I have learned a thing or two about asking for help these past two weeks. I’m not sure why I’ve long been hesitant to ask for help, but I’ve got my theories. Maybe I’ve wanted to prove to my parents or to myself how much I could accomplish “All By Myself” (hear that 6-year-old voice within? I do!). Maybe because I was raised an only child with no cousins and we moved all over, a lot, I just got used to not knowing enough people nearby to bother asking. Maybe I simply grew up in a culture that puts too much of a value on privacy and independence, on “dealing with it ourselves.” Maybe I just haven’t been connected enough—haven’t prioritized getting connected, enough—to community to have people to call upon in times of need.
My partner Cathy has really been teaching me to ask for help. Most recently, our little Robin has been hospitalized twice in the past month for an infected congenital cyst and we have been right there with her at every moment. That means that all our other routines have been put on hold—all our routines: work, bills, laundry, groceries, cooking, e-mail, even refilling the cat’s water bowl (sorry, cats!).
In the big picture of our and Robin’s lives, we are fine. This is Life! I expect life (and parenting especially) to be filled with both joy and challenges. In the short-term, this cyst thing is, quite literally, a pain in the neck. We have to obsessively watch and clean R’s neck while we wait for the infection to completely subside, treat her for diarrhea caused by the infection-fighting antibiotic, and count the days until we can hopefully have another surgery to remove the cyst entirely.
In the meantime, I have learned a lot about the grace, goodness, laughter, kale, quinoa and polenta tamales that can come with asking for help. During times of stress, thank goodness for friends who cook. Thank goodness for neighbors who bring brownies and air mattresses to the hospital, for colleagues who set up meal delivery schedules online, bring daffodils in biodegradable cornstarch cups, and remind a worried parent to step outside for a little sunlight. Thank goodness for building-mates who bring accumulating newspapers and fresh diaper deliveries inside. Thank goodness for family friends who come over to visit and listen, hold the baby and happily eat whatever smorgasbord of leftovers can be assembled and heated up. Thank goodness for healthcare providers who gently say “she’ll be okay” and reassuringly repeat “you’re good parents.” Thank goodness for new friends who don’t hesitate when asked to do loads (and loads) of baby laundry.
At some point a neighbor-mama sat in our living room with me and spelled it out: “These days…when we’re all so busy…we need a reason to connect. An impetus. We need to be asked…but we all want something to do, a way to help each other out. Caring for each other through a crisis…however ultimately minor…helps us all have a stronger community.”
A couple of hospitalizations quickly puts my usual, day-to-day worries and to-do lists into perspective. One of the things I’ve re-learned is that cultivating time with friends—“hanging out”—is actually much more important than a lot of the stuff I usually feel like Must Get Done. Cause it’s the friends who are lasting, it’s the friends who are flexible and can change their schedules around and show up, it’s the friends who are going to be there to help during the rough times. It’s the friends who make us laugh, who dance to Teenage Dream in the hospital room while the baby is on “contact precautions” and can’t leave the room for days, it’s the friends who keep us company (and help keep us grounded, healthy, and sane) while we deal with the inevitabilities of life.
Thank you to all of you. We’re washing out your tupperware, your Pyrex and your Calphalon, and looking forward to returning each and every favor. Just, please: let us know what’s going on in your lives. Ask for help. Be specific, say “quinoa,” say “laundry,” say “cat food.” We’re on it. We’ve got recipes. We’ve got daffodils. We’ve got dishsoap. And we know that we need you as much as you, at some point, might need us.