It’s true. You know, single mothers deserve a whole month of free spa days with paid vacation and an on-call nanny. It won’t happen, of course, but there should be a little something more than a card or an almost forgotten card and the celebration should last at least a week.
Single mothers work hard being everything to everyone all the time. It’s a tough job description that takes a special kind of woman to make it work. Most of my generation has taken a stab at single parenting at least once – some, several times. We never list that on our resumes, though. We should, because nothing says I Can Get Things Done like a single woman with a couple of kids, a job, a house to run, and at least one ex-somebody calling regularly to complain. Despite and because of it all, we manage to make the whole shebang run smoothly.
It’s no surprise. We’ve had generations of training. My grandmother was a war widow at 21 – five kids and no high school diploma. Make no mistake – just because there’s a box marked “widowed” on the form, that doesn’t mean the parenting is different. My mother has been married to my dad forever, but her marital status didn’t alter the fact that Dad was on the road most of the time and she was In Charge. Talk to any woman married in the late 50s and early 60s and they’ll tell you about single-parenting with or without the vows. Things were what they were in those days.
I’ve single-parented and now my daughter is, too. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s not fun, but it is what it is. Just tonight she managed to bathe afternoon play dirt and Ranch Dressing out of her son’s hair before the bedtime snuggle. Then she fixed the stopped up sink and repaired the disposal via googled instructions. If we find a wayward spider on the floor tonight, I imagine we’ll kill it ourselves.
Tomorrow’s our day – all of us out there loading the dishwasher and starting a pile of laundry and dragging out the trash now that the kids are in bed. We’re the queens of multitasking and the goddesses of Getting It Done. So bring on the macaroni necklaces and dandelions stolen from the neighbor’s yard – we’re ready to bask in the 24-hour glamor of Mother’s Day and we deserve all 1,440 minutes of it.
My daughter had her very first Mother’s Day yesterday, and it was powerful. I watched her all day basking in new motherhood, remembering the instant when he was pulled from her under all that sterile white surgery light, and looking forward to the mysterious string of years ahead with her son.
Her son. She spent every waking moment yesterday delighting in the gift of him and wondering how, years and years from now when he’s all hairy and mannish and wearing his cap backwards, how she’ll ever be able to let him go into his life without her. She talked about first days at school and terrible girls gathering, and how the hugs will be fewer.
He is a baby. Levi cruises around testing his periphery, his abilities, his almost-walking-alone freedom, and he falls down. A lot. As a spectator yesterday I watched my own daughter mothering, and what she didn’t know – what it’s so hard to explain – is that it happens by degrees. Levi took three fast steps yesterday, tottering and grinning and breathing hard, his fat fists in the air balancing like an infant tightrope walker. Three fast steps away from Mom and toward a footstool. That’s how it begins.
It’s easier to see the milestones when you’re not the mother and that is not your child. There he goes, I wanted to tell her, and he’ll never come back to you exactly the same boy who left. That’s the whole delight and ache of mothering, because at the same time there is my own baby, the one pulled from me in the white light of another room almost 22 years ago, and she’s having her turn now. A woman.
As a grandmother and a mother, I’m hoarding these moments.
In this picture, my mother is 21 years-old. She doesn’t yet know that she’s going to lose three babies before finally having my sister. She doesn’t know about all the moving around we will eventually do or how high her hair will actually be in 1972. She doesn’t know about Junior Auxillary, seeing her daughters marry, buying Christmas for three grandchildren and a great-grandchild, or even about the cancer she will beat. She’s got no idea that Dad will grow up right along beside her and retire with her. She doesn’t know yet because she’s 21 and her whole life she’s been a girl. The woman/wife/mother business is too fresh.
It’s 1963 forever in this picture, and that’s why I love it. Note that shine on the kitchen table – it’s her trademark.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.