A single Mum muses on Mother’s Day…
‘You’ll take someone’s eye out with that!’ I roared the traditional warning bellow at my three year old as she hurled a large toy car about. Then she did. Mine.
I was wrestling her into her coat so we could leave my parents’ house to go home, and I saw the car come in slow motion towards me – it was still in her hand and there was quite a force behind it as she pivoted towards me and it slammed into my eye.
Then I felt two, no, three things. The first – agony. The second – rage. And the third- an earth-shattering upset. Loads of senses all tied up together – loss, fear, loneliness, despair and intense frustration – all succeeded in hitting me behind the knees entirely. On the way home in the car I cried like the baby she is, not the adult I am.
I am a single Mum to two great girls aged (almost) 6 and 3. I have never written about my ‘situation’ before, as it’s not really ‘a situation’, there are tens of thousands of others like me in this country, and we’re all dealing with the same thing: the loneliness of bringing up little people when you’re the only grown up in the house. The thing is though, that today it got me. You know that moment when you want to scream ‘REALLY?!?’ and shake your fists at the sky? Yeah, that one. Sometimes it feels like it can only be a joke. On me.
It’s three years since I separated from the girls’ Dad. It had been over many months before that though, and when the actual split finally came, I had a two year old and an eight week old. I also had no proper job security (being a freelance makeup artist and blogger at the time) or money in the bank. I had also just given birth in an extremely emotionally draining scenario; knowing that this little baby had no clue of the peculiar shape her family would be – nor did I really.
Survival instinct is an amazing thing. Those early days had that eerie, eye of the storm feeling about it. I cried, worried and raged, but also I knew that I had to keep on keeping on – there was no other option. My girls needed me to get up and deal with it.
Then came a fortuitous twist of fate. A phone call came asking me to try a new challenge, one I had never done before –the chance to merge my beauty background with my writing, and thus a new career began. I was the acting beauty editor of IMAGE Magazine (Melanie Morris, I can never thank you half enough). I started when the baby was 12 weeks old and I weaned her whilst I worked. I was covering someone else’s maternity leave whilst technically on my own, but we did it. And when I say ‘we’, I mean just that; me and my girls got our collective heads and hearts around the fact that I was going to work full-time and they would be minded by someone else. The physical and emotional shift was enormous.
A year passed, the kids adapted, and I loved the job. I won a prestigious award in London for my writing, but in truth, I felt like the biggest bluffer at the ceremony. Surely they’d know I was an imposter and that someone with more experience and less of a ‘make it up as you go along’ attitude should shine? Amazingly, no. It was a fright and an honour.
Time has, as it does, moved along at breakneck pace since. I’ve changed up roles in the company, the kids have turned into mini-people with opinions and things look settled. We’ve all grown. But that’s not the sum of it…
A photo posted by Ellie Balfe (@elliebalfe1) on Jun 22, 2014 at 11:28am PDT
As I said at the top of this piece, the kids are wonderful. But here’s the thing: it is terribly tiring. Some days, weeks and months at a stretch are marvellous. Then some are rough. The weight of responsibility of your children’s future on solo shoulders is heavy. As is, the sad feel of it all when you want to turn to share something funny they do with… no-one.
Then there’s the guilt. Parental guilt is not news; it goes with the territory; it lands spectacularly the day they are born – no, even before that, and it appears to never abate. I feel massively guilty that my kids don’t get much time with me while I work and that their weeks are higgledy-piggledy in terms of arrangements and minders. I feel sad that I have no choice in that either. The thing is though, I love to work; it suits me, and in many ways it has been the thing that has helped with my perspective and positivity over the past few years. But I would be a liar if I said I didn’t fantasise about being a Mum who can hang out at the school gate in the mornings rather than the frazzled one always legging it onwards to the next drop and then the office. I want to facilitate play dates and park trips in the mid-week but that’s never possible. These are the things I had to get my head around quick smart – dwelling on dismal details does the single, working Mum no favours.
I also feel guilty for their experience of the separation, we did the best we could but there’s no doubt they picked up vibes and feelings – that they witnessed their two parents be not at their best for a while, that they may have felt confused and insecure. We all put our best foot forward, but the guilt prevails and the true legacy of their experience has yet to reveal itself perhaps.
Another less-than-lovely element of this single parent life is the sheer endlessness of it. The household chores, the never having dinner until after they are in bed, the bloody bills, not being able to pay for swimming lessons this term (that one kills me), the thoughts that your kid is missing out because your salary doesn’t stretch. The NEVER-ENDING negotiations…”please wear the pink glittery leggings, you can’t go to school in a swimsuit”, “that is NOT a two-headed monster with blue fur, that is Grandad, now PLEASE get in the car”, “it is not possible to exist on RAISINS ALONE”… It rolls on and on like the world’s worst treadmill – you know you’re moving but nothing’s really changing is it?
The discipline also kills me. I hate it. I hate confrontation – I’ve had enough through the evolution of this story to last anyone a lifetime. So much so, that I’d rather avoid any minor conflict to maintain equilibrium. I know this is wrong. I’m working on it, I embrace the naughty step (and too frequently – bribery).
Other lows are the inevitable illnesses and the resulting sleeplessness, the dislocated hip encased in a plaster cast for eight months, the minimal time for me to even think, the lack of one on one time the girls have with me, the worrying, them being afraid of the dark and me having to console them even though I am a bit afraid of the dark too.
Then there’s the whole ‘single’ element of the single parenting thing. I’ve never really been one to buy in to the ‘relationship for life’ idea, and I’m very used to being independent. In fact, I cherish it, and will now protect it fiercely for my future. Sure, marriage is a wonderful thing and the commitment made, when made with a whole heart, is truly beautiful. But what actually resonates with me is the concept of a partner for a portion of your life. A partner to balance and bear witness to your life, but not one to subsume your experience thus far. I can’t be alone in thinking that we need different things for different life stages. I’ve had some great relationships. Some ended in war, some in whispers, but each one contributed something vital. Even the girl’s Dad – we probably won’t ever be best friends, but we’ll know each other forever because of them. And if it weren’t for him, there’d be no them.
I thank the stars for them each night, so therefore I thank him too. Each relationship brings it’s own wealth and I’ve worked to ensure my heart is open to the future (if I do eat my hat and walk an aisle in a white dress please forgive my pontificating above – I like that life sometimes offers plot twists). My being hit with a toy car earlier was merely a product of high-jinks. There’s no badness in those girls, they are sweet, kind and clever. Looking at their small faces and smelling their skin both grounds and elevates me. The two days of their births, March 28th 2009 and December 16th 2011, were without doubt, the happiest of my life. I can’t imagine them being bettered.
So losses of patience, crying in cars and this burgeoning bruise on my eye aside, we’re doing all right. I love our funny-shaped family and we’ll figure it out as we go along.
Nightly, when I thank those stars for them, I make several wishes too. And they are… That I wish my girls will grow up to know the world is wonderful. That they will understand that their family experience, whilst not the norm, is common enough. That they will have empathy and compassion for people who struggle. That they will have beautiful, open minds. That they will value independence and hard work and see that taking pride in things can take them far. That they will be truthfully and hugely themselves. That they will gain the knowledge that they are beautiful inside and out, and not because I tell them, but because they believe it to be true too. That they will carry on loving Lego, Princesses and whatever the notion of the time may be – because that means they are passionate, and that is where joy lives. That art, music and books will be their life-long companions. And that they will know their Mum loves them.
And as for me? I relate so much to the Albert Camus quote that has gotten me through some dodgy, depressive nights, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer”. I have nothing but high hopes…
Imperfectly happy. That will do fine.
Today was a day for a head dress
A photo posted by Ellie Balfe (@elliebalfe1) on Mar 7, 2014 at 11:57am PST