My husband has a knack for being out of town during disasters. I’ve weathered blizzards, tornadoes, and freeway bridge collapses on my own. This has never bothered me. Far from it, I take a kind of sick pride in not asking for help. Sure, it may take me eighteen hours to build an Ikea desk or do my taxes, but you can’t put a price on the thrill of independence. Or so I thought, until I became a new mom.
This ridiculous notion of self-sufficiency was shattered in my first month back at work after maternity leave. It was a hard transition. I felt like I was floating in between worlds and not fully inhabiting either of them. I did my best to care about project timelines and meeting agendas, but all I really wanted to think about was whether my new little person was napping at his daycare and getting enough kisses on his sweet little head. The worst part, however, was that my husband ended up traveling for work for most of the first few weeks. Despite all this, I may still have pulled through unscathed were it not for Hurricane Irma.
“Are you sure you should go?” I asked my husband as he packed for his trip. “I mean, there’s a hurricane headed straight for us.”
“The weather guys are always wrong about these things,” he said confidently.
The day of the storm everything closed early. Headed to pick up the baby and hunker down, I texted my husband as I left work.
He replied a minute later. Heard they just downgraded it to a tropical storm. This text was followed by a smiley face emoji which I wanted to stab right between its squinty little eyes.
Once safely home with the baby I did my best to stay calm by playing some soothing lullabies and obsessively refreshing my weather app. As the windows rattled, my cell phone pinged with text from a mom friend.
Headed to my parent’s house to ride out the storm. They have a generator and plenty of room if you want to join!
Thanks but we’re doing great here! I texted back grimly, making sure to include lots of high five and flexed bicep emojis. My son whimpered in his bouncy chair next to me.
I’ve totally got this, I told myself. Sure, electricity and friends sound great, but if the storm gets bad we’ll be fine sleeping on the concrete floor with the roaches in the creepy basement.
An hour later the house creaked in the wind like it might lift off its foundation, and lightening flashed like a strobe light. My son had been crying for the last thirty minutes and my muscles burned from bouncing him in my arms. In that time my phone had pinged several more times with texts from friends checking in and offering refuge.
We’re fine! I responded to each of them, feeling less confident with each response. Having come this far, though, I was determined to get through the night on my own. I mean, how else would I hold it over my husband’s head for the rest of our lives together?
My son had just fallen quiet when the power flickered and went off. He burst into a wail as I stumbled through the house trying to locate the flashlight. Turning it on, for a moment the kitchen was flooded with a comforting light. Outside the rain had turned horizontal and sounded like machine gun fire against the windows. Then the flashlight flickered and went dark.
At this point I considered the fact that my unwillingness to accept help from anyone during a hurricane might be a character flaw.
While I was pondering this my phone lit up and I lunged for it. It was a text from a friend who lived a few streets over.
Hi! Heard you are home alone with the baby. We just plugged in the generator, opened a bottle of wine and I made dinner. We can be there in 15 minutes to pick you both up.
I typed a response. Thank you! Going to give it a little more time and see how we’re doing.
I cringed as I hit send…what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just say “Yes, please come save me”?
My phone pinged again.
Pack up some stuff. We’re coming to save you.
Twenty minutes later I sat in a warm, well-lit living room sipping a glass of Pinot Noir while the baby cooed himself to sleep in the next room and the storm wailed outside. Beyond the wine and the home-cooked meal I’d just eaten, the best part by far was that I wasn’t alone. Yet, I’d come this close to choosing solitude and a cold basement floor over a cozy guest room and someone to hold the baby while I ate dinner. It was time for a change. There was no way I was going to survive motherhood trying to do it all myself. Not only did that sound exhausting and overwhelming, it sounded lonely.
When my husband got home from his trip I handed him the weekly schedule.
“I’m starting tennis practice again on Monday nights,” I told him. “And I gave suggested dates to all the neighbors who’ve been offering to bring over dinner. Also, we have a babysitter scheduled this weekend so I can catch up on work or sleep or whatever the hell I need to do.”
People always say it takes a village. Far from a platitude, I’ve learned that this is a cold, hard fact. So much so that there are moments when you could now accuse me to swinging too far the other way. Your daughter is looking for some babysitting experience? Sure, if she has a pulse and no felonies on her record, send her over. You’d love to watch the baby for a few hours so my husband and I can go to church together? Absolutely, we’ll put you on the calendar every Sunday until he’s eighteen. You know a great preschool and can put in a good word for us? Fabulous, here is all our personal information so you can fill out and submit the registration forms for us.
Bottom line, be careful what kind of help you offer me, because I will definitely take you up on it. Independence may still have its thrill from time to time, but life is too short (and too hard) to do it all myself.