Adventures in Single Parenthood

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are both good and fine, but I am a staunch believer that there should be another dedicated parent holiday: Single Parents’ Day. On this proposed holiday, all the parents who are in a couple will be forced to separate for a day, with one parent taking care of his/her own kids, while another parent will take care of a single parent’s kids for the day. And when I say day, I mean from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., none of that I’ll-watch-your-kids-for-three-hours bit.
I am happy to say that I’m part of a happily-married couple with child, but recently I had to live the single parent lifestyle. My husband ended up going across the country for four months for work, leaving me with our then one-year old.
A disclaimer: I’m also lucky in that I have my parents nearby. At least I didn’t have to shuttle the wee one off to daycare before heading to work—I was fortunate that the daycare came to me. So really, my only single parenting came after work and on the weekends.
After work, the routine involved frantically making dinner for P, feeding her, Skyping with the husband so P wouldn’t forget his smiling face, giving her a bath, putting her to bed, eating, showering, and sleeping. I just got exhausted writing that sentence.
The weekends, though, oh the weekends. Talk about no down time: Up at the crack of dawn, running errands, laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the house while P slept, cooking, etc. You get the idea. One day P was bouncing off the walls with energy, and I was so exhausted I just put her in her crib for ten minutes while I collapsed on the bed. It was a sweet, sweet ten minutes. I love my daughter, but going to work on Monday morning was like going on vacation.
The worse, though, was how I figured out that she could open the front door by herself. We live on the second floor of a duplex, so there is a precipitous flight of stairs right outside our front door. One Saturday morning, I was running around as usual, trying to get out of the house. I slipped into the bathroom for a second to brush my teeth while P was playing with my keys in the living room.
I spit out the last bit of toothpaste and rinsed, and was finally ready to head out. P looked up at me angelically…and the keys were nowhere to be found. Toy box? Check. Behind the couch? Check. In the trash? Check. Nope, no keys, nada.
I figured that I would just find them later, and grabbed an extra pair. I opened the front door and had a mild heart attack: The keys were sitting outside the door.
That’s how I figured that my little precocious P could open the front door. She opened it, threw the keys out, and closed the door. I don’t even want to think about the what ifs in that situation, and needless to say, I was up until ten that night installing a safety gate—while cursing the state of the California economy that had sent the hubs 3000 miles away.
Thinking back, I probably should have taken up my wonderful friends’ offers of looking after P a little more often, at least so I could use the bathroom in peace. At the same time, I felt guilty about the fact that she couldn’t spend time with one of her parents, and that spending all her time with me would somehow make that better. Silly, I know, but sometimes there’s no logical explanation for the way we think and react to situations.
Now that the four months are up, I am so grateful that my husband is back and that he washes the dishes while I give P a bath, and picks up the toys while I put her to bed. And watches her as I brush my teeth.
And if you know single parents, don’t wait for them to ask you for help. They need it. They want it, but may be too shy to ask. Show up with some food. If no one answers the door, leave on the front steps. Go hang out on a Saturday and let them enjoy some adult conversation. Go hang out on a Sunday and let them take a nap. Whatever you do, don’t take no for an answer. And until the Single Parents’ Day is instated, your friend can have five minutes to herself.