Midwestern Mama Cooking up Life in the HeartlandNavigation
I’m a newly single mom of two young kids and toddler twins. I have all of the ingredients in life to make an awesome soup — come along as I tear up the recipe card, throw humor, honesty, and heartfelt hope into the pot, and give it a stir. I simmer with love as I write the unexpected story of my family.
There is no option to stand still. Hazards snake thorned arms toward me if I step too far off the center of the path. Danger stalks me, rancid breath on the back of my neck. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around. Don’t.Read More
I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Single mother.” It was hissed through disapproving lips like a curse word in reference to the heavily pregnant woman in the lounge of the old YWCA where my dance lessons were held. The mother of another classmate was commenting on a lonely young woman, heavily pregnant, who we passed each week.
She was there every time, sitting uncomfortably in a donated chair, smoking and carefully holding a half-full glass up to look at the sunset through the pale yellow of her wine.
“Single mother,” said this woman to the other mothers, who gathered with daughters who wore shiny patent leather tap shoes. The mothers all nodded, knowingly. Clearly, this woman was on the outside of parenthood, and not because she was drinking and smoking.
She was gone one day. I don’t know where she went; I never knew her story. But that serpentine dismissal — that “single mother” stigma – that I do remember.
Because now it’s my life.
I have passed my own judgment on single parents, wondering why they chose to have kids with someone they didn’t trust or love or want to stay with forever. I may not have said it aloud, but I did think it.
But now it’s my life.
Now, I understand that the choices one makes at 19, the dreams one has, the plans made earnestly by two people in love, don’t always stick — despite the desire and need to remain a whole family. I don’t want to be a single mother any more than that lonely soul in the YWCA. Or maybe she did – maybe she was escaping an abusive relationship, maybe the baby was the result of a careless romp with someone unfit to be a parent. Maybe. I don’t know.
I know that families of all shapes are becoming normalized, but there are some attitudes about single motherhood that persist, and I hear them occasionally, casual remarks or invasive inappropriate questions that unexpectedly knock me back a couple of decades.
So, young woman at the YWCA, I apologize for my own narrow-mindedness, for assuming that you were there for bad reasons and for any inappropriate thought I may have had regarding your situation. I won’t make guesses about what you were thinking or feeling, either.
Let’s start over.
“How are you today?”
Is that better?
“There is no warning rattle at the door. One minute, I’m having a conversation with someone and the next minute, I’m falling through a rip in the universe, falling hard and fast and landing crookedly in another body in another place and another time.”
Susannah looks at me, perplexed. She’s been asking about jumping, “If it is so hard, why do you do it?”
I shrug. I don’t want to answer. “Who knows?”
“But you volunteered, right?”
A sardonic chuckle percolates in my throat. How do I answer that question?
“Volunteer is rosier than I’d have painted it. You’re not really given a choice.”
I carefully unclasp my hand from hers. I hate this part of my story; hate confessing.
Susannah rolls onto her stomach, kicking her feet into the air and propping her chin in her hands, looking very much like the schoolgirl she is. I feel old. I pull the sheet over my lap because I cannot be naked emotionally when I’m naked physically.
“A long time ago, I did something really, really stupid. It hurt a lot of people.”
She just blinks at me, doe-eyed and dewy with innocence. I cannot bear the weight of her youth, so I turn away and talk to the wall.
“It was really bad. I sabotaged a subway car at the beginning of the Revolution and it blew up under a packed theatre. Hundreds of people were killed.”
She sits up, pulling her legs in close and wrapping her arms around them, hiding her heart behind a shell of body.
“I was sentenced to death, obviously. Or I could join the Jumping program. Any fool would choose to live, so I did. What they don’t tell you is that living life after life after life is probably more punishment than death.”
She’s stopped listening, though. They always do as soon as they remember what I did.
Susannah has started to pull her clothes on, shivering as she covers her downy skin.
“You’re Ennio Loblano, aren’t you?”
“I was. Four hundred years ago.”
“You’re a monster!”
“I was a kid. A stupid kid who got mixed up in something I didn’t understand.”
She’s started to cry. Next she’ll throw something at me and order me out of her bed, out of her life.
“That’s no excuse! I’m a kid and I know that you don’t blow up innocent people!”
Believe me, I know. I’ve paid my penance a thousand fold. I’ve lived as men, women and even children. And the minute I feel happiness, the minute life becomes bearable and hopeful and worth living, I jump.
Susannah starts screaming, “You need to leave. Just go! Don’t come back!”
I grab my pants, pulling them on quickly. I don’t even argue as she shoves me out of the door of her apartment, slamming it in my face. I shuffle miserably down the hallway, thinking about this jump. I know I’m not likely to leave just yet, but that’s not really a consolation.
I’ve lived two hundred and thirty-seven lives. Only three hundred and twelve to go before my sentence has been served: a life for every one I took with that explosion.
I estimate that it will take me at least five hundred years before I’m done serving. A part of me breaks off in each person I inhabit, leaving a small chunk of my being every time. I wonder if there will be anything left?Read More