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!

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

Unlocking Family: Discovering Diblings

“You’ve got siblings.”

It’s not everyday that you open your email to discover your child has another sibling—or two. But this summer it seemed to happen every few weeks.

These emails or online connections came from moms who used the same donor I did to conceive Little Man, so technically they are half-siblings, also know as donor siblings or, my fav term, diblings.

Once a family has conceived using a donor, there are several registries (national or cryobank specific) where one can connect with diblings and their parents. I hadn’t really thought much about it before I became pregnant, but after my son was born I became curious and searched. At first there were only two other families listed and neither had left contact information. Then as Little Man neared his first birthday, I decided to check again and, sure enough, found an email. Then another. Then a couple moms contacted me. As of today we’re just a couple diblings short of a round dozen.

But what’s the big deal anyway? These women have no relation to me, they and their children are spread across the country, and they may never be more than an acquaintance online. Yet each and every time I’ve connected with a new family, I’ve gotten a thrill and felt an instant connection. Yes, it’s exciting to see pictures and compare physical features, but it’s deeper than that. These women were drawn to at least some of the same things I was in a donor, and they are raising children who share 50% of the same genes as my son. Choosing a donor is such a personal choice; in the moment I was thinking only about my decision, my family. I didn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the other families we’d be tied to. Yet, while it’s hard to explain, I definitely do feel a bond with these families, one that I never would have expected.

Mostly though, I’m excited for my son to have donor siblings with whom he can connect in his future. I will likely never be able to afford a second child on my own, so he probably will not have siblings in the traditional sense. Maybe that won’t faze him. But maybe it will. And if it does, I’ll feel good knowing he has people he can reach out to. I was not donor conceived, or an only child, or a son of a single mom. Heck, I didn’t even know anyone who fit any of these descriptors growing up. So it’s hard for me to know how important biological ties will be to my son. It’s easy to say I’m providing him with a loving family and a network of amazing friends, so he shouldn’t “need” these other connections. But if the tables were turned, I’d want to know. I’d at least want the option or hope of someday getting to connect (which is the same reason I eventually changed to an open donor).

For now, I will follow his diblings online, ’liking’ all their moms’ adorable posts as I watch the kids grow along with my own little man. I will compare features, cheer on milestones, and reach out to the families as needed in order to stay in touch. I even hope to meet a few of the closer ones once our babes are a little bigger and better able to travel. But ultimately what becomes of these dibling relationships will be up to my son. Whether he chooses to unlock this added layer of family or not, I’ll support him. In the meantime, I’m just the keeper of the keys.

 

Photo: © Judith Dzierzawa | Dreamstime

Don’t Cancel Father’s Day on Account of This Single Mom’s Son

In the days before Mother’s Day this year, many of our favorite parenting sites shared articles about a school in Canada who cancelled Mother’s and Father’s day, “In an effort to celebrate diversity, inclusivity and also nurture our students who are part of non-traditional families” (Albert McMahon Elementary School’s letter to parents). It seemed everyone had an opinion about this controversial decision, and many online commenters pitted non-traditional families against traditional mom and dad families.

Since I’m a single mother by choice, my son has no father, only an anonymous sperm donor, and I don’t think Hallmark has invented a card for that yet. Due to this, my son may someday be a little sad or jealous of his peers who have two parents, especially of his male counterparts with a dad in the picture. So you might think I’d be in favor of such a ban. You’d be wrong. It’s not that I want my child or any child to suffer or be sad, but eliminating, ignoring, or erasing differences is not celebrating diversity or inclusivity.

I absolutely want my child’s school to someday understand the struggle he may have surrounding Father’s Day, but I want them to do that by acknowledging and teaching about all types of families—because that’s what celebrating diversity looks like. Eliminating all mention of Father’s Day for all the kids with dads and saying it’s for the sake of my child will only serve to stigmatize him and other children from non-traditional families. This is as far from “nurturing” as it gets. To that I say, no thanks.

Instead schools need to know the families they work with and be in communication with them about such events. Ask parents in non-traditional families for suggestions of books teachers can read that include, explain, or celebrate differences. Provide alternative activities to the traditional card making, such as writing about what makes each child’s family unique or just writing a card to any special adult in their lives. And probably most importantly, schools should reach out to parents of children who may be struggling to see what resources the school and community can offer. Most districts have guidance counselors, psychologists, and/or mentor programs available. If a child is struggling with being from a non-traditional family, the last thing we should do is ignore all discussion of families, making him feel it’s not something he should be talking about, leaving him to suffer in silence.

Now, obviously there are extremes. After the initial letter to parents in that school in Canada came out and caused such an uproar, Mission Public School District Superintendent Angus Wilson added that a student suffered a “recent trauma,” and that was one of the reasons for cancelling traditional celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day. If a school decides to take a year off from mentioning or celebrating these holidays while a member of its community is dealing with some fresh tragedy, that’s completely understandable. Perhaps next time, though, they could be more open about their real and reasonable motivation (while still protecting the privacy of the family involved, of course), instead of trying to please people by throwing around catchphrases like “celebrating diversity,” when that’s not at all what was being done.

Similarly, as a teacher I understand that there often isn’t time to cover most states’ mandated curriculums, never mind to add separate lessons on every holiday, religion, family structure, etc. So if a school decides to focus entirely on academics and can’t or won’t incorporate lessons on diversity into their units, so be it, but call it what is: choosing content over character education.

Celebrating diversity means taking the time to acknowledge differences and then to show they are valued by highlighting what makes them special, not by ignoring they exist. And nurturing students of one family structure, race, or religion shouldn’t come at the expense of others. Let’s find the time and the means to educate and celebrate what makes us us.

And hey, if a few years down the road my little guy wants to make me, my dad, my brother or all three of us a card on Father’s Day, we’re not about to turn it down!

 

For anyone looking for good books about different types of families, this is my favorite so far. (And I’d love other recommendations!)

 

Photo credit: © Subbotina | Dreamstime.com

Reclaiming Self

My usual Saturday morning-nap ritual (if I’m lucky enough to get little man down for a morning nap) is to take a longer than normal shower, shave my legs, and maybe even moisturize after. Non-moms may call this basic hygiene; I’ve come to think of it as a little luxury. And I cherish it.

Last Saturday I had plans to go out late afternoon with my girlfriends, a much more significant and even more beloved luxury. So in my mind I needed to compensate for the ‘lost’ hours of housework that I’d be skipping out on in order to see friends by cramming more work into my son’s morning nap time. Yet, once I got him to sleep, I found myself still lingering in the steamy shower, still smoothing my skin with scented lotion after, and even rummaging through my vanity drawer and pulling out some long forgotten makeup (that was well past its expiration and will likely lead to some hideous eye infection). Part of me felt guilty. Part of me worried about the risk of permanent blindness. But most of me just felt empowered.

I’ve always been a minimalist when it came to makeup and felt good about the fact I was confident enough—or lazy enough—to bare my face to the world. But after even just the lightest touch of mascara this weekend, I felt pretty, womanly, confident—and not in my ability to keep a little person alive, but in myself. And I realized, to my surprise, this was something I missed a little over the last year. Or, correction, it wasn’t something I missed over the last year, but rather something I was starting to miss now. And reclaiming it felt good.

Being single, I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to be a mom. Even when I made the decision to try, I went through six cycles and five IUIs before becoming pregnant. So when I got there, I was thrilled, and grateful, and I loved being a mom more than anything else, certainly more than poking myself in the eye with mascara. And after years of weight struggles and body image issues, for the first time I was so damn proud and amazed at what my body was doing that I didn’t need anything else to make me feel confident.

A year later I still am amazed at my body. I’m still nursing, despite plenty of struggles early on. I’m keeping up with an active little boy despite having little to no time to workout. Oh, and that little boy, yeah, he’s the most amazing thing my body ever created.

I am also still thankful everyday for my chance at motherhood. I love my son and love watching him grow, but I also love the chance to grow myself as I adapt to caring for and loving another person so intensely.

But being thankful for and amazed at my body and cherishing my chance at motherhood isn’t enough anymore. Now that little man isn’t so little, fragile, or dependent and he’s (too) quickly becoming his own little person, I’m beginning to realize I need to reclaim my own person, too.

Of course being a mother is now a part of my selfhood—the most precious, and important, and amazing part. But there are other parts, parts I pushed aside for a while after becoming pregnant, parts I’m ready to reclaim and rekindle.

Before becoming a mom I was a writer, a wanna-be athlete, an involved teacher, and a more attentive friend. I wore make-up on occasion, liked changing my hair color and/or style on a monthly basis, and was beginning to accumulate a fantastic collection of Doc Martins to match my every outfit and mood.

Starting when I got pregnant, I became less interested and less oriented on these other parts of myself in order to learn about, embrace, and struggle through my newest role. My body and my baby needed the bulk of my attention, and I was not only fine with giving both what they needed, I wanted to give my all to my son. And I have no regrets.

But now that we’ve survived that crucial and trying first year, the best thing I can do for my son and myself is to strike a better balance. I need to reexamine what it means to be me—because I’m not the same person I was before my son arrived, but I’m not entirely different either. Then I need to make room in my chaotic life for all the parts of myself I still deem important. First and foremost the mom. But also the writer. The athlete. And, yes, the woman who still likes to live dangerously and throw on a little (questionable) eye makeup now and again.

Even if it means leaving the laundry unfolded a few more nights.

On Turning One

To my little man on turning one,

You probably won’t remember anything of your first year. Your knowledge of it will come from photos, videos, and stories told to you by family and friends. In other words, you’ll get the highlight reel.

Honestly, I’m not sure my memory will be much different. Already those early hours, days, and weeks have begun to blur into that foggy place we call the past. My clearest memories are those too special—or too scary—to forget.

Waking up from surgery and wanting to meet you so badly it hurt.

Seeing you for the first time, so small, so fragile, so mine.

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Watching you find my breast and begin to feed, and feeling overcome with amazement that our bodies worked together so innately to give you just what you needed.

Snuggling skin to skin with you that first night. Secretly enjoying the fact I had no one there to share you with.

The overwhelming fear of hearing you had two holes in your tiny heart. The comfort of your uncle’s words, when he reminded me worrying about the future was futile and told me to focus on loving you in the moment. He was so right. You healed in record time, amazing the doctors and relieving your worried mom and grandparents in just six short months.

The struggles with nursing, every other day weight checks, reflux and dairy intolerances that left you screaming in pain and me willing and wanting to do anything to make you feel better. Then finally the chub, those cheeks, that little crease in your thighs that made all the struggle worth it—and made the whole world want to squeeze you!

Your firsts. First smile. First giggle (which was for your cousin, not for me, by the way). The first time you rolled. The first real injury, a faceplant into the cabinet. Your first word (out, not momma; I’m starting to see a pattern here).

But that’s not to say I won’t remember little moments, too. The snuggles in my bed (when co-sleeping became my first never-say-never parenting realization). The way you smile at me every morning when I walk in your room (because you eventually did learn to sleep there). The magic you seem to have to make your grandparents melt when you enter a room. The softness of your hair and the sound of your breathing as you drift off to sleep each night. And so many more everyday things that won’t necessarily make the baby book, but are etched into my memory for being as unforgettable as they are unremarkable.

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You may read this years from now and think it silly I got so sappy and sentimental at what is really just the start of our adventures. And maybe you’ll be right to laugh at me. But for now, I’m going to allow myself to reminisce, because, while our bigger adventure together has indeed just begun, this one part, this year of newness and need, is over. And already I miss it.

But that doesn’t lessen my excitement for the year to come. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that just when I think I can’t love you more, I do. So bring on year two. The good, the rough, and the love that shines through it all.

I’m so lucky to be your mommy, Little Man!

Love,

Mom…mommy, momma, mum-mum—any version will do. Keep working on that, ok?

Needed: Honest Mom Friends

Me, making polite small talk with a friend and fellow baby boy mom: So how’s your little guy?

Her, replying in an equally sweet tone: Oh, good, thanks. And yours?

Me: Great… (pause, wondering how this will be received, then not caring, because I really needed to spew) …but he’s kind of driving me nuts wanting to ‘walk’ all the time and not letting me put him down even to pee without freaking out. Weekends alone with him are exhausting right now. I live for naptimes.

Now she could have laughed and tried to convince me it was just a stage, or nodded and said, “Yeah, that must be tough,” leaving me feeling even more guilty about not loving and cherishing every moment I’m home with Little Man.

Instead she shared her own honest feelings about the loveliness that occurs as babies develop their own personalities and opinions (i.e. temper tantrums), and the beauty of increased mobility (otherwise known the as danger-seeking-missile stage). We shared stories, sympathized, and promised to meet up to drink wine in the very near future.

We all can be guilty of being that social media mom whose Facebook page is more accurately a Fakebook page. Some parents might do it mindfully, but most of us just don’t think to stop in the middle of an epic meltdown over sitting vs. standing to snap a photo and upload it. Not to mention, we’ve all been schooled about being careful about what kind of online footprint we’re leaving for our children while they’re still too young to consent to those less-than-perfect pictures. Unfortunately, that sometimes leaves moms wondering, “Am I the only one ok with leaving the baby to go back to work some Monday mornings?” or “Is my kid the only one who does or doesn’t do x, y, or z?”

That’s where the honest mom friends save the day.

I’ve always been a big believer in the need for women to have a strong group of other female friends. Women need other women—to build them up, to have their back, to slap some sense into them, to bitch and rage with, and, of course, to shop for shoes with. But never have I appreciated honesty and openness in my friends, especially my other mom friends, more than since I’ve become a parent.

Motherhood, especially single motherhood, can at times be isolating. Even as a working mom, there often isn’t enough time in the work day to talk with other moms openly about parenting. There’s quick inquiries passing in the hall or lunchroom small talk (and for a nursing mom, there’s not even that). But what moms really need is a few minutes (or more) of straightforward mom-fessions.

I need to hear other moms tell me they threw out ‘the rules’ or that, like me, they didn’t even know some ‘rules’ existed. I need to know my anxiety is normal, my impatience or dislike of a stage is not a sign I’m a horrible mother, and that one day teething, too, shall end. I need to not be judged, but simultaneously to be told when there’s spit up down my pants. I need someone to please tell me the picture of my living room above looks completely familiar. In short, I need honest mom friends. We all need honest mom friends.

I am so blessed to have friends who were honest with me about motherhood before I even stepped foot in a fertility clinic, and even more lucky to have met new ones since becoming a mom. If I thought motherhood, real nitty-gritty motherhood, looked like it does on Instagram or in a Dr. Sear’s book, I’d be pretty down on myself and my parenting skills. Thanks to my honest mom friends, though, I can be confident that sitting here at 9pm without having (yet) cracked a beer or been peed on makes today, at least, a total mom win.