Staying Present When the Babysitter Calls Out Sick


The babysitter called in sick yesterday.

Actually, she texted in sick.

(For the record, I have come to dread any texts that come in before 8 AM.)

I had spent my shower planning out the work I was going to get done once she showed up (so much for mindful awareness, which, as it turns out, I really could have used that day); the list included revising two book chapters, outlining two more, writing a blog post, preparing two presentations, and getting ready for a class I’m teaching next week.

Needless to say, I freaked out just a little bit when I found out the babysitter wasn’t coming.

The work just wasn’t going to happen. I came to that conclusion fairly quickly, and I regrouped fairly quickly and set up a play date at the local spray park. We had a good time, but all the while my unfinished (and, to be honest, unstarted) work was rumbling in the back of my mind. By the time we left the park to head to the grocery store before lunch, it was more than rumbling. It was almost exploding.

And that’s when the snapping began. Mine, not theirs. My patience virtually disappeared as I let myself worry more and more about everything I needed to get done. I snapped at the girls for putting their hands all over the floor of the public bathroom, and once we got in the car my daughter freaked out because she thought she lost her lovey. I pulled the car over, found the lovey that was sitting in her lap, and pretty much lost it.

I eventually calmed down, and made it through the rest of the day with relatively few freak-outs, thanks to the help of my mother-in-law and husband.

I spent the evening thinking about what had happened, and how I can avoid reacting so poorly to my daughters when plan change in the future. Here’s what I came up with:

Fatigue. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and I woke up tired. The reality is that I have to work extra hard to stay calm when I’m exhausted because my brain just doesn’t work terribly well when it’s not rested

Multi-tasking. I won’t lie. I checked my phone more than once at that spray park; I was trying to arrange a book launch party and the closing of our new house and about twelve other things, and I was able to get most of them done as my daughters splashed around with their friends. It was actually quite helpful.

Until it wasn’t. Until I decided that my daughter’s questions and requests (all quite reasonable, by the way) were an intrusion on the work I was trying to get done. And then I got frustrated because they started nagging me because I was ignoring them and I couldn’t focus on the email I was writing and then I felt even more intruded upon.

Hunger. I did actually remember to bring myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with the girls’ lunch, but it wasn’t enough, and by the time we made it to the grocery store, I was really hungry. And when I get hungry, I get grumpy. This is a well known fact about me, and maybe now I’ll finally get it together to keep some nuts or snack bars in my bag.

Wanting things to be different than they were. Here’s the bottom line. I had planned out a day that involved sitting on my couch in front of my computer, checking things off my list, and generally being in charge of my own time. Instead, I was smothering sunscreen on squirming kids and making treks across hot parking lots for repeated bathroom trips (“Didn’t I just ask you if you needed to go??”) and I was anything but in charge of my own time.

The thing is, it was fun. My girls were great. They were having fun playing with their friends. They were being silly and sweet and funny and they were doing exactly what kids are supposed to do in the last hot, sunny days of summer before they head back to back to early mornings and long days sitting at desks and worksheets forgotten on kitchen tables. I enjoyed some of it, but, to be honest, not enough. Because I was too busy being busy. And I was tired and hungry and trying to get too much done.

There will be days like this again, I’m sure, and I’m hoping I’ll be significantly less grumpy next time. And as much as I’d like to tell myself that that involves getting my girls to behave better or be more patient, the truth is that it requires me to make my self-care a priority, and to focus, whenever I can, on getting my brain out of my work and off my to-do list and come back to what’s right in front of me: two smiling, happy, dripping wet little girls.

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Shared by: Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, Contributing Blogger

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