Please Come Over So I Don’t Have To Be Alone With This Kid
My husband’s van hasn’t even turned off our street yet and the bat signal is already up. HELP ME, it reads. HELP ME NOT BE HOME ALONE WITH THIS KID. I scroll through my contacts, shamelessly asking any and all friends, family, even enemies who might be willing to spend a few hours, a morning, any time at all with my toddler and me so that he and I don’t have to spend a blessed moment alone together.
Anyone who follows my Instagram, which features way too many creepy photos of a sleeping baby, knows I am devoted to my son. But at not-quite-two, he’s at a tricky age when it comes to recreation time. He’s not an infant who can placidly spend time in his swing staring at the ceiling fan, and he’s not old enough to be trusted to play by himself for an hour, to run around on the playground without constant shadowing. There are dangerous things to climb, DVDs to pull out and scratch, drawers to slam his fingers in, toilet water to drink. And he does not have the kind of sweet mommy who finds joy sitting on the floor with him for hours, patiently alternating between keeping him from being bored and keeping him from finding yet another way to bonk himself on the head. I need reinforcements.
So, when Daddy’s away, we keep busy. In the last 24 hours, since my husband went out of town for work, my son and I went on a five mile walk with my friend Nora. We spent a few hours at my parents’ house with my mom. We played and ate pizza with my friends Kelly and Bob and their daughter Willa. We went for a two mile run. We went to the bank. We went to the bakery. We went back to my parents’ house and walked to the beach. We went to swimming class. He’s napping now for what I hope is three hours so I have time to finish this essay, fold and put away laundry, and take a shower. And I have big plans for when he gets up, too. My friend Meghan is bringing over lunch. He and I will go to the store and maybe get him a haircut too. Tomorrow it’s another playdate, then a baptism and family party. I’m serious when I talk about staying busy.
Basically, when I’m alone with my son, I feel like a shark: if we don’t keep moving, I will possibly die. As a Chicagoan, I’m still haunted by this year’s polar vortex, the weeks cooped up inside with my husband, the kid, and the huge dog, as we all contemplated who would be the first one to be eaten. Even with the warm weather, though, when my husband is out of town, I want to make the kid-time pass quickly, and doing that means doing stuff, stuff with other people who I can talk to for two minute spurts of conversation before I jump back in to keep my son from eating a marker or to scoop him up after he finds that new way to head-bonk.
I know how I sound, like I don’t actually enjoy my time alone with my kid, but actually, I do. There’s a type of spontaneity and adventure when it’s just the two of us that doesn’t exist when my husband is in town. There’s no quick decision to go meet a friend at the playground for forty minutes or so: when you bring in another person, even if he’s your best friend and a great dad, that involves additional discussion and planning and last-minute trips to the bathroom and five extra minutes of finding missing eyeglasses. The kid and I don’t stay put, but I love it that way. We both learn how to roll with the punches and figure things out–I get better at moving quickly and decisively, spotting new ways to have fun and get things done, and he in turn sees the world, meets new people and never sees me looking at the clock constantly to see how long until it’s bedtime (which I confess I do when it’s just us, at home, with this toys and the TV.) When it’s just the two of us, on the run, I see him as my tiny sidekick; he probably sees me as his well-meaning but ruthless cruise director.
Plus, I like it when parenting is a group activity. When I’m with my friends or parents, I can quickly check in with “What do you when…?” when the boy starts acting the fool, or glance at them to make sure that they aren’t reacting in shock and horror when he, yes, hits his head again, or, when he does something funny as he toddles around in his officious, “I’ve got places to be!” way, I have someone I can laugh about it with.
And then, when my husband gets home, I can finally lighten up on the itinerary-making. We relax and play with the toys or take an amble over to the playground and slow down, because the bat signal has been lowered: the one friend I don’t have to call to spend time with me and the kid is back in town.