When Jamie’s name appears on the caller ID, I know it can’t be good. I always hold my breath when she calls because I imagine she might be calling to tell me they used the epi-pen and Sam is now on his way to the hospital. I am lying sideways in my Lazy-boy, trying to find a way to feel comfortable when I see her number on my cell. Every muscle and joint in my body aches and I feel much older than my forty-four years. I just brought a pyrex bowl of plain white rice back to the kitchen after sampling a few bites and deciding I wasn’t ready to eat when the phone rang.
Sometimes I call Jamie our “daycare provider” but over the years she has become so much more than that. She is a friend, an advice giver, a consultant, a teacher, a partner in crime, and very frequently a therapist and rescuer. Sam calls her family. I call her Wonder Woman. When she closed the daycare earlier in the week because she was “in no shape to watch kids” we all knew it had to be something nasty. Jamie never gets sick. Jamie is the one that takes care of all of us — children and parents. After a day of rest she was back on her feet and the daycare was open and all of the parents breathed a sigh of relief. Whew.
I texted Jamie at 5am that I was puking, and she volunteered to drive out to the country in the dark to gather my children before all her other kids arrived. She came to my door and I handed her my sleepy children, still in their pajamas. She soothed them both and tucked them in her van and waved as she pulled away, planning to give me twelve hours to rest and medicate. And when I asked her later in the day if she could keep them overnight, she said what she always says, “No problem.”
I often wish I had the time and energy to write an impassioned letter to one of those home makeover shows about this woman and the way she cares for her community without ever asking for anything in return. She is the reason I am able to manage two children on my own. I’m not on my own. I have Jamie.
In the Lazy-Boy I sit up and answer the phone and say “This can’t be good” before I even say hello.
Jamie asks if I saw her earlier messages, and I see now that she texted twice while I was taking hot baths number 3 and 4 as I attempted to soothe my aching body.
Sam has thrown up. Sam has it too.
I say a little prayer of thanks that I didn’t actually take the Tylenol with codeine, and I line the inside of the car with blankets and towels and a bucket. When I arrive at Jamie’s Sam is curled up under a blanket on the bathroom floor, sound asleep. He is a four-year-old boy so he is seldom this still. Even in his sleep he moves and kicks and squirms and talks about diggers and bad guys. I lift him, and Jamie follows behind me to open my car door and hand me a Target bag filled with vomit-covered clothes, and I thank God once again for this woman who makes my life possible.
When I get Sam home I bundle him with blankets and turn on Nick Jr. He asks for apple juice and I sit with him while he sips it. And I’m in the laundry room piling his coat and hat and pants from that morning into the washing machine when he tells me he’s going to puke just before he sprays corn all over the bathroom rug. I tell him it’s okay and I help him back to the couch before cleaning up the mess and realizing that having a sick kid makes you forget all your own aches and pains.
People often ask me how I do it, how I manage to be a sole parent of two kids. And I usually tell them that it really isn’t that extraordinary, that our family isn’t any different than any two-parent family. We have logistical challenges that other families might not have, but I also don’t have to find time to balance a relationship with the demands of a family. Every family has to find balance, and for the most part I feel like our family is just like any other.
Until I’m sick.
And then we have Wonder Woman.
Barb Matousek writes about her life as a single mother on her blog, barbsproject.blogspot.com and this essay originally appeared on thenextfamily.com.