Thursday, May 24, 2012


One of the hardest things for me to master as a single mom has been vacationing. Not just the epic packing battles with two little girls who only want to bring 3 swim suits and 5 sundresses even when it's a snow trip, but the logistics of traveling alone with two small kids, and frequently a dog as well: all of those contingency plans and nerve-wracking crowded airports or hopes that the car doesn't break down en route to some hours-away destination.

Last summer was my first time driving to our family's cabin, 4.5 hours away, through hot valley towns and up into the Sierras, finishing with a 45 minute trek along a rutted dirt logging road, with two girls and a dog. There were bathroom breaks, dog water breaks, snack breaks, general runaround breaks for two girls who could only be happily confined to their hot pink car seats for so long. I stressed about the the possibility of having car issues, about the dog overheating in the car as I ran the girls into the next rest stop, about getting too tired and fed up with the back seat fighting and having no one to help me out.

I caravanned with some family friends that first time up, just in case anything went awry, and during the long drive I realized something invaluable: I had it down. This single-motherhood thing had already become second-nature to me. The girls had a bin of books and games wedged between their car seats that kept them busy for much of the time. We blasted music and sang together when we needed to perk up. I had a mini-cooler of food and drinks on the passenger seat, full of pre-cut, single-serve portions I'd readied the night before. I had a clear view of the dog sleeping on top of our pile of suitcases in the back, and could see when he was getting restless. When we had to stop in hot towns I blasted the A/C to cool off the car, then found a shady parking spot and made a game out of rushing the girls off to the bathroom and back to the car as quickly as possible. I lounged on random lawns outside fast food restaurants while the dog trotted around and the girls picked dandelions. I let go of my usual travel timetable, any expectations, and relaxed. And it was fine.

That's not to say I haven't had any travel or vacation hiccups in my year of doing it solo. We've been stranded with a dead car battery. We've had throwing up children traveling with borrowed bowls on their laps in the car. We've had the dog get into some sort of insect nest and end up with a face swollen with three baseball-size lumps and had to rush him to the nearest emergency vet. We've had a cross-country flight just days after Peanut fell and knocked out her front tooth and loosened up a handful of others, juggling her all-liquid diet on an airline in this no-liquids-through-security era. And we've made it through it all. And got some good stories to boot.

So today I'm packing up for our first big trip of the season. I have lists of all of the clothes, food, meds, toys, and dog supplies I will need. And I have the confidence, that even if some disaster befalls us mid-route, we'll get through it, we'll make the best of it, and we'll still have a good time.

And if it's really bad, I'll end up with a great story out of it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Post-Divorce Phone Tree

It’s a familiar sight at the elementary school: a mom saying goodbye to her kid in line before the bell rings, reminding him that his father, or his father’s girlfriend, or his father’s girlfriend’s mother, will be picking that kid up after school, saying farewell for the next few days. The look of anxiety in the mother’s eyes as the child heads into class, her hope that it all works out. It’s hard to share your child with someone you rarely see, even harder to trust that the fringe family members of that person, often people you’ve never met, will remember to show up, on time and in the right spot, to get your young child after school. And so began the post-divorce phone tree.

I’m one of the moms that lives at school. I didn’t intend for it to be that way, but between volunteering in Peanut’s class twice a week, String Bean’s class twice a week, chaperoning field trips, helping out with in-class projects and parties, having two separate drop-off and pick-up times each day for my two kids, and lingering around campus for after-school play, the parents, step-parents, even teachers have come to know me as one of the moms who can be counted on to be standing there when the bell rings.

As a result, I now have several phone numbers of moms/dads/grandmas who sometimes have to rely on virtual strangers to pick up their beloved children from school. That way, whether or not the ex-husband’s new girlfriend’s younger sister, or whomever, shows up on time and in the right place, the child is covered. My job, when it’s one of those days, is to hang around the kid until they are safely picked up, then discreetly text the mom/dad/grandma to let them know the child is safe, and who the child is with. It’s a whole new game, this modern, fractured family, but I’m learning fast. And I’m happy to do it.

I had a week where my mother and mother-in-law took turns picking up my children from school, and I had a back-up list of about five contacts just in case anything went wrong. That was easy, because I have a good relationship with them and they weren’t annoyed when I texted them every day to make sure all had gone well. But when it’s the new love of an estranged ex, or some even more distant relative from the new family tree, someone you do not have an amicable relationship with, it’s nice to have a little reassurance that your child is covered.

My closest group of mom-friends at school are all similar phone tree monitors, with their own lists of kids they keep track of for the peace of mind of divorced moms and dads, and the safety of children who sometimes fall through the cracks of divorced parents who no longer communicate well. Like minds have drawn us together. We’re easy to spot. We’re the ones on the playground after school, cell phones in hand, obliviously happy kids gathered around us, watching the gate for your arrival.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Non-Mommy Parts of Me

Here’s the thing: I hate dating. I’m not a dating kind of person. All of that posturing and fake smiling and hair-tossing. It just isn’t me. I’m a jeans and t-shirt mom with princess band-aids, hair ties, and hand sanitizer at the ready at all times. Need a tissue? I’ve got a whole pack for you right here. Splinter? I can fix that. Monkey-bar blister? No problem. But get dressed up and head out to sit across from some guy and impress him? Not my strong suit. That, and I haven’t been on a date in over a decade. So you might say I’m rusty. Except even back then I wasn’t a good dater. So can you really be rusty at something you never learned to do in the first place? Probably not.

Anyway, all of these things led me to one conclusion in my year of being single: I probably had another few years of being single to come. I mean, when would I even meet someone? I have my kids most of the time. And I’ve noticed that nothing spooks a handsome young guy who has just smiled at you like the two little girls traipsing along behind you calling you “mommy.”

My girls’ dad keeps them for a couple hours on days he can knock off work early, and he has them overnight on Fridays when he’s in town, but he does travel a lot for work, and that means I’m a three-bodied, six-armed, six-legged person most of the time. Which is fine. I adore my kids--probably to a borderline-unhealthy degree. I fully accept and am honored to hold the role of being their mother, solo or not. And honestly, I think I’m pretty good at it, this single motherhood gig.

I didn’t mind being single. I needed that year of solitude. My year alone gave me time to grieve the end of my marriage, to let all the negative stuff go, to get back on my own feet, to push myself harder than I ever have as a writer, and to find a balance that doesn’t just feel like surviving, but like thriving, like moving in the direction I was always meant to go, like pure, unrestrained joy with two adorable little sidekicks cheering me on in the sidelines. But, still, there was a part of me that wondered: is this going to be it, forever?

It’s not that I need a man around to fix stuff. I can fix stuff. I work out. I can lift my own heavy things. I don’t miss cooking for someone else (I don’t even like cooking) or doing someone else’s laundry or tripping over big man shoes in the hallway. But sitting on the couch at night, girls tucked into beds they refused to stay in, watching TV before prepping school lunches, checking homework, folding the endless laundry of two girls who love outfit changes the way I love sleep, I found myself thinking: meeting someone would be nice, right? Someone who saw me as more than just a mom? It seemed unlikely, though. I travel between my house, the kids’ school, and my favorite table at Starbucks where I write and ignore all of the other patrons. My quiet cocoon of an existence doesn’t really invite others in. Especially not single men.

But lo and behold, the universe has a way of listening, even when you aren’t sure you’re really asking. A year after my husband and I set up separate residences, an old acquaintance from high school, a film producer looking for new material, asked to see some of my writing, and a conversation started. After a couple months of exchanging short stories and comments on them, we met for dinner—not a date, so I didn’t dress up or get nervous—to talk shop. And sometime between dinner, the bookstore we visited, the cafe we ended up in, the business meeting started to feel like a date. I didn’t have my kids for the night, and he didn’t have his, which meant hours of uninterrupted conversation about utterly grown-up topics. I had my princess band-aids and pink hair ties and hand sanitizer right there in my purse, but I didn’t feel like a mom for a few precious hours. We didn’t know much about each other, except that we’d passed one another in school hallways twenty years earlier, but he’d read a lot of my writing, so in a way he knew more about me than most people do. The inside of me, the vulnerable parts and sharp edges and restrained anger and hard truth-seeking part that doesn’t posture or hair-flip or tolerate any fakeness whatsoever. And even with all that, he liked me.

I guess you could say we’ve been dating for two months now, except that I hate dating, so I wish I could think of a better name for it. We’re taking it slow, getting to know each other and trying to maintain the balances of our own careers, our own relationships with our kids, our own fears of getting hurt. To call this new territory minimalizes the wonderful oddness of the whole thing. It’s new territory the way an entirely new solar system would be, when someone you barely knew in your past can come back around and help the present you feel, well, more like you. The non-mom part of me is now a bigger part of me, which is strange and scary and, ultimately, good. It makes the mommy moments more special, when they aren’t the only moments I’m having all day. So maybe dating isn’t so bad.