My baby sister turns 50 this year.
I’ve always looked out for her, big-sistered her, cherished her. And this year, she turns 50 and I have to reluctantly admit to myself that she is no longer a baby.
She has a job of responsibility, including a promotion – up two grades – that she earned for herself. She has two children that she is doing an admirable job raising with love. She has a husband who is balancing work full-time and school full-time. And she is managing my mother’s finances and caregiving; this year, with little help from me – since I am stuck across the country and can’t come out to spell her as I usually do – or my other sister. And her health is challenging – she is in constant pain, pain so bad that she can’t sleep which – if you’ve ever experienced serious insomnia – makes everything else much worse than it has to be.
Add to that, the joys of Covid: two teens and a husband studying at home on wi-fi that, for some reason, has stopped working as of January 1; paid caregivers for my mom who distrust the healthcare system, don’t believe in masking or quarantining, and are reluctant to get vaccinated; the challenges of getting healthcare appointments. Add to that the red tape every time she goes to the doctor, every time an appointment is missed – for her own reasons or the doctor’s (sometimes Covid-related, sometimes not) – it takes weeks to get back on the doctor’s roster, weeks to coordinate getting tested for anything, even not Covid related.
Her life is very complicated right now.
It feels like everyone else in her life is taking care of themselves, taking up the space and time that they need to comfort themselves and keep their spirits up. She’s not taking up the space and time that she needs to comfort herself or keep her own spirits up.
When she has a doctor’s appointment at the other end of town and mom’s caregiver du jour calls to say she needs to run an urgent personal errand for an hour, she feels she can’t rely on her husband who works a block from Mom’s house to run over and fill in.
When the wifi goes down, everyone asks her what’s wrong and expects her to fix it, as if she could. And, until that happens, they camp out next to the router, which is in her bedroom.
When she finishes picking up groceries for herself and Mom, and drops by Mom’s house with them, and sits beside Mom for a half-hour and asks how she is, Mom doesn’t even turn off the TV to have a conversation.
The tiny bit of space she had carved out for herself in her home, a place to self-nurture by sewing or jigsaw-puzzling, has been occupied by a little father-son Lego bonding since Christmas.
When she comes home after a crazy day juggling doing her job and learning all the new responsibilities she has, doing 3-way calling with the wi-fi provider and her kids, racing all over town trying to get a diagnosis for her pain, trying to pick up prescriptions that didn’t get called in because the doctor’s office closed early for a long weekend, shuttling groceries to Mom and arguing with caregivers about masking, and arguing with my other sister – who is at least on the same coast – about visiting, the house is dark and cold and no one has started dinner.
They just want her to do something about the wi-fi.
This is, I recognize, not an uncommon story. So many people are suffering now. Moms, working moms, working moms who are also caregivers, moms who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, moms who have been furloughed or laid off and are scrambling to get unemployment and food stamps and pantry donations, moms who are homeless, moms who are worried about their kids and remote schooling, moms who are sick, moms who are in pain and don’t have a diagnosis.
Moms who just want a kind conversation and a little space of their own, five minutes of privacy in the bathroom, someone to listen to them and acknowledge everything their up against, someone to come for the weekend and spell them so they can recharge, set down all that they carry before picking it back up again.
Someone to figure out WTF is wrong with the wi-fi because when, on top of everything else, did moms become responsible for network support?
My heart goes out to all the moms out there. You’re doing an awesome job. I know it doesn’t always feel like it – when you’re juggling 10 chainsaws, you tend to focus on the one you dropped – but I see you, I see what you’re doing and I admire you for all that you do.
This is where I have to resist going into big-sister mode and telling you how to fix all this. – Call a family meeting! Order a meal service so you can assign dinner-prep to the kids! Call the GeekSquad and pay them to fix the wi-fi! Reorganize the caregiving schedule! Drive Mom to the next town on the chance you can get a Covid shot there! Order your groceries online! Demand your hobby space back OR find different hobby space!
Moms don’t need people telling them what to do or adding things to their list.
They need a hug. They need a Thank You. They need compassion. They need people to take things off their list, without asking, without pointing it out. (They’ll notice; moms do.)
They need to come home from work every now and then and find the lights on, gentle music in the background, and dinner on the table.
And no complaints about wi-fi.