The kindness of strangers
(warning: lots of puke ahead)
When I first set started this phase of temporary single parenthood, I said to myself, “3 months. 3 months as a single parent I can do.” I was right, 3 months was doable. But here we are at nearly 4 months and things have gotten ugly. So I took drastic measures.
I packed until midnight and beyond: clothes, swim suits, toys for the car, snacks for the car, bikes, hats, bug spray, and a map of our 6 hour trip over the mountains to visit old friends. We were, I decided, going to get out of our rut, get away from our clashes and the recent spike in behavior issues (not just the kids’ behavior, either). We needed to get away from what has been a stressful 4 months. 6 hours of driving alone with 2 kids. Nearly 400 miles of not being “there yet”. It sounded better than what we had been going through, if that tells you anything. Plus we were going to see old friends who had lived across the street from us when Sufyan was born.
I didn’t sleep for a few days before we left. I worried about traveling alone with 2 little ones. How to get roadside assistance? How to stop to let them pee and get them back into the car? How to deal with boredom/anger/car seat angst? In the dark of 3am, I would worry about outlying scenarios: kidnapping. tire explosion. accidents. Luckily none of those worries played out. Instead, we got handed something I never even thought of. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were the only care provider for your 2 little kids and you were suddenly incapacitated?
Well…I have an answer. 3 hours into our trip with 3 hours to go, I pulled into a big tourist stop for a planned pee and play break. I had a strong headache that I assumed was lack of caffeine, so I planned to get some coffee. We went in, used the bathroom, and found the outdoor play area (super nice, too). Soon, though, I was telling Sufyan to let me lie down a little on a bench while they played. Then all of a sudden, I was hit by some serious nausea. Followed by stomach pain and a headache that felt like a hot vice grip was being viciously tightened around my skull. We booked it for the bathroom, where I should have just stayed put. Within an hour I was reduced to a pale, shaking mess. I bought Tylenol instead of cappuccino from the coffee stand, where a tight-lipped old woman behind the counter looked at me suspiciously while I leaned on her counter. I was dizzy, in pain, nauseous, and my mouth was bone dry. I began to head for the food court because I knew my kids were hungry, but I had to drag them immediately back to the bathroom where I could get sick and then lean on the sink and put cold water on my face. People were staring, but not helping. I noticed a chair by the sinks and pulled it up so my kids could splash in the water while I put my head on down. Yuck that my kids are playing in a restroom. Yuck that I am resting my head in a restroom. It occurred to me that this was getting bad and I might be in trouble. I was alone, far from home, and totally sick.
They played and I got sicker. They were hungry and tired. It was Laila’s nap time. We were, according to my plan, supposed to have eaten by now and be driving her to nap. However, when I tried to make my way to the food court again to feed them I couldn’t bear the smell of food. Back and forth we went from food area to bathroom, and each lap I was getting weaker. Chills and hot flashes. People staring and whispering. My head was spinning and pounding. Waves of nausea so strong I could feel them in my sweaty palms.
What to do? I flung myself at a kind looking stranger. Standing in the flow of patrons filling their cups with soda, I spotted a maintenance employee who made eye contact. “Help me. Please help me.” I begged her. She hesitated. I must have looked like a crazy person. “What, ah, what do you need?” she asked. “I am really sick,” I told her. “I need you to get my kids some food…” At which point she backed up and looked at me skeptically. “I have money, it’s not like that. Please help us. I am really sick and I have to sit down…” I mumbled through my haze. She looked at me, clutching my kids, my wallet and my stomach. Then she ran to the back and brought me some pepto tabs.
Our hero’s name was Laura, and she took my kids’ order for cheese pizza. I stumbled to a table, towing my tired and confused kids. I pulled out the iPad and put on a video. Sufyan was looking worried. Laila was purely exhausted. We’d been there for 2 hours now parading to and from the bathroom while I went from cheerful “It’s OK, guys!” to “We may need to get some help from strangers, babies. Mama isn’t feeling well. We may need a little help.” The pizza seemed to take forever. Laila started to cry. Sufyan was scared seeing me with my head on the table. Another concerned employee came over. Her name was Brenda and she was very sweet and very worried. She hurried to bring me some sprite and the kids some water.
The pizza came, and Laura wanted to know if I “need anything else” because she was clearly done with us. I can barely lift my head, so I mumble, “cut it for them.” Yes, a stranger even cut my kids’ food. At least they were eating. Brenda was chatting with them, and they seemed to like her. The pizza smell…suddenly I KNEW I was going to vomit. I explained to my confused children that Mama felt very sick and these 2 women were going to watch them for 5 minutes and Mama would be right back. They nodded a little…and I ran to the bathroom on shaky legs. Soon enough I heard Laila screaming. Of course, hearing my children crying cleared my sick head for a moment. Mom first, sick person second. I ran out and held her. She was weeping. Sufyan was trying to jump into my arms with her. I started crying, too, and took them back to the bathroom to finish puking with them beside me.
When we emerged, the 2 women who were helping us told me to go to urgent care. They gave me directions…over and over. Laura kept saying something about what I had being possibly viral, and then I understood that she didn’t want to get sick from me. Fair enough.
Finally, I got the kids out to the car and we sat with the air conditioner BLASTING my face while I sweated, shook and closed my eyes to the world. At least were safe. I made a couple of calls. Time passed. My head began to clear. I started to feel human again. Not good, but human. Not bad enough for urgent care. 3 hours ahead was our destination and there were lots of hotels on the way, I reasoned. So,we spent the next 3 hours winding across state lines and stopping so I could throw up. My kids were amazing through it all. And…it totally sucked.
That night, after we made it to our friend’s home and settled into bed, I took stock of what happened. It must have been food poisoning. My son was amazingly calm and helpful for being only 4 years old. Opening doors, telling his sister it was ok, holding my hand. Holding MY hand, that sweet little man. Laila kissed me and asked if I was feeling better, that sweet little girl. And strangers had helped us. In fact, I had to leave my children in the care of strangers and it…was ok. It ended well. Here I am, a mother who is over-cautious at best and sheltering at worst and I was forced to leave my babies in the care of strangers. Just that very morning I had been contemplating how little or much faith I have in the world and how child rearing takes some major faith in the world (more than I figured I had). You have to trust that you can let them go and they will be ok, I thought to myself. Little did I know I would be forced into that very situation hours later. Yes, it seems, you do have to trust the world sometimes.
Our visit was amazing. We had a blast. We did have more puke, though. You haven’t lived until you have cleaned puke off your naked 2 year old at 7am on the side of the road while you change her clothes in the cold morning air and look into her eyes and tell her she will be ok. Then there was the time a pool closed on us because someone puked in it…This trip had far too much puke!!!!
But for the week we were with friends, we all had a great time.
Parent Thought for Today: on Alice Mouse
About a year ago I introduced a character named “Alice Mouse” to Sufyan and Laila. It’s the same character my dad used to make up stories about for me. Since then, we have had huge success making up Alice Mouse stories out of thin air. It’s so fun because my kids will interject with story lines of their own now, and they ask for repeat stories pretty often. The best part of it is that because I am making this stuff up, Alice Mouse goes with us everywhere. No book to carry. I am always amazed by how successful it’s been. We now have a long list of characters: Alice, Alice’s Neighbor with a flying vacuum cleaner, the Alien That Landed, the Rat That Builds Motorcycles, The Great Owl, and (my fave) The Mechanically Inclined Crow.
Alice Mouse stories are now helping my kids deal with day to day problems. Often Alice has similar problems to those that Sufyan and Laila have, like missing their Baba and needing a new home. Sufyan suggests solutions to her problems, Laila thinks it’s hilarious when Alice gets something backwards. Both of them feel like Alice mouse is someone they know and have a history with as she’s been with us since Palestine. There are even Alice Mouse in Palestine stories. Of course, she rode to the US in Sufyan’s luggage, so she’s here with us now. So it’s like having an old friend when everything else is changing. In fact Sufyan asks for more Alice Mouse stories when he is going through an emotional upheaval or a big change.
Just thought I’d share something that’s working for us.
Yoga Thought for Today: on how mom’s yoga practice might look now
The road to a yoga practice as self care (be it asana, meditation or contemplation of something meaningful to me) has been bumpy since motherhood. To have a regular practice, I have tried it all:
*have my husband take them out of the house (too much time eaten up, no time for family to hang out together, dinner becomes a more rushed affair)
*close the door and get my mat out (the sound of crying or pounding on the door or requests for attention whispered under the door was too much. Plus kids go through phases of needing mom more and less. When it’s more, a closed door is an invitation to meltdown)
*practice during nap time (then nothing else gets done and my son who doesn’t nap gets zero one-on-one time from me)
*practice at night after the kids are down (bwahahahahahahahaha! jusk kidding! almost as hilarious an idea as before they wake up!)
*practice in their playroom with them (by far the best for us, though I often feel rushed and busy and forget to enjoy the practice. This has the benefit of showing your kids a regular yoga practice is just a normal part of life.)
I don’t have a solution. However, a little self care is better than no self care. If you are short on time (for example the baby will wake and your practice abruptly ends) here are some things I have found that work for me to promote a healthy yoga practice with limited time:
1. have a goal (balance? breath? sweat? shoulders?) and stick to it. Don’t give in to the temptation to meander. It wastes time.
2. keep it simple. That way you can’t be interrupted in a complicated asana that could involve leaping up and wrenching your back if your child suddenly screams into the monitor. There will be other years ahead in your practice for complicated asanas. Now is the time for catch as catch can yoga. Oh, and don’t leap up and wrench your back.
3. keep sequences SHORT. This is especially important if you are awaiting the wake-up. Why? Because if you do 5 beautifully coordinated postures on your left side and then the baby wakes up, your right side will be woefully neglected and your body will feel wonky for the rest of the day (or 2 or 3) until you get back to the mat. Even if you are doing a video, pause it and do the other side if you sense a sequence is getting kinda’ long on one side. In Viniyoga we generally use repetition before stay and often do 4, 5 or 6 repetitions of a movement before we stay in a posture. In my home practice I usually cut it to 3 because 3 on both sides is better than 6 on just one side.
4. don’t fear the short practice. It has meaning, even if you don’t get to fatigue a muscle or break a sweat. Sometimes I think of a 10 minute practice as a “place holder” for yoga in my life. So it wasn’t bliss…but at least it is consistent effort.
5. remember that yoga practice is for the long term. So if you haven’t technically practiced in a long while, it’s fine. If you are inconsistent, so what? It will come back to you if that’s what you want. Yoga is not asana practice. Yoga is life. Raising your child is yoga. You already knew that.
6. break the “rules”. Do yoga with food in your belly, with coffee in your cup, with dirty hands and feet, with messy bra-less shirts, with pajama pants, with unbrushed teeth, with your children climbing around and on you, with grumpiness, with less than perfect intentions…just get on your mat or the floor and breathe.