Being a single parent is one of the most difficult jobs that I ever experienced. My son has no clue how much I run around the house to keep the household functioning when he sleeps. To pay for the adoption lawyer, I took a second job one fall teaching online classes working the equivalent of 60 hour a week and averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night. If you ask me how I am, assume that tired is part of my answer since I have grown too tired of just saying that word. The lines on my face will remind you in case you forget.
Single parents will tell you the same thing as me. You are always tired and overwhelmed even on your good days. So why in the heck would anyone willingly and deliberately walk into single parenthood? The joy of being a parent outweighs the tired and overwhelmed days by far. My son has allowed me to experience a level of joy that my life has never experienced. It’s not just one thing that I can describe, but a million little things that we experience together. I will do my best to describe some of things, but I will warn you, that they will not make sense until you experience yourself with your own child.
Upon waking, my son is my first thought of the day. Yes, I have to go to the bathroom, but if he is crying or upset, my bladder knows that it has to wait. Even my internal organs know their ranking in my household. As an infant, my son slept in a co-sleeper in my bed. It looks like a large shoebox with a tiny mattress. Every morning, my son and I would wake and immediately turn our heads to each other. I remember a few mornings when I woke before him and I would stare at his little head sleeping in that box. Now, he is older and sleeps more soundly in his crib in his room.
When he sees me enter his room in the morning, he has this sense of relief on his face. His eyes are now locked with mine. When I pick him up, he instantly wraps himself around me as if he is never going to let me go. I can tell by the way he does this how long he will need before I release him to gather his clothes and new diaper.
My son and I have bonded so tightly that I have become the only person on the planet that he wants when he is feeling sick or scared. Yes, some familiar adults give him temporary moments of relief, but there is this moment when my son sees me that he completely exhales and is unable to see anyone else in the room but me. Every day at the end of day care, I enter his room and wait for that moment. Typically, I am trying to watch him play a bit with his friends without him noticing that I am there. The moment he knows that I am there, everything stops. Toys are dropped and other kids who happen to be in the way are pushed to the side.
When my son reaches me, he expects me to lift him up immediately to rest on my hip. I feel his body lean into mine almost collapsing in a way. If he is tired, his head will find rest on my shoulder. Both of his arms and legs are wrapped around me. His face studies my face close up. If he has lots of energy, there is some bouncing and non-stop chattering during this time. He is so attached to me that I can’t put him down without him screaming. I have learned how to put on his winter coat with only one free arm.
When I put him in the car, he knows that I will have his favorite things ready for him to place in his lap. As I drive the car on the way home, he stares at me as if he is worried that I will leave his sight again. When we stop at red lights and I turn around to speak to him, he offers me his favorite toys out of love, expecting me to kiss and/or play with them and return them quickly. He uses sign language to ask me to sing specific songs that he has learned from daycare.
During the week, we don’t have a lot of play time together, so I find myself very protective of these moments. I often sit in the floor while he walks around me playing with different toys bringing them to me for sudden inspection. We are silly together making nonsense noises and crazy faces. He is babbling, but I swear I understand every word he is saying. Part of his babble is simply mimicking the way I talk so this language he speaks feels right at home in my ears. Every now and then, he will stop playing, turn his back to me and then backup into my lap with a book or toy that he wants me to read or explore. It’s like a dance that we never had to rehearse, it’s just a natural part of our movement.
Sometimes after work or on weekends, we go to events with family members or friends. People often want their turn with my son to play. My son may be on the other side of a crowded room but he always knows exactly where I am. It’s hard to describe the looks we exchange and the slight smiles on each others’ faces. We know something that no one else knows and immediately we look at each other and smile. I can tell by the way he is playing or interacting with others if he is starting to get tired.
I can watch my son play or just look around the room and predict for the most part what he is going to do next. His behaviors and fascinations make sense to me. For instance, if he is playing in the sunroom and a neighbor with a dog walks by, everything will stop and he will stare at this dog with his pointer finger extended. He will make a noise directed at me that says do you see it? That noise sounds like babble to you, but know exactly what he is saying.
No one can make my son laugh as well as me. I know exactly where his tickle spots are and how they change based on how he is feeling or doing. For instance, if I am changing his diaper, he rather I didn’t tickle his face. Instead, the belly and feet are much better choices. If you are sitting with him on your lap, his ears are a good spot for random, silly whispering. Whisper his favorite song from daycare with some silly sounds thrown in to make him giggle.
There is this moment that happens everyday in my household that is bittersweet. It’s that moment when my son transitions from full-on play to rest. My lap is the only place that he wants to be and his crib is the final destination. I can feel his body releasing slowly in my lap. His fingers hold my fingers and he plays with them stroking them slowly. He is falling slowly into the world of sleep, a world where I cannot follow but one where he will be safe. He knows in his way that I am never far away.
These moments are small and hard to notice if you are not one of the two of us, but collectively they are quite enormous. My son holds my heart. He is the first and last thought of everyday. Making him smile has given my life such happiness. Yes, being his mother demands energy, sacrifice and finances, but when I look into his eyes, I don’t see that. I just see love.