February 19, 2014
"Mama, you never keep promises," she says.
You know what hurts most about being a working-poor single mama of three remarkable girls who deserve to receive everything life has to offer? It's not necessarily the political or policy issues that work against me. Or even the need to defend myself while simultaneously doubting myself. It's those words.
I do keep the promise of good food, a comfy bed, a trip to the doctor when they need it. But those are non-negotiable items in the contract of motherhood: I meet their basic needs no matter what it takes. And as oft I can I give them an ice cream cone, a day at the beach, a guinea pig, even. Those are childhood entitlements, so I consider them basic needs, as well, though they have no idea how challenging it is to provide them.
But the day at an amusement park, the weekend camping, the lessons in whatever interests them or the big gift they really really want, well, those are un-kept promises, it's true. Actually, I don't promise them, I typically tell them "Someday I will make this happen for you when I can." So they want them. From me. Because I'm mama. This is the part I think is hard to understand for anyone else outside this fishbowl. It means that even the most simple things for me are left undone - a yoga class, an hour walk, a doctor visit - because they all have a concrete cost that's just too hard to justify. To me they are not fixed expenses or basic needs. Yes, I would love to focus on my art, take care of my body, take care of my heart. Of course that makes sense to me. But in the balancing sheet of the life and sacrifice of single motherhood, it just doesn't make sense to move dollars into your children's 'expense' column, even though they go into your 'income' column. It just doesn't feel right.
I'm left with little emotional bandwidth to do much else as my own dreams quickly diminish in the rear-view mirror on our journey. I make compromises to my heart that anyone looking inside might find unimaginable, but they don't see the internal accounting in my head. Yet even still, I'm left with those words, so innocently spoken as mere fact from her perspective. I'm meeting the basics, yes, yet there's still more because you teach your kids to dream, and childhood is magic; they deserve *that* childhood entitlement even more than anything else. Yet, it's also true too that I have been home teaching my youngest girl (and one more though he recently moved away) for months now because I just couldn't fathom sacrificing the gift of time and focus that my prior professional life stole from me with my first two. And she just sat down and read her first book to me, at age 4, with a look on her face of having conquered the tallest mountain and an air of confidence that displayed to me *of course* she conquered the tallest mountain. I gave her hope and knowledge.
That's how it balances out and I pray that someday all three of my girls will have the graceful gift of perspective to see this. Someday, with any luck, my girls will know this struggle to be present for them right now is the greatest gift of all. It sure is hard when you're raising your kids alone. I want to be someone who keeps promises.