Now that my sons have grown into men, I am satisfied that all my fears and worries that I wasn't prepared for single motherhood are laid to rest. Like something I baked in the oven, they turned out “just right.”
Since they were two and three years old, my sons and I have been like a little package tied with ribbon. It has been a wild ride with ups and downs and twists and turns – but we eventually arrived at their adulthood in one piece.
I don't think it is any different to raise children alone or with another parent. It is still a bittersweet, sad, beautiful, terrifying, rewarding experience. However, through the years, I have experienced prejudice and discrimination as a single parent. I'm not alone – all the single parents I met have felt the same thing. Parent teacher conferences would always spiral downward to the teacher expressing her concerns about my sons coming from a "broken" home. If they acted out or were disruptive in school, it was blamed on one or the other being from that ubiquitous “broken” home. For a while, I listened to this and reluctantly bought into the idea that indeed any bad or inappropriate behavior was entirely my fault because I was a single parent. After a good deal of time, and after observing several children with two parents, I breathed a sigh of relief to find out we were all normal. It didn't matter if a child had one parent, two parents, a whole gaggle of parents – the mischief and mayhem wrought by any child was simply an equal opportunity gift, having nothing at all to do with the parent(s).
Heck, I've known households with two parents and one of them was always fishing, out hunting, drinking with buds, or just plain not there, or worse, there and having a negative impact on children with rants and raves and tantrums – from the parent. Who made up the rule that being a single parent means the children are going to grow up to be unsuccessful?
We've had our moments. Being a "girl" has its disadvantages when raising boys alone. There is the whole issue of bathroom stuff. When they were finally taking care of business by themselves, I pondered how I would teach them how to stand at the toilet. I mean, I'd spend hours trying to figure this out without getting totally outrageous and embarrassing all three of us to death. They'd look at me like I was from Mars.
Then a little friend came over to play one day and the natural order of life played out and suddenly both boys were thrilled beyond words that they could do this marvelous standing up trick. And before I knew it, a contest began: He who could stand the furthest away from the target (the toilet) and still hit the center, won. I tolerated this to an extent and added a rule of my own: He who lost acquired his own mop and cleanser. Then there was the tandem game – crossing streams from ten feet away – same rules applied. The last time I discussed bathroom etiquette and personal hygiene with them was when I asked one if he wiped. He was aghast! "You don't wipe!" he said incredulously, "You shake."
Cub Scouts was a test of my durability and persistence to stay the course, since most of the parents were men. Actually most of the men were reliving their childhood and building the best stock car for the derby ever made by man, er, boy on record. The rules specifically said that the boy was to carve, whittle, and smooth his block of wood into a mean lean racing machine. I followed the rules. I took the coveted block of wood home with my son, with instructions that he was to do all of the work himself. I borrowed a hack saw from the neighbor, who also offered to help, but I thanked him, saying, no, the child is supposed to do all the work.
My son bent over his nothing-shaped block of wood and proceeded to sweat over it, saw at it, chip at it, shave it, sand it; all the time I'm standing there trying not to interfere, sitting on my hands, or biting my fingernails, in a very strained effort to let him do it himself.
So – it gets done and vaguely resembles a stock car, slathered in yellow enamel paint. All to the specs and requirements of the Cub Master. When we arrived at the Derby – nearly, and I mean 99.5%, of the cars there were CHERRY. (Tell me to my face that a 10-year old boy made that!) Perfect little miniature stock cars, sleek, smooth, and fast. I fully expected to find a tiny little motor inside. When it came time for my son's turn “at the wheel,” he placed his precious home-made car on top of the race ramp
..... and .....
It wouldn't move.
One of the fathers kindly and imperceptibly tapped the Yellow Bomb repeatedly to the finish line. Sad!
Then there was the cake bake sale where again the boys were supposed to “do it on their own.” I had learned my lesson THIS time. I mixed it; I baked it; and then my son helped me decorate it. A plain white cake with white frosting and a crudely shaped yellow “happy face” with chocolate piping for the eyes and mouth. It looked kind of cute.
We arrived and there were cakes that were perfect! Flowers, piping, stars, and one that was shaped and looked like a beehive, complete with bees made out of licorice frosting and yellow frosting for the bumble bee effect. Perfect bees.
We left and never looked back.
One of our pastimes was to go for drives. It was cheap (gas was much cheaper in the 70s.) I love to drive in the country and they loved to be passengers. Somehow, my seat created a division, like a wall, that turned into a “confessional” of sorts. They would share everything to the back of my head. Everything. They had no secrets from me and so they shared their joys, wishes, mistakes, outright sins, goals, dreams, fears, anger, hope. . . . . And I listened. Quietly, with no conditions. We would spend hours upon hours driving country roads while they spilled their deepest heart thoughts to me, Mother Confessor.
Their father left our family for another man. This I note not for any sympathy, but just to understand the boys' viewpoints. Their father is a good and decent man, highly intelligent, and very compassionate. His decision involved a long drawn out soul-searching and self discovery.
The boys discovered this fact about their father ten years after he left. I simply told them that he was a “good and decent man, highly intelligent, and very compassionate.” But on our drives, I realized that this new piece of information was a constant niggling in their minds. They wanted to know if it was contagious. Is it hereditary. Is it biological, ecological, atmospheric, scientific, analytical, or what? Would it happen to them, they pondered. The “birds and bees” conversations that parents handle with their children is very over rated. We spent miles and hours discussing the boys' father and their own identities. I kept wondering if they were getting the right message or even if this was just too serious for a developing pre-teen, when suddenly my youngest, who loved to use big words even if he didn't know their definition, announced, “I know! When I grow up I'm going to be a nymphomaniac!”
Oh, yeah, every mother's dream child. :)
The “boys” are in their mid-30's now and I love them more today, even though I absolutely doted on them when they were little.
When I see them walking towards me I think, not bad, single mother.