I was riding bikes with my 4th-grade classmate when she asked me this: “Are your parents divorced?”
My face turned 50 shades of red and I nearly flew over the handlebars of my 10-speed bike, but I quickly regained my composure and said (probably too dramatically): “Divorced?! Of course NOT!”
It was the very first time I remember telling a lie. I lied because I didn’t want to be the ONLY one at Brigham Elementary School with divorced parents. I lied because I didn’t want to be the only one with a single mom.
Fast forward forty some odd years later and not a day goes by that I don’t wonder: How did she do it? How, on God’s green earth did this young woman (she was only in her mid-twenties when she became solely responsible for two young children) drag herself out of bed every day to make us breakfast, fill our David Cassidy and Snoopy lunchboxes, make sure our hair was combed, our teeth were brushed, we were wearing clothes that were clean and somewhat matched, get us off to school, get herself to work, rush home to cook dinner (I can’t remember NOT having dinner together), help us with homework, and tuck us into bed (after the evening ritual of face washing, teeth brushing, and “Now I Lay me Down to Sleep” nightly prayers) only to go back downstairs to a sink filled with dishes, a basket of laundry, and the knowledge that she’d be doing the very same things the next day and the day after that and the day after that.
I think back to handmade Halloween costumes and suggestions for Science and Social Studies projects. (Like when she said “Why don’t you use real material to make Betsy Ross’s flag for that poster…I have a lot of scraps here. That would be something different.” (FYI: I won the Bicentennial Poster contest that year!)
Over the years she must’ve signed dozens of field trip permission slips and made hundreds of cupcakes and cookies (from scratch!) for birthday parties and PTA meetings. She must’ve spent a fortune in gas for cars that were hanging on by a thread to get us to play dates, school plays, ball games, roller skating, and the movies. I think back to how many hours in the day she spent doing things for us and I am amazed.
How did she so seamlessly transition our lives from a family of 4 to a family of 3? Correction, we also had a dog (a beautiful Collie named Lassie (very original)) so from a family of 5 to a family of 4? How did she teach us lessons, those really hard life lessons with no one to back her up?
My brother and I didn’t realize the struggle at the time because she made it all seem so easy, so effortless. She just wanted us to do our job at the time which was to be kids while she did everything else. We thought it was so cool that our basement was transformed into a tie-dye and batik emporium. She taught us the finer points of these art forms and while we were having fun, she was making a little extra money selling to some of the local hippy stores. We pulled rainbow-colored t-shirts out of buckets of Easter egg-colored dye and designed them with hearts and clouds and flowers. Our dreary little basement became a happy place to escape to. It’s now called a “side hustle” but I think it was created by single Moms just trying to make ends meet.
I started watching shows that celebrated Single Motherhood. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone – Back then it was “The Partridge Family” and “One Day at a Time” that shared stories of cool Moms raising families and doing it well. Later I tuned into “Gilmore Girls” for a reminder of what my Mom had gone through. As it turned out, that little girl from my class was asking if my parents were divorced because her family was coming apart at the seams and she just wanted to know that there was someone else who would understand. Someone else like her.
When I finally grew up enough to actually realize that my Mom had twice the work, twice the stress, and twice the tears than other Moms I asked her how she did it. She said she did it the same way all Mothers do – it all stems from that unconditional love for your children with a little help from those incredible guardian angels that show up when you need it most.