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.
I thought it was going to get easier.
The kids are getting older; they are all more capable than they were a year ago. There are fewer diapers, fewer clothing changes, less laundry.
And, in some ways, it has gotten easier. Milo regularly helps me load stuff into the van in the morning. Violet brushes her own hair and ties her own shoes. Willa wakes up dry every morning. And Juliet buckles herself into her car seat. Those things are easier.
It is easier to get the kids into and out of buildings because the twins can walk and carry their dance bag and don’t need me to carry them with already too-full arms. The older kids are comfortable with supervising the young ones for a minute or two while I use the bathroom or switch the laundry. Those things are easier, too.
Some things are not easier.
Last year was such a blur of panic; anxiety and fear melted over one another, then hardened into a crunchy candy coating. I was protected by a shield inscribed with, “Keep moving forward, no matter the circumstances.”
But constant motion doesn’t allow for the quiet space one needs in order to process, to count tree rings and mark passing milestones. It doesn’t leave room for respite, for recharging, for rejuvenation.
I am calm and patient as always. I am focused and determined and moving forward in my career and as a single parent. I am marching through life to the best of my ability every moment, every day. So when I hit a wall I can’t blow through, I am astonished — just flabbergasted.
Halloween is the wall right now. I need to ride an elephant through it, to knock it down and crush it into rubble.
But I can’t find my damn elephant right now.
When the kids begged to decorate for Halloween, I groaned (inwardly, of course). Halloween is Scott’s favorite holiday, not mine. But my children with their excellent memories recall the way we’ve traditionally decorated the house and wanted to duplicate it. Last year, it seemed necessary to maintain the tradition because I felt very strongly that I needed to show them that, despite all of the changes, we can still have fun and celebrate and create lasting memories.
This year? I look at the Halloween decorations and want to throw them into a roiling witch’s cauldron.
I’m not angry or sad or jealous — just tired. Those decorations seem like so much more trouble than they’re worth. Plastic bats, dancing skeletons, spooky spiders. Not worth the additional clutter or clean-up.
The kids are worth the trouble, though, and I let them decorate as they wanted. They were thrilled to dash around decorating willy-nilly.
The decorated house looks the same as last year, but the kids are taller, potty-trained and have longer hair. I’m kind of like the house. Still pretty much the same, still feeling a bit lonely and neglected. Still dressed up for someone else’s holiday.Read More
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?