By Gregory Keer
For my fifth date with Wendy Bass, I invited her to the park to meet my kid. No, not my offspring, but something better – the 10-month-old child I was babysitting. While my friends and family had opinions about more suitable jobs for a 24-year-old dude in graduate school, my goal that day was to impress Wendy, who worked as a child development specialist.
So, when Wendy arrived, I was already flexing my baby-feeding skills, delivering spoonfuls of strained carrots with practiced dexterity.
She was impressed. Not with me, but with the adorable wee one.
“Come here, little guy,” she said brightly. “Let’s go see the trees.”
With that, she lifted him and toured him around the park, pointing out leaves, branches, and squirrels while narrating everything in vivid detail. The baby giggled endlessly and I knew I’d found the future mother of my children.
Flash forward to the present mother of my children.
“If I have to make another lunch my kids don’t eat, I’m going to freakin’ flip out!”
“What do you mean my son has another cavity? Does he even have that many teeth?”
“Get your butts into the car or I swear I’ll drive to the school bus without you!”
Funny how 15 years of parenting your own children goes from a walk in the park to an inner circle of fire filled with exasperation and nonsensical threats.
In the years I’ve known her, my wife has shown the cheerfulness and strength of maternal characters you read about in Southern novels, but the moments of trial and tribulation have certainly tested her mettle. This last year alone, she’s labored exhaustively to find the right middle school for our 11 year old and the best mix of freedom and restriction for our teen while dealing with increasing pressures at work, home refinancing, and health concerns about our parents.
It’s not that she’s had to do any of this alone. We battle together through it all and — because we both have diarrhea of the mouth — share every fear and frustration on the phone, email, and pillow.
Yet, I worry about how much joy gets sucked out of this woman who does so much to ensure our family’s happiness.
Recently, a change in the school district’s start of the academic year combined with a further squeeze on our finances caused us to end an 11-year run at family camp. For more than a decade, the camp gave us playtime with our kids in nature, liberty from the rat race for a designated week each year, and friends that we all grew older with. My wife and I spent days fiddling with the calendar and crunching the budget until we finally had to face reality. For Wendy, who originally got us in to the camp by working as a guest-lecturer, this decision hit her particularly hard.
“I never wanted to end a family tradition,” she said, tears welling up as we tried to fall asleep the night we made the decision.
Although my wife melts into tears on rare occasions, this latest rainfall resulted from the overall toll of the family-work grind. It was the relentlessness of obligation combined with Wendy’s own drive to keep things adventurous and gleeful.
My concern for Wendy reached its peak because I hadn’t seen her so drained. So my sons and I got proactive to fill her back up.
Ari (8) now makes sure he takes a break from his Minecraft obsession and voracious reading habit to allow Wendy to read to him the books she loved as a kid, the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Wendy barely allows me in the kitchen (I do suck at cooking), yet Jacob (11) will not be denied. Along with the food he’s burned, there are the veggies he roasts and the desserts he concocts to make Mom’s life easier.
Our teenager, Benjamin, has even emerged from his responsibility cocoon to take care of the dog, the dirty dishes, (occasionally) his laundry, and transportation arrangements to and from activities.
For my part, I switch days with Wendy to shuttle the kids, make (or bring in) more meals, and take the boys out so she can have alone time. I do this since she refills me when I need help and since she just plain deserves it.
Perhaps the most important thing I do, though, is remind her that she can indeed slow down and draw shade from the trees she’s planted. Her children and I are there for her because she has nourished us so conscientiously.
Happy Mother’s Day, Wendy.