I had a conference with Lily’s 5th grade teacher the other day. The woman locked eyes with me across the table. I became painfully aware of my ass oozing out on either side of my child-sized plastic seat. Uh Oh, I thought. What now?
Then she smiled. A mothering kind of smile. And a warm jelly of relief flooded my whole body.
‘Lily…oh, Lily is a delight. She has such a strong sense of herself and such good self esteem for a girl her age..whatever you’re doing, keep it up. you’re doing it right.’
‘Oh, thank you,’ I said, resisting the urge to reach over the table, cup her face in my hands and plant a hugely inappropriate kiss on her pearly pink lips. She might as well have just handed me a book deal or a winning lottery ticket; her words were a McDonald’s sundae sprinkled with xanax. The relief was so potent, I wanted to just get up and walk out right there, toss a pile of papers in the air on my way to the door, and say, ‘SEE ya Motherfuckers, I WON.”
My life so far has been pretty good, all things considered. I have very little to complain about, but as far as big accomplishments, massive milestones and the like, I haven’t had a real shitload to put on my Life's Resume. I can say with complete honesty that so far, Lily is really my highest accomplishment. My mad Momming Skillz are by far my greatest source of pride. Kind of ironic, since becoming a single parent was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office many, many moons ago, contemplating the idea of kicking out my then-husband. Her sage advice: ‘No matter what you decide, just remember that being a single parent is the hardest thing in the world.’ I was like, hey, screw you, lady. You don’t live with the guy.
She was right, though. And wrong, too, in some ways.
Here is MY sage advice for anyone considering walking this path:
1. Don’t mourn the loss of your social life too much.
Find a nice teenager on the block who will hang at your house for a few hours after your kid is asleep if you want to go have a cocktail or scream in your car or something. Personally, I’ve never been much of a social butterfly. I have a book club once a month at my house, so I get to see my lady pals and drink and talk about vibrators and periods and afterward I just crawl into bed. It’s kind of awesome.
2. it’s helpful to have a granola bar/cookie/trail mix stash in the console of the car for the times you forget to pack breakfast.
Also, flip-flops or sneakers, for those times you rush out of the house wearing two different shoes. I also keep tweezers in there b/c once in a while I will glance at my face in the rearview at a light and Jesus Christ.
3. Know that people will assume things about you.
People might assume you’re lonely, or that what you really want, more than anything, is another husband. If your married friends tend to be insecure (and we can all be sometimes), they might even worry you’re after THEIR husbands. Or that your disease of divorcedness is a highly contagious swine flu that they might catch if they hang out too much with you.
Your ex’s family will especially have ideas about you. Remember that these are based solely on what your ex is telling them about you, so their opinions are a weeee bit slanted. Also, it doesn’t matter what these people think. Lets just hope that they keep these opinions to themselves around your child, biting their tongues as you have almost bitten yours into Swiss cheese many times.
4. Speaking of tongue-biting…
Yeah. This is the biggest challenge ever. Maybe you and your kid’s father are on great terms, so this one doesn’t apply. I have a friend who traveled to Disney with her ex and their kid, they like each other that much. That’s not my situation. Take it from me, I struggle daily with the urge to blurt out one of the multitudinous depraved things Lily’s dad did during our marriage, especially when she is on a tear about how much better it is at his house than at mine. Not doing it can be cruelly difficult. But doing it will have even more disastrous results.
5. You will feel guilty.
A lot. No, all the time. Like mostly every second. I even have guilty dreams. Last week I dreamt that I went on vacation to Jamaica with my boyfriend and came back to find out that Lily had started smoking crack. I also lay in bed at night NOT sleeping sometimes, running through all of the things I must be doing wrong: Am I loving her enough? Too much? Preparing her for the real world? Teaching her not to loathe her body? Enabling Daddy Issues? It never ends. And you can’t even take an ambient because what if the house catches on fire and you’re too zonked to get your kid out of bed? Then what, huh???
6. You can’t do it all, but you can do SO much more than you ever thought possible.
When I go through my day, I’m amazed that I was able to get as much accomplished as I have. When I was in college, I would sometimes spend entire Saturdays laying on the couch, smoking pot and watching movies. Today, the idea of wasting a day sickens me. Not because I think it’s a bad thing to do, but because THERE IS SO MUCH THAT HAS TO GET DONE. Truthfully, I usually go to bed at night feeling pretty smug that I managed to feed, clothe, support, teach, play with, and listen to a small, ever-developing person, while also keeping our house from disappearing under a pile of laundry and cat litter. Multitasking is no joke. Today I hopped out of the shower to iron a school uniform while dripping wet with soap in my hair. I don’t recommend this, by the way.
7. It can be amazing.
I always think about that old Peace Corps ad from the 80s, where they say it’s the ‘Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love’. It’s true. Any parent will tell you that, but doing it on your own is especially tricky because, duh, you’re doing two people’s jobs by yourself. But here’s the cool part: You are your own sovereign nation. You have nobody to defer to, nobody who needs to be consulted on the big decisions. There’s nobody with whom to share a bathroom. No weird, kinky items show up on credit card statements. Bills get paid because you are the one earning the money to pay them.
8. Remember that this is all so temporary
Some day, sooner than you think, she will be gone. Grown up, set out to live her own life, which is exactly what should happen if you’ve done this whole crazy thing right. You will always be her mom. But some day, you’re going to remember what it was like to be a lot of other things too. You'll have more time than you do now. So don’t worry about the stupid scarf you don’t have time to knit, or the memoir that is sitting in pieces on your computer desk, scratched up to hell with red pen (these are hypothetical). There will be time. It will be worth the wait.
3 hours ago