Help Wanted is coming soon! Another chapter to make you quiver with anticipation. Or something like that.
2.BACK TO THE REAL WORLD
Amy didn’t have to wait long for more details. Rita tried several more times to contact Paul and he rebuffed her diversely. He wouldn’t answer her calls or her pings. Her emails got responses full of curses. Finally he blocked her on Gmail and that was pretty much that.
Amy: For someone who wants space to make up her mind, she sure is throwing herself at you. What’s up with that?
Paul Fournier: I know! Head-games. I refuse to play them. I’m done with her.
Then Amy didn’t hear from Paul for a while. She didn’t seek him out because she wasn’t sure she wanted to know how things went down with Rita. She figured that he’d contact her either when he needed her or when things calmed down and he was bored some day. She had better things to do with her time than pester someone for internet chatting. If she wanted online company, there was still Musikland. Amy and Paul had been friends online for years, spent countless hours talking about hopes and dreams, trials and tribulations. But every now and then a few weeks would pass without conversation.
Eventually Amy’s maternity leave came to an end. It happened to occur just after Jennifer finished school for the year. Amy did some hard thinking and decided to ask Jennifer to watch Maggie during her summer vacation.
Jennifer had just turned thirteen and had been looking forward to long summer days without parental supervision, so she wasn’t immediately thrilled by the idea. When Amy offered to pay her for her efforts, and suggested that there might be the occasional evening outing permitted, the teenager changed her mind. All of that would cost Amy considerably less than standard day-care. Most day-care facilities didn’t accept babies under six months old. Those that did charged outrageously for them. This put working mothers – especially single working mothers with only twelve weeks of maternity leave – in a very hard financial position. With Jennifer’s help, Amy would save a lot of money. Amy needed all the help she could get; she hadn’t been making full pay while on leave.
I was lucky to have been making any money at all, she thought. She was a licensed psychotherapist. If she had a private practice, she would have been dependent on short term disability for income. That’s not literally nothing, but it would be difficult to even pay the rent, much less bills and food. But she worked for a county hospital and had halfway decent benefits, as she thought of them. Working for the county felt precarious these days. It seemed like they were always cutting programs. She’d had a nagging fear throughout her leave that she wouldn’t have a job to go back to.
Her first few weeks back at work exhausted her, and she missed Maggie tremendously. When she’d had Jennifer, she didn’t have a job; she hadn’t had to leave her like this when she was an infant. Jennifer might not be the ideal care-taker for Maggie because of her young age, but it comforted Amy to have Maggie in the care of family. Maggie probably didn’t care, really, but it was a good transition for Amy.
After she got back in the groove, Amy found that her job was less tiring. She found herself spending time on Musikland again and was pleased – tickled even – that she’d been missed. A few old chat buddies pinged her as well, and she felt a little less lonely.
As August rolled around, she started looking into day-care for when Jennifer had to go back to school. To her delight, she found a place very nearby that accepted babies under six months old and would even waive the extra fee for Maggie, since she was only going to be a couple of weeks shy of six months when she started and Amy was willing to leave them a check right then, to be deposited on Maggie’s first day.
It was also the season for the usual fall school shopping. Amy recognized that Jennifer was much more beautiful she herself, although a lot of that was her pointed awareness that her fortieth birthday had come this year. Nonetheless, Amy would not allow Jennifer to dress like a slut, and that was final. No “but moms” were going to change her mind. To make matters more confrontational, mother and daughter had some very different ideas of what constituted dressing like a slut. There were recriminations and whining was involved. There was eye rolling. There was the pointing out of who held the purse strings. Jennifer countered with having a fatter wallet than usual, and Amy saw that and raised with “the roof over your head”. The clothes that went home were flattering, but conservative. The people that went home were sullen and smug, respectively.
Amy asked for a day off on Maggie’s first day of day-care. She didn’t know how it was going to go, and didn’t want to leave her there, only to have to turn around and go back before she even made it to work.
Maggie was a happy healthy baby. She was a little small, but not skinny. That made it easy for her to be a little ahead of the curve as far as some of the strength milestones. That, in turn, made it easier for the day-care center to accept her as an “older baby”
After spending the summer with Jennifer during the day, Maggie didn’t have much in the way of separation anxiety. She was put in a room with kids five to eighteen months old. Maggie was shy of everyone at first and didn’t want Amy to put her down, so Amy sat down on the floor where the babies were doing a sort of free play. That meant they were crawling everywhere; sometimes literally over other babies too slow or preoccupied to get out of the way. Others were playing with blocks or other small toys that could as easily be rolled or stacked as put into one’s mouth.
Maggie sat in Amy’s lap and at first hid her face into the soft comforts of Amy’s chest, but after a minute or so she began to sneak peeks at the scene in front of her. One of the teachers was sitting with the children too, gently negotiating property disputes or soothing a child that had been accidentally injured. Finally Maggie had turned completely around so that she could watch it all at once.
A little girl who had been watching Maggie’s arrival and shy behavior approached. She was obviously one of the oldest children in the group, for she was walking well. She came right up to Maggie, held out a shiny red plastic car and offered it to her.
Maggie instantly hid her face again, but peeked out almost immediately and saw that the car was still being proffered. She cautiously reached her hand out to take it. The little girl beamed with pleasure, turned around and walked away. Maggie took her prize and wriggled out of Amy’s lap. She stretched out on the floor and began to gnaw on the toy. After a short time, Amy stood up and backed away, still watching Maggie and the other babies. Maggie never seemed to notice; she was now having fun, banging the car against the floor and giggling.
A voice just behind and to Amy’s left said, “She’s going to be fine, Ms. Martinez.”
Amy reluctantly tore her eyes away and turned to smile at the young woman who was responsible for the room. “I have the day off. If you need me for anything, call me on my cell phone and I’ll be right over.”
“Of course, Ms. Martinez,” she was reassured. “But we won’t need you, Maggie is going to be fine.
Amy went home. She decided to get on the computer and play around for a bit. First things first, check her email. As soon as she signed in, Bonk!
Paul Fournier: Hi there!!
Amy: Hiya! How’re you?
Paul Fournier: Pretty good! And you?
Amy: Taking the day off, I just took Maggie to day care for the first time. It was Jennifer’s first day of eighth grade. All that mom stuff.
Paul Fournier: Gotcha =)
Amy: How’s the job going?
Paul Fournier: Awesome! I love it!
Amy wanted to know about Rita, but didn’t really want to ask. Maybe if she approached the matter obliquely.
Amy: How are you feeling these days as far as the depression and anxiety go?
Paul Fournier: Better.
Amy: All the way better or just some better?
Paul Fournier: Just some better, I guess. I’ve been trying to take less Ativan
Amy: You need to take charge, you need to tell your doctor that you’re not where you want to be; maybe you need to change medicines. You’ve been on Zoloft long enough to know that it isn’t doing the job.
Paul Fournier: I know.
This wasn’t working. She was going to have to be direct. Beside, Paul probably wasn’t going to follow her advice about the medication anyway; he never did.
Amy: So… Is Rita staying out of your life like she said she was going to?
Paul Fournier: Yeah. She didn’t at first, but eventually she did. Good riddance.
Amy: Well, that’s good, I guess.
Paul Fournier: It is good. ** huggles **
Amy: =) ** huggles **
Amy: So whatchu been up to besides working?
Paul Fournier: Not much. Being a goofball on Musikland. As usual. I don’t have any sort of real-life social life.
Amy: No more e-girlfriends? 😉
Paul Fournier: Hell, no.
But Amy didn’t really believe this. He might not have any relationship going on right this second, sure. But he’d absolutely take anything thrown at him, of this she was sure. He could have any number of cyber friends-with-benefits, and wouldn’t mention this unless it suited him. He never was a kiss-and-tell sort, but somebody leaked something –Amy never did find out what or who was involved – during the Rita meltdown and it made Paul more paranoid than the average bear. Still, he wasn’t as savvy as he could be. Sure, he had his chat set to not record… but there was nothing that could prevent Amy from copying and pasting a conversation into another document. This she occasionally did. The internet is forever, buddy, she thought, shaking her head at him sadly from 3000 miles away.
They talked for hours that day. They talked about food, they talked about traveling, they talked about what they wanted to to with their future and how they could possibly achieve any of their dreams.
Paul Fournier: There’s nothing for me here. I can’t do construction any more. If I lost this nursery gig, I guess I could try to work for a bakery again, but it’s been a lot of years. I don’t know if I could get hired. This place is a dead end.
Amy: I’m only halfway kidding when I say you should try California.
Amy: I don’t know if you’d like it here. It’s not much like were you’re from. But there are more jobs.
Paul Fournier: I dunno, maybe I’ll come visit out there sometime when the nursery is closed in the winter and check it out! ** smooches **
Amy: =) ** smooches **
Around 3:45 Jennifer arrived home from school. Amy savored this day when her daughter would actually tell her what happened at school. The rest of the year Jennifer would claim that “nothing” happened. But today Amy got to hear all about the new classes, the new teachers, which old friends were in her classes, which new friends she had already made… Amy drank it all in.
It seemed like just moments before Amy had to break it off to go pick up Maggie. She invited Jennifer to come with her. They walked the stroller the two blocks. Maggie didn’t see her come in, but when Amy approached her, a smile lit her face and both her arms lifted in the universal gesture for “pick me up”. Amy obliged, then went to talk to one of the room teachers. “How did it go?” she asked.
The young woman seemed almost as chipper this evening as she had in the morning. That’s just not normal, Amy thought.
“Oh she was a doll,” the girl answered. “No trouble at all.” She proceeded to give a detailed list of what Maggie had been fed, when her diaper had been changed, the fact that there had been no negative personal interactions, and no unusual activities for her age. And then she went over the same information on a filled out form, so that Amy would understand that she would get a form like this at the end of each day, in place of lengthy explanations.
Amy then asked if Jennifer could be put on the list of people permitted to pick Maggie up from day-care and was disappointed but unsurprised to be told that since Jennifer was still legally a child that would not be allowed. Amy was gracious about this. She hadn’t expected a different answer, but had had to ask. Jennifer was such a responsible, helpful child.
“Well you dodged a bullet there, didn’t ya kiddo?” Amy joked as they got back to the sidewalk and started home.
Jennifer didn’t miss a bit, “Yep!” And she smiled smugly. The impish twinkle in her eyes showed that she was teasing her mother.
“Well I guess this will just mean I have to make it home on time. I think they sell the kids if you don’t pick them up by closing.”
Amy had been hoping for at least a moment of shock out of Jennifer, but that child was too bright. She just shrugged and said, “Do we get a commission?”
Amy started to chortle, and said “You’re bad!” to her wonderful child.
“You’re laughing; you must be bad too,” Jennifer observed, giggling.
Amy had pretty much wasted her day away talking to Paul, so she had to whip up dinner on the fly. Fortunately the kitchen was always stocked with things that could be thrown together into a nutritious dinner in very little time and with very little effort. So tonight Amy and Jennifer dined on spinach salad with southwest style chicken strips, tomatoes and chunks of mozzarella cheese, with little tiny wedges of mandarin orange thrown in just for fun (and a fruit serving). Amy nursed Maggie and then let her try to feed herself some cheerios and a couple of slices of the mandarin orange.
While Jennifer did the dishes, Amy cooked a mix of ground beef and sausage and then put together a lasagna that they’d eat tomorrow night. Jennifer would put it in the oven when Amy called to say she was on her way home, and they could eat at a reasonable hour. Amy was not just a good cook, but an extremely realistic and organized one. You had to be as a single mother, because the alternative was chaos.
Amy thought about going online to see if Paul was still up. She loved her children very much but sometimes grown-up interactions that didn’t have to do with work – especially the kind of grown ups she did work with – were like a balm to her soul. Even someone as goofy and unpredictable as Paul. She decided, though, not to check. It was 11ish on the east coast and if he wasn’t in bed already, he would be soon.
She sat down on the couch with Jennifer, who had finished her homework. Jennifer had just put on a Disney movie on the chance that Maggie might be interested in it. Amy couldn’t think of anything better to watch or any reason to object to the movie, so she settled in.
Her mind drifted back to Paul and to her reasoning for not signing on. Unpredictable. He was often sweeter than sugar, and came across as a hurting soul that needed some healing before he could really do the good that he wanted to do in the world. He seemed to feel that all the things he wanted were out of his hands, that there wasn’t any way for his circumstances to get better, that it was all hopeless. But when he drank he could range from playful to mean. Amy had learned to just say “good night” if she figured out he’d been drinking. It didn’t do any good to write him an email about whatever painful thing he said or did, because even if he remembered doing it – unlikely – it would essentially be a different person reading it, a person who couldn’t relate to what was being said, and had no idea how to respond to it. His level of flirtatiousness was also completely unpredictable. That seemed to reflect some inner pendulum, mostly independent of alcohol intake. The one steady thing was that they both believed in their friendship. There had been some rocky times, but they were still friends. Amy did love him, in a way. But it was the nonjudgmental love of friendship; slightly held back, because he was not solid ground. An intuition that refused to be shaken told her to be wary.