I can now confirm there is no exhaustion like the one that comes from parenthood. Raising Autumn from infancy while living with my parents, sleepless nights blurred into endless days filled with incessant worry. What else should I be doing to solidify her development in these formative years?
And then we moved out.
Now as a single mom, there are added layers of stress. The dishes and laundry are endless, and my toddler’s stomach is bottomless.
“Junk, Mommy,” she requests multiple times daily. She wants gummy bears or jelly beans or some other poison. At two years old, Autumn was still supposed to be munching on celery and playing with wooden toys. Instead, she’s eating sugar and watching Mickey Mouse. At times, I label it failure, but I’m learning to call it softening. Because these days, there is so much that makes parenting hard.
The first day I left Autumn to go back to work, my mom cried with me.
“I can’t imagine,” she said. “When you were little, everyone on the block stayed home. That’s just the way it was.”
Instead of good-byes and tears, mornings were filled with cuddles and smiles. In school, I remember fire and tornado drills, both slightly alarming but also exciting, a break-up of the day’s usual routines and no real threat. I walked home with my siblings and friends, ate fun fruits, then watched Double Dare while finishing my math. I wonder if my mom worried about a lot of things I wasn’t aware of because I was a kid, or whether there really were fewer things to lose sleep over in the 80s.
Either way, my nights are restless.
The other day, vaccines became available for 2-5 year olds. I picture my mom at Mark Drugs deciding between grape and cherry Tylenol to settle fevers, while I weigh the pros and cons of Moderna vs Pfizer to avoid COVID. Then I think about how even if I take every precaution to protect her health, I can do nothing to shield her from bullets flying toward her desk. She’ll have a teacher, just like me, who feels overwhelmed and under qualified to handle an armed psychopath.
And so, through tears, I admit to myself two truths:
Every day, it becomes more difficult to protect my little girl.
2. I am supposed to be the one in charge – the adult at home and the teacher in class –
but I have no answers, and too many questions.
Why do people care about their guns more than they care about the safety of our children? Why does our government have the power to take away women’s choices? And when did this country change from a place where I was proud to live to somewhere so shameful?
I think about Autumn’s future. I want society to move forward, preserving rights we all deserve and updating archaic amendments, but also, I want to go back to a time when we didn’t worry about mask wearing and school shootings – and even well before that – when we played safely outside late into summer nights and took carefree family walks down city streets. And so I ease up on what I can.
We run barefoot on the grass and drink undiluted apple juice. I let her splash in the bath until she’s pruney, and then we indulge in picture books – some about handling emotions and being kind, others about diverse families and famous women. And tonight, we listened to music.
One song promised, “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier,” and another, “I think to myself, what a wonderful world,” and as I continue to parent the best I can in such trying times, and to fight against injustices, I pray those lyricists are in the know.