The New Normal
By: Holly Vanderhaar
“Why are we here, again?”
This is the question I found myself answering —over and over again— when my daughters and I attended the 30th Anniversary Celebration of Single Mothers by Choice. I had of course told them that the celebration was the main reason for our trip to New York —their first trip— but they were more caught up in the excitement of the cabs and subways, the Empire State Building, and the cheesecake…ohhhh, the cheesecake.
“This is a big meeting with other families like ours, other families without a dad. Some of the other moms used a donor, like I did, and some adopted their kids.”
Then: “I thought you said there would be donuts.” And, “Can we go back up to the room and watch TV?”
When I started my journey to single motherhood in 2001, I was going to do this right. I joined SMC. I made friends with other local SMCs. I rehearsed the “why we don’t have a daddy” speech until I was comfortable. I was going to spare my child as much existential angst about our unconventional family structure as I could.
I should have known that road maps are useless on this particular journey, at least in our case. I should have known this when the ultrasound revealed I’d conceived identical twins on an unmedicated, poorly timed, “Hail Mary” insemination. The Daddy Question was posed not while cuddling up at bedtime as I’d always pictured it, but in the hosiery department at Target on a Sunday morning with other shoppers around (who were, no doubt, listening avidly). There went my composure, and I panicked: I didn’t think it was any of the nosy shoppers’ business, but I also didn’t want to give my daughters any sense of shame, any impression that it was something we Didn’t Talk About. So I stammered my way through a truncated version of my carefully crafted speech.
We lost our local SMC support system when we moved from Phoenix to St. Paul, Minnesota so I could go to grad school. The girls were four at that time, and I had every intention of connecting with the large community of Minnesota SMCs. But our weeks were hectic; the girls had started full-time pre-K, I was busy with my coursework and coping with teaching undergrads at the same time, and by the time the weekend came around, we just wanted to nest at home. My personal support system ended up being rebuilt out of my fellow grad students, one of whom was a single mom by divorce. And my daughters had each other. And time passed.
So now here we are, four years later. I still want to provide them with a community of families that look like ours. But I’m realizing that it’s not necessarily something they want —or, more accurately, it’s not something they see the point of. It may be a twin thing, first because they’re used to being different from their peers just by virtue of having a twin; and second, because they have a built-in support system that no singleton will ever understand. This is clearly my baggage. It doesn’t stop me worrying, though. Should I push them more, encourage them to build relationships with other SMC families? Or, by pushing, am I putting at risk their perception that our family structure is, if not normative, at least unremarkable? They don’t feel a need to have their lives normed by association with others “like us” and that’s a good thing, right?
Holly Vanderhaar is a freelance writer and a single mother by choice. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her twin daughters, two cats, and too many books.