The Big Sister Solution

A decade ago, when I was largely alone all day with tiny, parasitic Bernie clones, I might have written something like Mrs. Rowe’s fed-up-to-here, open letter to her husband. In the moment, those feelings seem funny/true, but when read with a decade of hindsight (and larger children who don’t need pooping assistance), rants like this make me… sad. I want the whole family to race past these brutal years that inspire a meant-to-be-funny, but still quite public flogging of The Husband. I might have greatly benefitted from some part time help (and meds) as a Stay At Home Mom in those early years. Swapping a beeper and a real, outside-the-house job for never-ending days with crying children and Dawson’s Creek reruns led to a social, emotional, and intellectual whiplash for which I was unprepared. Because texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all myriad outlets that keep us intimately tied to each other’s weird little worlds weren’t in existence, I did what you do when you’re at your wit’s end with small children and never-home husband. I called my big sister.

“One of them is always crying, and Bernie isn’t home, and then when he is, he’s ‘tired’ or wants to do things off of the napping schedule. He wants to sleep when they’re awake and have sex when they’re asleep, and these wailing succubae that look exactly like him are attached to me all day and all I want to do at 8pm is drink wine without anyone touching me.”

“Jesus, Britt. You need some mommy friends.”

Boy, did I. None of my besties in the area had started breeding, and absolutely no one I knew in the medical field ever quit their life-saving jobs to stay home with non-verbal bundles of sleep-averse, ever-hungry pant-shitters in embroidered onesies. I was lonely, exhausted, and prone to unattractive moods swinging narrowly between irritated and glum. In that moment, my Big Sister–staunch defender of all of my wants, needs, and beliefs, champion of All Things Britt— the Catholic, opinionated, occasionally scary Zealot Sister… sided with Bernie. Gently, and really quite beautifully, Paige refused to sing my Battle Cry Against The Ineffectual Husband. Instead, she shared some excellent advice, recommended a book, and insisted I get some mommy friends.

I was fabulously bad at the mommy friend thing. I scouted out the local playground and attempted to make nice with the ladies who corralled their strollers by the benches. I never got past a few awkward exchanges before I realized they were all wearing long skirts and head scarves and maybe the Orthodox Jewish Mommy Group wasn’t keen to take on a blonde shiska with the whiff of friendless desperation. I tried another park.

Lonely Mom with a small girl who insisted on wrong-footed shoes seemed like a good option. Surely, this was a pick-your-battles kind of mommy who also cozied to the idea of mid-afternoon wine? As it turned out, Lonely Mom picked absolutely no battles and was still breast-feeding her Dorito-munching toddler tyrant while defending the values of the Family Bed. She made me sadder than her husband I already was.

What I did have, however, was A-Ma. Bernie’s mom raced up to Boston on the Fung Wah any time I called. Honestly, any time. One particularly brutal day, I told her I couldn’t shower without hearing both boys wailing on the baby monitor, that my dreams were exclusively about the sounds of wailing on the baby monitor, that I hadn’t eaten anything but Blow Pops and Hot Pockets for a week, and that I didn’t know if the stains on my clothes were pre- or post-intestinal foods. She arrived that afternoon. A-Ma remembered the unholy, not-cute-at-all daily grind; and with only one foot in the door she’d say, “Go! Go to take nap!” I promised then and there to be that kind of grandma some day. She saved my life (and improved my marriage) more than once.

Perhaps what the author of Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children really needs is a nap and A-Ma. In fact, the first comment after her light-hearted rant against her husband was from the author’s mother:

Recommend you withdraw this blog. Can talk details later—- Love, Mom

I quite agreed with her, recalling the advice Paige recommended to me 10 years ago, when I was exasperated with the man I love the most. First, she reminded me that Bernie was no mind reader and that stewing silently and acting the martyr would lead more quickly to marital strife than to any sort of enjoyable co-parenting. She annoyingly insisted I plant myself in his loafers, and made me read The Bastard on the Couch—a fantastic collection of essays written by dads (and written in playful retaliation against The Bitch in the House, which largely described what I was becoming). Where Momma Rowe gets angry that her husband is allowed to poo behind closed doors apart from the toddler audience with demands, I’m now more apt to think, hey, why share the pain? Go ahead and lock the door. Lucky you! This stay-at-home blogger also, with great humor and exaggeration, suggests sex is off the table until the children are big enough to sit at it.

This is where Paige’s big sisterly advice might have sounded supportive:

“Fuck your husband.”

However, she didn’t offer this as a scatological slam on bathroom door-locking spouses; no, she meant it quite literally. (She also never, ever said this. Well, she said this, but not like this… because she’s classier than I am.) She waxed Catholic: the vows and sacraments and quaint ideas about contracts and promises and vaguely about the baser biological needs of boys in general… and she said all of this without making me throw feminist arguments at her, or throw up in general. In the end, she was really just suggesting that I act with greater kindness and love, and that I find some mommy friends who would understand why sometimes that seemed impossible.

GrandMomma Rowe is adorably protective of her son-in-law… much like Paige was for Bernie back in my days of Days (of Our Lives). Long hours with demanding children and soap operas will make anyone a little nutty. But without an Internet forum for irritated moms to publicly berate their constipated, celibate husbands, we had Big Sisters and A-Mas. The Big Sisters and A-Mas understand you, listen to you, and then tell you to take a nap and to shower and to quit it. They’ll keep reminding you that there is an end to it all, will never (ever!) tell you to “cherish” days of sleepless, messy torture, and they’ll make you feel warm, and loved, and heard.

Then again, having 100 strangers offer thumbs up, preach-it-sister encouragement probably works, too… as long as The Husband is in on the meant-to-be-funny part.

This was ridiculously useful to me back in those days that seemed like 54 hours apiece.

This was ridiculously useful to me… and reminded me why I love boys in general, and my own in particular.

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8 responses

  1. I have adopted Paige as my sister during similar times. You are lucky. Thank you for sharing her. I sure do miss her as she as moved onward and upward in her career and treasure the time I worked for and with her.

  2. I could use an A-Ma too. Though, I am eternally grateful that my mother-in-law and my mother ganged up on me and convinced me to go back to work for a while when my older ones were tiny.

    • Isn’t it wonderful that they knew this was the right thing for you? I love all solutions to the life-sucking days with small people. My darling friend Abby told me early on that no one gets “extra credit” for doing it without help. And though I don’t regret for a soap opera second quitting work, I probably would have been a bit happier if I had hired a babysitter every once in a while when they were tiny.

  3. I absolutely loved this.

    I try my best to fuel my writing with love, honest frustration, humor and observation of my children. I want to convey the exhaustion but not take for granted the moment in life I am in. This post was beautiful and honest and it reminded me of that.

    I have a big sister that will chew through glass for me and my kids but is just as quick to tell me when to suck it up or get over it. That’s why I love her. Thank God for sisters.

    • Thank God, indeed! I’m just thrilled those days are over. It’s much better in nostalgic hindsight. The pictures are adorable. But I wouldn’t go back for a million dollars and fewer wrinkles. xoxo

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