I sacrificed a lot these past few weeks, though. My daily meditation. My bouts of kung fu and hill running. Healthy eating. Equanimity with my children. So it seems that perhaps the benefits of taking so many courses at once do not outweigh the costs. I think I'll take on a lighter load next semester.
And by the by, in all of my research I discovered this interesting tidbit: a fully-functioning adult has, in general, only about 50% of her attentional processes free to devote to the needs of another. A young child, however, who is unable to care for himself, is hardwired to demand 100% of his caregiver's attention. Therefore, that niggling feeling that we can never give our kids all that they want---that we are never ENOUGH, somehow---is not a shortcoming in our parenting ability. It's biology. This is where those of you with caring and committed mates cash in---50% of you plus 50% of him/her is a pretty nice equation for your offspring.
There are certainly moments when I am utterly convinced that I am not equal to the task of raising my boys. Now I know why. And it helps, oddly.
This is getting long, but I wanted to relate this story:
This time last year, I had just initiated divorce proceedings from my husband of five years and moved out into a large sublet I could ill-afford. I had a barely-one-year-old and a traumatized, angry five-year-old and a daunting bicycle commute and a lot of emotions. I desperately wanted to create a memorable, warm, loving Christmas for my children. I needed to prove to myself that I could create a joyful family on my own.
So, when my then-5 year old begged for a Christmas tree (my ex had never allowed one) I was determined to make it happen. We walked a few miles to the closest purveyor of trees and I juggled a fussy infant while trying to talk my excited son down from the $80 eight-footer to the only one in my budget, a puny 4-foot fir. I paid for the tree and we started down the sidewalk, my son skipping with glee. That's when I realized there was no way I could carry my baby and that tree at the same time. Oh, I tried! I lashed the thing to my back---boughs scraped the baby's face. I rigged up a little towline---the friction tore off needles and branches. I alternated tucking it under my arms and hugging it with the baby on my back---too dangerous. Couldn't see. Finally I announced that we were going to take the tree on the bus. I got change from a very nice storekeeper and we waited a while at the stop. The first bus was too crowded to even think about shoehorning my suddenly multi-speciate family in there. The next bus didn't come for another half an hour. Baby was shrieking. Boy was restless and whiny. I stepped aboard the bus and put my change in. Then I went back for the tree, and the driver stopped me.
"You can't put that thing in here," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Please," I said, "It's our Christmas tree. I have to get it home. I'll just pop it in the way back and make sure it doesn't hit anybody and we're only a few stops away and it's their first tree..." I must have babbled for a few minutes at least, but the driver was unmoved. He drove away without us.
"Well, the next driver will be nicer," I said to the boys, mustering up some false cheer. In truth, I was near tears. That's when I realized I had put the last of my money in the Meanie's fare box. We couldn't afford another bus.
I don't know what I would have done next. I was at my wit's end.
(If you are wondering why I hadn't simply called a friend from the beginning, I can explain. It hadn't occurred to me. Remember, I wasn't sleeping---baby! new house! divorce!---and also, I was under the severe misapprehension that I had to prove, in these first few months alone, that I was TOTALLY self sufficient and could do EVERYTHING perfectly all by myself, or I would lose my kids.)
That's when the angel showed up.
She drove a blue SUV with a 4-year-old boy in the back. She pulled right up to the curb alongside me and called out "Do you need a lift with that thing?"
She helped me tie the tree to the top of her car. She made room inside for my entire brood and even shifted her son out of his carseat so we could put the baby in it. She told me she had seen me walking out of the tree lot and was shocked when she saw I was going to try to carry the thing home.
"Oh, were you buying a tree too?" I asked.
"No, we're Jewish," she laughed. "This is probably the only chance I'm ever going to get to tie an evergreen onto my car!" My heart spilled over. I felt like Mary being offered the stable. I felt like the beaten Jew who was helped out of the gutter by a despised Samaritan. All those holiday-good-cheer-fellow-man cliches suddenly seemed true and present and real. I did tear up, but she was nice enough to pretend not to notice.
They drove us right to our door, that wonderful family, and we waved goodbye with real warmth. I swept Xir up in a hug and said "Wasn't that AMAZING!"
"What do you mean?" he said. "We needed help and they helped us. That's how you be nice."
Thank you, unknown woman, for the kindness you showed that day. You cannot know how much it meant. May everyone "be nice" to you forever and ever, and happy Hannukah.