For the past few weeks, every minute of every day, every pore in my body has been throbbing. After taking the kids to school in the morning, I arrive at work to a desk piled high with ever-mounting paperwork, and emotionally disturbed kids who AWOL and wrap belts around their neck, and my own to-do list of grocery shopping and dentist appointments and oh-my-god-i-forgot-i-don’t-have-childcare-today, and by 10 a.m. I am so frayed at the edges that I feel like I could just unspool into the ether.
My brain gets joggled with too many things to wrangle, and as one thing gets wrangled, five more things descend upon my shoulders to take their place. I worry when I’m awake, and I worry when I dream.
Luca has been with me full-time for a month and I have yet to receive a dime from his father. He sleeps on an air mattress in the living room and stores his clothes in Franny’s bedroom. His calls to his grandparents, the grandparents with five homes and a private jet and a nine-hole putting green in the back yard, those grandparents, have gone unanswered. I have been instructed by Prince to keep him from calling them — they do not want to hear from him, and apparently, they don’t care that he’s sleeping in the living room.
We are all tripping over ourselves in the apartment. I have no choice but to go to court to try to get child support because the current situation is untenable. In about six months I will be out of savings — going two years without child support will do that to you — and, unless I get support, or a job that pays a lot more, my kids and I will be couch-surfing at various friends’ houses for God knows how long.
I lie awake at night, trying to grasp how this ever happened. The more I try to figure it out, the less sense it makes. Here I am, with my snooty education, and a rich ex-husband who could easily afford adequate child support, and a mind that, despite being joggled, has a lot to offer, and with all this, my most likely next step is couch-surfing? Really?
Every time I envision having to make my kids move yet again, next time to a place where they don’t even have their own rooms, I start to cry.
When Prince and I split up ten years ago, I had a lot of energy. Venturing towards a new horizon was scary, but also, oddly invigorating. I felt strong, I had conviction, I had my sardonic sense of humor. I told myself what everyone else told me, that eventually things would turn around.
But they haven’t. The past decade has been a progression of financial, physical, and psychological downsizing. And I’m about out of tap-dance routines.
Tonight over tacos, Franny looked at me and said, “Mom, you forgot to tell Charlotte she didn’t have to pick up Luca.”
I turned to Luca, sprawled on the couch.
“You weren’t at school?”
“Mom. I called you and told you I was taking the bus home.”
I remembered the phone call, and I remembered him saying something to that effect, but mostly I remembered my paperwork deadlines, and the afternoon full of treatment team meetings, and a cheese stick and nuts for lunch.
“Oh,” I said. “Right. I guess you did.”
Franny looked at me like I was two paper plates short of a picnic.
“I’m a little stressed out right now, guys. Try to bear with me.”
Franny swallowed and pushed her taco around and I knew she was trying to pretend she wasn’t freaked out. I wanted to kick myself. Most of what I remember from my childhood was my overworked mother melting down in front of me. So the thought that I would let my stress bleed over onto my kids just about undoes me.
I know beating myself up over not being able to make things better doesn’t help, but I can’t stop thinking that I should be able to make things nice and tidy and normal.
After dinner, I propped myself up on my pillows with my laptop and let my body sink into the mattress. It felt like pure, distilled bliss. I scrolled thorugh my Facebook feed and saw a link to a Huffington Post piece about a single mom. Her life is the subject of a documentary produced by Maria Shriver, aptly titled “Paycheck to Paycheck.” It airs on HBO March 17th and, if the 2-minute clip is any indication of the merit of the rest of it, it promises to be wrenchingly good.
Thirty seconds into the clip, and I was on my second kleenex. Katrina Gilbert has three kids — THREE! — and makes less then $10 an hour as a nursing aide. She has a chronic health condition and no health insurance. She’s about to lose her food stamps. She had no money to buy her kids birthday presents or throw them a party. And in spite of all this, she managed to smile, and speak without a shred of self-pity, and profess hope that things would get better.
And as I watched her wading through bills, and hoisting elderly patients, and driving kids to daycare, I wondered: why is there no community housing for single mothers? Shouldn’t one of those “Lean In” CEOs be financing an affordable-living compound with a community garden and co-op childcare so single moms have a decent quality of life and don’t have to wrangle everything alone? So women who haven’t had their advantages could get help to lean in, or opt out, or just kick up their heels with some wine and Thin Mints for maybe five worry-free minutes?
Just a thought rolling around in my frazzled head.