I live in L.A., and we are in the midst of a heat wave. The family dog with his thick shiatzu hair and the 90+ degree days we are experiencing has almost vaporized him.
Or at least it has almost vaporized his normal get-up-and-go spirit. I take him down to the beach so he can find his dog soul again, feeling invigorated by the ocean breezes, away from the heat of my house.
I am a single mom living with my college-age daughter who is in her last year of study. My son has graduated from college and has left to pursue his foreign policy endeavors in Washington, DC.
Life in our home is quieter these days. A kind of quiet I had not thought about when I was in the thick of raising my two children alone since they were both under six years old. You don’t think about those kinds of things when you’re just trying to survive the day-to-day stretch of your energies.
As I drove back from taking my dog for a walk by the ocean, I decided to turn up a hill. A hill that I hadn’t been on for over ten years. This was a steep hill that was part of my weekly life as I traversed to the daily drop-offs and pick up’s of children. At the top of this very steep hill was the elementary school my children attended. Glancing over at the welcome students’ sign on the front gate, a strange hollow feeling came over me, and I couldn’t quite figure out why I felt so strange.
Then it occurred to me that this was where I felt the most alone I ever had. It was the place I attended parent/teacher meetings alone. It was the place I attended the school carnivals and Halloween costume parades alone. It was the place I sat alone to watch my kids’ school plays.
And it was where I sat alone in the auditorium and watched my children ascend through their respective culminations. All of the above of which, my ex-husband wouldn’t even acknowledge me if he even attended at all. Most of the time, he didn’t.
It was the school I took my 6-year-old son to start First Grade. A child who was traumatized and had lost his sparkle because he was just utterly confused at the unrecognizability of his life now. We lived in a new home, in a new town, and he was attending a new school with kids who were not his friends from his old Kindergarten.
The Hard Seasons
I look back on that time as one of the hardest seasons of my life. A season that reflected a few storms of hurricane magnitude. As unfamiliar as my son was with his new life, so was I with mine.
I knew no one there. And though I’m sure there were other single mothers with kids there, I didn’t seem to find any in my children’s classes. It was also a school that was quite extraordinary for Southern California. It was a school that had very few divorced families. I am not 100% certain as to why. I assume it was because it supported the Air Force Officers’ housing and families. A tight-knit community of mothers who walked their kids to school and back each day. A community of intact families with a mother and father in the home.
And mothers that held on tight to each other because they had shared experiences that only they could know. It is only now that I realize they were all single mothers at one time while their husbands were deployed. They were strong, courageous warriors in their own right, and I did have a lot in common with them. I just didn’t know it.
As I drove back home, down a street that was sure to have my tire treads embedded in the road leading back to my house, I thought about how that season of my life was just hard, and it felt like it went on forever.
It lasted from 2001 to 2012. It was a significant chunk of time, for sure. But it was equally that long ago. And even though it somehow conjured up my personal feelings of loneliness, my children both ended up flourishing there. They were fine even if I wasn’t.
I suppose my ability to forge on and just fake it till I make it mentality somehow served them well. They have lovely memories of that school, and they gained lifelong friendships that are still intact all these years later. That makes me smile. Because even though I was dealing with a very tough divorce and I was learning how to be a responsible single parent, somehow I kept it all together.
Somehow I was still able to deliver them a good childhood. Somehow I made it to a time where they are now both flourishing as adults. One child with an intense thirst for knowledge about other countries, cultures, and ideologies, and another who expresses herself through art and film. Both live from foundations that I helped to forge.
Foundations started at that little elementary school on the hill where they were one of the few children being raised by a single mom.
So for all the single moms (and dads) reading this that have experienced these kinds of days while their children are in school, just know that even though you may be feeling your most vulnerable and lonely, it’s all worth it if you can see what your sacrifices, investments, and contributions will yield as I now can see.
It feels good too. In fact, it feels wonderful. As I drove past the school and looked back over my shoulder, I think I saw a woman standing there smiling back at me, saying job well done. I, in turn, gave a thumbs up to her, nodding that it would all be worth it! And it was.