for the single mothers.

July 16, 2011

sometimes the washing machine is broken and the pipes in the basement have decided to rain shitty water on the dirty clothes and who knows what else and the reality is that those clothes must get washed and dried by hand or we will have a Public Health Situation on our hands, or the car is doing that thing again where the engine just turns off and we’re in the middle of traffic and i remember why we went car-free for so long but the reality is that with my two kids and my girlfriend’s three kids and my girlfriend’s busy job and my sometimes desperate scramble for money anywhere i can find it, two single mothers sometimes need a car. even if one of them is opposed to cars and car culture and breathing exhaust (or making others breathe it) and a frenetic lifestyle…

sometimes other mothers laugh and say they would love the break from their kids and joint custody sounds about right to them but the reality is that even two days a week can be too much when you aren’t asking for it and it doesn’t come at the time that works for you or your kids and maybe you need childcare some other time and there’s this event you want to take your son to on the weekend but those are the two days a week the Powers-that-Be have you on record as agreeing to, and you wouldn’t want to seem uncooperative, now would you? no one likes an uncooperative single mother.

sometimes your friends see those two days a week (or one, or three, or a weekend a month, or whatever), and they say “wow, s/he is so involved, you are so lucky, isn’t it wonderful that he pays for that class, isn’t it wonderful that she took her to the park or that birthday party” and nobody says “oh, wow, you are so involved, yr ex is so lucky to know the kids are taken care of, you pay for all the basic needs and then some, isn’t it wonderful you go to the park so much and play seven rounds of chess and go to every birthday party humanly possible, even the ones at Flashing-Lights-Loud-Sounds-and-Animatronic-Monster-Animals-Pizzeria” because that’s just what you do. you are the single mother.

on the rare occasions someone does try to valorize you, to praise you, there will be a voice raised to remind everyone that you get help, “support,” breaks… whatever it is. the speaker doesn’t know: it could be $9.35 or it could be $0 or a trip to court and you’d better pay for and bring your own lawyer. never mind that if a storm comes and your roof caves in you handle it alone for your kids. never mind that if the car breaks down and your kid has school/a doctor’s appointment/a homeschooling playgroup it is you who figures out how to get there or how to break the news… on the weekend it is rarely time to say “i’m sorry, we can’t make it because of this problem or we can’t buy that because of a lack of money or our values around consumption.” weekends are for leisure and during the week shopping has been done, for necessities and for presents.

behind many a stand-up-guy there is a single mother being told to sit down or sitting herself down in order to assemble dollhouse furniture for $1 a perfectly completed piece. working from home means you are so lucky! you set your own hours, and there are a lot of them.

you will do what it takes because that is what you do, and sometimes people will see what you were willing to do and they will judge you from the comfort of their almost-totally-owned townhome with the two kids and the two parents and maybe a dog whose shit no one wants to pick up, but just keep on keeping on, girl… it’s just what you do.

i run my household on a tight, small budget, and most of the little drips of luxury money fall directly on the heads of my charming children and other people with whom i’m very close. before i was a single mother, money was (sometimes) (a bit) less of an issue, but luxuries like, oh, regular haircuts or an extra piece of my favorite fruit from the farmer’s market rarely fell into my hands, because i hadn’t yet learned, frankly, that i mattered beyond my capacity to please and care for other people.

after becoming single a few years ago, i was determined to not only love myself but to treat myself with said love. i got a cute haircut. i bought two new skirts so i wouldn’t always wear “MY skirt.” i went out to dinner with my girlfriend when my kids were with their other parent. i baked cookies for myself at night and ate every single one of them.

this was very liberating, but after moving from constantly-flooding-basement-apartment (i.e.-the first home that was just mine by virtue of a lease agreement with no other adult’s name on it) to a house with a yard for kickball and gardening and digging pits, i lost sight of the importance of taking care of myself.

recently i’ve started ending my two days a week away from my kids with a looooong bath (when i get home from adventures with my girlfriend and the other three wonderful kids in our crew) and a book. this is a message to myself that my time isn’t only for cooking and cleaning for others, breaking up fights and settling arguments, or even watching-a-movie-together or playing-an-after-dinner-boardgame. i can have a(n initially) hot bath that smells nice. i can greet my children with wet hair that might even drip on their heads and make them giggle at the sudden rain (or frown, pout, and whine at the sudden rain… this is a 50/50 proposition).

and on friday my girlfriend bought me a haircut. in a real shop where they pump up a chair with you in it and they can actually do the things you ask them with your hair. i feel like i did the summer i first became single (and had a nice haircut, i might add): invigorated, “youthful” (not in a sense having to do with chronological age, mind you), free… cute…

here’s to hoping i remember to take a few luxuries for me, and to accept the luxuries offered to me by the people who love me. i’m a person who matters… a person who can take a bath. alone. for over an hour. with a book. in relative silence.