Inexplicably, one of my favourite songs is Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”
I heard it for the first time when I was about 11 years old. I love knowing the lyrics to songs, and I memorized that sucker right away and have been singing it under my breath for the past 20 years.
Let me tell you, those lyrics have come in handy. The main chunk, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…” has become one of my mantras. Mostly the “fold ’em” part. There is probably a proper term for the main chunk of lyrics in a song but I spent grade 7 music class picking sour keys out of my braces and lusting after boys, so I don’t know what it is.
Anyway, my practice of stopping every now and then in life to make sure that I’m aware of “when to fold ’em” has saved me from many a mishap. For me, “folding” is not quite like the poker game sense of bowing out. Instead, it means admitting I need help, and asking for it. In fact, with Kenny Rogers as my spirit guide, I’ve become quite adept at asking for and accepting help. These days, if you come to dinner at my house and ask if there’s something you can do, you’ll probably end up chopping garlic or doing some other shitty task.
Never have I sought solace in the “know when to fold ’em” wisdom more than in the weeks following the birth of my kid. 51 weeks, to be precise… And counting!
When he was brand new, my hands were busy coaxing a tiny blob with no neck control and a yet-to-be-diagnosed tongue tie into breastfeeding. At the same time, internally, my hormones most resembled a digital weather map of Hurricane Katrina. Kenny Rogers’ deep and husky voice drifted into my head and I reminded myself to know when to fold ’em.
Asking for help saved my sanity on my son’s third day of life, when my milk hadn’t come in yet and he was acting hungry and I was feeling stressed to the point of nausea. I flushed my pride down the toilet and called a nursing mother friend and sobbed and blatantly asked her for some breastmilk from her freezer supply of pumped milk. I don’t remember coming up with this idea, I only remember phoning. I then called my midwife and asked if that was okay, as I didn’t yet want to give the baby formula.
My midwife told me that while “human milk donation” (grossest term ever?) is done all over the world, formally and informally, there were a few risks I should consider in an unvetted donor like my friend. Such as hepatitis. She said the baby was probably fine for now without milk, and that if my milk wasn’t in by that afternoon, she would pop by and we would see about trying some formula. What I heard was a green light and a way out of this interminable waiting period between birth and breastmilk. Because “this afternoon” might as well have been “two Januarys from now.”
My friend arrived at my door minutes later, and I started to collapse in relief at the sight of her baggies of frozen milk. I had never felt so raw or so vulnerable, and here she was to save me from the worst case scenario fear mongering devils that live in my head. Tears sprang anew. She pulled me into her arms and said, “You just had a baby. You are both healthy and you are both going to be fine.”
I leaned into her, snot and tears flowing from my face onto her shirt, shoulders heaving, and said, “I’m supposed to ask if you have hepatitis.”
This was a very intimate moment between friends. But I don’t restrict my help-seeking to close friends. Oh no! I spread the love. No one is safe. NO ONE.
Another unglamorous example of me deciding to fold ’em is the time I asked my neighbour to come over and hold my baby because I had bronchitis and had just coughed so hard that I simultaneously threw up and peed my pants.
I have a friend who has a seriously balls-to-the-wall career. She cut her maternity leave short to set boardrooms on fire as a VP at a major company. Total bad-ass babe.
She recently told me that sometimes she feels guilty for having a nanny instead of staying home with her baby. She said she also feels guilty because she spends time on the weekends cleaning when she would rather be interacting with her little guy. I told her she is incredible for working so hard and being such a great mom and that maybe she could consider hiring a cleaning service. I then trailed off and ended with mumbling “you gotta know when to fold ’em.”
Welllllll, my friend grabbed onto that sucker like I grabbed onto the last rib at the fancy buffet in Las Vegas when the the manager came over and said he did not want to hear more complaints about there not being enough ribs because they were closing in 10 minutes and I had better sit down. As a hypothetical example, of course.
My friend said that thinking of her situation as a choice, wherein she could decide when she had reached her limit and seek help, took the guilt out of spending money to do things she could theoretically do herself (but would have made her miss out on better things).
In a rare moment of constructive friend advice, I suggested to her that maybe guilt is optional..? And then we had more wine and got really into this idea.
Guilt is f*cking optional, bitchesssssss!
Feeling guilty? How about don’t.
Did you make the right choice for you and your family? Yes? THE END.
But what about…? No! THE END, I said!
Obviously, hiring people to do things only goes so far for anyone’s budget, and is often a non-starter. But that doesn’t mean that the ghost of Kenny Rogers can’t help everyone. Is he still alive? I’m too lazy to google.
Knowing when to fold ’em might help in not taking on certain things. Don’t think you have time/money/patience/desire to plan a Pinterest-style birthday party? Just don’t! Here’s a secret: no one cares.
I don’t know why I find it fairly easy to ask for help or to not do things that are
too hard not a priority. Maybe this whole spiel is a justification for my laziness. Especially considering that my kid’s first birthday is around the corner and my party theme idea of “mom gets drunk” was shot down.
At the risk of adding smelly incense to the raging self-congratulatory stink of this post, I’ll say that I’m proud that I remind myself to ask for help. And to keep an eye/ear out for friends who might need a hand.
51 weeks ago, I didn’t end up needing to thaw that frozen milk from my (hepatitis-free) human milk donor. My milk came in two hours after she left. But her act of showing up like my lactation fairy godmother was, and always will be, one of the most significant things any person has ever done for me.
And I give myself some credit (as I am prone to do) for recognizing that it was time to fold ’em and ask for help. Because Kenny Rogers told me to.
And because it takes a village to raise a mother.