I feel this koala. The Mommy koala, not the baby koala. See, you’re focused on the overwhelmingly cute baby literally leeched on to her mother’s back, but what you’re missing is her Momma’s face…see it now? I see you Momma koala. I see your exasperation. Your two seconds from launching that sweet little hair ball right off your back. Your “I’d do anything for you, but GET. THE. FUCK. OFF. ME!!!” face. Yeah, I see you.
For the last 11 days, I’ve been a single parent to a 9 month old. If you have kids, you just scoffed into your coffee. If you don’t (and you just find me oddly amusing while drinking bourbon), you are either officially congratulating your respective baby-making anatomy for not getting you into a similar situation or anxiously awaiting the details to see what the hell you’re getting yourself in to.
I now worship single parents. They are my spirit animals. I literally stared at this woman in our Mommy and Me yoga class, mouth agape, when she shared that she is a 42-year old single mother by choice. I felt a tremendous amount of pride in being of kindred gender with that kind of progressive awesomeness while simultaneously calculating whether I could afford to pay for this woman’s membership to a monthly wine delivery service.
My kid is stupid cute. I mean, they’ve given her the moniker of “the Gerber baby” at Gymboree because her cheeks are epic and her blush and bashful routine gets ’em every time. She does this adorable side smile thing reminiscent of her father (how I got in to this situation) that melts hearts. And she loooooooooooooves her Momma. So much so that she never wants me to be out of her sight or more than an arms length away. Actually, she’d prefer to sit in my lap, climb over my shoulder, pull up using my hair, or simply hang on my hip. ALL. DAY. LONG. You want to pick her up because she is, in all honesty, one cute baby, until you realize that like the koala, she is now stuck on you for all eternity.
I have no idea how single parents do this every day, all day. Usually, when I am over being a human jungle gym, I hand that wriggling bundle of joy to her father and bail for the garage gym where I can get 32 minutes of unadorned peace. Or I anxiously await the arrival of her sitter (who’s on Spring Break this week…WTF?!?) when I can tag out and reemerge as the intelligent, ambitious, employed version of myself. Yesterday, the daycare we’ve been waiting on for three months called to say we can start June 1st, and I literally yelled into the phone and volunteered to come pay that moment so as not to lose our spot. I swear I would have dropped her butt off while handing over my check if they’d have let me.
It’s no surprise to anyone that parenting is hard. Despite the first five paragraphs, that really wasn’t a shocker to me either. What surprises me is the extent to which one little alien can stretch the boundaries of my patience, love, strength, resilience, adoration, and liver all in one day. She is all consuming from the moment that monitor first bleeps to the last. As my husband likes to say “She’s easy, assuming you have absolutely nothing else to do.” Go ahead, roll your eyes. I silently do it too every time he says this since there has literally never been a day where crawling around after a 26" inch rolie polie was the only thing I needed to do.
Over the past several years, I feel like women have started to relinquish their tight hold on the Christmas card image of family life. People like the Holderness family of Christmas Jammies fame create hilarious parodies of what amounts to most people’s every day life. And it’s funny because it’s true (and, well, because at the moment you’re watching it, it’s not happening to you.) I hope this makes women feel better for simultaneously loving and hating being a Mom. For vacillating between indescribable adoration and overwhelming annoyance. For being defensively grateful for the gift of their children while whimsically missing the days when they could leave the house in under an hour or enjoy an uninterrupted meal (insert cookie, coffee, breath mint) without having to share it, wipe it off, or pull fingers out of it.
I worry that there are Moms, single Moms especially, that can’t find a safe space to share this story. That yes, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to them and the hardest thing they’ve ever done all at the same time. That yes, they wish they could go to the bathroom without having to hold a 15 lb butterball but no, they would never want to give him back. That yes, they desperately want her to stop crying or pooping or whining or playing in the dog’s water bowl or pulling their hair but when she’s finally FINALLY asleep, they still obsessively check the monitor to make sure she’s still breathing. I worry that in the absence of having another adult person who can share both the adoration and the annoyance, the gratitude and the whimsy, the snuggles and the struggles, that it would easily and quickly become too much.
If I were a single parent, which I strongly considered prior to meeting my husband, it would have been. I would have muscled through, because that’s what I do, but I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it. If these 11 days are any indication, I would have felt locked in a world of my own making but too consumed to come up for air. And I’d have given up wine and my left big toe before admitting to anyone how bad this blows at times because I could have never also explained how deeply I love her or how strongly I felt that the struggle was about my failings, not hers.
So I didn’t buy that woman from Mommy and Me yoga a wine club membership (I couldn’t afford it), but I did get her number, and I will try to be her friend. I will tell my husband when he gets home how much I appreciate co-parenting with him and how blessed our nugget is to have him as a Dad. I will thank my Mom, who was a single parent for most of my life, and apologize for the times I didn’t get or helpfully respond to her exasperation or exhaustion.
And I’m going to buy a stuffed koala for my daughter. Because it will remind me that all mothers are, at times, jungle gyms, but the kids on their backs are smiling. I can’t see that while I’m bent over, wrestling hair from little fingers, and maniacally singing and shushing. But when I see her smile, every time I see her smile, I can’t help but smile back.