For All the Single Mothers on Mother's Day
I see you.
I scrolled by one of those memes the other day that got me thinking. About our different experiences not only of Mother’s Day—fraught for so many already—but also of our experiences of motherhood in general, particularly for those of us raising kids alone in a country that treats us, both policy-wise and culturally, as pariahs.
Hahahahahaha!, I thought, reading this, thinking back over the years when I was not only a single mother but also a solo mother, on the hook for everything and everyone, 24/7. Without a partner to plan something nice, I’ve been planning my own Mother’s Days for nearly a decade now: often just a walk or bike ride in the park with the kids after making pancakes at home, to avoid the cost of eating out, since three pregnancies, eight pregnancy-related surgeries, COBRA, childcare, and unpaid leave left no wiggle room for brunch. Spending a night alone in a hotel room? Inconceivable, unless I was on a business trip, paying more money in overtime childcare than I was actually earning at my job.
Then, this past Thursday, I scrolled past a new post that made me gasp. I’ve already written extensively about my two abortions, so I won’t repeat myself. But this forced birth stance chilled me straight to my maternal bones:
In other words, hypothetically speaking, if I still had a uterus (which I don’t) and could still get pregnant (which I can’t), Senator Kevin Cramer would have rather I orphan my children than get an abortion.
This absurd and enraging moral relativism—choosing a blastula over the living, breathing life of its mother, most of whom, statistically speaking, already have children—also got me thinking about all the ways in which the realities of single motherhood are so often invisible not only to lawmakers like Cramer but also to the general public, happening, as they do, behind closed doors.
Absent witnesses to our daily lives, I thought I’d take this time to spell out some of those realities. All the single ladies, raising kids by yourselves this Mother’s Day? This one’s for you:
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I see you stuck on the subway/in heavy traffic on your way home from work, two minutes before the daycare doors are about to shut.
I see you standing alone at the kitchen counter, cooking dinner, doing the dishes by hand, wiping down surfaces, climbing a ladder to change the lightbulb, then playing a quick board game or two to reconnect with your kids.
I see you hauling out the trash, running the bath, reading the books, and drifting off mid-sentence as your offspring shout, “Mom! Mom! Don’t fall asleep. Keep reading!”
I see you walking the dog late at night after the kids have gone down, clutching keys between your fingers just in case, hoping your kids stay asleep, and the predators stay away.
I see you sitting up alone in your bed when you should be sleeping, filling out forms, answering work emails, folding laundry, swiping left-left-left, checking your bank statement, wondering how much longer you can put off paying those surprise four-figure medical bills.
I see you scrolling through this one’s anniversary and that one’s “vacay with the hubs in Maui!”, imagining what your life might have been like if you’d made better choices. It’s not that you believe a long marriage equals a good marriage, or that you’d rather be with that dude, with his silly shoes, in Hawaii. You just want to stop feeling envious of others’ apparent ease and appreciate the life you have.
I see those two tiny tears, plopping down on your pillow. I see you stifling the thousands of others that still want to flow.
I see you leaving the big meeting to rush home to a bleeding child, who needs multiple stitches to make it stop. (I see you possibly losing your job, as I once did, for leaving work to tend to a bleeding child.)
I see you sitting in some hospital room somewhere, holding your burning child’s hand and making decisions about their treatment on an empty stomach, because you can’t leave to go get food, and no one else is there to fetch it for you. (I see you calling your other kids at home, filling them in on their sibling’s sudden illness, asking if they can take out the frozen pizza and just shove it in the oven. I see you texting them, five minutes later: “Don’t forget to use oven mitts and to turn off the oven when you’re done, okay? Love you.”)
I see you on a Saturday afternoon in the park, staring wistfully at the intact families, even though you understand that some of them might be putting on a false front like you once did. On a sunny day, you can buy into the lie that you are the only one who is broken.
I see you telling your young kid, “Sit here, don’t move, don’t talk to strangers,” while you head to the concession stand, because the theater is crowded, someone needs to save the seats, and you promised popcorn.
I see you waking up at 5am every morning, just to drink your coffee in peace.
I see you growing stronger as the years roll on, realizing self-reliance has its perks. Learning new skills. Taking new risks. One day, you hang up a giant painting you made yourself over the couch in the living room. It’s your first, and it’s not half bad. Every time you look at it, it reminds you that transformation is possible.
I see you scrimping and saving to rent that AirBnb by the lake. You can only afford five days, not seven, but that’s okay. I’ll be nice to get away with the kids for however many days you have.
I see you and the kids in the car, singing along to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” at the top of your lungs, the setting sun behind you haloing your heads.
I see you tiptoeing back into romantic love and setting better boundaries. (I see you ending things promptly when those boundaries are crossed.)
I see you searching through your photos for a single candid shot of yourself and finding none, aside from that one where your kid accidentally shot a photo of your chin. Did you really exist if there is no evidence of your caught-off-guard existence?
I see you once again making your own plans this Mother’s Day. The big kids are grown. They’re doing well, living their own lives far away, checking in now and then over FaceTime to see how you’re doing. (FaceTime! Like The Jetsons sprung to life! You still find this amazing.) Maybe it’s just you and the baby now, like it will be for me, this ninth Mother’s Day on my own. Of course he’s hardly a baby anymore. He towers over you. You suddenly realize you have two more Mothers Days left with him until he, too, flies the nest. “Rockaway?” you say. “Sure!” he says. With enthusiasm, even. Good lord, you think, you are grateful—so grateful!—to be granted this one day with your remaining kid during which he’s culturally obliged to hang out with you. Who cares if it’s a Hallmark holiday? You’ll take it. It’s a couple of days away, and you can almost taste the joy of it: biking under blooming trees, propelled by an ocean breeze, zooming past old graves to watch new waves crash upon ancient shores.