Since my son was born, I have worked multiple jobs at the same time. I prefer to be going constantly and consider "do nothing" as something lazy people do. This past fall, I worked three jobs at the same time and completed one graduate level class. That was my speed.
During 2018, I am trying to teach myself to live at a different pace. I want to slow down, enjoy some nothing time and take amazing care of myself and son. This year, I want to sleep 7-8 hours in a row at night and rise feeling like myself again. I am using a food log to study my eating habits to find healthier strategies. In just two weeks, some interesting food patterns have already appeared. Exercise should not feel like a chore, it should be more like meditation and playful. My finances need be streamlined more. We can find more free ways to enjoy our time.
At first, I will confess, not working as much tortured me with guilt. Bring in money. You're a single mother, you have to work as much as possible. Now, my thinking has changed. This winter, we can move slower, do less and slow down. Now I must invest in the long-term investment of self care.
The day my son was born, I was at my lowest weight and the most fit I have ever been in my life. The morning before he was born, I ran my fastest mile at 8 minutes 50 seconds. Most new parents can't say that. New moms come home exhausted and breast feeding. Adoptive parents have the advantage of not having to deal with a post-baby body. So, they don't realize the sneaky surprise lurking around the corner.
That surprise is stress and lack of sleep. Calorie-laden casseroles appear in your refrigerator from well-intended loved ones. You sleep in 90-minute cycles. You have to learn how to shower and keep your eyes on an infant at the same time. You tour preschools and realize they cost $900 a month. Your old life of running outside, fitness trainers, yoga classes, healthy shakes and sleep turns into random naps, stroller walks, endless laundry and eating whatever you remember to pack.
You laugh it off. It's OK. You will figure this out. You try some tricks, but then suddenly that trick doesn't work anymore. For example, I used to take my infant to Pilates class. He would lie in his carrier and hopefully nap while I focused on my core. That blew up in my face quickly. I thought I could use my lunch hour to go for a walk, but by noon, I needed a nap to function for the second half of the day.
Then, it happens. Pounds start to find you. Your favorite size 6 jeans that you adore are now hanging in the back of the closet. Your size 12 pants gladly welcome you back. You buy a treadmill for your house thinking that running every morning before your son wakes up will solve the problem, but then you realize that mornings become full with other things like sleep and work and chores. Your plans to run for hour turn into a 15-minute jog before you dive headfirst into the shower.
My son just turned FIVE and I am still searching for ways to make this work. Now, the challenge seems more daunting. Thanks to my son, there are snack foods in my house. I try to get to work early to fit in a gym workout, but a five-year-old boy can find many ways to unravel your best laid plans in the morning.
Some weeks, I master this challenge with great gusto and I feel amazing. Then I catch his cold and give myself permission to skip my workout and eat carbs. So, I have reached out to several friends to form an accountability group. Every day, I will share what I have done to lose weight and encourage others on the same path. If I am having a bad day, I hope this group inspires me to keep moving and not fall completely off the wagon.
My life choices don't make sense to a lot of people, but there is a reason for the madness. This fall, I worked three jobs and attended graduate school while being a single mother. My life is planned from 4am to 10pm every day, seven days a week. My google calendar contains reminders about household chores and future grocery lists. Getting behind means less sleep and more stress.
Every teacher knows what I am experiencing right now. Your life goes from full steam ahead grading non-stop to full stop. Not sitting behind my computer working fills me with guilt. When I cuddle my son on the couch, my brain questions, "Shouldn't you be grading something before bed?" As my holiday break week started, my to-do list was full of must-do chores in the house. I completed them all on December 26th. It felt glorious.
Then, I let myself do something TWICE I never let myself do. TWO days during my break, my son and I did nothing. We hung out in our cuddly clothes, took naps, read books and played. I woke up from one nap to find multiple rooms in the house covered in toys. My son used the freedom to spread out and build non-stop. And for the first time ever, I didn't feel guilty for not attacking a to-do list. There are several reasons for this change.
One, I am reading The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs during the break. The book is written by a young mother dying from cancer with two young sons. She shares eloquently about how she enjoys the daily sounds of her boy playing around the house. The creations around the house that I found after my nap would have made her proud.
Two, I am trying to slow myself down which for me means reaching a full stop and establishing a new speed for myself. One of my part-time jobs is not coming back and I am waiting anxiously to see if the second part-time job pans out for me. If not, this spring will be quite stressful to find the funds for both my mortgage and preschool tuition. I have applied for heaps of teaching jobs this month, but no one will call during this week to schedule an interview. So, I have to stop worrying and believe that I have done everything in my power to make a part-time job happen this spring.
Three, when you work three jobs and go to school, you have to deny yourself some simple pleasures. During the fall, I watch less than a hour of TV a week. Reading a book for enjoyment has no room in my schedule. Naps on the couch mean that something important is not getting done. This week, I watched the second season of Stranger Things, read a book from cover to cover and took several naps. I even met a friend at the movie theater to watch Star Wars. It's amazing how much I have missed these simple things.
I don't regret my decision to become a single parent, but I will confess that the financial hardship of paying for it all is more than you can imagine. Before you consider this road, sit down with another single parent get a real perspective about what it costs to be a parent.
And, enjoy TV show, a book and nap now while you can. :)
"Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free."
Thich Nhat Hanh
In Walmart today, I was hoping for freedom, but instead, I had heaps of anxiety in my shopping cart.
I had a moment today. During that moment, I was pretty sure that I was not going to be able to pull THIS off. THIS new life. My Dad is in the beginning stages of dementia. He gets confused often. Reality and dreams are not separate things to him. He refuses to wear his hearing aids. So I get frustrated, tired and I find myself shouting at him often just to do everyday tasks. I am also the mother of four-year-old who woke up way too early this morning. Every request is followed by a whine. Every thought he had was announced to everyone around us.
Now, go to Walmart for a "few things". Luckily, it was one of their mini-stores. My Dad moves slowly and seems lost. My son reminds me that he is ready to go. My Dad hasn't seen my son in a long time so he is trying to tickle and pinch my son as much as possible. My son does not want this kind of attention. So, I move fast. I have a list, I am ready for battle. I send my Dad down an aisle to get what he wanted. He forgot what it was mid-way. I check on him peeking down the aisle every 30 seconds. He's gone looking at something. Cue another whining session from my son.
By the time I get to the checkout line, I am chock full of anxiety. My son is refusing to give me his cereal to checkout. My Dad is all over my son making him complain even louder. My woman standing behind my Dad is giving me the look of complete disgust. The checkout person is trying to help me but her questions just seem to rattle me. "Do you want this chap stick in your bag?" What? What? Oh yes. Dad, stop. Boy, stop. My Dad keeps bumping the woman behind her. This is why she is giving me the hairy eyeball. He keeps backing up on her feet. Instead of backing up, she looks completely disgusted.
When we reach the car, my son refuses to get in. He tries to jump in front of a moving car. Groceries dropped on the ground. I have to move him physically into the car. Then, I have to help my Dad into the car. With my leftover energy, I put the groceries in the car.
I sat behind the wheel. I take a breath. I am not going to be able to do this. I am wishing that I was back at work.
I know that situations like this enter our lives to help us learn about letting go of anger, anxiety and frustration. Instead of taking a breath, I focused on the clock and trying to get to my son's gymnastics class on time. I know I can survive this, but man it's so hard sometimes.
I want freedom. I want to not have to worry about all of the things that have to be done. I will get there. It's a journey.
Why does anyone write a blog? It's a question I ask sometimes. Why would anyone find comfort or familiarity to my story? Maybe it's because we are all at home wondering if we are doing this right. Maybe when you secretly dare to think about being a single person and having a kid, nothing else in your life supports that crazy thought but there's that blog from that lady who is doing it. I don't know, but it's OK. I gain some perspective in the writing of it just to articulate my thoughts about what is happening. So, thank you.
My life is taking a new turn this month. I am gaining membership to a new group - the sandwich generation. I have a young child and in a few weeks, my Dad will be returning to town to live in Independent Living. I will not be his caretaker, per se. He will live in a place where others will check on him daily. His meals will be prepared and his place cleaned. I will stop by regularly to ensure that things are going OK and take responsibility for his medicines.
Before I go further, I need to explain a bit about me. I know how to put my head down and get lots of work done. I wake up early and stay up late to work multiple jobs and go to school to make my household run. Honestly though, sometimes I get overwhelmed by my life. I can't fit enough hours behind the computer, my son is complaining because he wants more time with me and our finances are super tight. I worry, I cry, I become distant, I freak out a little, then I am OK. I give myself the space I need then I return. Typically after a night of worry and panic, I go to bed early and run on the treadmill the next morning. After that, the world seems more approachable. What's required of me seems less and manageable. I say no with confidence and streamline as much as I can. That's how my world turns.
When I learned that my Dad wanted to move cross-country back to my town, I freaked out a lot. It all seemed too much. How can I make sure that he is OK and my son is OK? Every minute of my day seems planned already and nothing is just for me. How am I going to handle this new layer? (Insert the above paragraph here.)
I am on the other side of my freak out. Thanks to the kindness of my friends, I have found almost enough furniture for this apartment, a truck, moving help and babysitting for my son during move-in day. My Dad will come to town the day after I return from a work trip out of the country so his apartment has to be ready before I leave.
He will have new responsibilities for himself - cleaning his clothes, taking his medication without a nurse reminding him, keeping his place clean, and reaching out to his local friends for social activities. Graduate school for me will have to go on hold for the spring semester. My son and I will add regular weekly visits to see my Dad to our calendar. Today, I just have to do today. Then, tomorrow, I will do that day.
So, now I'm a single mom sandwich who has a lot on her plate but the ability to pull it through today. Thanks for listening to me.
You know that thing that kids do. They act up. You call them on the bad behavior. They stop, You look away then back at them a few seconds later to see the bad behavior continue with a smile on the child's face. You do, don't you?
He's four. He's four. As I try to calm myself and say, "He's four". My boy is articulate, kind and full of energy. He also make bad choices at times. Some people call it testing, kids test the boundaries of how far they can go. I understand that he will grow out of it and he is displaying the antics of someone strong of will. I get it.
But, some days, it wears me down. It's too much. Today at his swimming lesson, my son acted out big time. He disobeyed his swimming coach by running away both in the water and around the pool - more than twice. I called him on it. He obeyed for half a minute, long enough for me to leave the scene and return to my seat. Then it started again. We left the pool area with him screaming and me dragging him by the hand.
It's the afternoon. He is sound asleep. The house is quiet. The TV has a blanket over it to remind him that he has lost TV privileges for several days. I am tired and weary. I have been crying. I don't have advice for others in this post. Some days, parenting feels like the most difficult and impossible thing ever. I just hope a different person wakes up from that nap.
My son loves to move. Every time we get into the car, we have a race to see who can run the fastest. He is always demonstrating a new move he can do which lately involves gymnastic-like jumps off the couch. So really, I should not be surprised.
Last night, we went to a dance concert to see his godmother dance. For the last few years, I haven't taken him since it's in a formal setting meaning a chair and the understanding that he has to sit still. But leaving him at home means paying a sitter. It's expensive and we don't have a lot right now. Plus he complains stating that he wants to go too. So I decided this year to take him.
Four year old boys can't sit in formal chairs in a new place without talking or moving or trying to kick someone for more than 30 seconds. Before the show even started, I was plagued with guilt for everyone around us. My attention was divided between his body and the stage. We moved to a new location after intermission to give him more space to move. It helped and exhausted me at the same time. In that quiet space, my son knew that I could not verbally scold him. I had to let it happen. His movements included jumping, climbing and chewing on his water bottle.
Most people were unaware of this struggle. My son's outbursts were typically at the end of every number when clapping was happening and the lights were dimmed. He looked handsome in his collar shirt. He got to see his god parents, but I made a decision right there.
Minus work and my random acts of exercise on the treadmill, I don't have a lot of things that are just for me. He does - dance class, swimming lessons, play time, etc. I was looking forward to the dance concert and seeing my old dance friends again. Instead of chatting with anyone, I had to stay on top of my son.
I know. He has to learn how to sit still. It's a skill just like walking, running and climbing. Right now, he is not there yet. I told him in the car that next time, there will be a babysitter. He was upset. He refused to sleep in protest. At 11pm, I found him asleep in the fetal position on the floor with his lights on in his bedroom. This morning, we chatted about it. I reminded him that moving is just part of his nature and learning to be still is a skill that he hasn't acquired yet.
So my son is learning to sit still and I am learning that it's OK to put him in another person's care for a moment and be present somewhere else. It seems silly I know, but this lesson for me seems so hard to learn.
This week, my son's allergies and asthma knocked us back a few days. I was worried that he had a stomach issue as well so I insisted that the doctor's office see him. It's 4:30pm, the end of a long, vomiting day. My son is tired wanting to be carried everywhere. His name is called in the lobby and I stand still carrying him. He is about to throw up.
Like every visit before this one, the first thing they do is weigh him to help dose his medicine just right. My son refuses to let go of me and holds my hand on the scale. We both look exhausted and carry a slight vomit smell on us.
The nurse asks, "Are you the mom"?
I get it. I am white, he is black, we don't match. I pause, bite my tongue and say yes.
She places us in our room. We wait. We are outside the area where other kids are being weighed. No one else is asked that question. Instead, the nurse immediately calls every woman "Mom" and every man "Dad".
I am sitting on the examination table beside my son trying not to think about the question, but I can't. My son is analyzing the poster on the wall. I can't stop thinking. One thought, "Why didn't I ask are you the nurse?" I stew a bit in my juices then my son throws up all over the examination room floor. My focus changes to cleaning it up as quickly as possible.
I understand the need for this question. Medical professionals can't assume we belong together even though his arms and legs are wrapped around me, he is calling me Mommy and not letting me out of his sight. But why do they assume with everyone else? Why not ask every parent if they are the parent?
I need to get over this. This is just one question in a lifetime of questions like this. I need thicker skin and a sense of humor. I need a snappy comeback. I need to be a role model for my son. But sometimes, I just get mad. And tired. My son and I never think about being different in our world. Everyone who knows us knows we are bound together. Yet, every time we enter the medical arena, I get this feeling that we are outsiders. Why can't this question change?
Worry has never paid any of my bills or given me any comfort.
I am trying to learn to lay my worry down and lose it forever.
Some days, I actually feel closer to this state, but I am fooling myself.
Being parent comes with some degree of constant worry.
How do you know when to let something happen and when to step in?
It's an everyday struggle.
Today was the solar eclipse.
I picked up my son early from preschool and took him to the downtown park.
There were many people there doing the same thing including lots of kids.
This event was beside his favorite park so he wanted park time.
This park has this large sideways merry-go-around that can hold many kids.
It's a frequent place for big and little kids to sit, hold on and go fast.
My son loves this thing. I dislike this thing. Kids fly off, Kids get kicked. Kids fall down.
But it's fun, it's fast and it's where all of the kids want to be.
On his first approach, a kid accidentally kicked him in the stomach.
He ran crying to me.
After he caught his breath, he wanted to try again.
So, I sat down and watched. I marveled at his bravery.
He wanted to do everything the big kids were doing.
He targeted one kid in particular and chased him around the park mimicking his moves.
The other kid was twice his height and much older. My son hung on his every move.
I learned how to watch close by but give him his space.
My worry levels soared.
Then, I tried to calm myself down.
I have to let him learn to be independent. As long as he is safe, I can give him space.
He fell a few times, then popped back up with a huge smile on his face.
He loved every minute of it.
Then the eclipse happened.
My mind thought of my worry and how I needed to let it go.
My son is powerful, social and brave.
I must learn how to be the mother of someone powerful, social and brave.
Worrying so much will not serve me.
My son has no idea...
That I have a little cry once a month as I pay the bills and figure out how we will make it through the month. He loves his preschool. It's doing wonders for him, but I sometimes have I work three jobs just to make sure I can make that can happen. It's OK. It's temporary. It's doable.
My son has no idea...
That I get up at 4am to start working so that I can give him more me time when he is awake. I need more sleep, but I don't want to lose more time with him. So I get up early and stay up later than I should just to work all the hours I need and give my son one-on-one time with me once he is awake.
My son has no idea....
That I worry about the day when other kids will start teasing him for having a white mommy. Maybe it won't happen. It hasn't happened yet. There are so many families made up of different races nowadays that maybe the shock of seeing us together will not make others notice. I hope my worry is for nothing.
My son has no idea....
That Anakin Skywalker is going to become Darth Vader. He loves him so much. "He's one of the good guys, mommy". He doesn't realize that George Lucas is going to break his heart shortly and turn his favorite good guy into the meanest bad guy. ARGH I will hate that day.
My son has no idea....
That the big draw for me at the gym before I pick him up is getting 30 minutes to myself to watch bad TV. I rarely watch TV at home. I am too busy sneaking in more work. But those 30 minutes watching cheesy home improvement shows on HGTV make going to the gym bearable.
My son has no idea....
That we just can't afford a dog right now. Between the food, the dog walker, the vet bills, etc, we just can't. I am trying my best to kick the can down the road. He seems OK right now, but I just hope to keep this up until next summer when our finances are not so tight.
My son has no idea
and that's OK.
He's a kid. He needs to enjoy his time with his Legos, his friends, his dance class and Star Wars. Kids should not have to worry about how households work and finances.
He has food in his belly, plenty of toys and a safe, clean house to call home.
And he has me.
That's all he needs to know.