weddings.
The past few days, I've been filling in for a colleague whose child needed heart surgery. She's out of personal leave days and she too has that worry in her voice, that desperation.
I had one major concern (besides wanting my children to be good people, to be proficient readers, writers, strong swimmers and college graduates), while raising my family:
It was the Damocle's sword hanging overhead; I didn't even work full time.
I still remember the relief when the babysitter rang the doorbell on time, when a child told me how much fun the babysitter was, when I came home to a sleeping child at the appointed nap time. I equally remember the babysitter who canceled at the last minute causing a scramble to find someone competent enough to take my place--for just a little while.
Not one woman would turn back the clock on opportunities that were once a dream, but standing in my daughter's shoes, I feel a certain envy for the women who came before her: her grandmother, her great grandmother, who fulfilled themselves within home and community. They didn't scramble for a babysitter to make an eight a.m. punch clock. When childcare was needed, a neighbor, an aunt, a grandma, was home and willing to take the kids. Those women were lucky, but even then there was a subset of women with children who didn't have help, who had to work, who left children to fend for themselves, even gave up children for economic reasons.
I have a friend who had a baby and asked her mother to give up her job and take care of her child. The mother was incensed her daughter would even think such a crazy thought, that her daughter's career took precedence over her own, that she would give up a salary double that of her daughter's.
I have watched women my age, who haven't had jobs, whose children have relied on them for childcare-- I've watched them rise to the occasion and enjoy their much needed grandma skills. How lucky those children are. But I've also seen those women who weren't up to the task, but unable to say no, become debilitated with illness, and I'm left to wonder if this was the only way out. I recently heard a woman after being asked to babysit grandchildren all week, exclaim, "I need to get a job."
This morning I have played chase, meticulously vacuumed up broken glass, put together puzzles, sat down multiple times on a whoopee cushion for the three-year-old's amusement, wiped dirty faces over and again. Is it enjoyable? Yes! Could I do it eight hours a day? Everyday? No. What if I had to? Does it compare to the discussion of Steinbeck's writings I will have with enlightened seniors this afternoon? Maybe.
I'm torn, because every once in a while, I want to let go, dive in, just help my daughter--give up what I assume is the more important life for the lesser.
Sooner than we can imagine, this phase of her life will pass. She will pass on the same thread to her daughter, then carry the same worry and guilt of a grandmother.
We are one. We all share, the inevitability of motherhood.