Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

April 16, 2001

This just in: I can't do it all

I have given up.

I wanted to take such perfect care of Lucy. My plans were as follows: I would read, sing, dance, nourish and clean her. While doing this, I would look neat and trim, keep a perfect house, cook lavish dinners and advance my writing career without so much as wasting one second on self-doubt or soap operas.

I got as far as the singing part when I realized I was in trouble. I don’t know anything but TV theme songs.

It was when I was singing, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do,” that I realized something else: I can’t dance, either.

What’s more, I’m not much of a cook, and not even the dog will eat off the floor it’s so dirty. Also, I have a bit of a problem with self-doubt.

The worst, though, is that I was trying to do all these things while simultaneously giving Lucy the one thing she really needed. And I’m not talking about rhythm. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Rather, I’m talking about a steady flow of love and attention. The kind you see on TV in baby formula commercials.

At first, this wasn’t so difficult. When she was a newborn, she slept a lot. The challenge was to find the energy to do anything besides loll about and read as I recovered from birth. Now, Lucy is an 18-pound tornado of activity and demands — and I predict, not so boldly, that she’s only going to pick up speed from here.

Including her in my every activity requires a lot of biceps, way more than I have. We did vacuum together just this morning, but it’s getting ridiculous. It was less of a loving hold than a Heimlich maneuver.

The most difficult, though, is when I try to write. Lucy has now taken to leaning forward and typing along with me. It’s very cute, but also tends to freeze up the computer. Also, her spelling is atrocious.

It’s no wonder the phrase is motherhood and apple pie, and not motherhood and novels. The two are tough to combine.

After several exhausting weeks trying to do everything with Lucy, I realized that I am a failure. Completely and utterly. (Or udderly, as I often feel when I am nursing Lucy and a stream of milk hits her in the face.)

This realization freed me up to take some sensible advice from Adam, advice he had been giving for weeks: Hire a babysitter. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided it was better to have some help a few hours a week. During those hours, I’d focus completely on my new career (along with a few housekeeping chores). And then the rest of the time would be Lucy’s. No distractions, as long as you don’t count my very bad singing voice, which makes even the cats sit up and look miffed.

It took a little while to find just the right babysitter, but we did. She’s a 24-year-old Russian named Elena, who loves babies, likes cats and dogs. She also knows how to knit booties. And she has a particularly fetching habit of squeezing Lucy’s toes when she arrives for work.

This is Elena’s third day with Lucy, and so far, everything is going very well. On her first two days, I lurked around them for a good chunk of the time, so that I could answer any questions Elena had. That was my official reason.

My secret reason is that I didn’t want Lucy to feel abandoned. When you’re a mother, your guilt light goes off the second you start doing something for you, instead of something for your child. Whether you need to work for the money, or just for the sense of satisfaction, doing anything but tending your child feels like some form of neglect, as if you’re pouring acid on the fabric of society.

The truth is, mothers are people, too. And I’m learning that they can do a better job of it if they take care of their own needs, at least for part of the day. And writing is one thing I really, really need to do. That, and stopping the toilet when it’s running. It drives me nuts!

Still, it’s an adjustment having someone else look after Lucy. Although my sisters have taken care of her, it feels different because they’re family. Turning her over to a stranger, even if I’m there, is scary at times. I wonder what’s going through Lucy’s mind, and if she still feels secure and adored.

So, when I do slink upstairs to do some work, I find myself stopping to listen.

The first day was the worst. When I heard nothing, I had one thought: Lucy is dead. When I heard her laugh, I thought, “Drats. Elena is more entertaining than I am.” And when I heard Lucy cry, I thought, “Thank God someone else has to take care of that for once.”

Actually, that’s not what I thought, though it’s making me laugh to say it. A few times when Lucy cried, I went down to feed her. But mostly, I let Elena handle it, because I didn’t want Lucy to think all she had to do to summon me during Elena’s shift was to let out a wail.

As it turns out, Elena’s quite good at making Lucy feel better. She’s also good at finding time to wash clothes while Lucy naps — something I never got the hang of. For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing the bottom of the laundry hamper.

The house is clean. Lucy is downstairs right now, laughing at her cannibalistic puppet, Duran, who likes to eat baby hands and feet. In 45 minutes, Elena will go home. I will have gotten some work done, and I’ll be ready to think about no one and nothing but Lucy for awhile.

I have to say, sometimes giving up is a good thing to do.


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