I can’t even begin to adequately describe the overwhelming feeling that threatens to drown me daily. It’s like trying to stand in the ocean. You get your footing, but before you can enjoy the cool water washing over, soothing you, you spot a wave on the horizon. It moves closer and you know it’s going to hit you, but you’re powerless to stop it. You’re in too deep to simply turn around and head toward shore. Sometimes you can dive under it and resurface with only a little water in your nose. Sometimes you can jump up and avoid being swept away with only a spray of salt stinging your eyes. But other times, times when you’re distracted doing something else, the wave sneaks up, hits you, and drags you under, scraping you along the sand and bits of broken shell, pulling you away, twisting you around until you don’t even know which way is up; all you know is that you can’t breathe and you can’t get your footing, and you don’t know if it’ll ever end. And now and then, before you can resurface, a second or third wave knocks you down and keeps dragging you along until you’re not even sure you want to resurface because sometimes it’s just too darn hard to try to remain upright.
People tell me I’m strong. “You’re a single mom to six kids and you make it look easy! I don’t know how you do it. You’re so strong.” I roll my eyes when I hear it. I scoff inwardly and think – if they only knew. If they only knew that I was on the verge of tears at any given moment on any given day. If they knew that I desperately dug my nails into the palms of my hands so I could concentrate on the pain in an effort to stop the tears. If they knew that I lay awake every night, my stomach twisting in knots, my jaw clenching, my mind racing, unable to turn off, I wonder if they’d still say I’m strong.
What they don’t know is that every day is a struggle to remember everything I need to do, and most days I barely make a dent in my to-do list. I gave up a long time ago at having a spotless house. I gave up on never running out of essentials like coffee, toilet paper, and laundry detergent. I gave up on remembering birthdays. Some days I even give up on remembering my kids’ names. (Don’t judge if you’ve never been there.)
Every month it’s a battle to pay all my bills. I’ve long forgotten about paying them on time. I’ve struck this very precarious balance with work and when one thing goes wrong – like getting paid two days late for a job, or having to replace a battery in my car, or pay an unforeseen medical bill it throws the whole thing out of whack and can set me back for weeks. Even longer. And then heartburn gets added to my list of reasons why I have sleepless nights.
They don’t know how often I say something like, “I’m sorry, baby. I know you need new glasses, but you’re going to have to wait a couple months until I can come up with the money.” Or “I know you want a yearbook, but they’re just too expensive.” It tears me apart when I can’t give my kids the things they need or want. Not that I would simply hand them everything they want even if I could, but it would sure be nice to have the option.
It sucks not being paid even a third of the child support the court ordered during the divorce. Taking a day off work to stay home with a sick kid tears me apart. I can’t afford to miss a day of work. Then I feel guilty for thinking about work when I have a sick child at home because they should matter 1000% more than any job. But when the consequence of missing a day means that I won’t be able to pay my water bill and there’s a chance it will be turned off (again), I can’t help but worry and wish I could go in to work.
It sucks not having family around to help out. It sucks not having a partner to talk to, to share the load with, to make decisions with. It sucks being all alone. It sucks wanting someone to share your life with, yet not having the time to even think about dating, let alone inviting someone into your life and your family. It sucks being unsure and not having someone to run your ideas by. It sucks not having someone to give you a hand. And sometimes I throw myself a big ole pity party over it.
And sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I’d never gotten divorced. Not that I still want to be with my ex, or that I miss him, or that I regret divorcing. But how much easier would it be to just put up with the same crap I put up with for 20 years in exchange for some financial security and another pair of hands to get kids to their games, help with homework, mow the lawn, fix the kitchen sink? How many books could I have written if I was still a stay-at-home-mom? How many field trips could I have chaperoned? How many sleepless, guilt-filled nights could I have avoided?
But, like so many other single parents out there, I get up every day. I try my hardest. Some days I almost feel good about my accomplishments; other days, I feel like a dismal failure. But either way, I know I have a lot to be thankful for. Most days I can find many things for which I’m thankful. Other days, the only thing I can come up with to be thankful for is coffee, or the fact that I have dry hair and can go a day without washing it and it still looks good, or the fact that my kids don’t mind one bit when I feed them frozen pizza five times in one week. I keep going even though, oftentimes, it feels like a battle I can never win (not unlike the battle to get my teen to clean his room). Is this what makes people think we single parents are strong? Because, although we know we’re going to get dragged under, we still wade out into that ocean of life every day? Although we know we can’t tame those waves, we keep trying to ride them without losing our swimsuits. And on those days when we do lose our bottoms to the unyielding torrent, we pull our suits back up, look around to see if anyone noticed, then dive right back in.