Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dreams of My Children, Part 10

The little one had asked me to tuck her in. I sat on the edge of her bed in the dark and listened to her weep.
"What's the matter, babe?" I asked her, taking a corner of the sheet and wiping the tears from her cheeks.
"I miss Mom," she managed to say between sobs.
I kissed her damp forehead, smoothed back her tangled hair. "I'm sure I'll miss Mom, too," I said, "but she's only been gone a few hours."
"I don't care, I still miss her," she spoke into her pillow.

Great, I thought. Only 13 days and 12 hours until Mom comes back.
"Cheer up," I tried. "If Mom knew you were crying, she wouldn't be having a good time herself. And we want her to have a good time. She's never been to Europe before; this is a great adventure for her. Let's not ruin it by being sad guys."
She told me OK, and I smiled at myself in the dark, proud of how well I had handled my first crisis of single parenthood.

But before 24 hours had passed, my self-satisfied smirk became the harried expression of an overworked air-traffic controller. Make that heir-traffic. I never realized how difficult raising children can be. I suddenly gained great respect for the single parent who must face this task every day, year after year – not, as in my case, for just two weeks.

What's so tough about raising children on your own? First, there's only one parent for a child to complain to about being bored, and only one parent to come up with ideas to prevent boredom. There's only one parent to do the shopping, to plan the meals, to do the cooking, to make sure everyone has enough of the right things to eat, and only one parent to make sure everyone gets up on time and goes to bed, too make sure teeth are brushed and hair washed, that pets are fed and beds made, that dishes are washed, plants watered, clothing laundered, grass cut and bills paid.

And there's only one parent to do the worrying. "Can I go to the movies tonight?" my son asks. I can't say, "It’s OK with me, but ask your mother." Now the decision is all mine, and what pops into my head are visions of wet highways and car crashes, fights in parking lots, burning theaters...

Single parents don't have the luxury of ignoring their children while the other parent is paying attention to them. Single parents are constantly paying attention to their children, like it or not.

Somewhere on the northern coast of Wales, my wife is probably feeling a little homesick at this moment. Why, I can't imagine, as I struggle to figure out how to get them to and from practices and lessons, when to vacuum the carpets and scrub the tub. How can she miss these things?

But I miss her, in ways I never imagined before. I now have great respect for the single parent. I just don't want to be one.

- July 1990

1 comment:

Brant said...

When my siblings and I were young, my mother was rarely away from home, so if she had to leave for even a day, we kids went into panic mode. Trying to reassure us, she would say, "Don't worry, Dad will get your dinner." That was the absolute worst thing to say. Dad, while being a great father in every other way, was not recognized for his expertise in the kitchen. We had seen him flame-broil burgers and dogs within an inch of complete incineration on the grill, and he was widely known as one of the few people who could burn water. We were convinced that within a matter of hours, we would look like those poor children we had seen in Africa, standing nude in the front yard in the middle of Claysville, our bellies distended from malnutrition, holding out filthy dog bowls in the hope that some kind stranger from C.A.R.E. or Christian Children's Fund would happen by with a pot of gruel. Yet, we survived. Dad fell back on his old standbys, Campbell's soup and eggs, and we went to bed with our tummies full, yet dreaming of meatloaf, ham and scalloped potatoes.