By Evie Peck
When I was about 5 months pregnant I went to a friend’s dinner party. We met at a restaurant in Hollywood. I was through the morning sickness and the extreme exhaustion and was excited to go out. I hadn’t bought any maternity clothes yet. I was wearing a lot of my normal dresses and skirts. (Which, post-baby, I discovered were stretched out and no longer wearable, along with my ruined $20 per pair Hanky Panky thongs.)
There were a lot of people at the party I knew, and a few I didn’t. There were also two other pregnant women there. One of the pregnant women was a friend of mine. The other was a new face – Paula.
“When are you due?” Paula asked. Her husband, Dunn, was massaging her shoulders; one of the few things I felt like I might be missing by not having a partner.
“Us too!” Paula said, looking lovingly at Dunn.
“We must have been having sex at the same time!” Dunn almost yelled, giddy at the idea.
I smiled and gave a tiny laugh, the mouth closed, exhale through your nose kind. I wasn’t going to get into it… no need to explain my circumstance. Dunn seemed so excited by the idea of two stranger couples, screwing at the same time, getting pregnant, and then meeting at a restaurant five months later… why ruin his fun?
The pregnant ladies all ordered lots of french fries, various burgers, fried calamari, and other filling entrees and we ate them with gusto. We drank water while the others boozed it up.
Paula and Dunn continued to be lovey-dovey throughout the dinner. It made me think about what I was missing being single, I’ll admit.
In my fantasy, my partner would be loving and massaging and all.
I thought back on every guy I’d ever dated and couldn’t really find one who was the right level of affectionate. I thought of a few who were too touchy feely and it creeped me out. (Was it too much to ask to actually like being touched by the man I was dating?) I also remembered dating guys who never touched me. I remember one guy I was with who was so stand-offish I’d actually think loudly please touch me. No one I’d ever dated matched up to my fantasy of what I wanted or expected.
I knew my options were: A. Lower my expectations. B.Keep Looking C.Just have a baby and give up on men/dating. I guess there’s a D option in there, but clearly I went with C.
My life had changed so much already; just the anticipation of having my son had given me such excitement, such happiness, such hope, that even a few pangs of envy didn’t penetrate my demeanor. I ate my fried food, completely satisfied.
“We were all having sex at the same time,” I heard Dunn say again, to another guy at the party, as he pointed at me with one hand and, with the other, was very physical with Paula. Ugh. Enough, Dunn.
I was proud of the choice I had made. I wasn’t ashamed of not having sex to get to this point. I’d been through a lot to get here, but I didn’t feel the need to tell this guy my business.
I started to wish that I had more single pregnant friends. ANY single pregnant friends.
A few minutes later, when Dunn said, for the third time, we were all having sex at the same time, I felt I needed to make things right.
“Actually, I didn’t have sex at all,” I said in my nicest I’m not trying to humiliate you in front of the whole party who are now all listening to us voice. “I was inseminated at a fertility clinic.” Sexxxxy.
“Oh,” Dunn said, not processing my meaning. “Well, still, we were all probably having sex around the same time.”
He really wasn’t getting it. Maybe it’s my responsibility to help normalize unconventional families. Maybe I’m supposed to be the spokeswoman for single moms. Maybe someday, I’ll start a blog or something….
“Actually, Dunn,” I said so nicely, “I’m single. I’m having this baby as a single mom. I was having NO sex at all.” Then I smiled and shrugged, “Sorry.”
Dunn grinned and mumbled stuff like, That’s OK and Oh really? Paula snuggled closer into Dunn’s armpit, grateful she’d gotten pregnant the old fashioned way.
I really wasn’t trying to shame him. I just want people to think about those of us who are making choices and not doing things the way we were told we should do them.
I’ve been asking myself this question quite a bit lately: what does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be a single mother, and by choice?
And I really haven’t come up with a decent satisfactory answer yet.
I mean I could state the obvious of motherhood – feeding, bathing, educating the young ones I’ve brought into the world – yet this doesn’t make me feel like a mother -more of a caretaker. I suppose I could consider the times sitting on the floor with my two-year-old son teaching him how to do puzzles and then watching him do it all by himself as motherhood. Or the time I spend with my eight-month-old son trying to get him to roll-over. (He is my stubborn one…just like his mama. Oh the irony. Oh the payback. Oh how my mother is doing a happy dance.)
I am pretty sure this feeling of ‘operational parenting’ is what happens when a family goes from one child to two, or anytime the number of children increases. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to have another child. I surely have no regrets, but had no clue that I would feel so much like a caretaker and not a mother. Is it because I have to keep the household running as well? Is it because I totally forgot what its like to have an infant in the house? Is it because I am still fighting for the ‘me’ time that I had a glimpse of prior to the baby arriving and my son’s independence growing?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Let’s also add to that that I am doing this by myself. I have no husband, or ex-husband (well I do, but thankfully we never had any kids), or boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend (and have a couple of these thankfully no kids here either). I have family that helps out tremendously but they don’t live with me so I can’t just run to the store to grab milk and come back in 15 minutes. That task alone is 45 minutes by the time I get everyone bundled up, loaded into the car, get to the store, get the milk, get back in the car, and unload when we get home. (Is it bad that I’ve thought of texting my 21-year-old niece to do a beer run for me?)
Recently I met up with another SMC, who also happens to be a family from the same donor. Lots of thoughts and emotions about this new friend, but the one thing I really took away from our visit was how much she embraces being an SMC. I took notes when she talked about her daughter and being a mother. It truly was the most important things in her life. Everything else came second. You could see the joy on their faces.
As I drove home from our meeting I reflected on our short time together and the notes of saying, ‘no thank you’, when I hear ‘nope’ for an answer, serving the same food to the kids as I eat -no more making kid-focused meals. And most of all, have fun with them. One of my biggest struggles is when I am on ‘borrowed’ time (you know when the kid is LONG overdue for a nap) and I find that I am getting angry with them. Or it’s okay that my living room floor is buried under every single toy we own and I’ll probably see it for 15 minutes this weekend when I pick up during naptime. The dishes and laundry can wait until they go to bed.
But I need to sit on the floor – at their level – and just be in their world each and every day, having fun and smiling together. Maybe that is what motherhood means, really.
By Barbara Matousek
I spent much of this past weekend in the black leather rocker that was my nearly constant companion before I had kids. I used to spend hours in that chair, rocking and reading, losing myself for days in a Toni Morrison novel or the latest issue of Best American Short Stories or maybe 20 minutes with Alice Munro’s latest fiction in the New Yorker. But that chair and I haven’t spent much time together since my second maternity leave, since Eva’s eight short weeks of exclusive mommy bonding time expired and I returned to work and a routine that rarely affords me time to sit down, let alone read. But last week when a friend created a cash mob for our local independent bookstore, I ventured out without my children and bought two Toni Morrison novels (I’m that far behind) and the 2012 Best American Short Stories and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. And despite the long list of things I needed to get done this weekend in between meltdowns and meals, I rocked and read and lost myself in the stories and the beautiful, compassionate, generous advice of Cheryl Strayed’s online persona Sugar. While I read her advice to married men contemplating affairs and single women contemplating motherhood and scared young people trying to figure out how to get unstuck, my children made forts out of the couch pillows and threw play-doh against the dining room walls and scribbled all over the barstool cushions with permanent black marker. But I sighed and folded back the front cover of the book and kept reading.
“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it,” Sugar writes to a divorced man trying to understand love.
And in letter after letter, she responds to complex emotions and difficult problems with simplicity and empathy.
Parenting is one of those things that teaches you about yourself over and over again. Being a mom has changed me because I can see not only what I’ve been avoiding learning about myself, but I can see what I want my children to learn. Would I want my children to learn that it’s okay to invest energy in a relationship that is sucking energy from them? No. Would I want my children to learn that life is always easy and life is always fair? No. Would I want my children to learn that people can simply be labeled as good or bad and that there aren’t layers of complexity in between? No.
I want my children to learn that people are basically good at heart and life is sometimes messy and painful but life is often joyful and these two things go together and that is the beauty of life. I want them to learn that when others hurt us or anger us, it’s not always about us. I want them to learn how to feel safe and yet how to take risks. I want my children to learn about loving and forgiving and being compassionate and setting boundaries. I want them to learn to soar. I want them to learn to risk failure. And I want them to learn that no matter what, no matter what, it will all be okay.
Flight attendants on an airplane tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first and then take care of others. And this is something I’m often saying to friends. This weekend as I set out to lose myself in the pages of a book, I instead reconnected with my writer/reader self and the rocking chair that helped me weather painful breakups and job losses and the death of my father. Thank you, Sugar, for helping me put my oxygen mask back on.
By Holly Vanderhaar
Back from a brief hiatus! It’s been a remarkably busy few months around our house. I was working two jobs for the first part of the summer, and then we had a three-week trip back East. The girls started 4th grade after Labor Day, and the following weekend we flew to Arizona to surprise my mom for her 85th birthday. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get caught up…and in another month or so I will be filling in for a friend/former co-worker who will be taking her parental leave.
This is the part where I admit that single parenting is hard, at least right now. I love my life and wouldn’t change a bit of it—though it would be nice to have a little extra money and a lot of extra hours in a day—but to be honest, I feel like I’m losing my grip on all the things I need to be taking care of, and I feel like I could use some back-up.
Fourth grade has brought with it more—and harder—homework. I’m gradually trying to train the kids to be more responsible and accountable, and I’ve asked the teachers for feedback (like I do every year), so I can gauge how much I need to get involved and how much I need to let them “sink or swim.” And, as usual, I haven’t gotten much feedback so far. They are starting to get grades on individual assignments, rather than whole units, with a rubric and an explanation for each mark-down. I know it’s not trendy to be in favor of grades, but I’m rejoicing, because I think now they’ll finally stop doing just enough to get by. The additional work has been harder for me to keep up with too; they’re in 5th grade math, and we’re skating perilously close to the limits of my knowledge now. Geometry I can still help with, but algebra? :::shudder:::
I’ve been lucky for the last year and a half in that my work schedule has been flexible enough to allow me to work from home and/or work after they’re in bed, so I haven’t had to put them in after-school care. It helped to be able to pick them up at 3:00, have a snack, and get the homework and violin practice done before dinner. They got a little down time before bed, I didn’t feel so rushed with dinner, and we were all better organized. But this year because of scheduling demands, I’ve put them back in after-school care. They like it, and their teacher is fantastic, but getting home at 5:30 rather than 3:00 means we’re scrambling, especially since they still go to bed at 8:00.
But everything else is falling by the wayside. I can’t get on top of the housework. I manage to get the laundry done once a week and that’s about it. I’m buried in stacks of clothes because it’s that time of year to switch out the closets, and I can’t get motivated to finish the job. So I have a pile of winter clothes that need to be hung up, and a pile of summer clothes that need to go in storage bags, and a pile of stuff the girls have outgrown that needs to go to Goodwill. And all I want to do is lie on the couch, drink tea, and watch Doctor Who.
What are your strategies for those times when you just feel overwhelmed by it all?
By Barbara Matousek
The Mazda that I purchased three months ago is dead, stranded at an odd angle next to the stop sign on the county road that turns to The Berry Patch.
I was revving up and passing a Honda, keeping my eye on the clock and thinking we were probably going to be late, when things went wrong. Now we’re definitely going to be late. Across the highway hundreds of small orange pumpkins cover the field, and beyond that the dead stalks of corn that has been harvested but not yet cleared sway in the wind. We are still ten minutes from town.
“What are we going to do, Mommy? Who are you calling?” Sam asks.
He is in the back, his fingers covered with powdered sugar and sticky banana mess. He is buckled into the passenger side and Eva is tucked into her car seat behind me.
“I don’t know, Sam. I’m just trying to find someone to answer their phone,” I say as I try a third neighbor. Nobody answers their phones at 7am.
As we were passing the Honda, Sam cheered the way he always does but then our Mazda revved and sputtered and I grabbed the gear shift. It was in “drive” but we were losing speed. I pulled over to the side of the road and pushed the Info button on the dash. “Remaining mileage” and the clock are on a toggle. Empty.
When my dad died almost a decade ago I laughed at my mom and told her she’d have to start watching her fuel tank. Dad used to rescue her at least once a month. I’ve never run out of gas.
We live in a small subdivision twenty minutes from town, a rural neighborhood filled with families that have bonfire parties and go to Country music concerts, mothers that play bunco together once a week and fathers that go away for fishing weekends together. I was invited to join a bible group a few years ago and I occasionally get a facebook notification for a Pampered Chef party, but mostly we don’t fit in. The only reason I have Mr. Jeff’s phone number is because he changed a flat for me once. He is the neighborhood fireman who takes care of preschoolers during the daytime and mows my lawn in the evenings and somehow fascinates my 4-year-old who thinks that Mr. Jeff is the strongest guy there is.
“Mr. Jeff has real guns,” Sam once told me. “Did you ever see them?” How does he know these things?
Eva starts jabbering loudly and I crawl out and close the door behind me. Cars are whizzing by. Nobody even slows down. When I was in college the timing belt of my red Pontiac convertible went out during a trip to Michigan, and within thirty seconds two different cars pulled over.
Tears are building in my eyes as Mr. Jeff’s phone rings a fourth time and I compose a voicemail in my head. But then he answers and I ask if I woke him and he says he was just getting up anyway. His wife Sarah gets her cell and calls another neighbor’s cell and within fifteen minutes the neighborhood comes to my rescue and the optometrist’s pregnant wife pulls up and hands me two big red plastic gas containers.
When we’re back on the road again we pass a soybean field that has started to turn golden in the chilling fall air, and Sam talks about the Packers and the Badgers and how he wouldn’t want them to play against each other because then he wouldn’t know who to cheer for. My hands smell like gas and my shirt is damp from sweat, and I exhale and let a tear run down my cheek.
This week it would have been my parents’ 47th wedding anniversary.
By Evie Peck
I know it sounds crazy, but once I got up at 5am to bake cookies for my new fertility doctor. He was supposed to be the best in town and I guess I was over compensating, because I was nervous about being a single woman trying to get pregnant… and… our first meeting didn’t go so well.
I waited in the lobby of The Fancy Clinic for an hour. When I finally met Dr. X he barely let me say hello before he launched into a lecture of percentages and facts about fertility in women over 40.
“I’m doing this alone and my best friend, who is gay, is the sperm donor,” I said, not caring about the statistics but needing him to know who I was.
Dr. X held up his hand, “Don’t interrupt. I will ask you questions after I’m finished.”
Interrupt? This was supposed to be a consultation, not a sermon. I didn’t like Dr. X. He was rude and cold and I certainly didn’t want him sticking his fingers in my vagina. But this guy was supposed to be the best so I wanted to stay.
And I started to cry.
“Why are you crying?” Dr. X demanded.
“I’m just overwhelmed and emotional,” I told him between sobs.
“Well there’s nothing to be emotional about… yet,” he replied.
I wanted to stand up and yell, “Would you be so condescending if I had a husband sitting here next to me?” But mostly, I wanted him to like me so instead I got up at 5am to bake cookies for him. They were M&M chocolate chip.
The day of the insemination, Dr. X and his female assistant walked into the room with quick hellos. Dr. X grabbed the catheter off a sterile, silver tray and lifted up the paper cloth across my lap and put his head all the way under it, so that it was just his head and my crotch under the paper tent. It was unnerving. Why was he up so close in there?
I was lying back, looking at the ceiling trying not to think about this unpleasant person with his nose in my most private spot when all of a sudden, Dr. X spoke. His words echoed as they bounced off the thin cloth on my lap.
“Mmmmm, it smells good in here!”
I shuddered and almost pulled my legs off of the table.
How can he say something like that to me!!!!!!????? My face got hot and red. I looked at the female assistant and then…..
Then… I remembered the cookies. The hot cookies I had just baked had made the room smell like a bakery.
Oh my god. I started to laugh.
Dr. X continued his work up my snatch as I looked at his assistant for at least a smile. She gave me nothing.
When Dr. X was done, I pointed to the bag in the corner. “I made you some cookies,” I said.
He selected a cookie out of the bag and took a big bite. “Thanks. I have a big sweet tooth.”
I guess the cookies worked. He seemed to like me now. I inadvertently squeezed my legs together.
By Evie Peck
The woman at the counter handed me two nametags.
“One for your husband,” she said.
“No husband,” I said, pushing the extra nametag back.
At the age of forty, I decided to have a baby, even though I was not in a relationship. My best friend of twenty years was my sperm donor. Though choosing a nontraditional family was the right choice for me, I was still getting used to certain potentially awkward situations; like baby class.
I went into the classroom and sat amongst many pregnant ladies and their partners. The instructor Pam came in yelling,
“Husbands! Husbands! There’s beer for the husbands! Husbands, go get a beer!”
She said “husbands” with a lot of force and frequency. I wondered if the word “husbands” bothered anyone else. Was “dads” better? “Partners”? What would she do if there was a lesbian couple?
I had a little bit of that I’m missing something feeling. I had to give myself a quick, internal pep talk:
Remember, you can do this and you don’t need to compare yourself to anyone. Remember, you are doing this your own way and you are going to be a mom!
“Is your husband coming?” Pam asked me, as men started leaving the room to get their brews. I wanted to give a cute answer like, “I don’t know, you tell me.” Or “I haven’t met him yet,” but I didn’t want to sound bitter, so I just gave a little smile.
Soon, the room was full of boozing husbands. Crap. I wanted a beer too. I silently pep-talked myself again.
Then it was time for group introductions. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I spoke loudly, “I’m Evie. I’m a single mom and my best friend, who happens to be gay, donated the sperm, but I am parenting on my own.”
Pam stared at me with a frozen smile. After a minute she asked, “No husband?”
I shook my head with pride and Pam moved on to a lesson.
Pam launched into a whole rehearsed bit about something called The Witching Hour. She dramatically set the scene: “It starts in the early evening. Moms, your baby is screaming and crying and you can’t make her stop. You are starving but you have no time to eat.
Husbands, you call from work and say you are bringing home dinner – don’t ask what they want for dinner! Just bring something! You know your wives! Bring them what they like. Then when you get home, you take the baby so your wife can eat!”
Pam looked around the room, making eye contact with all the moms and husbands, until she got to me. She paused and then said… “For you… Trader Joe’s is your husband.”
I was horrified and yet… now I had a husband! Trader Joe! Well, maybe I had husbands - I have all the Trader Joeses. I’m a polyamorist.
I could do worse.
At the age of 40 I decided to become a mom, even though I was not in a relationship. My blog tells stories of how I got here, the bad dates I used to have, and how it is to be a mom solo.
By: Barbara Matousek
I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe I wasn’t actually thinking. Mostly now I think “midlife crisis.” Why else would a 45-year-old single mother of two children under five commit to something as time consuming and crazy as a Ragnar relay? For anyone who doesn’t know what these are, they are running relays in which you hop in a van with a bunch of other people and take turns running legs of 3-8 miles for roughly 200 miles. It’s a 2-day undertaking, if not more when you count recovery time. Two days of riding in a cramped van filled with sweaty runners and funky smelling gym bags. Running alone at night along country roads. Running uphill through city streets in the heat of the afternoon sun. Running, God help me, in funny costumes or women’s lingerie or t-shirts that say “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” near your ass.
After I finished my first half marathon in May, a half marathon that I said I was glad to have behind me because I simply didn’t have time for all the training, I rested a few weeks and then looked for my next running goal, something to keep me going to the gym so I could continue to eat cheeseburgers well in to my 50’s. A woman I work with did Ragnar last year and she was going back for more, so it seemed like a good idea.
At the time.
That was months ago. Before school let out for the summer and tee ball started and I began using lunch hours for pre-school swimming lessons. That was before the heat and humidity arrived making me crave air conditioning and naps on the couch rather than treadmills and bike paths. That was before my 1-year-old started eating everything in sight making daily trips to the grocery store necessary. That was before it dawned on me that my car had 180,000 miles on it and it’s not terribly convenient to bring children in car seats along when you test drive a mini-van. Simply put, that was before I realized how little free time I actually have. Ever.
And so here I am 3 weeks away from getting in a smelly van with a bunch of strangers. (Did I mention that I don’t know anyone on my team?) I’ve been kind of lax in my training so I’m panicking about whether or not I did enough hill training (did I mention that one of my legs is 3 miles uphill without a break?) and whether I’ll be trapped in a van with a bunch of passionate conservatives (please, please no) and whether or not my old body that hates temperatures over 70 will stay upright during my final leg in St. Paul during the peak of the afternoon. (Why am I doing this again?)
The good news is that, thanks to my amazing friend Jamie, my children will be well cared for and enjoying the air-conditioning while their crazy mother dips her toe in the pool of the none-mommy adult world for a few days. And if I make it back in one piece I might not even care that my ass says “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” on it.