I'm Not Single; I Am Solo
I used to think the worst title I could hold was single mom. Then I became a widow.
For practically all of my life, I've always known I wanted to have a family. I wanted to be part of something. To belong. I wanted to be needed and to take care of people. I wanted to be loved. In fact, I wanted it so badly that I looked for it in all the wrong places. I clung on to toxic relationships. I chased after guys who didn't want me. I treated every relationship like a long term commitment, especially the ones that didn't deserve my time. Eventually I met someone unexpected and everything changed. He made me laugh. He was brilliant and charming and made me feel good about myself. We were crazy about each other. Everyone agreed we were meant to be and everything about it felt right.
I loved being married. I was that annoying girl that constantly referred to him as "my husband" even if you knew his name. We were playing house and feeling grown up and sharing everything including our last name. I appreciated having someone to check in with throughout the day and to sleep next to at night. I liked having someone to bounce ideas off of and get advice from when I wasn't sure what to do. I loved having someone have my back.
When my son was born, I felt complete. I was finally getting everything I've ever wanted. He was healthy and perfect and gave my life a new purpose. I was nervous and exhausted and probably trying way too hard. But we were a family. I wasn't going to fuck this up. I was able to stay home and spend entire days learning and moving and passing the time. There was the pool and story time and Gymboree. There was the zoo and the beach and feeding ducks in the pond. There were books and toys and, if I was lucky, there were naps. It was all consuming and physically demanding and everything I've ever wanted all my life.
But it wasn't easy juggling playdates and date nights and trying to make everyone happy. I put a ton of pressure on myself to keep the house clean and be the perfect mom and the best wife. Most days it was bananas. I was stir crazy and spinning my wheels to get everything done. I was braindead by the time my husband got home. I would talk his ear off before he could even get inside the door. I was starving for human interaction. He worked hard all day and couldn't wait to come home to silence. We would watch shows and drink wine and then wake up and do it all over again.
The months and years were flying by filled with long days and hard work. My husband began commuting to a new job across island and was gone the majority of the day. On his days off he was exhausted and needed to rest up for the week ahead. There was never a good time for a trip. Not a lot of energy left for family fun day. No time to ourselves. It wasn't always exactly how I dreamed it would be and it was challenging to be the one to keep all the plates spinning.
In our tenth year of marriage there was a shift. We didn't fight and we still cracked each other up but there was a distance between us. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but figured it was just a phase. Then one Sunday afternoon he said to me, "I don't know if I want to be married anymore." I couldn't breathe. He told me he was moving out and that some separation would do us good. I was shattered. I was caught completely off guard and felt like an absolute failure. How could he leave us? My worst fears were coming true. I was going to be a single mom.
It was an extremely confusing time and nothing seemed to make any sense. I had no idea what would happen next and I was in a panic not knowing what to do. Will we get a divorce? Be legally separated? Do I need an attorney? Will I get child support? Shared custody? Will I have to move? Will we co-parent? Split holidays? What about birthday parties? Should I work full time? Hire a nanny? Withdraw from private school? Who will take out the trash and put air in my tires and carry heavy things? What will happen to us?
After he left, we would communicate by text about bills and arrangements for him to see our son. I was trying to navigate the best I could. It was messy and complicated and nothing about it felt right. I was angry and bitter and terrified of losing everything. He would come to the house on Sundays and I would go to work. It was awkward and I would try to act like I wasn't crushed. There were times he would be late. Sometimes he couldn't stay. Sometimes he had something else he had to do. I was drowning in disappointment and riding a roller coaster of emotions and just basically trying to survive.
Several months later, my husband took his life. Everyone around me was in shock. None of us saw it coming. The outpouring of love was humbling as everyone rallied around. Friends and neighbors came with food and hugs and pitched in around the house. They took my son for the day or just sat with me and listened. I had an amazing amount of support. And after time, their lives carried on and I found myself on my own. I was no longer a single mom. I was a solo parent. At one point, a coworker of his reached out to me to see how we were doing. During our conversation he said to me, "you better take care of yourself. You're all your son has now." Cue the panic attacks.
If I'm being honest, I kind of handled everything before. My husband and I had an agreement. He would go to work and I would take care of everything else. But there is something heavy about parenting alone. Separated or not, there is no one else to consult with on issues like discipline, bullying or homework. No one to handle middle of the night emergencies. Nobody to take your child for special time on the weekend so you can have a much needed break. Yes, I have friends and therapists and Google but there is something sobering about removing Parent #2 from school records and pediatrician emergency contact forms. And what if something happens to me? My anxiety levels skyrocketed just thinking about all the potential danger in the world.
I'm learning that overwhelm is a state of mind. It's all in my perception of the situation. The beauty of solo parenting is that I'm the boss. I don't have to have a conference about weekend plans, Christmas presents or what's for dinner. I can decide where we go on vacation. I can choose what movies we watch and how to cut my son's hair and what kind of furniture to buy. I think we are much more capable than we think. It's just easier to lean on someone else. Parenting is challenging no matter what your circumstance. I have friends whose husbands are deployed. Some have a handful of kids. A few are in terrible marriages with no way out. There are times, like Father's Day, when I think it would be magical to have another parent to help carry the load. But for now I'll just keep fumbling through and making it up as I go.