It’s 8 p.m., and I’m still in my work clothes, sorting laundry. I redirect to the kitchen to load the dishwasher. My daughter intercepts and takes over the task. I smile gratefully at her and head outside to fetch the mail — and am delighted to step out onto a freshly shoveled walkway. “Thank you, son, wherever you are.” He is nowhere in sight. I crash into bed at 11:30 p.m., drift asleep, but awaken a couple of hours later with a pang, which shoots from my head to my stomach as I discover my son still isn’t home. I pick up my cell phone and see his text message: “I’m in Kent. Won’t be back till late. Love you!” OK, so he’s 20, and he consistently attempts to assure me — but still, I worry.
As a single parent, I don’t live the picture-perfect American Dream, but who does? My married friends ask how I do it alone. Raising kids to become responsible adults is tough enough with two parents in the house — how do I manage as a solo act? My response: I don’t. I’m not solo at all.
True, as a working single parent, my life may be more hectic than those of most two-parent households. By necessity, single parents cram more into each day. I whisk through the door to work each morning as polished and as caffeinated as possible, ready to dive in, make a splash and do what it takes to keep a roof over my children’s heads. I breeze out the same door nine hours later, slip into my car and hit the accelerator pad to dash to a program at my child’s school or to stop at Discount Drug Mart to pick up the hand soap I keep forgetting to buy.
I try to get home early enough to put dinner on the table at a decent hour. Scrambled eggs, anyone? No answer. Is anyone even home to eat dinner or to notice the fresh new Softsoap replacing the watered-down bottle on the bathroom counter? My daughter emerges from her bedroom to tell me she already fixed herself a grilled cheese sandwich. The crumpled Chipotle bag in the trash assures me my son is fed. I can check off dinner tonight. I move on, blindly signing forms my daughter brought from school and mispronouncing Spanish words I deliver sloppily to her during home practice quizzes disrupted by e-mail.
>> So life is harried and imperfect. But solo? No way. In truth, in single-parent households, our children learn to fill in the gaps. They have jobs to fund their peppermint mochas, Lil Wayne concert tickets and other frills, along with practicalities. They pay to fill their gas tanks, cover car insurance and deck in Uggs and other fancy duds. They know how to plunge a clogged toilet, tighten a hinge on a loose cabinet door, wash their own bed sheets and kill an army of ants invading the kitchen.
Call it sympathy or sink-or-swim survival. Either way, kids have a way of picking up the slack in a single-parent home. They know when to step in, to check in and to tap into their hidden MacGyver. Sure, my home isn’t always — or often — the peaceful haven I desire. My children and I battle over issues rising from limited time, space and money. Whose college application or course schedule was due yesterday? Who needs first dibs on the bathroom tomorrow morning? Who wants to come with me to check out an apartment? [We need to downsize again, and no one wants to hear it, but guaranteed, they’ll be on board moving day.]
My kids and I, we’re modern-day survivalists living one day to the next, one paycheck to the next, one unhinged door and emotion to the next, but in the end, we’re in this together. The truth is, single parenthood isn’t a solo act at all. It’s a family affair.
/ Denise Henry is a freelance writer and public relations representative living in Hudson.