My good friends just had their second baby -- about a month earlier than they expected. Surprise baby! They also have a two-year-old at home. They also happen to live about 1,000 miles away from their closest relatives. Honestly, I do not know how they are holding it together.
Fortunately for them, we have a really close-knit group of friends who are the next-best thing to family. One friend stayed overnight with the two-year-old while mom and dad were at the hospital for an emergency C-section. Another friend did their dishes. Jeff and I will be helping them haul a crib home for the new baby.
I’ve lived 2,000 miles away from my family since 1998. This means I've missed most holidays and birthdays, not to mention the everyday happenings in my immediate and extended family, for the past 15 years. When it was just me, this was not a big deal. I visited my family whenever I could. My mom visited a couple of times. This was way before Skype or FaceTime, a time when the concept of “video chatting” still just seemed like something from The Jetsons.
It was only when I had Oliver that I really started to miss and appreciate my family. Everyone’s family is different, of course, but my family is close. They will sit in a hospital waiting room all day for each other. They babysit each other’s kids and pets and houses. If one of them finds something awesome and useful, like a giant pancake-flipping spatula \, she will purchase one for every household in the family.
Most importantly, my family offers a built-in childcare network that is 100% free and always open. My stepbrother’s children regularly spend the night at my mom and stepdad’s house. My cousin’s two kids have spent many days at the homes of various relatives. I myself spent a good portion of my childhood at my grandparents’ house.
And it is a damn shame that Oliver does not have this same opportunity. If I had it to do over again, I would have moved near my family the second I found out I was pregnant.
There are many complicated reasons why I did not. There are many complicated reasons why I cannot now (not least of which is my hippie family and our future alpaca farm).
I’m certain that I am not going to have any more babies. The number one reason? I do not want to raise a second child without the love and support of close relatives who live nearby. (Second reason: I really, really do not want to start over with a newborn now that I'm living the good life of the part-time parent of the world’s best eight-year-old.)
Let me tell you a story about the first time Oliver got that killer stomach bug: It was pure hell. Seth was out of town for work. I had a couple of friends who could offer limited help (and thank the universe for them, truly). But what I really needed was a relative who I could call and ask to come over at 3:00 am with some Pedialyte because I certainly could not go to the grocery store with a puking toddler. It was then that I knew how invaluable the simple love and care of family can be to raising a child.
Of course, it would be dishonest to say that I have no support network. Ironically, getting a divorce was the catalyst for creating said support network; now it is not just me and Seth taking care of Oliver, but our significant others as well. That is four responsible adults in the greater Los Angeles area who would take care of my child, even if he were vomiting. Add this to a close-knit group of friends who I can rely on when things get tough -- and that is the next-best thing to having my mom here.
Do you live far away from your family? Do you find that it makes being a parent, um, challenging? Or maybe you live near your family and cannot wait to get away from them, I don’t know. Also, I’m going back to Iowa for Thanksgiving for the first time in something like 13 years and I am STOKED.
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.