So I promised a followup post once we had some resolution to what caused my Tuesday to be extremely stressful. Today we got some good news, so I wanted to write this up soon.
I've mentioned before how my sister, D, who lives nearby with her four daughters, is a single mom. She has some incredible strength to be doing the job of two parents, basically on her own. The father is not involved any longer. The girls still have so much promise and joy in them even though their mom is tired so much of the time.
I know how tired I am a lot of the time and I have a partner in this crazy life. So as well as things continue to go over there at their house, I have admiration for my sister's ability to keep doing and giving to those girls. Money is always tight, quality time is limited and it's a house full of five females with nobody to kill the bugs or repair things.
We do our best to help D and the girls as much as we can.
When D arrived in New Mexico, she was in the early stages of pregnancy with her youngest, E. For her last two pregnancies, D was required to receive Heparin injections in her stomach to keep the babies safe (after her full-term stillbirth of baby number three). Did I mention she hates needles?
So I learned how to give her those injections and she came over when I needed to administer them (good thing we only live seven minutes apart).
When she gave birth, I was blessed to be in the room. This was the first time I'd been present during labor and delivery (possibly the last) and it was so special for me to see her bring E into the world and be among the first to see her face and hold her tiny, precious body. Of course, I took a lot of photos, too.
D gave E a middle name that is a portion of my first name, so I felt honored and connected with E for many reasons.
When D got a job a few months after E's birth, it broke her heart (she'd been home with all her other babies), but she found childcare for her latest infant. This childcare situation was not a good match for D and eventually, we offered my services.
I never went into the childcare job thinking I'd be watching her forever, but when she was so tiny and slept so often, it was pretty easy to lug her where we needed to and get plenty of schoolwork done each day. So I kept watching Baby E every weekday and seeing her grow and enjoying having a baby around for the months that I'd never gotten to experience firsthand (seven to twelve months was completely new to me).
Somewhere in the mix of all this, I fell in love with E.
Maybe it's because none of our five children came from my body, so I have practice bonding with children from other mothers. Maybe it's just because I was so intertwined with her little life from before she took her first breathe of air. Maybe because our lives were forged through the fire of helping my sister and my nieces so regularly.
I don't know why, but she started to feel a little bit like she was part mine.
Logically, I know that E is D's baby and all hers. She's hers to raise. She's not mine. But my heart felt a little differently.
Through the process, somewhere, my kids and my husband started feeling second best to little E. I was in denial and believed that I was balancing my care for this baby and all the needs of everyone else.
On Monday night, C set me straight. I still didn't believe it. He told me that things needed to change so our kids could know for certain that they are my priority.
I cried a long time that night, but I couldn't really put into words why I was so upset.
The next day, my sister and I were text messaging one another and I guess something I said or whatever, made her reply, "If it ever gets too hard for you to watch E, let me know."
Still emotionally raw from the previous evening, I shared with her how it wasn't that things were "too hard" for me, but that we might need to start talking about finding another solution for the sake of my family.
I stirred up her emotional side and the conversation got really difficult for a while. I was so sad to even think about not watching E anymore, but even more sad to put D in the difficult spot of trying to find other childcare that I was convinced would never be as solid as the relationships she was building here. But I also knew that my family does come first and I needed to seriously consider what damage I was doing to them by holding onto this love for E so tightly. So stubbornly.
I cried a lot that day.
The next day, D and I began talking again and she had the idea that maybe she could work two days a week at night and that would at least give me a little break so I could focus more on my children and my husband. That seemed reasonable upon first hearing it and I told her I would talk to C and the kids and see what they thought.
C was supportive of whatever plan helped me re-prioritize things.
So I called the kids together and we talked. I asked them three questions:
1) What were their thoughts about having E at our house most days?
2) Was there ever a time when they felt like I loved E more than I loved them? Examples, please.
3) What should we do to help my kids feel like they are more important to me?
The answers to question one were not surprising. They love their little cousin and in Z's words, "She's fun and funny, but..." On the other hand, now that she's 18 months old and rarely sleeps, she requires excessively more than she used to. She's into everything and she's definitely a climber! She has tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants and she's just always on the move. She requires diligent supervision and it's exhausting to do this every single day.
The answers to question two were eye-opening for me. I was still pretty much in denial that C knew our kids at all in regards to this topic. But it turns out he was right. I was blind. The kids each shared real, tangible moments when they felt brushed aside or less-loved by me than E is.
I was astonished, but felt privileged that the kids were willing to be so honest with me about this. I took the time to humbly apologize to each of them and ask their forgiveness. I've been such a fool.
Finally, we were ready to talk about number three.
First of all, the kids liked the idea of having a little break from E each week where we might go on field trips that aren't baby-friendly or at least have time without distractions to work on a big, messy project without E walking off with our supplies. But when I told them what D was going to ask her boss about, every child of mine said they didn't like that plan.
Why not? For them, it seemed unreasonable to expect the older three girls to have to see less of their mom two days a week because she was working through dinnertime and bedtime. Plus, it would add to their burden of watching their baby sister more often. And they felt bad for D to have to work such a crazy schedule and miss out on time with her girls more often.
I am honored to be the Mama to these kids who manage to demonstrate such selflessness at times!
Together, we thought up a new plan and presented it to their dad and to D. The new plan is actually beneficial for all of us -- both families. Today, D got approval from her boss and so the wheels are in motion beginning next week.
That took care of the "a little less E" part, but would that help the kids know how special they are to me?
So we thought of a resolution for that, too. Here are the components of our new plan...
1. D will take Mondays off from work. This will give us a day without E. It will also allow D to commute 35 minutes (each way) one day less a week, to have time with her girls -- taking them to school and picking them up and being with her E all day -- and she'll have a little more time at home to get projects done like never ending laundry piles.
2. In order to accommodate this day off without a reduction in compensation, I will not only pick up L and K from school at 3:15, but I'll stick around to get N from school at 4:00. Before this, I would get L and K, but D would leave work early enough to get to the school by 4pm. Now, she's able to stay later each day that she is there already (Tuesday - Friday) and make up the hours she would lose on Mondays.
3. Each child has a "special" night of the week when I have committed to spending time with that child for at least 90 minutes. Sometimes, it might be just running errands or playing a board game together, but sometimes, we'll go to dinner with just the two of us or out for ice cream or to a special event that is specifically tailored to that child's tastes.
4. The kids agreed that Daddy needs a special night with Mama, too. So with S's assistance, we now have a weekly date night on the calendar. Pray for her and that the kids will mind her well in our absence.
5. Saturday mornings and "day" is usually the kids' time with Daddy. They run errands, they fix stuff, they go off roading in the desert and sometimes, they do fun stuff like Chuck E. Cheese's or go see a movie together. This is really great for me, because I get some quiet, child-free time to blog or lesson plan or whatever.
6. We scheduled one designated Family Night where we will do something together. The sky's the limit here. The only limits are money and creativity really, so we should be able to think up some good ideas within those constraints.
7. As for Sunday evenings, they are Family Nights, too, except a lot of times, that's when we have friends over for a meal and fellowship or we celebrate a child's birthday. So these are our flex-nights.
That's the gist of the plan.
It's so simple, yet it has taken us a couple years to develop it. It required everyone's input -- working together as a team.
I still love E a whole bunch, but I know where my priorities lie. I know who comes first (after my Lord, of course) and these people who live here -- my family -- they deserve more of my heart than anyone.
I'm not sure I always deserve them. But they like me anyway. Imagine that.