“Jason and I are going to Vegas next weekend!” My friend squeals, taking a sip of her coffee.
I feel slightly less enthusiastic. “With the kids?” I ask, but I already know the answer.
“No, my parents are watching the kids.”
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“That’s great!” I say, in that sing-songy voice you make when all you really want to do is punch something. Or someone.
I was happy for her. Okay. Mostly happy for her. More happy for her and less happy for me. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for myself. This was the gazillionth trip my friend and her husband have taken ALONE since having kids. Want to know how many trips my husband and I have taken in 10 years without kids? None.
Because we don’t have a support system like that.
It’s just us, and while I love us, I’ll admit, sometimes I wish there was a bigger us. You know, like an us that includes parents and/or siblings who will watch our kids while we go away for the weekend, or even just out for dinner. Or who pop by to drop off a casserole. Or who pick up the kids from school when I call in a panic, stuck in traffic.
Someone who has your back when the hubs is out of town working, your last thread of sanity is unravelling, and you just need a freaking break. Someone whose name you don’t think twice about putting down as the emergency contact on the school permission slip.
Someone at the end of the phone, as you’re gasping for air between bouts of vomiting, who says, “I’ll be right over!” Someone who shows up unannounced, hot Latte in hand, when you are feeling at your loneliest.
I have an amazing circle of friends who I know would help me out if I called.
But I also know that their lives are going a million miles a minute and that they’re juggling their own overflowing plates. And let’s be honest, when your entire family has been hit with an apocalyptic flu, spewing vomit and diarrhea, I don’t know of too many friends who would wade knee-deep in the waste of the condemned for people that they don’t share genes with.
On those days when you’re certain you are the closest to hell you have ever been and you’re surrounded by soiled sheets and diaper explosions of epic proportions, your friends will drop off a pot of chicken soup at the door and run. Far far away. Your family? Oh, they’ll want to run. But they won’t.
Because having family around is so much more than just having free babysitters.
It’s having peace and comfort in knowing, without a doubt, someone will always be there for you and your kids when you need it, unconditionally.
I know this because I had it. I grew up with a strong support system. I was always surrounded by my grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins. We had huge family dinners every Sunday, impromptu sleepovers, and big backyard BBQs.
We didn’t need organized playdates. We had each other. While my mom worked to support us, it was my grandmother who volunteered at my preschool, who took me to doctor’s appointments and piano lessons, who scoured the neighborhood with me, calling “Patches!” every time my stupid cat would jump out the window in search of freedom.
It was my uncles who stepped in when my dad stepped out. It was the whole big extended family that cheered me on at piano recitals and baseball games and who surrounded me in love.
And I can’t shake the feeling that my kids are missing out because we don’t have family close by.
It’s just the hubs and I in the stands at their hockey games, two lone voices cheering them on. While all my kids’ friends have an entire posse in tow at the school Christmas concert, it will just be us watching them. On Grandparents Day, our kids will sit alone. Our kids are missing out on having people other than their parents be a witness to their childhood and be a part of their story for more than just holidays.
Parenting without family nearby means there is no understudy. No pinch hitter. No one to tag-team with when three kids need to be in three different places at the same time.
It means FaceTime has to stand in for real face-to-face time. It means not having a physical or a dentist appointment for three years because you don’t want your partner to have to take a day off work and you really didn’t want to subject your kids or yourself to that kind of self-inflicted torture.
It means dishing out $60 for a babysitter every time you want a date night, always with an eye on the time so you don’t log too many bankable hours. On the rare occasion when you do have family come to visit you are torn between wanting to hop in the car and drive away, all Thelma and Louise, screaming “Let’s keep goin’!” and feeling guilty for asking for an evening out alone when you feel you should be visiting.
But there is a silver lining. You learn to rely on each other, you are THE UNIT.
Your bond as a couple is stronger, your family is stronger, YOU are stronger, because you have to be. You look for deeper connections with friends and put yourself out there more. And as the kids get older, it does get easier.
But sometimes? I really would love to say, “It takes a village,” and have one.