Wednesday, July 15, 2009
A family unit is a strange and wonderous organism. We don't get to choose our families, but they are ours. My experience of growing up in my family was sweet, fun and comforting for me. I had the confidence stability and love brings and always felt surrounded by luck and good fortune. I was only 13 or 14 when my sister left for college and my brother was off the following year. Neither of them ever returned to live with us, not even for the summers. My sister got married right out of school and my brother went onto Law School in D.C. then to jobs in L.A. It was and really has been, just me and my parents for a very long time. We all got together regularly for holidays and special occasions, but that feeling of a family of people surrounding you, was lost to me for sometime. Twenty-odd years later, enter Jeff. One of four siblings and New York based parents, my life now feels filled with a plethora of new family members. There are lots of children and cousins abound and they love to get together and have a good time while they are at it.
One truly amazing by-product of my union with Jeff is that our parents have become very fond of one-another. They are all about the same age, love NYC and are cultured, well-read, card-carrying liberal city dwellers. Jeff's Mom and Step-dad Jonfer live at 180 Riverside Blvd. overlooking the Hudson and my parents live at 180 East End Avenue overlooking the East River. They are a perfect compliment to eachother. Phoebe is so very lucky to have two sets of grandfolks in New York and I feel nothing but gratitude to have them all nearby.
So what a pleasure it was to spend July 4th week up at our place in Vermont with Lynn, John, Jeff, Michael and my parents. It rained all week. I was down with various stomach aliments, and yet, it was all good. I had so many hands on deck to help while I was feeling ridiculously ill. My man stepped up, as he always does, and took Phoebe off my hands on more than one occasion. I was surrounded by family. It is certainly a different kind of family than I grew up with, and it's nothing like what I might have expected to find when I got to adulthood, but it is a beautiful surprise. We may have been there celebrating Independence Day, but it is our dependance on one another that really marked the holiday for me.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
A good babysitter is hard to find. In the year and a half Antonia was working with me and Phoebe, she was often hard to find. She had a cell phone she would put minutes on, then not have enough money to renew the card. She was evicted from the first place she lived, and I never knew her next address– only that it was a basement apartment that was moldy and rodent infested and landed her asthmatic child in the hospital more than once. Antonia had it hard. A single mother of two, an illegal alien from Trinidad, a struggling 7th Day adventist who tried to put her trust in God every day and for 10 hours on a Saturday church pew. But for all her troubles and failings, she was wonderful with Phoebe. I often envied how she could make her giggle. Those two were always laughing and dancing and singing. Antonia is also an incredible cook. Because of her, Phoebe eats everything from spicy spinach to garlicky daal.
Then one day, she just didn't show up. And not the next day or the day after. She literally disappeared. I could not reach her on the phone she did not have. No one knew what might have happened to her. Her Aunt works for family friends of mine, and they had no word on her at all. I thought she might have been deported, or that something may have happened to her or her children. We had been so intertwined for more than a year of Phoebe's life, I couldn't help but be worried. Then a few days after the disappearance, one nanny in the building said she heard from Antonia. She told the woman that she had fallen into a depression and could not call me. Then after days of not getting in touch, she was too ashamed to call. Depression is an illness for the moneyed classes. If you are poor you won't get medication or therapy, or perhaps even understanding from those around you. You either deal with it, or you can't. How very sad.
Phoebe still asks for "Toni" every now and then. I just tell her she's gone home and leave it at that. She was not the easiest person to deal with. We had our conflicts and troubles as most people have with someone who works in their home. As professional and detached as you want to be, when someone is caring for your child, when they are in your apartment all day long, a very different employer/employee relationship emerges. I tried to strike a balance between compassion and detachment. No small task. Antonia had all the odds against her. But she was wonderful to my child and we will miss so many things about her.
These days, I'm in transition. I am struggling with a new combination of people and more time with Phoebe. I get to save some money and have more time with my amazing child, but I am exhausted. Every mother needs help one way or another. I'm just trying to find the right balance and the right people to place around my precious girl. Hopefully, I'll get there.