I’m just back from a late-night jaunt with my seven-year-old daughter to a local submarine sandwich joint. It’s 10 p.m. We wore our pyjamas, ate cookies outside the store and, when we got back to the house, watched our favourite reality show and drew tattoos on each other with coloured markers. Questionable parenting? Sure. But, with three other kids, the night was all about her having mom to herself for awhile. Enough with others’ woeful tales about having to take out the garbage, chase the mice, mow the lawn and there being no one to help decipher the French homework. These life lemons are ripe for glorious transformation.
I’ve been a single mother to four children for five years. Then, the kids were two, four, six and eight. My ex and I now have a reasonable working relationship, but it had to evolve from long sessions of bitter battles about such minutae as where to store the kids’ ice skates and who gets to host the birthday sleepovers. But now, all the fine sharp cheddar in the fridge is mine, those ridiculous hip waders are gone from the basement landing and I don’t ever have to watch Bounty Hunter again. Ever.
I make those minute-to-minute choices by myself, as I make all those choices regarding my children – – those lovely creatures who are the delightful product of that illconceived union. I’m not talking about the big stuff here, like health, education or whether our nine-year-old gets that Super Mario tattoo he’s been begging for (yeah, we caved). Just the regular business of everyday life. My microwave popcorn dinners. My sleep-too-late weekend mornings.
My occasional choice to let my 11-year-old watch bits and pieces of Borat. Now, these choices are mine. All mine. Because, while single parenthood has robbed me of the right to blame, it’s also released me from the other end of that covenant.
It’s the reason I and my band of midget circus performers have been known to trip out to the all-night Shoppers Drug Mart at 10 p.m. to give the blood-pressure machine a whirl and shop for hairbrushes. Why the kids get to eat their lunch on the garage roof (if they’re prepared to haul up the chairs). Why going to the movies with Mom, who favours large tubs of salty popcorn, is a lot more fun than going with Dad, who doesn’t.
It’s just me on this path now – and that suits me fine. I no longer have to weather the withering frowns of disapproval from the Other Parent. If I want to replace my daughter’s recently deceased hamster with another soon-to-expire rodent, or paint my son’s room Pokémon green, or teach the lot of them the entire songbook from Les Miserables one night over dinner, well, hell . . I can.
Imagine bath time, with four kids. I might have argued, from my two-parent period, that bath time with four kids would be too hard to tackle solo. After all, even four parental hands never seemed enough. From toy distribution through hairwashing and towel-procurement right up to safe bathtub exit and climbing into pyjamas, this was an arduous task that seemed to have few equals in the two-parents-required department.But even this grueling task has found a happy reprieve in single parentdom. Now bathtime is all about assembly-line precision; establishing a bathing order in advance and sticking to it; brushing one kid’s hair while the conditioner soaks into another’s; insisting on across-the-board toy pickup. This careful dance is all set to music from my bedroom computer’s speakers – generally something that loudly recalls the ’70s. And it’s all undertaken with just a single set of parental hands. Imagine that.
Yes, I have to, on my own, buy all the kids’ clothes, cut their hair, manage their friendships, monitor the hours they spend surfing the Internet and enforce the house rules. But it’s also true to say I get to, on my own, buy all the kids’ clothes, cut their hair, manage their friendships, monitor the Internet and enforce the house rules. Not bad, eh, scoring this kind of autonomy inside a divorce scene most folks see as one of two warring dictators?
Being a single parent can be okay. I reassure my married friends that I have this freedom to make choices and then watch their dawning realization of what it would be like to achieve a state of self-governed bliss; I watch them review the checked-and-balanced relationship into which they’re locked, and the necessity to negotiate every childcentred decision from footwear to fried foods.
And because I’m not unkind, I don’t bring up Bounty Hunter.
The Successful Single Mom: Get Your Life Back and Your Game On
by Honorée Corpron, $14.95;
Published March 2010