I don’t know what life is like for other single moms, stay at home moms, married moms, bereaved moms, moms who ran away and left it all behind, moms of kids adopted from other cultures, grandmas, step-moms, surrogate moms, or anybody else in a motherly position.
I only know what life is like for me.
I’m a single mom. My son is 32 months old at the time of writing. He’s adorable, affectionate and I love him. He’s speech delayed, like many boys his age, so we work carefully on language along with a speech therapist. He has no other developmental delays that are discernible at this age. In fact he’s ahead of many gross and fine motor milestones. He is a wiz at puzzles and games on phones and tablets. He sings along to anything and mimics language perfectly, he just doesn’t speak much otherwise.
He’ll start preschool when he’s 3. He’s a handful, but I’m assured most toddlers are. There is no child support (to be fair, none was requested, for a number of reasons that don’t belong on this or any blog). I live with my parents, which helps financially and gives me some babysitting coverage. I have two jobs, one in multichannel marketing as a specialist/consultant, the other in integrated marketing communications as a marketing project manager. I work from home so I can care for my son full time. I have two cats, a fish, two moss plants and a host of dinoflagellates as pets in our place. Our home is an apartment over my parents’ garage which I am solely responsible for keeping clean and tidy.
There, that should give you some background.
Today has been a fairly typical day, so I thought I would share what a typical day is like for me. Because my guess is you don’t know what my life is like any more than I know what yours is like, intimately, up close and personal. And maybe you’re curious. So here goes.
7am – Alarm goes off. Kiddo and I share a bed, he’s still asleep, because he went to bed extra late the night before. I hate those nights because I do the bulk of my work at night when it’s quiet and I can focus. If he stays up late I suffer for it. Oh well. I hit snooze for 5 minutes.
7:05am – Alarm again. I get up and wake the kid. He’s a 12 hours on, 12 hours off child. No naps since he was 20 months old. So he really needs to stick to a schedule if I have any hope of sticking to mine.
I change his diaper and check if his pajamas are wet. They aren’t; the diaper did its job. I dress him again and bring him to my parents who watch him each morning for about 90 minutes. They feed him breakfast and a glass of milk.
If I’ve had a late night working the night before, or an attack of insomnia (I’ve been a severe insomniac most of my life), I go back to bed and get 60-90 more minutes sleep. If I’m rested, I start work. Today I am tired. I curl up in bed and pull the covers up.
Like most mornings, one of my cats jumps on the bed and gives me a back rub. He never uses any claws and he applies just the right pressure. I don’t know how he knows where I’m sore but he always seems to know where I was hurting the day before. I hurt a lot, most of the time. My chest hurts from an injury in 2005 that will never be fully healed. My lower back hurts from nerve damage from the epidural when I had my kid. My leg hurts because I have a damaged ligament in my hip that will never get better. My upper back hurts from hunching over a computer desk so much. (I just bought a new chair, and it helps some. The cats scratched it to pieces immediately. $90 and the vinyl lasted less than 24 hours. But, that’s okay, it comes with the feline territory.) Everything else hurts from chasing around my son and carrying him, struggling with him when he’s throwing a tantrum, etc. He’s big and strong, bless him, and sometimes stubborn.
Curled up on my side with my cat kneading my back, I fall asleep again. I dream a lot. I always do in the mornings. Sometimes the dreams are horrible. The rest of the time they are complicated, restless and unpleasant.
Today my mother brings my son back into the room a bit later than usual. I wake up from a dream about rattlesnakes and scorpions to the sound of my child singing “ashes, ashes, we all fall down”. Mom turns on the light. I check my phone quickly – e-mail and Facebook. I close the apps and get up.
I turn on my son’s favorite episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” while I get my bearings. He dances and sings. For the first of what will be about the 25th time today, he pulls off his clothes and his diaper. I get a new diaper and dress him again.
I pop into the bathroom and make my hair presentable. I’m still wearing my nightgown. I open the curtains and blinds so the dinoflagellates can start getting indirect sunlight. They need a day’s worth plus some lamplight in order to photosynthesize. They were born in San Diego so they are used to waking up about 6am, 9am my time – perfect for me.
I give the cats some more water in their expensive Drinkwell 360 fountain, their Christmas gift from me last year. I check, the fish is still alive in his tank. He’s a betta so you know he could go at any moment with no notice, but I’m glad he’s still there. He’s lasted just over a year so far.
There are workmen outside, because there always are, painting the house, putting up trim, fixing things, whatever is required. But my hair looks okay, so I’m good to go, for a while.
I turn on my computer and while my son digs into his toys – I’m a big believer in independent play balanced with directed play – I get a few tasks done for work. For privacy reasons, I can’t disclose specifics of what I do and for whom, but in general, a typical day is very heavy on PR/publicity, moderately heavy on social media and content marketing, frequently involves updating websites and troubleshooting coding issues, sometimes involves varying levels of strategic planning, an occasional phone call, some proofreading, SEO optimization, etc. I work on and off during the day in small bursts so that I’m devoting attention to my son and to my work. As I said before, I work most at night, so I can parent during the day.
My son’s toys are mostly divided into containers for a “controlled environment”; he decides which toy he wants to play with, brings me the container and I give him the pieces slowly, making him choose the order in which he receives them. This labored process is part of his speech therapy. For the same reason, when we play together, we often play “choosing games”, like Mr. Potato Head, where he has to select which mouth to put on, which set of eyes, which nose, etc. Other games we play include but are not limited to practicing sounds and words with playdough, sensory play, arts & crafts, popping bubbles, shape sorters and tablet time.
He brings me a bag of eggs and chicks, I open it and he chooses the blue chick and the orange chick.
Back to work for a moment. After a while my son tires of the chicks and I put them away. He brings me the fish bowl with 10 colorful fish inside it, like a piggy bank, that he inserts the fish into one by one and afterwards I have to open the bottom to get the fish out again. I open the fish bowl and give him the fish. He sits next to me and plays.
He strips off his clothes and diaper again, and I again diaper and dress him. I wonder if he doesn’t like the feeling of the super absorbent diaper so I try a different type. (It doesn’t work. He’s just a nudist at heart.) Fortunately he doesn’t try this little nudist game anywhere but in the privacy of our room, with me.
I watch the clock. It’s almost noon. I rush into the bathroom, bathe and dress in a matter of minutes. It’s all I can spare.
I bring my son to the changing table and make sure his diaper’s in tip-top shape. When I pull on his clothes again his pants stretch up to his armpits, like a little old man. It’s cute, so I try to take a picture. I say “cheeeeeeese” in a high-pitched voice to get him to smile. It almost always works, but instead, today he just says “cheeeeese” back to me. It’s a little victory, and I laugh, a deep belly laugh, a real guffaw. It must sound different than my usual laugh because he turns to me and mimics, “ha ha ha ha”. I love it. His real laugh is a winner, and I hear it all the time, because he’s a very happy boy.
Lunch time. Not only for my son but for the workmen, whom we feed. With nobody else home the onus falls on me to make their lunch. Mom assured me there was bread and enough cold cuts to make sandwiches. I find that not to be the case, so I improvise. There is enough “very fine” bread, the kind you make finger sandwiches with. Mini grilled cheeses – perfect size for my son, not enough for hungry workmen. I slice cheddar and arrange bread and butter. My son is fed his grilled cheese, vegetable, fruit and a glass of milk. The workmen receive a small grilled cheese, a bowl of chicken soup, an apple, potato chips and a packet of Saltine crackers for their soup, along with something to drink.
My son is done eating and bored. I have not eaten lunch (nor breakfast). I grab a snack and a glass of milk, as usual. There is no time to make something for myself but I don’t mind.
I give my son two large pieces of paper and four washable crayons. He draws for a while. I take a third piece of paper and carefully draw a Jack-o-Lantern on it. I give it to him and he scribbles orange, purple and green all over my picture. This goes on a while longer. I save that one, and toss the others away. There’s not enough room to keep every piece of paper he draws on.
I wash off crayon marks from the high chair tray. I wash it again, just to be sure there’s nothing left that’ll contaminate the next meal.
Here and there I use my phone to check Facebook or Twitter, maybe post something, maybe not. It keeps me connected to actual adult people, something many of my days lack.
I take my son upstairs after lunch, back to our room. He wants to play with the fish again, and I acquiesce.
I also give him a wooden puzzle with numbers 1-20. He does half of it correctly and half not. I sit down with him to redo the incorrect half. He jumps on my back and pulls my shirt so tightly the collar chokes me. He doesn’t mean to hurt me, but it hurts all the same. I wrangle him onto my lap and he finishes the puzzle.
For a moment I feel like crying, but I seem to have lost the ability to do that most days. Just as well, I don’t like to cry in front of my kid. Once in a rare while it happens when I’m extremely stressed or someone has hurt me, and it’s important that he sees a full range of functioning emotions. When I seem sad, he comes and hugs me and makes me look into his eyes.
His interest turns to a book. He flips pages while I build a tower out of wooden blocks. He can’t see the tower, and I know it’ll be a good surprise when he turns around. Once he spots the tower he takes part of it apart and rebuilds it. Then he strips off again, and for a brief while, I let him run around naked. I stop him when he wants to jump on the bed. He knows a diaper is required there.
He asks for the fish again, and I turn my attention to some research for a client. I put on songs my son likes and he sings along.
I get down on the ground with him and tickle him mercilessly; he loves it, and wants more.
Then we play the fish game together.
Time flies now, and it’s past 3. My son climbs onto the desk and tries to hit the power button on my PC. I scold him and make him get down. He cries and storms off.
He calms down and watches the betta for quite a while. Then he breaks into a babyproofed drawer – he’s like an ox – and pulls out all the contents, none of which are dangerous because I learned a while ago that drawer is not as well babyproofed as everything else. I tell him this is not okay and put all the contents back again. Before I can finish, one of my cats starts chewing on a box from the drawer. I tell the cat this is not okay too.
I take a moment to beg some celebrities on social media to please share the news about Newport, OR losing its Coast Guard rescue helicopter. It’s a horrible decision that could cost lives and I’ve been trying to raise as much interest as I can for the last week or so. I care deeply for commercial fishermen and it’s the least I can do.
I also read a quick e-mail from a woman who can’t afford the $2,000 it will cost to have her cat’s teeth removed. They are all infected and he’s suffering. Weeks ago I donated what I could to her fundraiser because I can’t stand to see an animal hurting. Having already given that, I do all I can do right now, which is share the fundraiser on social media. She’s trying hard to help her cat. I don’t judge. $2,000 is a lot of money to have squirreled away for vet care.
I write out the envelope that will soon contain a check for $140 made out to my son’s speech therapist. This is what it costs every week, out of pocket, insurance will not cover it. But I can’t put a price on it just the same.
I feel like none of it’s enough. Not enough for my son, not enough for others in need, not enough for work, I don’t care if it’s not enough for me.
At 4pm I turn the heat on in the bathroom so it will be nice and warm for my son’s bath. The same cat runs into the bathroom to enjoy the heat.
I realize I can’t remember the last time I had anything to drink, and down 16 oz. of water. Most likely I’m dehydrated; fortunately I’m on a reliable antibiotic following a minor procedure on my foot, so I won’t get a UTI – unlike the last time I was really dehydrated.
I pick up my son’s clothes and dress him, put on his socks and take him downstairs. I suddenly think of someone who hurt me very badly, and I realize I don’t hate this person, even though nobody would blame me if I did. I wonder if maybe I’ve lost the capability to hate the way I have lost the ability to cry, but then I think about bile bears in China. And I start to feel pure, seething hate. I hate every Chinese person who engages in traditional medicine. I hate that they are so freaking ignorant. In this day and age there is no excuse, no excuse, NO EXCUSE for that kind of ignorance. That those poor bile bears suffer lives of torture for decades saddens me and makes my blood BOIL. I want to lock every bile farmer up in a cage and torture them, too. So maybe I haven’t lost hatred after all.
I stop thinking about bile bears. It’s barely 60 and there is no sun; it’s cold. I drag my son’s wagon out of its hiding place and settle him in. We fight each other over a hat, but I win. I put a fleece wrap over him and he’s good to go.
I grab a random hoodie from a closet. I quickly realize it’s not my size, but I don’t care. I’m taking my son for a walk, getting some fresh air for us both and exercise for me, and I don’t care what I look like to the people on our street.
I drag the wagon outside and lock up the house. My ear buds are in and my phone is playing music already, as loud as I dare to make it, so that I can still hear approaching cars and I can still hear my son. I like it when music drowns out the world, though, I always have. It’s like my own personal soundtrack. But I keep it not so loud, just in case.
I feel badly that I fought with my kid about the hat. I don’t regret making him wear it but I regret that I didn’t take more time to talk through the reasons that he had no choice but to wear it. Positive parents explain things better. I kiss his cheeks and tell him I love him, he smiles. I take a picture of him because I’m always doing that. Thousands upon thousands. Thousands more to come.
I glance up at my bathroom window and my cat stares down at me. For a moment I worry that maybe I shouldn’t have left the heater on. It’s an electric baseboard heater, nothing scary or dangerous if operated properly. I was careful to double check there were no fire hazards near it. I am careful every single time I turn on the heat in any room. It was completely free and clear, and I didn’t have the temperature on very high anyway. But I am a worrier. I consider bringing the wagon back into the house and checking on the heater again. I decide I’m being ridiculous, and don’t.
I tug the wagon up the driveway and down the street. It’s heavy, and it pulls my arm tight at the shoulder, something that later makes my upper arms sore. I do it almost every day. I file it away with the other aches and pains.
I love the music, and the fresh air. I occasionally lose myself in a groove, but I habitually turn around to check on my kid every 30 seconds or so. I talk to him about the changing colors in the leaves. A cat is sitting by the road, my son sees it. I talk to the kitty, and then to my son about the kitty. We keep walking, and here and there I chatter, talking to him, though I’m sure to anyone within earshot it sounds like I’m talking to myself.
I think a bit. At the 3/10th of a mile mark my mind wanders to a man I met years ago, only briefly, and with whom I’ve only kept a little in touch. If past lives exist I’m positive I spent one of mine with him. I look at him and I know things, things I shouldn’t, feel things, things I shouldn’t, and then I remember how I sat on the water’s edge in the blackness of night a few weeks ago at the ocean; I thought about him then, as well. I remember how beautiful his blue eyes were and how I’d seen them cry and my blue eyes cried too, at the time.
I check on my kid, he’s fine. He’s watching the wagon wheels crunch leaves. We’re at the end of the street now, and I see a dog that’s there every day, on a very short leash attached to a fence. He’s always in the same spot. He always barks twice when I approach. He may be a Malinois. He’s pretty, and probably very loving. I stop and talk to him every time. I make a mental note to start coming by at different times of day to see if he’s still chained there, and if so, to call the NJSPCA. I hope he’s not left outside all the time, on a tiny leash, lonely and cold.
I turn around and head for home. My son is much more vocal on the way back, as usual. He laughs and chatters. It makes me smile.
I notice he’s taken off his hat and thrown it in the street. I’m annoyed, but I don’t yell. I back up about ten feet, grab the hat, and continue on. It’s not windy, and he’ll be fine for the short distance back. I pick my battles these days.
I remember I need to make an appointment with my therapist.
And my dentist.
And an endodontist.
And an endocrinologist.
And my gynecologist.
And my allergist.
And my podiatrist.
And the vet.
I notice the woman 2/10ths of a mile from my house, who always goes all-out decorating her home’s exterior, has nice autumn decor outside. But her usual enormous collection of ghoulish Halloween decorations are nowhere to be found. I imagine she will put them up soon. Then I wish I was the kind of woman who decorated like that, and on time. I notice one of her trees already has Christmas lights on it. It didn’t yesterday. She’s already getting ready for Christmas. I realize I will never be that kind of woman. I don’t know what to think.
But I think, a little, that it’s not enough.
I pass an evergreen tree that’s blue, and I mean proper blue, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I wonder what kind it is and I wish I had one on SecondLife, except I never have time to play SecondLife, so it wouldn’t matter if I did. The accompanying landscape is simply rows of lavender, wild and tall, and that blue tree. It’s my kind of landscaping. I don’t know the person who owns the house, and I probably never will. But whoever they are, they have my kind of taste.
The music is still pumping as we get back in the house and I go through the process of putting the wagon away, taking off my son’s outerwear and otherwise getting us ready to go back upstairs. One of my favorite songs is on and I recall how I used to sing it a little too loudly, too aggressively, too passionately, with too much longing years ago, long before my son came along. This town. These streets. Your friends. We’ll never see this place again. They’ll think about you now and then. They’ll never see our faces again.
We go upstairs and back into our room. I turn the bath on to run warm. I clean up the mess of toys, back into their tidy bins. I straighten the pillows on the bed. I turn off the TV. I turn on the nightlight. I shut the blinds. I close the curtains. I feed the fish. I feed my cats. I take off my son’s clothes and put everything in the hamper. I scrub the bathtub as I do before every bath just in case there are germs from when I bathed earlier. I take off his diaper and toss it away.
I put him in the bath and wash him well. I let him play with his bath toys for a while. When he’s ready I take him out and dry him off. My shirt is wet but I don’t even notice. I know it’s wet because it’s always wet after his bath.
I walk him into another room and put Neosporin on a small abrasion he got yesterday when he fell off something he shouldn’t have been climbing in the first place. It’s fine, it’s already healing, but I do it just in case. I always do for a day or two after a cut or scrape.
He grabs a shower cap from the bathroom on our way out, and I let him play with it on the changing table while I rub “nighttime” lotion carefully all over him. I put on his diaper. I pull on his pajamas. I “bite” the toes on both of his bare feet. I’ve done it since he was a baby and it always makes him laugh. Some nights it doesn’t. It doesn’t tonight.
I put the shower cap on my head and he thinks this is funny. He pulls it off and tries to put it back on my head. I help, and again he pulls it off. He tosses it aside; it’s time to go eat dinner, at least for him.
I settle him in his high chair and the dinner process begins. Protein, healthy carbs, veggies, fruits, milk, water. I let him watch some Pajanimals videos on YouTube because it’s so early, 5:30, and bedtime isn’t until after 6:30, ideally he’ll be asleep before 7:30, but it’s always a gamble. I know I should cut down on the visual stimulation before bed, and usually I do. However this backfired the night before and he started to doze off at 5pm, which meant he’d treat sleep as a nap and be up by 8pm, instead of treating sleep like actual overnight sleep. I always have to be so careful. It kind of makes me crazy. But I need those nighttime hours to work.
I brush his teeth again. It’s a fight every time, but it’s starting to get a little easier. If everything just got a little easier, a tiny bit every day, it’d all be fine. Maybe someday it will.
My sister comes home. I talk to her for a few minutes. It’s nice, I don’t always get to do it, even if it’s just small talk. There are days I don’t talk to anyone except my son, at least not outside of e-mails, social media or texts. Most days, really.
It’s almost bedtime. I take my son back to the changing table; his diaper is OK, so we should be good to go. Unless he strips off his PJs and takes it off, in which case I have backups in our room. I am not above duct taping the tabs to keep it on.
My son fights and fusses. He hates bedtime. I’m not fond of it myself. It’s 7:10pm now, he’s still wide awake. I have lullabies on. He’s very intently “reading” a book next to me. The room is dark but he sees by the light of this screen. I talk to him. I write this post because I’ve committed to memory everything that’s happened today for the express purpose of sharing it here, and pretty soon it will all fall out of my brain. I type inhumanly fast, so it’s quick to do.
I will probably rock my son soon and sing lullabies. Lately I sing a lullaby from a speech therapy CD. Baby Bobby bounced his ball, baby Bobby bumped his head. Baby Bobby got a boo boo, baby Bobby went to bed. Poor little Baby Bobby, poor little baby boy. Mama will hold you so close, and you can play with all your toys. I will wonder, as always, if Bobby’s mama doesn’t know letting a child with a head injury go to sleep is the worst thing ever, just in case he has a concussion.
I may also sing him a lullaby we learned in music class, which I enrolled him in to let him socialize. It too is very repetitive, but I love the sentiment. May there always be sunshine, may there always be blue skies, may there always be (mommy/grandma/kitty/whatever), may there always be me. If these don’t work I’ll sing Celtic folk songs. When he’s asleep I’ll put him into bed and put a pillow where I sleep, so he doesn’t accidentally roll out until I get there.
I’m terribly hungry now, but I’ve had some more water. I’m ready for my son to go to sleep, so I can work more. Someone will bring me up a quick bite to eat, thankfully I can always rely on that. I will eat it in the dark in my bedroom while I’m working. I may listen to more music with my headphones, or maybe I’ll put something on Netflix and listen to it in the background like some kind of Radio4 drama. If it wasn’t so late, I’d listen to Radio4, but it’s switched over to the BBC World Service by now.
I’ll work until however late it takes me to finish what’s on my to-do list for the day. When my son starts preschool I may not have to work as late, because there will be 2 hours, 5 days a week that he’ll be busy socializing and learning and expanding his horizons, and I’ll be by my lonesome with nothing to do but work. Maybe some nights I’ll have earned enough time for a bubble bath. It’s a mediocre life goal, but I would dearly love it.
Then I will put on my PJs. I’ll wash my face and brush my teeth. I’ll drink some water and use the loo. I’ll fill up a water bottle to keep near the bed. I’ll make sure there’s a cough drop or two, too. I have what I suspect is a neurogenic cough but that’s one of the reasons I need to see my allergist.
I’ll turn off the nightlight. I’ll make sure the cats have enough water. I’ll love on them and throw them toys. I’ll adjust the hose on the fish’s bubbler if the sound has gotten too loud. I’ll give my dinoflagellates a gentle shake to watch them light up like hundreds of tiny stars in my hand. Then I’ll put them back on the shelf and say goodnight.
I’ll take vitamins. I’ll put on lip balm. I’ll rub lotion on my hands. I’ll climb into bed. I’ll put my ear buds in and listen to music, this time quietly. My son will, God willing, be peacefully asleep next to me. I’ll make a mental note to do more potty training tomorrow, and it’s very likely I’ll manage it, even if it’s only a few times during the day. He doesn’t mind trying.
I will read a few articles on marketing or communications to better myself professionally, and I’ll share good ones on Twitter, because I actually have a lot of followers based solely on my profession. Of course, most of what I post on Twitter has nothing to do with marketing, and since the Aussie celebrities will be up and at it in tomorrow-land, I may tweet back and forth with some of them. All my fisher friends and acquaintances are starting their respective seasons and on pause with social media, so I feel a little void there.
If I’m not terribly sleepy, and I rarely am, I may spend a few minutes reading on the Kindle app – usually a book about the ocean, like rescues at sea, commercial fishing stories, things of that ilk. If I’m totally wired, I’ll get out my tablet and play an online Cards Against Humanity clone with strangers for just a little while, a few hands. I may go back to my book before sleep.
I’ll tuck myself in and roll over to face my son. I’ll cuddle him while I listen to more music, my “sleepytime” playlist. I’m usually nodding off by the 4th song, vaguely making out the words as I drift in and out. Forty days, boys, and forty nights, the ship tossed and turned two by two. They say heaven poured down on our poor little heads, and the world began anew.
I’ll think about my past lives.
I’ll regret that I didn’t do enough today.
I’ll sleep, knowing tomorrow will be more or less exactly the same, and every tomorrow after that.
And that’s okay. Because I’ll be cuddling my kid and I know someday he won’t want to share a bed anymore, and someday the days will be totally different, and I’ll look back on this post and think “those were the days”, and when I’m old and grey I’ll be happy I wrote it all down. Things change…eventually.