Yes, we are in a pandemic, but it is also, my birthday today.
That’s right. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!!
Other than the things I want (a Peloton bike, so that I don’t Over-COVID-do it in the kitchen, har, har), I’m thinking about my friends who are raising children on their own.
The Teenager is currently sequestered at her boyfriend’s home, with his parents who have generously taken her in and a brother who may or may not be older. She eats her meals at set times, there’s always a placemat, and I suspect, dessert is always served. Unlike in my home, this two bedroom apartment with bare walls. If she were home with me at this very moment, this Pandemic a moth-holed blanket shrouding our world, she’d putter into the kitchen, grab a handful of Pop-tarts, and meander back into her bedroom, only to emerge and repeat the pattern numerous times in a day. I’m glad she’s not here with me. I’m glad I am sequestered, just me and my eleven year-old pug, he following my every step, hoping a piece of pasta will fly out of my mouth and onto the floor, ready for his consumption. There’s a comfort knowing she is in a traditional home (two parents, siblings, a backyard), she is with the boy she loves, and she’s in a suburban enclave, far, far away from the Corbusier oasis I reside in, along with 11,000 other residents of this complex, in which we have already one known case of Coronavirus.
I have toilet paper, I have flushable wipes. I have oodles of frozen edamame in my freezer. What I don’t have is my child with me. I’m not torn about it either; I’d rather her be where she is, and not home with me, pining for her boyfriend. Have you seen a teenager missing the person they’re in love with? It’s not a pleasant sight.
Still, I am a Solo Parent, and I am experiencing this pandemic just as I have experienced parenting—alone. I’ve noticed myriad posts on my social media feeds from women and men—let’s call them parents—sheltering at home with their young children. I can feel their familiar desperation through the letters on my computer screen, that post suggesting they may throw their child out the window—really a cry for help and relief—, that they can’t really get, not now when we are social distancing, when watching someone’s child—normally a kind gesture someone does—could endanger their life of your own.
Every Solo Parent in this pandemic is truly on her or his own.
When I was raising my daughter, I was still gainfully employed. Every night, when she went to sleep, I’d email numerous parents of her friends, asking for one of them to do a playdate with my child and theirs. I relied so heavily on my village, my village of moms and dads and caregivers who were willing to bring my daughter home with them, give her a snack, and then be engaged in after school play time with their child. Maybe even get their homework done so I wouldn’t have to struggle with the Lattice method. On weekends, I’d make sure my daughter had at least one playdate per day, and when the stars aligned, that did in fact occur, the coveted playdate, and I could have some much needed downtime. That downtime is so critical to the sanity of a Solo Parent, and I define downtime as the space away from your child from ages birth to thirteen, so that you can breathe for a moment, think for a moment, just have quiet for a moment. Those women you see in parenting magazines taking bubble baths? That was never, not once, my existence. If I took a bath, it was in and out, the suds fading as quickly as the air I breathed. My parental survival was contingent on drop off parties and the occasional musical theater class, I’d look forward to that hour or two when my daughter was not in needing on my parenting ennui.
I cherished being a parent, it was everything you imagine, but it was always challenging on an hourly basic, from strategizing how to get from one long hour to the next long hour on the weekend, to those endless nights when my child was tormented by night terrors. Of course the darker moments were always mirrored by the lighter ones—that soft hand holding yours, the music of her infectious laughter that was better than any Pavement album ever, the way she said “I love you, Mommy,” every morning, every afternoon, every night. But. I was on my own, a Solo Parent.
It was my village, my family of friends, that made raising her a tangible reality. My childfree friends who took her to see Mama Mia and The Lion King and Legally Blonde; my inability to understand why people sing when they can just say, “Hey dude, it’s the circle of Life” was always beyond me. But my daughter? She was a musical theatre aficionado, ever since pre-school when she performed in the class musical, How The Turtle Lost Its Shell. My neighbors had a daughter my daughters age; they’d invite my daughter to come along with them on their adventures, to their home in Lord’s Valley, apple picking, decorating the Christmas Tree. My daughter learned how to eat with a fork and a knife and clear off her plate, courtesy of my super mom friend, Maren. My best friend spent the night with us in the hospital, when she experienced a febrile convulsion; neither one of us were alone. There was always someone a phone call away, to provide solace, a break, space.
The Pandemic erases the work of the support system. The Pandemic obliterates the Village. The Pandemic forces the Solo Parent to reckon with their patience, their perseverance, the horizon that is the imagination to entertain and sustain them. Tonight, while I sit on my couch, looking at the empty nest of mine, I’m reminded of how full life is, with children in it.
So. Happy Birthday to me.