Helplessness means you’re doing it right

1 Oct

file_000Picture it: Baby is napping, the laundry is running and I finally have a chance to take a shower before our neighbors’ barbecue. At the end of the shower, I hear a gurgle. Water is slow to drain but I think we’ll have to get a coat hanger and clean my hair out of the drain later. (Not my first clogged drain.)

I am drying off and then it happens.

The rising.

A darkened sludge starts to accelerate its pace from the drain upwards, carrying with it the wriggling legs of a thousand cockroaches.

The horror!

Just as I’ve come to grips with what is in front of my face, the toilet water joins the assault and spills onto the floor. I race to the closet and throw down Aaron’s strangely XXL-sized towels to stop the water from gushing down the hallway. I send a bunch of emergency texts to Aaron because as I gaze upon this sewage attack, I realize I have no idea how to make it stop.

I am instantly helpless and grateful.

That turns out to be the perfect way to explain how parenting feels.

When I think back to those seemingly endless nights of my son NOT sleeping, I was brilliant at spinning it into a positive to maintain my sanity. Here’s an actual thing I said to Aaron one night after sleeping for an hour and over-reading about infant sleep: “He just needs our help more than other babies.”


This mentality led me to sleeping for, at one point, 30 minutes a night. There’s no spinning that: my demise was near. So I broke ALL THE RULES and slept with him for two months until he was ready to transition to his crib (which remained right next to our bed until he was 7 months old because ARE WE SURE HE’S READY?)

He was ready. He immediately started waking up less when we weren’t right next to him waking him up. Turns out he’s a light sleeper.

Sleep eventually became a dependable commodity in my house, but there was a period near the end of the school year when my stash of frozen milk was dwindling and I wasn’t pumping enough at work to keep up with baby’s appetite. It was May. I had almost finished six months of pumping three times a day and teaching six periods a day with 25 minutes of planning and no lunch because pumping. To be that close to the end and not make it induced panic. Had I started supplementing with formula several months before, this probably wouldn’t have fazed me. But one more month might as well have been a broadsword dealing the final stroke against working moms.

At the time, Aaron was buying formula just in case and reassuring me that it would be fine. That’s nice, honey, but I am too deep into crisis mode to hear rational thought, so just hand me some pumping supplies at 10 p.m., so I can do this for the 5th time today instead of sleeping. 

It became a weird challenge for myself–another moment of helplessness I was trying to control. If I just do more, I can conquer this. Fox would have been fine either way–this was about me. I needed to win this one. The whole school year had been a blur, me trying to balance this thing that kept me connected to my son while away from him, while also trying to do right by my students.

I decided I would not be taken down by 30 days on a calendar, and so I doubled down.

Pump. Teach. Pump. Teach. Pump. Teach. Pump. BABY! Pump. Dinner. Dishes. Grade. Pump. Sleep. Repeat.

Day by day, the helplessness faded and the formula stayed on the shelf.

The cockroach water receded, the towels were washed and a Roto-Rooter visit later, we could flush the toilet again.  It was as if nothing had happened here.

Before bed that night, I gazed down the clean hallway past the door of my sleeping baby and the only thing I felt was grateful.

4 Responses to “Helplessness means you’re doing it right”

  1. Amanda at 11:48 am #

    I loved reading about these experiences, but don’t envy you them! 😉 This was a great post–uplifting, funny, a little bit horrifying (a spewing, sludgy nest of roaches…?!). A good reminder that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. I admire you!

    • Kara at 1:21 am #

      It appears I neglected to comment! You are so right about life not needing to be perfect to be good, but I lol-ed imaging myself being in the same conversation as the word perfect. I feel like a walking example of imperfection, so much so that I find it quite funny. The great part about getting older is that I am generous with myself about it now. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say, and ultimately imperfection is the most interesting thing about us as humans. So says all of literature. But I will forever admire your writing work ethic–I would say help me be so disciplined! But I just cannot be that disciplined. I’ve accepted it. Maybe I can spin it as an endearing imperfection. 🙂

  2. Lydia V at 3:50 pm #

    Love how the ball pit was featured in your post! I never knew you had a blog – I enjoyed reading it! Also, did not know the sewage isdue included cockroaches – ahhhhhhh!!!!!!! I cannot imagine! I think
    I would have awakened the babies and run out of the house until help

    • Kara at 9:36 pm #

      I probably intentionally left that part out!

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