I was reflecting on my past yesterday. Sitting outside in the sun for the first time in seven months (thank you, God), and enjoying 55 degree weather, I ran past an article in the New York Times about a woman who wrote a book called, “Overwhelmed.” It’s about being a mother who works, loves, and plays when there wasn’t anytime for herself.
That struck a chord that sent me flying back to when my son was six and I was newly divorced. My ex-husband was not available to help out in raising my son. To be honest, he had some issues and with no transportation along with no place to live for awhile, my son only saw his father intermittently throughout his childhood and teenage years. It was only until he was a Junior in high school that his father started to make a regular appearance in my son’s life, but that’s another story for another day.
So, there I was. In a town home I had purchased after we split the proceeds from our house and a few pieces of furniture, my son and I embarked on a new adventure. Just the two of us walking barefoot in the dark of night, blindly navigating our way through childhood. I was looking for a parental manual; none could be found.
I quickly learned that I had to be a father as well as a mother. I was also the nurse, carpenter, maid, psychologist, cook and chauffeur.
I held a full time job which required me to leave the house by 7:30 in the morning. I couldn’t leave Matt, my son, alone in the house and have him be responsible to lock the place up and catch the bus at just six years of age. That would be like asking a chimp to explain War and Peace to me. Thankfully, there was before school day care, which I paid for, in addition to after school day care until I could pick him up around 5:00 p.m.
After school, it was either baseball practice, a baseball game, or football practice. But between school and the extra-curricular stuff, I had to feed him. He didn’t finish culinary school yet so I was left to handle the task. Rushing home to make dinner and then making sure he had everything he needed for whatever it was he was going to was all done within one hour. Hamburger Helper was definitely a helper and a staple in our house. Let’s add peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well. Daycare isn’t cheap, and I wasn’t receiving any child support from my ex-husband. He tried to pay when he could, but $75 bucks a week just didn’t cut it financially, and it wasn’t always paid in a timely manner.
When Matt was young, I would stay for the practices as well as the games. As he got older, I was able to just drop him off for practices, go home and take care of laundry, feed the dogs, walk the dogs, clean the house, yada, yada, yada. Then, I would go back and pick him up at the field. I never missed a game unless I was out of town for business or sick.
When he got home from practice is was time for homework. Matt needed extra help with math, so I hired a tutor who we would meet at the St. Charles library twice a week to help him out. After homework it was a bath or shower and then bedtime.
As he got older, I made him more responsible for things: We no longer needed before or after school day care, he started managing his own time, and I taught him how to do his own laundry when he turned twelve.
I also tried to teach him how to cook the basic things like scrambled eggs, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and pizza. I wanted him to learn how to cook because who knew when I would drop dead. The kid was becoming a bottomless pit; starving all the time. I thank the God above for high school because that’s when I no longer needed to make a lunch for him!
By the time I sat down at night, it was past nine at night and I was exhausted. My dogs wanted attention and I just wanted to be left alone.
Being a single parent wasn’t easy. Matt didn’t have a male role model to look up to. Even though we had relatives nearby, they were often too busy with their own kids. Matt looked to his baseball and football coaches as his role models to help navigate the muddy waters of becoming a young man. I tried to help as much as I could, but I wasn’t raised as a man. There are just some things I couldn’t teach him. How the hell do you shave your face?
But, I did teach him manners. I taught him to be respectful of his elders. I explained the complications of dealing with girls (that was an ongoing conversation). We talked about drugs, drinking, social situations. I was tough on him at times, but in hindsight, it was a good thing. We shared laughs, tears and built memories that will last a lifetime. We are extremely close and talk about almost everything. But, now that he’s in college, he tells me what he wants to tell me because I’m his mom, and mom’s don’t need to know about everything now.
Maybe that’s a blessing.
He’s now a Junior in college. He votes. He’s a Big Brother and helps other kids who are less fortunate while handling a full course load. He’s managed to hold onto a great girl for two years now, (those talks must have helped), and he’s looking for a job which will hopefully end up on a positive note very soon before his summer school starts up.
When I sit back and reflect upon this, I wonder how single parents of today handle it all. With the cost of groceries skyrocketing and daycare being enormous pit-bull biting down on your wallet every week, it’s an amazing accomplishment to get through every single day. I even wondered how I did it all. Seriously. Being younger probably helped, but if I had to do today what I did almost fifteen years ago, the situation would have probably thrown me into a mental institution.
To all those single parents out there, I salute you. I raise the flag of single parent-ville in your honor because it’s a really hard gig to play. Just keep focused on one thing: Make sure your kid graduates high school, gets a decent education and becomes a person who gives back to society.