Right this very moment I am lying on my bed, head propped on my pillows, laptop on my lap, nursing a nasty sinus headache with three Advil and a glass of red wine.
I gaze out my window, past the quad on our gated complex, up to the bright yellow lights glinting from the top floor of the high rises nearby. The sky is cobalt blue. Birds squawk. Crickets chirp. Kids’ voices volley back and forth across the grass.
Downstairs, my son is sprawled over the chaise, researching remote control helicopters on his laptop.
Upstairs, in the bedroom next to me, Franny is playing Speed with her friend Olivia.
Earlier in the evening, the four of us sat around the dining table, finishing our Bool Kogi and broccoli. Luca was in high performance mode: kicking his sister under the table, swiping food off my plate, grabbing the kitten by the scruff of her neck and staring into her bugged-out eyes.
“Does this make you sad you don’t have a brother, or glad?” I asked Olivia, who is an only child, and very civilized, unlike my two barbarians.
“Glad,” she said. “And my parents wouldn’t put up with him anyway.”
The three of them jumped up from the table and ran around the living room in mindless circles, shrieking and howling, and freaking the crap out of the cat. I went into the kitchen to do the dishes, and to ignore them.
After I loaded the dishwasher, I trudged up the steps to the sanctuary otherwise known as my bedroom. I listened to the muffled voices of Franny and Olivia. I thought about eavesdropping, but I was too tired to move.
Luca came up to ask if he could watch Netflix in my room and I told him to go away. I told him nicely, and with humor, but also a bit of an edge.
So here I am on my bed. The wrought iron bed with the white sheets and many pillows.
My mother was not a single mom, but she could have been. She worked full-time, paid the bills, cleaned the house, cooked the meals, washed the clothes, was more or less ignored by my dad, and collapsed into sobbing fits on a weekly basis.
Mom pushed Martyrdom up a notch by absolving me of any parental expectations other than getting good grades and saying “please” and “thank you.” I think I had maybe one chore my entire growing-up years (emptying the trash cans). I never did my laundry, never washed a dish, never cleaned a litter box.
I could get straight A’s but I was totally useless.
Inexplicably, my Depression-era mother raised a princess. Being a princess is fun when you grow up in a castle. It’s fun when you marry a man with a way bigger castle.
It is not so fun when you get divorced and lose your keys to the castle. It’s not so fun when you’re scrambling to raise two kids and find a way to support yourself and them, and it suddenly becomes glaringly evident that you have no life skills.
So that’s why I decided to raise a self-reliant daughter. I don’t want her growing up expecting to waltz through life — especially because she will have her father’s money to cushion her from the slightest stumble. I want her to know she can make it on her own. I want her to have enough savvy to take a pinking shears to Prince’s apron strings and buy her own damn castle.
I remind myself of my good intentions every time I feel Single Mother’s Guilt. Like this week. Franny has a week off between sleepaway camp and family vacations. Since I have to work, and don’t have money for day camp, I’ve left her at home on her own.
It’s not as bad as it sounds. She’s eleven. We live in a gated complex. She runs out the back door onto a quad where she hooks up with her posse of tween girls. They scooter, whisper and giggle on the play yard, sell lemonade at their lemonade stand.
Franny knows she’s expected to do more than have fun. She knows I work hard and that I have no intention of being a martyr so she better pull her weight around the house. The other night, I came home to discover she had:
Done her laundry.
Emptied the dishwasher.
Scootered down to the corner store to buy Mac N Cheese for lunch.
Washed the cat and clipped her nails.
Scooped the poop out of the litter box.
All without being asked.
Franny is on top of things. At times, more on top of things than I am. She reminds me it’s time to get her allergy shot. She calls me at work to tell me we need more laundry detergent. When I suggest she eat a carrot, she points at the List of Forbidden Foods on the refrigerator door and chides: “Mom! I have braces! You know I can’t eat carrots!”
Sometimes I reflect on a bygone era when I spent an entire day putting bows on hand-made birthday invitations, or belabored the choice of window treatments for the nursery, or took my kids out for a a spin in the stroller any time of day.
I wonder if Franny would be better off if I didn’t have to work and could serve homemade Mac N Cheese for lunch. I wonder if she will turn to me, after spending her 20s on the couch, and tell me she had to be on top of things because I was perpetually frazzled, and since I ruined her childhood she’s going to get back at me by raising her own daughter to be a princess.
She could say that. But I don’t think she will. She likes making to-do lists, and recording debits in her debit card register, and checking off homework assignments in her planner.
I hope that growing up with a single mother is teaching her to feel competent and not deprived.
Actually, given that she’s about to leave for a father-daughter yacht trip down the Italian Riviera, I think a little deprivation might keep her head screwed on straight.
Here I am, staring out into the night sky as it morphs from dark blue to black. The pounding behind my right eye is beginning to subside, thanks to my Advil and wine cocktail.
And as I lie here and type, and listen, and look, I remember the days not so long ago when I couldn’t lie down, or hold a coherent thought, for more than a moment, lest one of my children or their play-buddies decided to lick an electrical outlet, or poke a finger into someone’s eye.
Actually, those things could still happen, but I don’t care as much.
My kids were precious back then. With their mooey eyes and little-kid voices and chubby hands reaching for mine.
Sometimes I miss those days. But not for long. Because now they’re old enough to play on their own while I barricade myself in my bedroom, lie on my bed, and think long, quasi-intelligent, uninterrupted thoughts in peace.
Today, I’m thankful that my kids are old enough to play on their own.