There’s been enough written about being a single mom. It’s tiring to hear about. The title is meaningless. I rebelled against the idea of that title “single mom” when I became one. I didn’t want anyone calling me that. To me somehow it harkened of other even less savory titles like “cougar” or “welfare mom.” Pretty radically different stereotypes but it was all stereotyping and I wanted to avoid it.
Now however, six? seven? years later (I’m pathologically bad with dates) I probably utter the words single mom every day for one reason or another. Today it was during a chat with our parish priest. Another day it could be at Trader Joe’s or at school or at my job.
My new post-divorce job as a landscaper is the first place it came up continually and where I learned to use it myself, to my advantage. With the help of my friend Nikki Maxwell, I came to understand that it wasn’t just flowers or organic veggie seedlings I was hawking, it was a story.
A story of a “single mom” who took lemons and made some organic lemonade. A “single mom” who created a business from nothing, with nothing, so she could provide for her kids. She zigged when life zagged and got her shit together and made something of herself. From stay-at-home mom to single mom to entrepreneur!
There’s a reason we all know the Steve Jobs/Apple story. It sells computers.
So, I learned to tell my story, to embrace that single mom story and make it mine. I mean it is mine. It was true. There was no reason to rail against the label. If the shoe fits…
Scrappy and single, I ran around in my flannel shirt and work boots and presented my business card made with vegetable inks and recycled paper and I was successful.
I was asked to talk at schools and represented single moms at career days. Several times the idea of a reality show has come up. It was inspiring for people. To think about me in that way.
But reality is way different. The past few weeks have been devastating in slow motion. The need to take care of my kids takes away from the time I have for work. Which makes me behind on my projects. Which makes clients angry. Which means I have to pay other people to do the work for me. Which means I don’t get paid. Which makes bills pile up. Cause I take care of my kids.
This went on for a couple weeks and then this last week, Tuesday morning, I realized my son who had relentless cough was going to have to stay home another day from school. I only get two full days a week to work. The other days are half days so I can drive my kids to school and pick them up, so on those two full days, I usually work 12 straight hours to make a dent in the work. This was going to be my third straight week of having those days interrupted by having to be a mom. A single mom.
As I moved around the house, waking kids, making breakfast, answering emails, prepping for the day, the realization just descended and descended. He’s staying home. You’re not going to work. You’re falling farther behind. You have no booked jobs. You owe so much money. As I found lunchboxes and homework and unloaded the car, my chest tightened, my brain chugged on like a train. I have to go to work. I missed work yesterday. And last week. And the week before that.
And my hands moved laundry and made lunch while my conscience churned. I was steeling myself for the reality that I was going to have to leave my sick kid at home. And go to work.
I could feel the veneer cracking so I headed to my safe place and had a cry. I cried for the way it is. I cried for changing course. I cried for expectation and for the rules of this world and for decision-making.
And then a fresh wave of sadness hit me. And this is such madness under the circumstances but I swear to you it is true. Heartbreakingly true. I was just tying up the loose ends of my career vs. family cry when this newsflash was sent in over the wires: I also wasn’t cute. I was no longer pretty. I wasn’t pulling this off. I’m tired and stressed. The wrinkles on my face bare witness to years of turmoil and they upset me.The weary look around my eyes. The deep seismic worry line that has cracked through my upper lip. The transcontinental forehead freeways…so many wrinkle metaphors!
What is wrong with this picture? What isn’t???
Simultaneously I felt even more grief that this was the state of affairs. This is how it is. This is life. For me and for all my sisters. And brothers. There are too many strings tugging at every extremity. Look good. Be happy. Make money. Be independent. Be loving. Nurture your children. Be a good citizen. Recycle. Exercise. Be thin and active. Volunteer. Vote. Vaccinate. Provide for your children. Cook. Make kombucha. Write. Do yoga. Meditate.
This old “how does she do it all” debate is so tired. It’s hard to fathom it still exists. But this territory in our modern culture…single parenting, the nuclear family, the need for dual incomes, the lack of community and extended family…is maybe at its oldest in the terrible twos. We are young on the adaptation timeline. Although the “single mom” label feels tired (and she is tired!) the concept is not. This is something we have not figured out. The ladies…this lady at least…is not making it work.
While working with the kids at school, a young girl genuinely asked me, “Why has there been no woman president?” I see the accusatory look in her eyes. Why haven’t you done something about this? You’re old. You’re an adult. You, with the Starbucks cup, why aren’t you on this?
I will tell you why. Because every second of my day is spoken for. If a truck ran me over I could rest peacefully. I could do something I wanted to do for once.
And my seconds have been spoken for for over a decade and they will continue to be spoken for for another decade. Fuck I’m right in the goddamn middle. Okay so maybe we aren’t in the terrible twos, maybe we are in the middle of all this. Ooohhhh, a mid-life crisis. I see…how original.
I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve been living it and I have no insight. I’m lucky I have sight, nonetheless, insight. I don’t even have the energy to wrap this up properly. Or reread it. Or edit it. In fact I’m dangerously close to no longer editing anything any longer, I fear.
Truth be told, I’ve had too much coffee and too little sleep. I had that big party last night and Paul and I have been sitting here staring at my Oscar all morning. I’m due for my toilet cry.