Press for Help.
This is printed on the big red button in the surgeon’s room. If I do, will someone pick up my son? Get us to school and work in the morning? How about a hug, a hot meal, a belly laugh? God knows I could use all of the above. Right now my right hand is numb and 1/4 of my index fingernail has just been sliced away. I don’t imagine I’ll be in very good shape by the time the lidocaine wears off. Driving is going to be fun, what with the splint still on my left arm from an unplanned encounter with gravity during a recent roller skating session.
All of this from a little splinter picked up at the lake. Don’t I get extra points for playing in the dirt with the boys? Maybe someone will send a car around with a driver and a mini-bar in back. I am tempted to press. Alas, I am fizzing in a beaker of peroxide at the moment and the button is a bit out of reach.
What’s with this obsession, anyway? As I sit effervescing, I consider the trend in my ruminations of late. It has probably been present from the start, but I am only just now becoming aware that it is a rather frequent house-guest.
It comes around, weaving itself into every third of fourth thought. The ache for it is as palpable as the rebellion against it. Wanting it. Needing it. Being afraid to ask for it, expecting it, letting go of hoping for it. It has taken on a psychic presence, if not physical one, in my life. It is like the absent father. The elusive love. Like the damned splinter. I wonder if others have such a complicated and dysfunctional relationship with it.
A poem from March sums up the crux of the struggle:
it is true
no one is coming
The only thing
is to lay fresh sheets
across my son’s bed
and piece the bits
of the wish
at the back of my throat
into a nest
Perhaps I don’t even know what help looks like. For sure, it is abundant in all corners of my life. My co-workers are constantly offering to assist with projects and they follow through on everything and more. My folks are still letting us stay in their home. Bug’s projects clutter every corner of the house. We eat as a family. My parents take the kiddo and walk the dog when I have transportation issues or a late work commitment. I have a great counselor, an attentive realtor, a thorough and available doctor, and a dentist who calls me up personally to set up appointments and never fails to ask me about my housing search. Friends are constantly offering up get-togethers and outings. All around me is a strong web of support.
So, what is it I am really after? Assistance? Rescue?
Maybe I have made the simpleminded mistake of blurring several discrete desires into a single entity. Perhaps help, like “green” or “free,” is a catch-all for any number of things. A good friend? A good night’s sleep? A sense of belonging? A sense of peace?
In any event, on Sunday morning, the laser-tag outing organized by the single parenting group was a no-go. Bug grew nervous about the thought of running through a big, dark room while large children shot at at each other. Without a plan in place for getting together with buddies, I started to feel that half-numb ennui set in. Good. We can just spend the whole day at home in our pajamas. Such laziness nice in its way, but only in moderation. We do a lot more of it than is healthy. It should come as no surprise that I have no one to lean on when the going gets tough.
As we lazed in our jammies in the sunny piano room, I could still hear the echoes of my earlier calls for help. This post from a few weeks ago details a complicated childcare kerfuffle that left me grappling with the hunger for help in the context of friendship. In it, I came to this realization:
As a single parent, I can’t give my kid a big college fund or a house with a yard. I can’t give him a nanny or a bunch of siblings. At least I can give him friends and grownups who will be there for him no matter how loony his mama is.
I may have a thousand excuses for why I don’t reach out to friends on a regular basis. All of them boil down to me being too pooped. Just like fatigue begets fatigue, isolation breeds isolation. Every day of putting it off is another kilo added to the resistance. The way around it is not to give in to it but to grit your teeth and do the opposite.
It was my own commitment that came resounding back to me. Resolving to try a little harder, I peeled myself off the couch. No laser tag?
Press for Help.
I picked up the phone and called a girlfriend instead. “Would you and the boys like to meet outside somewhere for a play-date?”
When we arrived, her kids were pulling on socks and coats. Everyone was ready to tumble out the door. Everyone, that is, except my girlfriend. With two busy boys and a pile of family commitments of her own, she was a wreck. “I didn’t get much sleep last night,” she sighed, fastening on the tough face. I know it well.
Suddenly, I realized something strange. I had actually gotten good sleep. Not just that night, but the night before as well! What an odd and happy gift, this feeling rested. This feeling. . . what is it? Capable? Energetic, even?
“I’ll take the boys,” I said.
She was skeptical. I would be, too. We are all Superwoman, we are all loathe to show our vulnerabilities. “I’ll meet you there?” She offered. Clearly, I would have to insist.
Press for Help.
“Don’t be silly,” I said, bustling the boys out. “We’ll have a great time! Sleep, then we’ll talk.”
Wow. What a gift, to be able to offer someone else the very thing for which I had been aching! This buoyed my spirit more than I could have imagined. Three boys crammed into the back of my little car. We zipped up to the lake, played on the playground, collected sticks, meandered. The little ones raced on the train tracks while the biggest kid hung back with me and strolled through the sunlight. All three of them found their way to the sandy shore and hunkered down, digging for clams and pirate treasure. One of my favorite things in the world is to wander out into the dirt and trees without a destination or a timetable. It’s even better to have a trio of mud-happy kiddos to keep me company.
So what if I came home with a splinter? I also came home with bright faces and happy feet. We stumbled back to the friend’s house, filthy and thirsty and weary. She arrived right on our heels with three bags of take-out Thai. We ate together, gabbing until well after dark. The little ones disappeared to play X-box. The big guy lingered at the table to talk Dark Knight and school gossip.
I was happy and fed, worn out and among friends. It was only a moment and it was fleeting, much like this one right here. As I fizz and tingle in the orthopedic surgery wing, the nurse and I gab about our kids. He is gentle, laying out the gauze and reminding me I am doing an excellent job.
This may be a tough week but help abounds. I am coming to see that it is a bottomless source waiting to be tapped. Sometimes we draw from it. Sometimes we give back. Sometimes we have to push a little against our tendencies in order to invite it in.
We reach. We press. We never know what will answer the call. Sometimes, we happen upon those perfect exchanges that warm both hands. We emerge a little tender, perhaps, and with a few bruises to show for the effort. But this is how we peel ourselves open. This is the way we become whole.