It’s another day and another round of sickness in our household. Two weeks ago we passed around a cold between the four of us, and now we are sharing a stomach bug. It started with my husband, and now Big Boy has it. It’s only a matter of time before me and Little Man get it. Seriously…like hours. It all began something like this…
SCENE 1: BEDTIME
Four Year Old (FYO): Mommy, my tummy kinda hurts.
Me: Sleep will help, buddy. No more stalling. Get in bed.
*Tuck in, say prayers, sing songs, lights out, door closed*
SCENE 2: TEN MINUTES AFTER BED
FYO: MOMMYMOMMYMOMMY HELLLLPPPPPPP! I THREW UP ALL OVER MY BED!
Repeat three more times that night.
And for the sake of the reader, we will end the scene there.
Twenty minutes, new sheets, a lesson in trash can aim, and a few more hugs later, he’s back in bed. No sweat. Just another night in paradise motherhood. Back to cleaning the dinner dishes….
Should I have believed him when he said his tummy hurt? Probably. Have I heard “I have a tummy ache” multiple times per week as a way to escape the dinner table so he can go play? Absolutely. I have a little bit of a boy-who-cried-wolf skepticism about me. Don’t judge. I’m conditioned.
Yes, I feel terrible for my son. Throwing up is the worst! Especially when you’re four. Vomit happens on your bed…and your pajamas…and your floor. The ability to recognize the impending doom about to spew from your body and run to the bathroom in time to allow it to exit into a more appropriate receptacle than your bed, is well, nonexistent at that age. Yes, I worry about his health and spreading it to Little Man…who licks Big Brother on a daily basis. I worry and I stress and I feel alone. So. Much. Of. The. Time.
And this night, in particular, I felt a little resentful of my friends with relatives nearby. We have no family that lives nearby. The ones whose moms swoop in to give them a break every now and again. What can I say? I was tired. My hair smelled like my child’s vomit. And the emotions were running higher than usual. In that dark, weak moment, I would have loved to call my mom or mother-in-law to ask for help. At 4am when exhaustion took over, I would have given anything to call in reinforcements the next day to give me a break to catch up on the pile of sheets waiting for the laundry. Or, let’s be honest, just to take a nap. But I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t (or rather, wouldn’t) call either mom to drive hours to give me a break. That’s just not me. I got this…I think…
So…if I felt sorry for myself and really wanted help, why didn’t I call in reinforcements? I know someone would have come. Why did I handle the vomit situation again and again, systematically, pragmatically…and move on to other things as if my son’s sickness wasn’t my only priority? Not because I’m insensitive, but because I HAD TO. I kept telling myself through the gag reflexes, I got this. I got this. I got this. This does not come from a place of confidence. This attitude is from a place of necessity. From a place with no options. Where myself, my husband, and our two little men are the only people to handle each situation that comes our way.
We have no one else. (Live with me in this dramatic state for a moment while I explain…because of course we DO have other people. Just bear with me. I’ll get there.).
When Husband and I met eleventy billion years ago (according to my Big Boy), after migrating to Austin post-college, we did what was right for us at the time and put down roots in the town where we had careers. It made sense. We started our life here. We got married, bought a home (not in that order), made friends, and decided to start a family. Then we had babies and the distance between us and our families became a real struggle for me. Being a mom and raising children shed light on a lot of emotional situations in my life. This particular one being the brightest of them all.
Our closest relative (immediate family) is three hours away in Fort Worth – the farthest is outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Not to mention, both sets of parents are divorced and remarried, all four living in different cities, making it even more difficult to see all of them on a regular basis. Living hours away from family has its struggles, for sure. Using the above example, it would be amazing to have a grandparent or aunt nearby to send Little Man to stay with until we are certain the tummy bug has left the house. It would have been a godsend to call a Mom and have her show up the next day to help care for two kids – one sick, the other trying to lick the sick one – while I caught up on laundry. It all sounds so blissful.
And the truth is, I could have called one of our moms. They would have gotten in their cars and driven here to support us. I know that, because they are both amazing moms and grandmas. But I never would expected that, and I certainly wouldn’t ask. Maybe it’s determination or stubbornness that keeps me from admitting I need help, or maybe it’s the unwillingness to feel like a ‘burden’ to someone else. I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, I didn’t call. And so, they didn’t know. And no one came.
And it’s not just the tough times I wish we had family nearby to help keep my life in line. It was also a struggle when I went into labor the second time. No relatives were around to keep our Big Boy while we were in the hospital. Instead, it took them all hours to arrive – both moms driving in the early morning hours to get here in time for Little Man’s arrival.
Then there’s date night and the babysitter factor that we have to consider every time we want to have a few hours away together. If grandparents or aunts and uncles were nearby, we could rely on them for a little relief every now and then. But that’s all logistics.
The biggest struggle for me is watching my sons grow up without their cousins, aunts and uncles, or grandparents around to experience life with them.
That part is the hardest, and the main reason I feel a tug to pack up and head north to live near family. It definitely tugs hard on me from time to time. The felt absence at Grandparent Night at Big Boy’s school; or missed sporting events in the years to come; missed birthday parties because it’s just too far to travel for a few cupcakes and presents; missed afternoons of playing in the park for no special reason at all. Let me be clear – I do not fault any of them or blame anyone for this. It is simply the result of our situation – and so many other people’s situation. And it’s tough, but pretty common.
However, I truly believe not having relatives nearby made my marriage and myself stronger. Anyone in a similar situation probably understands this. When you don’t have relatives nearby, you’re forced to rely more heavily on yourself and your spouse. You lean inward, upon each other, for support. We just figure it out together – we got this. A strong, understanding partnership makes it work for us. That’s not to discredit couples who have family nearby. For us, in our situation, the absence ABSOLUTELY makes us rely on each other more than if we had, say…a mom, nearby to step in every time we need help.
This co-reliance and support for each other has definitely strengthened our relationship…especially considering the extra weight children can add to a marriage. Parenting young kids is tough. Having a partner you rely on – who steps up in ways you can’t even imagine (like cleaning vomit chunks off the carpet while you gag in the bathroom) – makes the transition from “married couple” to “mom and dad” a whole lot easier.
Let’s talk about the other side of the coin for a second….
Living away from family has its benefits, too. It sounds terrible, I know, but hear me out. For me, a small benefit is not having expectations leveled on us – expectations to participate in every family dinner, come to every kid’s soccer game, or the worst for an introvert like myself – the dreaded pop-by. No family member knocks on my front door unannounced to join us for breakfast. I get the chance to put on a bra and clean the toilet before anyone comes a knockin’. That, I appreciate. However, it’s a very small benefit and one I would gladly give up if we chose to move near them.
The truth and heart of it all is this…the best part of NOT having relatives nearby is the way it’s impacted our friendships. Husband and I are fortunate enough to have an awesome network of friends surrounding us. Friends that we call in the middle of the night to come sleep at our house and take care of the Big Boy while we go to the hospital for Little Man’s delivery. Friends that bring us coffee or dinner (that’s French for “wine”) when we have a rough day. Friends that keep an eye on us and step in to help when we need them – without ever being asked. Friends that we CHOOSE to have around us, CHOOSE to care about, and CHOOSE to spend holidays and vacations with. Friends that we genuinely love like family.
I would never have knocked down these walls, let down my guard…however you want to put it…and allowed myself to grow in these relationships with some of the greatest people (women) I know, if I had family nearby. I would have relied so heavily upon the comfortable known of my relatives, that I never would have stepped out of my comfort zone and opened up to these incredible friends. You may read this and think, you never know what would have happened. Never say NEVER.
Umm…not true. Just like I know I’ll NEVER be a famous musician because even my four year old recognizes my inability to carry a tune, I know I would NEVER have the same friendships I do today if I had family here. I know me, and I know I stay in my bubble – in my comfort zone. It NEVER would have happened. I would NEVER have the deep, meaningful friendships I have today. Friends that will be in my life forever. Friends that will take some of our most treasured memories and funny secrets to their graves. Friends that I lean on and support through every life stage – the good, the bad, the ups, the downs, the laughter, and the tears. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
This is also the ONLY reason we haven’t moved to be near our relatives. It took me ten years of living here to finally establish this amazing network of support. The idea of leaving this neighborhood where everyone looks out for everyone, makes my stomach hurt. Thinking about leaving the proximity of my close mommy friends, not having them nearby to meet for dinner when we need a few hours away from our kids to be…well, us – not mommies, not wives, just women…makes my heart hurt. These people are my tribe, my support system, my comfort zone. They are my family.
So, I guess when I look at it that way, it’s really not hard to survive without relatives nearby. When I step back and look around, I’m surrounded by those who love me and who I love. My proverbial island isn’t Castaway 2.0. It’s a lifelong party filled with my favorite people. If that’s not family, I’m not sure what is.