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The sign on the door that mechanically swung open after ringing a discrete bell read, “Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.” I entered through the door at this safe house where a woman with a clipboard and an accepting grin took down notes about my situation and my daughter while seated in a small and very scratched chair that looked like it had been donated at least once.
I gave this complete stranger every detail of my life situation and my reason for being there asking for help.
The day before, a fast-moving wildfire had come up to my neighbor’s trees and we were unexpectedly Level 3 Evacuated. After the Boeing 747 firefighting tankers moved in and extinguished most of the destructive fire, we were still on evacuation notice but allowed to return to our homes.
That was fine for us, but not my 5-year-old. The wildfire that began several miles away in minutes quickly spread to in front of us. Despite its destructive speed I was ready to go, but for whatever reason screaming “It’s time to go! Get in the car!” didn’t exactly motivate my little princess. Instead, I managed to evoke a few delicate tears and a sit-down tantrum that left me with no choice but to pick up my small child and literally throw her in the backseat of my small SUV before pulling out of my driveway and to safety.
I didn’t tell the woman I had picked up my child and threw her. I assumed because the woman was a social worker, she was also a Mandated Reporter and my throwing my daughter would, to her, quite possibly be frowned upon and considered abuse regardless of a fire tornado being at our heels.
Sometimes You Just Need A Break
The burning in my neighbor’s backyard was exactly the opposite burning that I had been participating in only days before. By burning, I mean, burning calories on the treadmill. For whatever reason, getting a break from my toddler was great motivation for my participation in physical exercise.
When my daughter turned the age of two I reached my breaking point. Before becoming a parent I, of course, had heard of the terrible twos but experiencing them was a completely different scenario than what I had imagined.
The tantrums, the crying, and of course the house destruction nearly did me in. Like the safe house, one exhausting day I found myself at a local gym filling out paperwork and putting my toddler in the child watch looking disparaging while a woman with a clipboard took down my personal details. Before this I never let her out of my sight. I felt like a failure. I thought asking for help made me weak as a mother.
Days passed and my physical body got stronger, while this occurred I also became a happier and better mother. I had more energy to run around in the backyard and I was more pleasant to be around. There is, in fact, science that actually backs this up.
If you’ve ever heard of a runner’s high, you might already know that exercise actually releases endorphin hormones that trigger a positive feeling compared to that of taking morphine. Exercising also relieves stress. Like the stress that comes from having a two-year-old who seems intent on destroying your house and possibly even your soul.
Friends and other social connects often commented on my determination at the gym. I virtually lived there for almost three years. I never mentioned that a big part of my hard work at the weights was directly linked to the breaks I was getting from my toddler. Running on a treadmill was easy considering the alternative was keeping my child safe and out of my kitchen cabinets.
I never mentioned the link between getting a break from parenting and my stellar moves on the cardio equipment because there’s this unwritten rule about parenting. For some reason, we’re not allowed to say that being a parent is actually really hard.
Moreover, if I even looked stressed at the grocery store when trying to find sales and keep my toddler from toppling display cases, someone would always make a comment. Usually the comment was something about me being a terrible mother, ungrateful, or simply mean. Not wanting to deal with stranger commentary, I quickly learned to keep a straight face and then release my angst at their hateful words in my sweat at the gym.
I still don’t understand the comments. My college job was at a home for pregnant teens. There, my job was to help them while they struggled as young parents. I did just that as effectively as I could. So, when being 30 and getting self righteous comments instead of a kind word or helping hand, I simply began losing my faith in humanity.
Now, however, my vision has come back to 20/20. I couldn’t even identify a face in a line-up that had something to say to “shame” me about being a mother. However, I can definitively remember the face of the woman who paid for my new charger cord after I discovered my last cord chewed and broken up by my 2-year-old and went to get a new cord and discovered I had forgotten my debit card. I remember my stunning—both inside and out—fitness instructor who understood the stressed out look on my face when I walked into her yoga class and simply said, “grab a mat, relax, breathe. I know you’re in the parenting battlefield.”
I remember the neighbor that brought wood over to my house and asked me if I was doing okay when a windstorm had taken out power at my house for a week. I remember my daughter’s pre-school teacher who offered to take my daughter during the windstorm to give me a couple hours to deal with the outage. I thanked the woman then used that time to chop wood and prepare to cook meals on the wood stove we mostly used for decoration purposes.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”Fred Rogers
One of my favorite quotes from Fred Rogers of the show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood is, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Often when I think of the bitterness that sometimes rips through my psyche at the rude comments directed at me during my child’s early years, I manage to conjure this famous quote from one of the most influential children’s show educators of our time.
I remember the kind words and support that was directed to me and my situation. I remember the kind friend from high school who explained to me that instead of focusing on my child’s trauma at the sudden fire evacuation, I should instead explain that God gave us firefighters as real-life superheroes who dedicated their lives to keeping us safe from wildfire. That even though this world has its horrors and people who give words of shame instead of help, there are people out there who are kind and who are trained to help those in need. Like I was trained to help homeless teenage mothers, I was trained to be their mentor, to help. The world was doing all it could to make them feel bad about their situation, I was there to teach them life skills and help them with their day-to-day problems while they were growing up themselves.
The world is full of kind people and helpers.
But how do you find them amongst all the liars, cheaters and other people dedicated to creating chaos?
Especially when you are someone like me who had spent a good portion of her 20s reading case logs that still gives me nightmares. Needless to say, I’m not the most trusting person in the world and I was not born yesterday.
For me, I was lucky enough to have a few childhood friends who I could trust for a few hours with my daughter. I liked the child watch at the gym simply because I knew she was being cared for in the same building I was in and if she needed me I was already there.
I liked the child respite center I used when still Level 3 evacuated. I knew the people there were all background cleared and the organization was dedicated to child safety.
I did not like websites like Care.com. I couldn’t find someone I could readily trust and I started getting spam email from people in places like Nigeria who were obviously fishing for my private information.
As for the critics and naysayers of my job as a mother with a young child, really, they’re all now insignificant background squealers. I’ve come to accept that somehow they felt better about themselves for putting me down. That, by kicking me while I was at my most vulnerable and weakest, they somehow felt better about themselves. Honestly, I kind of feel sorry for those people now. They’re like dissolving vapor in my memory, while those who helped me will forever live on inside me and I hope one day I will get the chance to repay their kindness. If not to them, at least I know I’ll too be a helping hand with a mother with a young child and not a mom shamer.
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Featured image – Lea Dubedout via unsplash.com
Content image – Han Vi Pham Thi via unsplash.com