It’s been a million years since I wrote and so why not start again now? It’s 11:13pm and I just finished folding my fourth load of laundry of the day while standing at the dining room table and sipping un petit peu de Manischewitz out of the mug my residency program gave me as a graduation gift. If you aren’t *just* a little bit jealous right now, my advice to you is this: do not have children.
C is out of town for two weeks and so I am getting a brief glimpse into what it might be like to be a single parent. I am realizing the parenting chops I thought I had are kind of like twinkle-twinkle-little-star compared to the Beerhoven sonata of doing it all alone. To all the single parents out there: hats fucking off to you. How do you do it? No really — how do you do it? This is not a rhetorical question.
My temporary role as a solo parent is made harder by the following shameful secrets about me:
1) I. Hate. Cooking. I used to like it, I think, but C has been doing 99% of the cooking for the last ten years and I have lost my mojo. The small repertoire of things I used to cook easily — stir fry, kale and white bean soup, rice and beans — are all toddler kryptonite. Last time I made E put a cooked green in her mouth, she half-spit, half-gagged chewed up greenery into a paper towel for longer than you would think would be possible then demanded that I brush her tongue with a toothbrush. Let’s just say: One of us has eaten Trader Joe’s tortellini and string cheese for more than one meal this week. And by one of us, I mean both of us. Au revoir, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet!
2) I like my mornings to be minimally interactive. Because the field of medicine is dominated by competitive masochists, I am usually required to wake up at about the time attractive young people are staggering into strangers’ apartments to make the beast with two backs. My beautiful loved ones are usually still snoozing away as I tiptoe out of bed to shower and dress by iPhone flashlight. I make my smoothie. I pack my lunch. I leave. I do not speak. I am not spoken to. This is in sharp contrast to my solo parent mornings. My first thought upon waking is ecstatic: I will be able to see her perfect, gorgeous little face this morning! *inner squeal* 90 minutes later I am already 15 minutes late for work and she will only eat her eggs if I feed them to her while making the sound of a light saber. *inner scream*! She and I have never had to solidify a weekday morning routine together so when I’m there with her in the morning, she reverts to weekend mode. She wants cuddling. She wants french toast. She wants to put every article of her clothing on at the exact same moment as I put on the corresponding article of my clothing. “Can’t you put your bra on after?” she says, pouting because this one step breaks the symmetry. No, no I cannot.
3) I am not a good multitasker. I am at my best as a parent during focused one-on-one activities. I am not as good at making chicken nuggets while trying to sharpen a crayon using a pencil sharpener. Because of my nutty work life, I’ve learned to parent in the manner of a desert wanderer at the oasis. I don’t talk and drink, or think and drink. I just drink. When I’m with E, I’m usually just with E.
As a result, I have tripped our house alarm twice this week. We usually don’t turn it on at night but I feel a little exposed without my Appalachian culture-of-honor afraid-of-no-one life partner by my side. This morning I was feeling *pretty good* about myself — lunches packed, rain boots AND sneakers in the backpack — but then we had to turn back to home because I forgot the fire engine sweater. “Mommy, why is there a policeman at our door?” My heart started racing and then I remembered: the alarm. “False alarm,” the policeman yelled to his colleague in the *second* cruiser that has responded to my damsel-in-no-distress call. #privilege
All of the above notwithstanding, though, I’m enjoying our uninterrupted intimacy. We hit our roadblocks and then recover, because there’s no one else to suggest a friendly game of Yahtzee. There has been a lot of laughter. We’ve been sleeping together evey other night (one night for the fun of it, the other night for my internal organs to recover from the contusions) and E’s breaths and sighs make for a sweet, sweet night. It reminds me of being pregnant with her — just her and me, registering each other’s moods and perturbations, breathing a single air.
Two nights ago, we were looking into the mirror as we always do after E’s bath, the towel and my arms wrapped around her tight. I looked tired and a few new wiry gray hairs caught the bright bathroom lights. E looked as she always does: joyful and rosy and well-made. She reached her hand up to my forehead where a series of lines no longer fully recede when I relax.
“I know what these lines are for, Mommy,” she said. “They are my maze.” She traced them with her finger as if they had a beginning and an end. Even my face is hers, it seems, which it is. “How do I get lines on my face?” she asked me. Just keep smiling, little one, and worrying (hopefully not as much as me), and being surprised by this life.