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Posts Tagged ‘single parent’

Moki Green

In the photo, he grins up from the base of a human pyramid. He occupies the exact same spot I did in my last pyramid, which was, oddly enough, just a few weeks ago. Bug’s blonde surfer hair sticks to his flushed face as he balances another boy on his back. Eight kids, two counselors, and a big field of green.

His first day of camp, and Bug had already found his place in the pack.

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female atlas

I don’t have to carry all this
because I’m alone.
I get to carry it
because I’m strong.


Image: “Female Atlas” by Heretical Jargon

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Stormy Sea

Be a more attentive friend. Make meals at home. Save every penny. Walk. Take the metro. Clip coupons. Go to the gym, to Zumba, to the mountains. Find a group. Be the least awkward. Breathe through the irritation.

Lift weights. Smile at everyone. Ignore the men. Take the pills. Take the vitamins. Go to counseling. Go to church. Bike there. Carpool. Pack water bottle, reusable mug, hand sanitizer, glasses.

Respond without yelling. Appreciate out loud. Remember mom. Remember all the birthdays.

Get to work on time. Stay on task. Buy the groceries on lunch break. Run on lunch break. Walk on lunch break. See friends on lunch break. Take lunch from home. Stay until the last possible minute. Leave with enough time to get to child care. Run for the train. Push through the crowds. Run for the bus. Shake it all off. Greet your child with serenity.

Empty the sink, the dishwasher, the backpack, the laundry basket. Meditate. Pet the dog. Give her a long walk. Look over homework. Manage dinner, shower, teeth, clothes, packing up, settling down. Read to the kid. Watch the clock. Ignore the clock. Speak gently. Breathe. Don’t cry in front of him.

Write in the journal. Post to the blog. Update the resume. Go to a social event. A networking event. A lecture. Take a class. Get a certificate. Learn a new skill. Read something edifying. Plan a party. Be mindful of the guest list. Befriend successful people.

Respond to the emails. Upload the photos. Pay the bills. Track the money. Notice the steady shrinkage. Resolve to create wealth somehow. Rethink the financial plan. Resolve to apply for all the jobs. Try not to notice the absence of jobs.

Speak with positive problem-solving language. Ignore feelings. Schedule a meetup. Wash. Iron. Fold. Put away. Keep the wardrobe up to date. Make a hair appointment. Restock the toilet paper, the dish soap, the dog food, the baking soda. Use less. Shop smart. Read ingredients. Note materials. Consider the planet. Eat vegetarian. Think of landfills. Think of Indian trash-picking children. Do we need it? Can we make it at home? What is a less toxic alternative? What other store sells it? How much? Unit cost?

Feel the pull to be doing anything but this. Ignore the pull. Inhabit the aisle. Save pennies, save packaging, save for college, save the world.

Pay attention to the calendar. Note the upcoming holiday. Figure out summer vacation. Hope the money will come. Map out the weekends. Sign up for after-school activities. Show up for basketball practice, for karate, for games. Pay for all of this.

Make new friends. Remember names. Don’t give male friends the wrong idea. Be kind but not flirtatious. Check the pantie line. Check the body language.

Remove dog hair. Patch worn places. Get another year out of the coat, the shoes, the Goodwill purse. Blow dry. Apply lips, cover blotches, rinse the pits, glow. Count calories, calcium, miles, pounds. Brush, floss. Walk with bold steps. Don’t scowl.

Kiss better. Send sweet notes. Remember to ask questions. Learn the love languages. Appreciate. Communicate. Pause. Give the benefit of the doubt. Speak your truth.

Don’t complain. Don’t gossip. Bear the weight of this list alone. Shut the door when you cry.

Resist the craving. Sleep more. Shut off the phone. Look past magazine covers and success stories and smiling facebook families. Try not to notice the cracks. Avoid schadenfreude.

Learn their secrets. Trust yourself. Live your full life. Don’t measure yourself against them.  Aim high. Simplify. Dream big. Think less. Take account. Shed what you don’t need. Be honest. Know your heroes. Listen to the still, small voice. Follow in the footsteps of great ones. Be yourself. Picture your future self. Know that what you have is enough. Strive. Be quiet. Create. Count blessings. Resist inertia. Meditate. Spark a revolution. Fake it til you make it. Honor your shadow side. Write your own story.

Keep moving. Be here now. Be kind. Be fierce. Be better. Be you. Become someone. Surrender. Fight on.


Image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1801, “Dutch Boats in a Gale” (The  Bridgewater Sea Piece) from the National Gallery, UK.

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You’re getting stronger every day
I write to her
name on a faceless band
of light. We are far
from separate selves, warp and weft of crossing
need, proximity, and cut from the same
tongue. Language mediates thought
they say
(and also must think)
language makes real
whatever we choose together
is enough
for truth. We discern
and determine
in the very same breath. So thankful
for you
she writes back. It could have been
never this. I could have picked
another answer in the classroom
where she came with the cracked
arc of her story. I could have picked
up the phone tonight and heard her
make me real
which I am not
certain is the case. The haze
at the fringes of iced dark
cuts like blades. It is winter
but only if we choose to call
together these waves and absences,
the frayed seams of our orbit,
and bind them into a word
like season. She and I are one
and the same
in a single blink, single
mothers now
there’s a term that weaves truth
right into its opposite. She calls me
love. I say she is a gift. We spin
the woolen clouds
of our yearning into letters and tie
the ends into sailor’s knots, good
nights, we make good
on promises we’ve finally begun
to warm and turn
into us.
 

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“Is it hard taking care of me?”

He asks this as we coast at long last on a hard-won current of harmony. We are under the Tinkerbell blanket and nearing the last of the songs.

I laugh at his question to buffer the twist of the knife. He has seen my jaw tonight. It has been a locked box heavy with chains. He is seven and keen to learn the cues.

His face is near. I kiss his forehead. “Some days, it’s tough just getting through it all. Home and chores. All that.” The long mess of his hair presses into my cheek. “But that’s just part of being a family. It’s not hard being your mom.” I pause. “Is it hard being my kid?”

He flashes a wicked grin. “Yes. It’s really hard. It’s terrible.”

“Why’s that, bub?”

“You don’t give me anything good ever. Not Pokemon cards. Not ever, not even once.”

We are back here again. Back at the fight that started yesterday at 3:30pm in Bug’s classroom. Tee and I had joined three other parent volunteers to run the first-grade holiday party. When I offered myself up a week earlier, I was picturing a pan of brownies and paper plates. Instead, at 9:30 the night before, I was the glassy-eyed zombie walking through the screaming aisles of Party City collecting cheap props for a class photo booth. At the actual party, I ended up pinch hitting for the mom whose sick son kept her home. This meant, on a half-beat of notice, coming up with holiday-themed movement games to play with sugared-up groups of 7-year-olds in a suffocatingly small indoor space.

As we bagged up the party’s limp remains and the kids licked the last frosting from their fingers, Tee was in the back corner trying to convince Bug to pose for a photo. Our son was the only student who hadn’t had his glamour shot taken. Twenty other children had donned reindeer antlers and glittering top hats to ham it up for Tee’s camera. Not Bug. He’d flat out refused.

Instead of letting it ride, Tee cajoled. He begged. I dressed up for one. Tee dressed up and had me take one. Bug wouldn’t do it.

Tee wouldn’t let it go.

(Allow me to step aside here for a minute and say that Tee is super-dad. He’s the dad that eats, dreams, and oozes dad-hood. He’s engaged and loving and patient and on board with Bug’s all-around development. He coaches Bug’s basketball team. He comes to all the parent-teacher conferences. He takes the kid camping and ice skating and makes him do his homework. He is the father everyone wishes they’d had so they wouldn’t have all their daddy issues. He’s also a fantastic co-parent.)

Okay. Back to it.

Tee bribed Bug to take the photo. Bribed him by saying the next time Bug stayed with him, Tee would buy him Pokemon cards.

Bug posed for the photo. Tee reminded him that it would be Friday before they stayed together again.

Also? Tee made this same deal two weekends ago to convince Bug to go to a concert. Pokemon cards. Straight-up bribe.

It’s Tee’s issue, yes? His to deal with? If my son’s dad exchanges goodies for favors, not my problem, right?

Wrong.

When I picked up Bug from school after the party, the kid cracked into a dozen pieces. Sobbing. Wanted to go to Wal Mart. Said his daddy promised. Begged me to let him stay with his dad. Told me he didn’t like my house and he never wanted to stay with me ever again.

On our way out the door, the after-school care folks cheerfully reminded me of the potluck to be held the next day. Reminded? No, wait. Informed. For the first time. So, after working all day at my job and then volunteering in the classroom doing Rudolph Says with three dozen wired mini humans, I was to go home and cobble together some festive dish to take back to school in 13-1/2 hours?

“Remember, no nuts or pork! Thanks! We can’t wait!”

Me neither.

But we were still hours from the menu planning. Right on the heels of the car meltdown came galloping in an epic homework battle. Bug scrapped with every sentence. Tore at the paper. Slumped. Drew on the table. Deliberately misspelled every other word then flipped out when he had to correct them. Took 30 minutes to do a 5 minute assighment.

Finally, we ate. Bathed. Sang extra-long Christmas carols. Bug crashed. I went into the kitchen to make brownies, prepare a cheese platter, and assemble Bug’s lunch while finishing up wrapping gifts for the holiday exchange at my office.

Bed for mama sometime after midnight? Did I even dare look at the clock?

Fast forward to tonight.

I pick up Bug at school. Collect the brownie tins and cheese tray. Play the last two rounds of Pictionary with the kids.

Then.

“Why can’t I stay with my dad? He promised me Pokemon. And it’s Thursday which is the start of Friday so you’re a liar and I hate you!”

Ding Ding! Round 2!

Bug wails and rages and sobs the whole way home. Claims he is homesick. That his daddy is better because he gives him the food he likes and he has all the good toys and he buys Pokemon. Everything about his dad is better. And I’m mean. And he hates me.

Another homework battle. Another long lecture.

Another chokehold on my temper.

Here’s mom breathing. Mom steadying herself. Mom only yelling once and immediately changing tack. Mom talking through feelings and expectations. Mom explaining that homework is his own, his name is on it — not Mom’s name — and it’s his choice to do his best or not. Here’s mom methodically making dinner. Pausing to kiss the boy on the head. Ironing the fuse beads. Chatting calmly over grilled cheese sandwiches and broccoli.

So, at bedtime? Sweet mercy, we fall into reading and cuddling as we do every night. As if nothing in the world is ever very big, as if three is the magic number.

Three books to call up some fallen angel’s wings. Three songs, the incantation that wraps them around us.

“Is it hard taking care of me?”

This tap-tap on the sealed edge of my door. This spinning of the combination lock.

When he tells me it’s hard to be my kid because I never give him anything good, I chuckle instead of wincing. This is the third invocation in the spell of threes. This is the charm that animates the thing embracing us and warms it to life.

I laugh. He tries again.

“You don’t ever give me Pokemon ever.”

(Which isn’t true, but)

He curls into my arms and tickles my neck with his breath. I say, “I give you more good things that you can even count.”

I say this to him. To me. I say this to oil the hinges and thaw loose the frozen clasp.

I say this:

I give you cheese quesadillas.
A gazillion books.
Trips to the library.
Rides to the ice rink.

I give you a hot breakfast every morning.
Clothes you can move in.
A sweet doggie.
Cuddles. Hugs. Three songs every night.

I give you art stuff in every room of the house.
I give you a home.
Near a park.
And walks to the park all the time.
And walks all over this town.

I give you bandaids.
Time with your grandma.
Playdates with friends.
Help with your homework.

I slow down. Bug’s eyes droop. I ease up on the list and start the same last song I sing every night and will sing every night for as long as this fleeting eternity lasts.

Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea.

And I say without saying the words between the lyrics:

I give you my steady face. My calm half-attention when I reach all the way in and half is the most my fingers will grasp.
I give you my breath.

When I know the beast inside is snapping for bones, I give you the locked door.

I give you my best self. When I haven’t seen her in days and don’t know if she’s even in this time zone, I call her back home. I sit her down in the place I just was and let you have her version of love.

Yes, it’s hard to be your mom.
Some days I just give you a mom.
But you deserve her, this mom of yours.
I’m still figuring out how to be her.
 

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Rest comes easily now. Finally, after all these years, the dreams are sweet.
 
This weekend, I met a new someone deep down in the valley sleep. He was a young man with red-blonde hair and a curious, distracted gaze. He clutched a hardcover book. Maybe he is Bug in 20 years, maybe the whisper of a companion I will someday greet. Maybe he is just that friend of mine I am learning to be.
 
We sat near each other on a deck built over a creek and the water burbled just beneath our feet. He opened the and the corner of it touched my knee but he was too absorbed to remember to turn it towards me. We spoke our breathless dance about a text neither of us quite understood. I let my fingertips fall on the back of his hand where it grazed the page. He did not reach back for me. I was happy regardless. He turned the page. We talked on.
 
Proximity can sate hunger. So, it seems, can distance.
 
I woke up smiling even though he was gone.
 
That day, Bug flew west with his dad. Tee has called three times and posted 222 photos on our sharing site.
 
“Hey, you want to talk to your mom? Tell her what we saw on the ferry?”
 
I hear the little voice of my first and only child trailing off against bluster and wave. “No! You tell her!”
 
Tee chides to no avail. The little boy has scraped the underbelly of the sky from the glass bubble atop the Space Needle. He has seen some mummified horror inside Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe. He has fed the gulls his extra french fries. What does he need with me?
 
My son is with his other grandmother, his Baba, his daddy. In one photo, he wears a winter coat in the drizzling gray and balances on a slick log. His arms are stretched wide. The briny waters of Puget Sound lap at his feet.
 
He has no interest in speaking to me. He does not remember I exist. His circle is strong and he does not need my comfort. Every day, my boy (my lovely one!) grows to belong to the world.
 
Proximity is sweet, but distance is a trust fall. It is the feel of sky carrying you where only it can.
 
The universe holds my love. I release him.
 
I go to bed smiling even though he is gone.
 

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We are driving home in the almost dark and Bug drifts off to sleep. He stretches awake when I pull into the driveway, and I ask him again whether he wants pizza toast or eggs for dinner. He does not answer. When I gave him the same choices at Chicken School, he’d answered, “Lasagne and Thai food.”
 
“What’s it going to be, Buddy?” I ask as he slouches out of the car and yawns his way into the house.
 
“Mom, can’t we just sit on the couch and talk about it?”
 
This decision is clearly too much to tackle. I drop our bags in the doorway and follow him into the piano room. Granddaddy is in the den eating a sandwich and watching a show, no doubt gearing up for the vice presidential debates. I fold myself around Bug and he presses into me, resting his head against my chest. We do not talk for a while. I kiss his forehead over and over, just because it is so close. Finally, I ask again about dinner.
 
“Okay,” he sighs. “Eggs, I guess.”
 
Bug’s grandma is in Germany, so she is not here to help me figure this out. Also, I did not have the foresight to prep a meal. Such flashes of organization never strike twice in one week. I rise to go into the kitchen.
 
“Mommy, can you play something with me?”
 
“Can’t, Buddy. It’s time to make dinner.”
 
I start washing out the containers from Bug’s lunch. He follows me in, bringing the new science kit his aunt sent from Germany as a birthday gift. He opens it and digs through all the tubing and rubber gloves and strange pictures.
 
“What do I do with it, Mommy?”
 
I dry my hands and come over. The instruction booklet is long, and I tell him I cannot help him with it. “This weekend, baby. We’ll have lots of time.”
 
He sighs again and puts everything away. I have him set the table and wash his hands. He is still exhausted, still wandering around and looking for something to do. I remind him of his “H” collage for school. I set a magazine and some scissors on the table, but he can barely hold his head up.
 
Finally, dinner. We eat our spinach eggs, share the bacon, nibble at the cinnamon toast. We look together through the Kid’s Post and Highlights for words with “H” in them. Hockey, High Five, Third, Hidden. We find a picture of a hug. I help him cut and he glues the scraps into his journal.
 
Then it is time to clean up and get ready for bath. Bug finds a book sitting on the kitchen table. It is one of his new favorites, The Witch’s Supermarket.
 
“Mommy, can we read this book?”
 
I look at the pile of dishes, the unfinished laundry, the snacks still needing to be packed for tomorrow. I haven’t started the bath. If I don’t iron something tonight, I’ll be wearing yoga pants to work in the morning. Even with Giovanni watching the dog for the week, even with someone else paying the mortgage, all I can manage is another “no.”
 
And so I finally know this: loneliness is nowhere near the worst part of being alone.
 
“I really need to clean up. You could help me, and we would be done faster so I could read to you.”
 
I see my boy deflate. Even the book seems to droop in his hands.
 
“I really like this story,” he says. He is so tired.
 
“Sorry, baby, I can’t read it right now. I’ll read it to you at bedtime. If you are done helping, you can go look at it by yourself until I’m finished here.”
 
“Okay.” He trudges away.
 
Some days, I would give anything not to be a single mom. Okay, maybe not anything, but in certain low moments, the devil could show up with a contract and a fountain pen, and he’d walk away a soul richer.
 
I start the dishes. Then I stop.
 
How stuck in our ways are we? Really, how blind do patterns make us to their existence?
 
And how willing are we to come un-stuck?
 
We are not alone in this house.
Yet somehow, we keep giving that truth so wide a berth, we can’t even discern its edges.
 
“Hey, kiddo. Let’s go ask your granddaddy. Remember that guy?”
 
We walk into the living room. Bug pauses, transfixed by Gary Oldman’s giant face on the screen. We chat for a moment with my father about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and then we ask if he would be willing to read Bug this book while I finish preparing for bath and bedtime.
 
“Why, sure!” He turns off the TV. “Get on up here, big boy!”
 
Piece of cake.
 
Bug ooches up onto the couch, pressing his insatiable body into his granddaddy’s frame. The old man takes the book. “Let’s see what we have here. Uh oh. Witches!”
 
And they begin.
 
As I putter and pack and start the washing machine, I overhear my father taking his sweet time. He puts on a cackling voice and even reads through all the disgusting signs at the Witch’s meat counter. “Eyes of newt, lizard’s gizzards. . . ” This catalog of dark magic gives me a few extra breaths which I offer up to Carolyn Hax and the other guilty pleasures of the Style section. This is my moment of nothing. A booming racket and a fit of giggles burst from the living room, and I hitch a ride on it, free and easy.
 
Easy?
 
Free?
 
Imagine that.
 

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