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To My Single Mom: I Get It Now

Photograph by Twenty20

I recently caught some ick from my first-grader, and had the pleasure of waking up at 4 a.m. coughing my lungs out. Of course, this is the same day my kids are home from school for Veterans Day and I'm supposed to be caring for them while working from home. Basically, today has been a total sh*tshow. Now only have I gotten almost nothing done, but I spilled coffee all over the couch, burned my kids’ breakfast and cried my eyes out in frustration. Twice.

Motherhood is hard. It’s physically and emotionally draining. It’s an unrelenting, 24/7 gig. And there are no sick days. None.

Yet, no matter how often I feel like I can’t take one more second, I have a good husband who comes home at the end of the day, ready to help. I can throw the kids at him, make him pick up the broken pieces of our day and get some much-needed emotional support as well.

I don’t take this for granted, ever. Not just because I love and appreciate my husband, but because I was raised by a single mother who didn’t have that support. Who had to do it all, every day, on little sleep and with zero help.

I marvel at what she did. She worked full-time to support my sister and me. For many years, she did so without even extended family nearby. She was a bad*ss, as so many single parents are.

For many years, though, I just didn’t get it. Growing up, while I loved her, I also resented her. It wasn’t her fault, but life for us was hard. My mom taught special education in an inner-city school, and it was extremely draining. When she came home, she would collapse.

She took naps most days after work, and while she certainly cared for my sister and me (she fed us, helped with homework, etc.), we had to do a lot of stuff ourselves. We often made part of dinner, cleaned it up. We had to make our own lunches, be on top of our permission slips, homework assignments and everything else.

Not only did I understand in that moment just how freaking hard it must have been for her, but also what an amazing heroine she was.

There was no helicopter parenting happening there, and while I think it ultimately made me strong and independent, there were times I wished my mother had more energy for me. That she wasn’t tired all the time. That’s she’d volunteer for the PTA like other moms, invite my friends over for play dates, sign us up for more extracurricular activities.

It was only after I had kids of my own that I truly understood how amazing my own single mother was. I remember when my first son was just a few weeks old, bouncing him around the house in the middle of the night. He had colic and would not sleep. I wondered how I was ever going to survive motherhood.

When I handed him off to my husband to take a turn, I thought about the fact that my mother did the newborn thing completely alone by the time my sister was born. Not only did I understand in that moment just how freaking hard it must have been for her, but also what an amazing heroine she was. A survivor in the truest sense of the word.

I see now that my mom gave us something that money and brownies at the PTA bake sale could not buy. She gave us love and stability. She gave us a warm house, healthy food, a safe place to sleep. Although she didn’t have time for everything all the other mothers seemed to have time for, she was always there for us emotionally. She was the one I went to when I was upset, and she would listen and support me completely.

Mom, I am so grateful for you. I truly am. And I’m sorry I didn’t get it sooner.

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