The old sexist joke says, “There are three ways to get news out fast: telephone, telegraph, and tell a woman.” And as much as I take umbrage with the implication that women are gossips, I have to admit that, well, I love to talk.
So when the phone rang the other day and I saw it was a good friend of mine, I picked it up without thinking. Even though I was holding Jack in mid-lurch after changing his clothes, and I had to pee. Yes, I was holding a baby and had to pee, and I still picked up the phone. In my own defense, it was someone I love very much, and it’s also a friend who knows my father well, and I was worried it might be some kind of news about his health. He’s recently had a recurrence of lung cancer, which he has decided not to treat. It feels as though, between him and my son, my life is now full of emergencies. So I answered.
As it turned out, my friend needed my help with a school issue her daughter was having. It was something I could do rather quickly and easily, so after peeing, I put Jack in the swing, came upstairs, and sent off an e-mail to her. But during the time I was up here, Jack was crying – no, not crying – howling – downstairs. I know he was fine. I know it was only a few minutes. And I know I don’t want my friend to read this and feel like I blame her in any way for my decision. (You hear that, lady?) But I still regret it.
My full-time job these days is taking care of Jack. If he’s sleeping, or if Brian’s got him, that’s one thing. But if he’s hungry or wet or needs to cuddle, I’m supposed to be there with him. I felt as if I abandoned him to take care of someone else. And here is where I need to draw the line. At my own feet.
Growing up, I learned early that it was my responsibility to take care of everyone else, including my parents, teachers, and friends. I had to hold the world together, or it would all fall apart. But you know what? I can’t do that. Thank goodness, because it’s not my job, anyway, and the people I love will be thankful if I stop telling them, for instance, which lane to drive in. (Hear that, Brian?)
So. Learning to focus on feeding the baby to feed the baby means that I have to un-focus on a lot of other things. I used to be proud of my multitasking abilities, but the truth is, no one can really do multiple things at once. I can really only do one thing at a time. (I hear my mother’s voice reminding me of this, now.) If I try doing more than that, I end up doing a lot of things only half-way and/or badly. That’s OK if I’m making enchiladas. I can make enchiladas badly and not ruin anyone else’s day. Raising a son badly, well, that’s another story.
Despite what my husband calls the “Jerry Springer Effect,” seeing a mother at Destin Beach tell her terrified daughter to just “rub off” the oil that’s on her foot from the great leak in the Gulf, and seeing other kids survive whose parents ignored them, I’d still like to be better at being present with my son. And frankly, it’s as much for my own sake as for his. I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to miss the boat on watching this wonderful little being grow into the world.
I told Brian that I don’t want to give Jack only fractured attention. He said, “Maybe that’s the only way to stay sane.” But I’m wondering now if the only real way to stay sane is the reverse. Of course, we parents get to beating ourselves up pretty easily for not being perfect. And I heard or read once that even the most attentive parents focus solely on their kids about 30% of the time. But I intend to do my damnedest to stay here now, and to pay attention. I think what’s important is to pay attention closely enough that you notice stuff. I think noticing stuff is the whole point of life. And you can’t notice stuff when you’re scattered to the four winds.
So if you call and I don’t answer, please don’t be offended. I’ll get back to you later. That’s what voicemail is for.