I don’t know how you guys do it – you single parents out there. I’m not just referring to single moms. There are plenty of fathers who have been left in the sole care of their children for the same reasons women do, albeit less frequently. Perhaps you’ve suffered the pain of losing a spouse/partner to death. Maybe you woke up one morning and found yourself abandoned and suddenly completely responsible for raising a child or four. It could be that you fled a horrible relationship and elected to raise your children on your own, rather than be beaten, abused, or whatever. In some cases, maybe you’ve even CHOSEN this path of single parenthood.
However you got here, I salute you and where I can, I will support you.
Raising children in a two parent household isn’t easy, so I can’t imagine the pressure that comes hand-in-glove with raising a family alone. My husband and I routinely lose our children (seriously), neglect laundry, throw some frozen pizza on the table, and send our kids to school with homework barely done. There are TWO (supposedly) responsible adults in the house, and it’s still chaotic. In those moments, my mind often turns to the single moms and dad who dot my neighborhood. How do they do it? How do they manage the insanity? I suppose they do because they must – some of them with a scowl and others with a weary smile. Still, they raise their children and send them out into the world, perhaps with more worry than you or I could fathom.
I have confessed before that I am a constant and consistent worrier. Sometimes I worry so much and so hard about things that I find myself chained to my bed in fear, waiting for the anxiety to pass. I worry about everything: Will Mr. Bates go to jail if he’s falsely accused of murder? Did that homeless guy with the sign find shelter for his dog during the ice storm? If I eat this gallon of ice-cream, will I REALLY blow back up to my previous quarter ton weight? These things, though they may seem trivial to you (Okay, yes, they ARE trivial.) persistently occupy my mind, and I am happy to entertain them. If I make room for them, I cannot have space to allow a more sinister thought to camp out in my thoughts; that being “what would happen to my kids if I died?”
Instinctively, I know that Marshall can care for the kids and do a very good job at it. That gives me some comfort. He’s their dad, and a very good one too. But who does the single parent have to rely on? Who is their rock that they can lean on? America’s foster program is full of kids who have found themselves in the system because American families are so disjointed. Gone are the days when you knew for certain that your aunt, brother or neighbor would look after your children should harm befall you. The breakdown of the American family is not at the nuclear level alone: its disintegration extends to the extended family as well. Think about the last time you walked over to a cousin’s house – unannounced – just to say hello, or spent the afternoon with your grandmother. Have you ever even done so? Be honest!
I worry for single parents, though I know it’s not my place to. All the same, I do. This Tuesday I got a call from the kids’ school telling me to come and pick one of them up.
“Your child was hurt during PE,” the nurse said.
“What happened to her?” I asked frantically. “Hurt where?”
“Her wrist. She can’t move her hand and I have her at the front desk,” the nurse replied. She sounded irritated that I was asking her questions.
“Ah. So is her hand broken? Is she bleeding?”
Why was this woman calling me at work if my child’s hand was broken?
“I can’t tell that without an x-ray, ma’am,” she snapped.
“So you’re saying I have to come pick her up?”
Puzzled – and fuming – I sent an email to my boss, hoped into my car, and went to retrieve my child who was sitting at the front desk with ice on her hand and a grin on her face. The school “nurse” (because none of them are really trained nurses, are they?) looked at me sheepishly. I scowled at them both a wordlessly whisked my child away. After purchasing her some lunch and a math book from School Box, I dropped her off at daycare and went back to work. The entire enterprise cost me $4.65 for lunch from Chick-fil-a, $7.45 for the book from School Box and $30 for the drop in rate for daycare, not to mention the hour worth of wages I lost during my excursion. It was an irritation – yes – but I could afford to do all of it, even if it pained me to do so. I called my husband, livid.
“Humph. I was a good thing they didn’t call me,” he laughed. “I would have told them to put the ice pack on her hand and send her right back into class. If she was really hurt, she would have been screaming.”
Duh! He was so right. This particular child cannot handle true pain in any measure. The fact that she had told me, post Chick-fil-a consumption, that her hand was feeling better told me I had made the wrong choice. I should have left her there at school!
“I don’t know how single parents do it, man,” I mused. “This is ridiculous.”
I am fortunate that I have a job that allows me some modicum of flexibility, but many working women – black women in particular – are not as fortunate as I am. Had I been a single mother with limited funds, what choice would I have made then? Would I sacrifice part of our rent/grocery budget to pick up a child who wasn’t truly injured, just to keep up appearances? Would I have let her sit there and tough it out despite the possibility of others judging me as a “neglectful mother?” Decisions, decisions, decisions!