Sometimes babysitting does not go well

Every other Friday I attend a women writer’s group in Salt Lake. It is a social event, not a business one. No one brings writing samples, there are no critiques. In fact many of us have never read each other’s writing. Instead we talk together, rejoicing over triumphs, commiserating over difficult things. We are very well suited to sympathize since we all write, we’re all women, and we share a social context. I love attending this group. The women in it have become good friends.

You would think my absenting myself from the kids for five hours every two weeks would not be too much to ask. And if it were my only absence it definitely would not be. But I also have other reasons to go places without them. Few of these other absences are things I do just for myself. The writer’s group does not benefit anyone else in my immediate family, just me. This makes it harder for me to convince myself it is important. It means that when things do not go well at home while I’m gone, I feel worse about it.

Last night I arrived home to two children with eyes puffy and red from crying. They did not even hear me come in because they were still arguing. I called Gleek and Link into the kitchen to discuss it with me. Patch had already fallen asleep, but his eyes were puffy too. Nothing serious went wrong. No one was injured. The younger two had just felt scared at bedtime and Link did not know how to settle them or soothe them. The result was kids getting out of bed, calling me, asking for extra things, and Link feeling increasing frustration because he was not sure what should be allowed and what should not. Link did not know how to enforce discipline without crossing lines he knew he should not cross.

The repeated phone calls interrupted my conversations and sapped my social energy. I missed things and it was harder to find my way back into the conversations. One of the points of going is to give me a chance to step away from my responsibilities, a chance to be just Sandra who writes instead of being mom. Part of me wanted to turn off my phone, but I couldn’t for fear of the lurking “what if.” Things at home would have been worse if not for me over-the-phone instructions and intervention.

I wondered why I had bothered to go out at all. My absence had created a crisis without providing any of the benefits I’d looked for. I’d hoped to come home energized, happy, ready to pick up my mom things again. I stood in the kitchen with my two red eyed kids. I made them listen as the other aired complaints. Link finally understands, in a way that he could not before, how hard parenting/babysitting can be. He was relieved when I was able to describe to him exactly what his frustration felt like, because I’ve been there. Lots. I realized that Link really is not prepared to babysit. He would be fine in a true emergency, but he need training to handle all the little ways that kids push against the limits. I’m not sure what Gleek learned. I’m afraid she just came away convinced that she’s once again ruined everything. I want a better lesson for her. I want one that heals and makes her stronger. Last night she was too tired and upset to hear it. We’ll try again sometime today. I wish there were a clear cut way to help her.

In one month I’ll be going away for a weekend rather than just an evening. Logical or not, last night’s experience has me worried about leaving the kids. I know they will be in the care of adults I trust, but I worry anyway.