that’s why they call it full time HELP

Well, it’s been kind of crazy around here for the last few weeks, but light has dawned: our babysitter, Sarah, whom we use when we are on vacation, actually flew to NYC to be with us and help me out until I could find a new sitter. And we found one, a lovely woman named Lucille, who starts this Monday, and for whom we all have high hopes.

So I survived my several weeks without a babysitter, and I am certainly glad to have had the chance to be neck-deep in my children. Maddie learned to walk these last couple of weeks, and I took her to all her fun little classes, and Cooper learned to ride without training wheels, and I would have these experiences and think, why would I ever do it any differently? Why do I want someone else spending time with my children instead of me?

And then I would come home, and see my apartment that looked like a bomb hit it, and the 200 Christmas cards I have to write, and the class parent stuff I have to do for Fergus’ teachers, and there’s nothing in the refrigerator for dinner, and Cooper is slapping Fergus repeatedly while Maddie is about to take a bite out of Cooper’s arm, and I would say, oh yeah. This is why. Because I can do this all myself for a week or two, but only if I know that help is coming.

I had coffee this week (bless you, babysitter Sarah!) with a writer whose work I really admire. She is very busy and prolific and she’s been on Oprah talking about her books and she is pregnant with her third child, her oldest not yet three and a half. And the reason I wanted to meet with her is so I could ask HOW DO YOU DO IT? How do you find time to write?

She leaned across the table. “I have full time help,” she whispered, as if this were a slightly dirty secret that I didn’t know about.

And I was like, AND?

I went to a “Lose Your Mummy Tummy” seminar after having Fergus four years ago, and met another mother there who had just had her third. As conversations among modern mothers often go, ours turned to work, childcare, and the impossible complications thereof.

“Do you work?” she asked me.

“Well, kind of,” I said.

“Do you have help?” she asked.

“About twenty hours a week,” I answered.

“I stay home, and I have full time help,” she admitted, as if she were saying she had herpes. “But it’s full time HELP! As in, she HELPS me! I don’t leave! I never go anywhere!”

“Oh, I’m sure,” I said, but of course inside I was thinking, full time help? Why, life would be a bowl of cherries.

And now I am that mother, with three small children, and full time HELP that is a great HELP but somehow does not make the mess, the piles of stuff, the whining and the fighting and the short order cooking go away. It makes it bearable, makes it possible, but it does not make it easy.

I think people who don’t have full time help, or help, period, think that it means the mom does nothing and the babysitter does everything. In reality, as one friend of mine put it, it’s “someone at home with the baby, and someone on the move with the rest of them.” I can count on one hand the times that I have left a babysitter in charge of all three of my children (awake, that is) for more than an hour or so. I can handle all three myself, clearly, but having done a lot of that recently, I can say that I’m not sure anyone else should have to.

And when people ask ME how I find time to write I answer, honestly: I don’t. As some of my readers here have probably noticed. But now that I’m going to have that help back, I plan to use it, and while the boys are in school every morning, use those few hours of child-free time to work at things besides Cooper’s 20 thank you notes for his 6th birthday party. Like gas, the Mother Load expands to fill all space available. Apparently, I have to declare some spaces off-limits.