Mother’s Day as a Single Mom

When you’re a single mom, Mother’s Day looks a little different.

There isn’t any sleeping in. When little man wakes up at 4:10, then again at 5:25, there isn’t anyone else to push out of bed to go get him.

But then when you pick him up and give him a good morning hug and he tells you, “So happy!” you’re pretty damn glad it was you who went in to get him, and you could care less what time it is.

Breakfast in bed is out, too. So you have some fun and make yourself a gourmet version of the frozen Spiderman waffles your toddler son likes. And, hey, they’re not so bad.

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Despite the cold and damp, it’s you who takes your kid to toddler soccer, which is basically equivalent to herding baby cheetahs who’d rather run away and pick dandelions on the muddy field than actually touch the ball with his feet. But when your future florist gets freaked out by another little dino roaring at him (something he was doing to you all through that spiderific breakfast), it’s you who gets the hugs and the request to “go home now.

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And since it’s Mother’s Day and you’re cold and wet and just not into pushing a two-year-old to play team sports quite yet, you go with the flow. And go in search of smiles—his and yours.

His comes easy. Find a swing and wag your tongue back at him as he wags his at you.

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Yours might cost a bit more but it is worth every penny and every calorie—even if it wasn’t eaten in bed at a decent hour.

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The rest of the day is about the same as any other Sunday. Busy. Exhausting. Too short to even dent the to-do list.

But it is also overflowing with gratitude and laughter and love.

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Mother’s Day as a single mom, as any mom, is more than being pampered or having time to take an uninterrupted shower (though those are nice perks if you can get ’em). It’s about being appreciated, and the best part of being a single parent is getting all the hugs, “thank you, mom”s, “ugga mugga”s, and sloppy wet kisses. I am loved by the little person I love more than anything else. That’s all this mom really needs.

Well, that and the donuts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Egg Dying With a Toddler

Alternate Title: Why Parents Shouldn’t Rush Holiday Traditions

Baby’s first everything is exciting, so of course I went nuts with Little Man’s first Easter last year. I had an Easter basket made with his name on it, bought the books and knick knacks for it months in advance, and planned his outfit from head-to-toe. But while I might have gone nuts, I wasn’t totally insane. I understood that an 11-month-old wouldn’t be able to partake in the Easter traditions I fondly remembered: dying eggs with mom, hunting for hidden eggs with my brother, and raiding the candy when no one was looking with my dad.

This year, though, Little Man is almost two. He’s grown from a baby to a little boy. A little boy who loves eggs, stickers, painting…and smearing anything messy all over himself and the cat. So dying eggs was definitely happening, definitely would be the start of a favored new holiday tradition, and definitely was a wise parenting decision.

Or definitely not.

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Tiger Lily knew I was nuts.

First, I gave up precious nap time to prep, time I should have used doing laundry so either one of us actually has clothes to wear come Easter. But I thought of the fun we’d have, and knew it was worth the time. At least I was smart enough to do the liquid dye while he was asleep and safely confined in a crib.

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And I dig messes. Let’s do this.

Upon his waking, I shared my genius plan with my still groggy toddler who thought it was brilliant, so brilliant he threw a fit when I told him painting eggs required a clean diaper. But once we got past that, it was great.

Except when control freak Mommy didn’t want him to mix the two colors of paint. Or when destructo toddler decided smashing or throwing the brightly colored “balls” sounded more fun than putting stickers on them. Or when we both realized our hands were permanently green, and we were showing up to Easter brunch as Mini-Hulk and his mom.

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Not of fan of Momma’s artwork. Or my green hands.

So the only egg with stickers is the one I modeled for him. The shaving cream eggs aren’t edible (a common sense thing I should have realized before buying all the supplies)—not to mention they left us both green from our elbows down. And for an hour of prep, he spent about 15 minutes interested in any of it—except eating the broken eggs. He liked the eating!

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Mmm, I should have broken more of these.

So was it wise to attempt the tradition of egg dying at the wonderful age of almost two? Definitely not. Was it fun regardless of the mess and stress? Hell yes.

And we’ll try again next year, but in the meantime, wish us better luck on the egg hunt!

Happy Easter & Passover weekend to all!

To Prospective Teachers After Parkland

While I usually blog about my journey as a single mother, as a teacher I occasionally also write about topics surrounding education. In the wake of last week’s newest school shooting, I felt the need to address new or prospective teachers, especially as I am currently supervising a student teacher in my classroom this semester.

An open letter to to my student teacher and all those considering entering the teaching profession after the Parkland, Florida school shooting:

I was eager to take on a student teacher this spring, eager to share my knowledge and my classroom with someone so full of untapped energy and enthusiasm for the subject I’m passionate about and the profession I have proudly worked in for sixteen years. I was ready and willing to share with you lesson plans, grading tips, assessments, and classroom management strategies. I was even ready to share my flaws and flops in hopes that they would not become your own.

I was not ready for another mass shooting in another school by another troubled young person. No one, despite our drills and training, is ever ready for that.

And in the days just after Parkland, I failed you by not having an honest, open conversation about it. I went on teaching the kids like it hadn’t happened, I went on trying to teach and guide you like it hadn’t happened, because I thought it best to keep a sense of normalcy and safety in our classroom. But it did happen, and it proved that our classrooms are not always the sanctuaries we hope to create. And now that our nation, our profession, and I have had some time to process, I feel the need to say a few things to you and anyone else wanting to be a teacher.

This isn’t normal.

Your day-to-day worries should be, and most often will be, consumed with kids needing your help, parents needing your guidance, counselors needing your input, administrators needing paperwork, and essays needing to be graded. You should and hopefully will lose more sleep over where to sit chatty Charlie or what you can do about Suzy’s home situation, than where to hide a classroom of kids from an armed gunman.

But this is your new reality.

Though it will likely only ever be a fraction of all the things you as a teacher will have to juggle, keeping the kids and yourself safe will be one of your new responsibilities. Hopefully the only real emergency you ever have to deal with is a flare up in the teacher’s room microwave from an over-cooked bag of popcorn. But you will have to train, drill, and prepare for the worst. You will have to assess your new classroom for not only the best place to hang that inspirational poster, but also for escape routes and everyday objects that could be used as weapons against an attacker. You will also have to find the words to explain to mere children why we practice barricading doors or hiding in closets. If you ever find the perfect words, please pass them on; I never have.

For now.

The amazing thing is I doubt this will scare you away from becoming a teacher. If you’ve made it this far in your career path it’s because you already know what I’m about to tell you: It’s worth it. Not because your subject is important. Oh, sure, your love of literature or science may have been what pushed you in the path of education, but it’s not what kept you here. The kids are why you’re here. They are why you’ll work for less pay than you deserve, accept less respect from society than you’ll earn, and worry more than you ever thought possible. The kids, and the chance they provide to change the future, are why the stress, worry, and fear are all worth it—even if it is deplorable that a teacher or child should ever have to be afraid in a school.

While it may seem some days, like the day of the Parkland shooting, that you are about to take on an impossible task and an unbearable responsibility, you are also being given a great gift. You are being given the chance to teach the next generation about respect, empathy, and compassion, so that no child grows up without anyone to turn to and so instead turns to violence. You are being given the opportunity to teach them to question the powers that be, to speak up when they disagree, and to make changes so that their children can spend more time practicing thinking skills and less time practicing survival skills.

So don’t give up on teaching. Don’t give up on the kids. New teachers create new hope for a better world. And a better world is what you, and they, and we all deserve.

Book Advent Calendar

A mommy friend posted on Facebook last year about doing a book advent calendar or book countdown to Christmas for her child. Apparently this was already a thing, and she did not invent it, but being the first time I saw it, I thought she was a genius. Twenty-five days of celebrating the holidays through books? Twenty-fve excuses to share my love of reading and the Christmas season with my little guy? Twenty-five ways to spoil him with stories and snuggles? Sign me up!

So this year I pulled together twenty-five winter and holiday themed books, wrapped them up, and stacked them artfully (as artful as I get) with a Santa hat plopped on top. Tonight we dove into the pile and explored our first new book, Elmo’s Countdown to Christmas, because, ya know, toddler. (And yes, I’m starting early because I want to end on Christmas Eve with The Night Before Christmas.)

Little man was pretty impressed when he realized the stack of Mickey Mouse wrapped packages were all books and all for him. He was so impressed, in fact, he strung together four words “one book more…please” which is pretty good for a pint-sized beggar and the polite please almost had me caving—but not quite.

For those who think this is as awesome as I did but worry about the cost or work, here are a few ideas to simplify it:

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle. My little guy doesn’t know that 20 of his 25 books were gifted, donated, or bought used. Even as he gets older and might remember favorite books from year to year, it’s still okay to reuse because it’s about the fun of opening and (re)reading the story, not about ‘getting things.’ I plan to rotate in a few new titles each year to fit his interests and age. This year the new ones were Mickey, Daniel Tiger, Elmo, Mac the Tractor, and Little Blue Truck.
  • Involve the relatives. If you have plans to see aunts, uncles, or grandparents a few nights over the holiday season, see if they’d be willing to share a favorite story with your little one as his/her book that day.
  • Make an outing of it. Take a weekly trip to the library and pick out books for the week to read each night.
  • Do the 12 books of Christmas or the 8 books of Chanukah. Or for the older kids just pick a special novel and read a chapter or two each night.
  • Skip the wrapping. Stick the books in a festive bag or box and pull one out each night. Or maybe that creepy Elf can deliver a new, unwrapped book each night. (Sorry, I have elf issues.)

I can never pass up a chance to read to my little man and am lucky beyond measure to have the time and means to be able to share stories with him on a daily basis, but however you choose to instill the love of reading and/or the magic of the holidays in your child, you are giving them some of the best gifts there are to give!

Happy reading!

Here are the books I included in our book countdown to Christmas this year. The covers below are affiliate links to Amazon:

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The Proper Way to Pack the Candy Bowl

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Happy Halloween! May your child get enough peanut butter cups that you can raid them for weeks without being caught. 

 

One and Done

One and Done.

Some people want and plan to have just one child. Others are physically unable to have a second and make the decision not to adopt another. Other families who had planned to have more decide after having one child that their family feels complete.

I don’t fit into any of those categories. I’d always planned on having two or three kids. Then again, I’d always planned on having a partner to help. While it wasn’t easy to conceive, I was able to and probably would be able to again. And while I love my little man more than I ever thought possible, I feel I have more love to share—maybe not right in the middle of his toddler and teething stages, but certainly down the road.

But the fact is, I am probably a ‘one and done’ mom. Financially at this point, it wouldn’t be feasible or responsible for me to bring another child into our lives.

And frankly, that sucks. And it makes me sad.

I thought I’d gotten over the fact I hadn’t met someone to raise a family with well before little man arrived. What I haven’t gotten over is the limitations of being a single mother. Because I didn’t know until I had my son how amazing the experience of being pregnant would be, or what it felt like to fall in love with someone over and over again as they grew and changed almost daily, or how much I wanted to share all the things I love about life with someone else who is still wide-eyed at the world around him, or how cool it would be to see my nephew with his younger sister and cousin and wish my son could have the experience of being a big brother too. In short, I never knew just how much I was meant to be a mom.

Maybe I’m just feeling sad over my inability to afford a second child because my hormones are changing again as I (slowly) begin the weaning process. Or possibly I’m worried about raising an only child, because I didn’t know any growing up, don’t know many now, and worry about that being yet another thing that will be different about our family. Or maybe my ovaries are aching because some of my friends and acquaintances, including a few other single mothers, are in the process of trying for more, and I’m a little nostalgic and a little, or a lot, jealous.

I know for sure it’s in part due to the fact that I’ve already begun to realize my little man and I are leaving behind certain stages, and while I love watching him grow and make new leaps, I’m sad to say goodbye to some of those infant things forever.

I know my son still has a lifetime of firsts ahead of him. First sentence. First bike ride. First time on the potty. First day of school. And I know if I had a second child, he or she would also grow through the stages more quickly than I would like, and I’d soon be saying goodbye to babyhood all over again. But I can’t help but think everyone who wants to should get to do this parenting thing at least twice, because maybe the second time I’d be more aware, more in the moment, more appreciative of all the little firsts—and lasts.

My chances of having a second are about the same as winning the lottery, because that’s likely what would have to occur. And that does suck, and it does make me sad. But realizing it now while little man is still so small also provides an opportunity, a chance to cherish every amazing moment with my guy—and to comfort myself during those less-than-amazing moments. He may be my “one and done,” so I have no one to hold back for, no one for whom to say, “next time…” There is just this time. There is just us. And we will make the most of it.

But I will occasionally still play the Powerball. Just in case.

 

Photo credit: Christine Passler

Don’t Discourage Young Rereaders

Two years ago when I was writing for another site, I took a break from writing about trying to conceive as a single mom by choice to write a couple back-to-school posts wearing my teacher hat instead. As I was preparing to reread the summer reading book I’m in charge of this year for at least the fourth time, I decided maybe it was time to add a post for parents of older kids. So here is this year’s back-to-school bit of advice.

Tell me your child doesn’t read enough—of anything—and I will hear your concerns, offer suggestions, and sympathize with your strong desire to raise a reader. Kids need to read; it helps build vocabulary, strengthens empathy, and is ultimately the best way to become a more fluent and sophisticated writer. If your child doesn’t read, I’m concerned.

But tell me your child reads, but only the same series, genre, or even one particular book over and over again, and you’re likely to get a guilty grin. Because I was that kid. Heck, I am that adult. When I find something I like, I stick with it—for a long time, longer than any relationship I’ve ever had with non-fictional character. I’ve reread some of my favorite books or series more than a dozen times. I often binge read a series or genre for months at a time. (This was the summer of Southern mysteries with a touch of romance.)

I won’t make apologies for my reading habits, nor will I let anyone tell me they are less valid or valuable than other reading. And I won’t tell a parent they ought to discourage such reading in their children. Rereading is reading. And all reading is valuable.

You never read the same book twice.

Yes the words on the page may be the same, but you will never have the exact same experience reading a book no matter how many times you read it, because you aren’t the same person from day to day, or year to year. Rereading is especially prevalent in tweens and teens, which makes perfect sense; they’re at a stage of development where everything about and around them is changing constantly from their friends, to their bodies, to their sense of self. What speaks to them in a book one month will not necessarily be the same as what speaks to them the next. Even as adults this is true. Does anyone honestly think he’d have the same reactions and opinions about something he read before major life events like marriage, children, or losing a parent, as he would after those experiences?

The craft is hidden in the details.

I’d also argue one can learn more about writing and craft from rereading something multiple times or reading multiple works by the same author than one could from never doing so. The first time you read a book you’re caught up in the plot and characters. A skilled author won’t hit readers over the head with their craft. Things like voice, symbolism, and tidbits of character’s backstory that become crucial three books later in a series are often overlooked during the first read when readers are rushing to the resolution. But reread that same book or series and suddenly you find yourself yelling at the characters, “You idiot! If you had paid attention to that you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble!” Or for the first time you see and are awed by the way an author always takes the time to describe certain things and you realize it was another layer to developing mood or character. And if you’re thinking that kids aren’t capable of recognizing such things, you’re not giving them, especially those of them who read regularly (yes, even those who reread), nearly enough credit.

So by all means encourage your children to read and read widely. Model such reading for them. Discuss what you’ve read and what they’ve read. Try to find non-fiction articles about the authors or topics of their favorite genre. But please do not discount or discourage their reading simply because “they always read the same thing.” There are plenty of parents who would love to have that problem. And plenty of English teachers and writers who reread quite often themselves and find value—and enjoyment!— in each rereading.

 

Previous Back-to-School posts:
Making the Most of At-home Read Alouds
5 Tips for Reducing Back-to-School Stress
How Your Child Can Benefit from Having a New Teacher
Making the Most of Parent Night

 

Photo credit: © Budyanskaya1979 | Dreamstime