The first nurse I interview is just OK. She’s fine. I don’t think she’d kill my kid. She’s fine.
But she’s not great.
Second nurse is very young. She’s fine. But when I tell her I’m looking for someone who’s willing to engage with him, play with him, read to him, take him for walks, she nods and says, “It makes the day go faster when you do that kind of stuff.”
I think about job interviews I had in my mid-20s, in which I gave equally bad answers. I want to take her by the shoulders and tell her, “Oh honey, no, that was your opportunity to say, ‘I love to read to kids!’ or ‘How close is the nearest park?’”
I’m getting concerned about the candidate pool.
But then comes Lyla. Smile creases around her eyes, drawn-on eyebrows, wavy red hair, and a long drawl.
“How long have you been a nurse?” I ask.
“Oh,” she says, rolling her eyes up to the heavens, trying to do the math, “twenty…four years? I put myself through nursing school after my first six kids were born.”
“Do you have experience with…?” and I ask about all the things: oxygen, g-tube, children with Down syndrome.
“Yes… yes… yes, we have a special needs outreach program at my church,” she says, and looking at Arlo adds, “Well, isn’t he just a doll baby?!”
Why, yes. Yes, he is, I want to say. You’re hired.
Seeing the bookshelf, she continues, “I love to read to children. I have a patient right now, little boy with Cystic Fibrosis, and his parents get him all these mechanical toys, but he loves it when I read to him, so that’s what we do most of the time.”
Fourth nurse is fine. She’s fine. Lots of experience. But I’m not in love with her. I feel OK about it though because Lyla.
And then comes Marlah. Dark skin and a colorful blouse. Worked at both big university hospitals in the area over her career. After 30 years, she retired and now does in-home care part-time. “Can I hold him?” she asks. “He is just a doll.”
And she loves to read to kids.
I call the nursing company and tell them I want to hire Lyla and Marlah.
Perfect, they say. One will do Monday through Wednesday, the other Thursday and Friday, and they’ll be able to cover for each other if they need to be out.
I don’t want to go to work. I spend a lot of time every day not wanting to go to work.
“Hi, may I speak to Craig Parnell?” I say.
“He no longer works here,” replies the government man on the other end of the line, surly. Surlily. What’s the adverb of surly?
“Oh,” I say. My case manager–I’m going to call her Effie, short for Ineffectual, and also eff her–had given me Craig’s name so I could follow up on something I really thought she should be doing, but she was going on vacation, and she didn’t offer that someone else in her office would pick up the ball, so. “Well, maybe you could help me,” I continue. “My son was approved for nursing care through CAP-C. I’m just calling to make sure the CAP codes are in the system.” I give him Arlo’s name and social security number.
“I haven’t received anything from your case management company,” Surly says, in a defiant tone.
My shoulders start scrabbling up my neck. I take a breath. “Nothing?” I say gently. “I was told they’d get the paperwork to you, and the CAP codes would be in a week later. I’m supposed to start work in three days.”
“Well, I don’t know why they told you that,” he says, curbing his rudeness not one iota. “It takes longer than a week.”
Somebody told me that one county over they get this shit done in 24 to 48 hours, but because I’m a Southern Lady, I don’t scream that in his fucking ear.
I leave a voicemail for the director of my case management company. Hang up; stare at the phone. I dial again and leave a voicemail for some other random case manager, hoping she’ll take pity on me and do her colleague’s job.
Miracle of miracle, she does. She calls back and says the notes indicate paperwork was faxed eight days prior. Clearly Effie didn’t call to confirm that it arrived or she would’ve found out that her contact didn’t even work there anymore. But Pity Manager says she’ll re-fax it and follow up.
I thank her. I feel like the gears are starting to turn. But there’s no way the nurses will be able to start Monday. I call my sister, who’s off for the summer. “You’re on for next week,” I tell her. She’s happy to do it.
Christmas PJs in July. They fit and have snaps to accommodate the feeding tube. Whatever works.
So much frowning and fretting. Pitching internal temper tantrums about going back to work.
But one long afternoon, as I stand yet again with a crying baby on my hip, another crying baby on the floor, and stare out the living room window, I think, “What if it’s not terrible?”
Being home by myself is lonely. It’s too hot to go outside, and besides, we’re still tethered to the feeding pump, the oxygen tank.
Back in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, one of the skills I learned was Participate. That is, say yes. Wake up, get up, show up, and act as if you care. See what happens. The leader of my group would say, “I like to think of participating as giving yourself the opportunity to be surprised.”
I have little choice about going back to work. Might as well give myself the opportunity to be surprised.
I don’t actually have to be there at 7:15 the first week because it’s teacher workdays, but my goal is to do dry runs until I get the timing right.
At 6:15am, my sister comes by and whisks Arlo away. Barely registers. After all, he’s just going with Auntie Wa. She’s my boys’ second mom.
Dropping Patrick at daycare is another story. It’s not the provider–she seems wonderful. It’s just. I just.
But after my tearful goodbye, I go to work and get ‘er done. At 2:45, I’m OTD and speeding, a little bit, toward my guys. Patrick looks tired and kind of unsettled. At home, he conks out. My sister brings Arlo back. And we’re all together again.
Next day, same thing, except I don’t cry at drop-off. Piece of cake! When I pick him up, the provider tells me Patrick tried to bite another kid.
Day 3 I’m weepy again. What the hell, man? But I chug through. We chug through. No more attempted bitings.
On Friday, the provider shows me a video. In it, she puts a toy on her head and pretends to sneeze. The toy goes flying off. Patrick cackles. Repeat. For two minutes.
We’re gonna be OK.
The students come back, and I get into a familiar groove. Smile. Give clear instructions. Let them make mistakes. If a kid is misbehaving, acknowledge the kid who’s behaving.
And just like that, I’m doing it. I’m working. It’s not ideal, but it’s not terrible. I miss the boys, which is bittersweet. The afternoon reunion smiles are all the love of the world in a moment.
And the interaction with human beings outside my house is generally refreshing.
And the assistant principal observes my class and later sends me an email saying that she’s so glad I’m back and that I’m so good at this job. And I am. I can say that without reservation now. Last year, when I was out, sixth grade reading scores dipped. Not psyched for those students, but it’s validating. I make a difference in kids’ lives.
So yeah, I’m a working single mom, who’s making it work.
Only problem is I don’t have time to write. Just this, a fortnightly shitty first draft. Maybe in a bit I’ll hit my stride and be able to carve out some bloggy time.
But maybe this is the end of Baby Happy Pants as we know it.
Or maybe it’s the start of something else.
I’m going to give myself the opportunity to be surprised.