Several months ago, I wrote ‘Eating is a Family Affair‘, a post detailing the many ways my husband supports me in breastfeeding. I loved reading the comments readers left. There were lots of mamas tagging their partners and thanking them for their support (love!). Some comments were from moms whose partners did not support them in their breastfeeding (tears!). And some were from single moms who said, “Wow, I do this all on my own. I feel like a superhero.”
Big, big props.
Many single mothers have great support systems. But many do not. And it’s true that raising a child or children without support is a superhuman act – an act always driven by love, hard work, and sometimes a measure of desperation. Single mothers are an important part of the Birth Without Fear community. So today, I’m writing about the single mom I know and love the best: my own.
NB: Every single motherhood (and every single-motherhood) experience is different. I hope that as you read this post you take it not as a criticism of your own parenting, but as a story about the way hers was.
My mom was 38 when she had me and 43 when she had my sister. She cuddled, clothed, and fed us well up into each of our eighteenth years, at which point we left for college and I’m pretty sure she did a happy dance on the front porch.
She must have been tired – nay, exhausted! – looking after us but I rarely felt it. As a mom now, I know how easy it is to snap at my kids when I’m sleep deprived and stressed out. I am full of admiration for the gentle ways she treated us.
We had money problems. Stay-up-late-scheming-ways-to-get-money-to-pay-for-necessities money problems. She could simply have told us that we couldn’t get new clothes. Instead, she took us to the dustiest, cheapest thrift stores and let us run wild with the dollars we had. My clothes never matched or fit right, but I always looked… jazzy.
I’ve never met a woman more confident about being on her own. If I were in her shoes, I would be tempted to look for a Man to look after us, and her. But she had no time for that. She just said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and fixed the plumbing herself.
Instead of forcing my high-needs little sister to go to school every day, she let her stay home when she needed to take a day off. This seemed so normal at the time, but now I see that every day she accommodated my sister, she made a sacrifice. It was the sacrifice of her own personal time, of that little sliver of non-kid identity I try so hard to maintain in my life now.
Instead of telling us to sit down and be quiet or using the TV as a babysitter, my mom restricted TV to one hour per day and installed a gymnastics bar hanging from our living room ceiling.
She took in foreign students. As a kid, I sometimes resented their intrusion into “our” family. As an adult, I can’t fathom taking on more responsibility when things were already so crazy. Twenty years later, she still gets Christmas cards from students I only vaguely remember but who, obviously, remember her.
She made us dinner. She could have said, “I’m too tired, go fend for yourself.” But (usually) she didn’t.
(sometimes she did, and that was OK, too)
I went to a small alternative school that allowed me to read all day. We couldn’t afford the tuition. Instead of telling me I had to drop out, she became the school janitor.
There were always a few dollars on the kitchen fireplace mantle in case we needed to buy milk from the corner store when she was out. Instead of worrying that her kids would take it to buy candy, she trusted us. I never once abused it.
Some yahoos (her word) removed the STOP sign from a busy street corner near our house. I guess they thought it would be funny. Mom survived the accident but the car didn’t. We couldn’t get a new one. Instead of canceling our extracurricular activities, she bought an oversized adult tricycle and ferried us around in it.
We were embarrassed. But she wasn’t.
Years later, she bought a third-hand camper van and drove us all the way to Montreal. We had to pull over all the time because it was so top-heavy we were being blown off the road. No matter what, every day she made me come up to the front cab for a French lesson. She can’t hear out of her right ear and her left was drowned out by the rattle of the vehicle and the sound of Trans-Canada highway traffic. I remember shouting: “Je… SUIS! Tu… ES!! Il… EST!!!” Conjugation quality time is the best quality time.
Hilarious, warm, imperfect, intelligent, sensitive, and willing to put everything on the line for her kids. My mom showed me what being a parent is all about. It’s not money, it’s not appearances, it’s not parenting according to a book or a guru or a website. In the poetry of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, it’s waking up “…after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and doing what needs to be done to feed the children.”
Thank you, mama.