BEING A SINGLE MOM BITES

I quit drinking alcohol at 26 when I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is essentially like having mono for the rest of your life. Nary a drop touched my lips for years, not even for a toast.  I’m sure I was a real drag at parties. My friends would kind of cock their heads to one side and say, “You sure you won’t have a drink. A small one won’t kill you.” They were probably thinking, “Gee, you used to be so fun when you drank…”

I started drinking again six years into being a single mother, roughly fifteen years after abstaining. Now mind you, I was never an alcoholic, nor am I one now. But the need to escape every once in a while is there, raging like an eighteen-year-old boy’s hormones. Thankfully I am able to temper it. If I weren’t able to I probably would be a full-fledged alcoholic, periodically falling into the pool in my complex, or an emaciated meth head (one of the many in San Bernardino County where I live), or a pill-popper, riffling through my friends’ cabinets for their children’s ADHD medication. Why? Because being a single mother often sucks and there are days when that reality is too painful.

Eight years ago, my ex left me. Suddenly, I had to care for a one-year-old all by myself. It was like realizing you’re having fifty people over for Thanksgiving and there’s no one to do the cooking but you. My married friends would say to me in awe, “I don’t know how you do it. My husband goes away for two days and I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.”

“It’s the meds,” I’d tell them only partly joking. Then I’d say more seriously, “I have no choice. You do what you have to do.”

I mean, what were my options? Leave my son in a basket on a stranger’s porch? Abandon him in the woods to be raised by wolves? Or worse, let him be brought up by my Type A, career-obsessed, only money will make you happy, and you’d better not show any weakness or else you’re a weenie father?

So I made the best life I could for my now nine-year-old son. My ex is on an “extended vacation” and essentially out of the picture. My mother lives 3000 miles away, and my father, who lives a mere 4 miles away no longer speaks to me.

We are, my son and I, essentially alone. In the suburbs, single parents are about as rare as in-shape, affluent women in their 40’s with real breasts.

Sometimes life feels really, really hard. And there’s no one to talk to about it, because I don’t know anyone in my boat. Most of my friends are married or attached.  They all have some support system close by — parents, in-laws, siblings.  My “village” consists of one temperamental Chihuahua, seven cats and two squawking parakeets.

To feel like a single mother while your husband is traveling is not the same as actually being a single mother. While one may take care of the entire household, as well as the kids and the husband, I’m betting the husband probably helps with some of the bills, or the cars, the plumbing, or the yard. As a single mother, you take care of all of these things and more. On one income.

The times I resent my ex for not being around are when I’ve already changed the sheets 3 times in the middle of the night because my son has thrown up pizza, and every time I think he’s done, I’m wrong. Or when I need to make the excruciating decision over whether to put my son on medication because he can’t focus in school and he’s flunking all his classes. Or when he scores a goal in soccer and I’m the only family member cheering for him.

I’m told every so often by people who know me—some friends, our counselor—that I’m doing a great job as a mother. But they don’t know that there are times when I feel so frustrated and exhausted and alone that more often than not I cry in the shower so my son can’t hear me.

So every now and then I have a few glasses of wine, or a pint or two of beer when things get tougher than usual. It dulls a bit of the pain, the loneliness, the realization that the poor decisions I made got me into this situation in the first place. And things don’t seem so bad. At least for one night…

WHERE WAS THAT DAMN CHECKLIST WHEN I NEEDED IT?

Was I the only female in her 20s who didn’t have that all-important
checklist of necessary traits for a husband? You know, traits like: good with
children; an education higher than ninth grade; doesn’t think 401K is a
freeway, or Good Pay with Benefits is the name of a horse to bet on. The only
relationship advice I remember getting while growing up was from my
grandmother. “It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor man,” she’d
reiterate every chance she got. It fell upon deaf ears, because what I got was
a sporadically employed, debt-ridden, non-checkbook-balancing, “I didn’t know
this site would bill me $300 for watching porn” man-boy. And I have no one to
blame but myself.

Sure, there was a point in the relationship when I told
myself to get out. I believe the words were: “Get the f**k away from this man. What
is the matter with you?” But I didn’t. I’m still not sure why. Surely multiple
orgasms couldn’t cloud my vision THAT much. Even another single mom friend of
mine confided, “Before my ex, I always dated men with good jobs and an
education—men who treated me like a queen. I don’t know what happened.”

Had I initially chosen the right man to divorce, I too might
be enjoying the perks of being an ex, such as child support payments and every
other weekend off to get my groove on.

Instead of feeling anger toward my ex for not being able to
step up to the plate and be a responsible father to our nine-year-old son, I
feel a tremendous amount of anger toward myself over having chosen the mate
that I did. Now my son doesn’t have 2 stable parents in his life, and the guilt
I feel is enormous. Since I can’t take responsibility for another’s actions, namely
my ex’s, I choose to beat myself up constantly for my poor decision-making
ability. My son shouldn’t have to suffer because of my inability to foresee
past behavior as an indicator for future behavior of a dubious nature. “With a
little guidance he’ll change,” I told my friends. “He just needs someone to
show him the right way to do things.” (Yeah, I know – believe it or not, I
actually completed four years of college.)

The point is to learn from our mistakes. If we’re conscious
enough, we don’t repeat them. When we mistakenly choose the wrong partner and
have children with them, well … that mistake doesn’t go away, unless they
decide to drop out of the picture for good, or are sentenced to life in prison.
And even then, they sometimes return like genital warts.

I believe a child flourishes in a two-parent household. It’s a balance of two energies— yin-yang
of sorts—where both energies are required to properly round out a developing
child. I only have feminine energy. Our counselor says I have to provide both
for my son – be both mother and father. How in the hell do I do that when I was
raised a girl? I didn’t grow up with brothers or male cousins. I hung out with
“the guys” as a teenager on the streets of Brooklyn, but they were all
high-school drop-outs who cursed and spit on the sidewalk. Hardly the behavior
I wanted to adopt.

How am I supposed to teach him to shave? Obviously I haven’t
succeeded at teaching him to effectively aim his urine stream into the bowl.
Recently, he pointed to a cartoon picture of a girl in a bikini in his Pokemon
DSI game. “Boobs!” he giggled. What would a dad do? I wondered. So I playfully
slapped him on the back, equally enthused. “Yeah, boobs!” What would a mom do?
“Son, the proper word is breasts. And we don’t objectify women in this house.”

I don’t have a significant other to show him the
male ropes, his teachers are all female; coaches can only do so much. No
Grandpa as a role model, no uncles … just other dads of friends who flit in and
out of our lives, occasionally attempting to take my son under their wing by
teaching him the correct way to dive or hold a bat. We recently went to a
batting cage with a friend’s husband who tossed some balls to him so he could hit
them. I watched sadly, thinking about J’s father. “You should be the one here throwing baseballs to your son, you
SOB.” All I could do was smile and cheer J on. And pray he wasn’t thinking the
same thing.