Okay, here’s a little secret about widowed parenting (or at least my version of widowed parenting): sometimes I leave my kids home alone.
I try not to. Claire is old enough to watch her brothers, yes, but Tommy is still little and I don’t want to put such a burden on her. That first summer after Shawn died, I actually looked up what the rules were about leaving kids home alone. My dad was gone and I wanted to be able to run around the block or pop out to get some milk without taking all three of them every single time. I was dismayed to learn that they needed to be older before that was allowed. So I (usually) took them everywhere with me that summer, and for a long time after that.
But as the kids got older, I realized I could actually leave them at home without me, as long as it wasn’t for too long. Sometimes I leave them home to do something like go to the pharmacy, and sometimes I just need to get out of the house without three kids in tow. My kids have gotten used to being at home without me for brief periods of time. They know the rules and they can call me if anything comes up.
Then the quarantine happened. I didn’t leave them at all for the first week. I was too worried about everything, and I honestly just wanted to be with them all the time. But eventually I had to go grocery shopping – and I wasn’t about ready to take my kids with me. (Let me just say this: 6-year-olds do not understand the concept of “do not touch your face.”) So I left everyone with a screen, went over the rules with Claire and Austin, and locked the house. “No matter who it is, you never answer the door,” I said as I left – a rule I knew the kids understood, but I like to always reiterate.
The grocery store was insane. I had to wait outside for almost 45 minutes just to get inside and Claire started calling me after I’d been gone for less than an hour. “When are you coming home?” she asked each time.
“Remember, this is going to take longer than usual,” I said, and encouraged her to keep watching tv.
She kept calling. She probably called me a half-dozen times while I was at the grocery store. Each call was a bit more nervous than the previous ones. She was used to being at home for short stints, but it was usually in the early morning hours (when I run) or after school, when lots of kids and families are around. “What am I supposed to do if something goes wrong and I can’t go to the neighbor’s house?” she asked at one point.
I did a pretty crappy job shopping that day. I just wanted to get home.
When I got back, I did some assessing. We could last at least two weeks, I figured, before I needed anything else. In the meantime, whenever a friend texted they were going to the store, I decided I could add on a thing or two to their order, and get by for another week after that.
It worked. I have some lovely friends, and by adding on a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs to their trips to the store, I was able to get through two full weeks. But things were starting to look thin at the end of last week, and I knew I was going to have to head out.
I also knew if I asked, my friends would help me, but it’s hard to ask for an entire grocery cart of food, especially with all the limits on the quantities you can buy of each item. And yes, we have grocery delivery, but I was having a hard time reserving a time slot to deliver the food (apparently it helps to stay up past midnight and get the first slots for the next day, which I hadn’t been doing.) So I resolved to go and get what I could from the store myself. I figured this was just going to be something the kids dealt with during the coronavirus. It could be worse, I reminded myself.
But then I got this email from a woman at my church.
I’ve been thinking of you today and wanted to reach out to see if there is anything I might be able to do to make this damn pandemic a little easier for you. I’ve organized a group of volunteers at church who make grocery runs for parishioners who are having a hard time getting out to the store. Would it ever be helpful to you if you gave me a list and I had a volunteer shop for you and leave items on your stoop?
I read it over twice. “No,” I thought, initially. “I don’t need this. I am not immunocompromised or elderly. I can go to the grocery store and deal with all of this on my own. I don’t need the help like other people might.”
But I didn’t fully believe my rationalization, so I didn’t reply right away. In the back of my mind, I struggled with what to do. I certainly wanted the help…but did I need it? I mean, it’s not like Shawn died last month. I’ve figured out how to do a lot of this on my own.
Throughout the day, I kept thinking about standing in line at the grocery store and answering Claire’s calls. No, I was not in physical danger at the grocery store. I wasn’t more likely to get sick than the average person. And yet – it was really hard on my family for me to leave them for that grocery trip. I thought about Claire’s voice on the calls that day, increasingly nervous and upset.
I sat down and thought it through and eventually reached this conclusion: I did need some help.
It’s hard to accept the fact that I just can’t do it all. That I need someone to come and help me. I could accept help right after Shawn died, mostly because I just didn’t have the capacity to do much of anything. But as the months went on, I took pride in my ability to do the things that were needed for my family.
Now it’s different. Yes, I can go to the grocery store for my family. But maybe I didn’t need to do something that I knew would be quite stressful for my kids. I tentatively wrote the woman from my church back. “What an amazing offer. Actually, I’d love a little help.”
We exchanged a series of emails, and I made sure to note that I didn’t want to take any resources from people who were elderly or had greater need. Through these texts, I hinted that I was a bit embarrassed to accept the help. She wrote back,
This is absolutely what people have signed up for when they offered to help. It is a genuine offer, freely given, with gladness.
I cried when I read the email. I knew I was so lucky to have such an amazing community around me. I knew not everyone in my position could get the help I was getting. I mean, can I be self-sufficient? Yes. But do I also need help right now? Yes. And does it take a little bit of swallowing my pride to admit that? Yes.
The next day, food arrived with a receipt so I could pay back the shopper. But I knew I couldn’t ever really pay anyone back.
And yet – I’m not sure that’s what this time period is all about. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s what life is all about either.
I’m glad I accepted the help. My kids were much calmer last weekend, and I didn’t have to worry about what was happening back home as I waited at the store. Moreover, this act of love connected me to my community even more. When I went to pay back the shopper, I realized I knew who it was. It was a friend, someone who had already texted me weeks ago with an offer to help. I had softly rejected her kindness then, but now here I was, accepting the help.
I texted her a thank you note. “I’m always happy to get extra of anything and drop it by,” she said, and then added, “people did that for me when my kids were really little and getting out was too hard.”
It wasn’t me that helped her back then. But someone did. And she accepted.
Now, it’s my turn.