August 02, 2010
A couple years ago, when I was working as a receptionist at a chemical distribution plant, I was at a company picnic at a local amusement park. My twins, Tolkien and Indigo, who were six at the time, were off riding rides with their fifteen year old sister and I was standing around talking with the warehouse guys. It was later in the day. The picnic had been going on for a while. One of my coworkers, Edward, who was about four beers in, suddenly said, “Well, I’d better go make my rounds while the single moms are open to suggestion.”
“Hey!” I said.
“Oh, sorry, Gloria,” Edward said. “Didn’t realize you were there.”
Having spent most of my life as one of the guys, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin for the things guys say to each other when ladies aren’t around. I laughed off Edward’s comment and, really, it didn’t bother me; I happen to know that Edward is an especially nice person, and I understood he didn’t mean me specifically. Yet, his words stayed with me.
Then, recently, I was reading a review of a new television show called “The Glades” in the Chicago Sun Times. In the review, Paige Wiser mentions the cliché “seen-it-all single mom who’s not about to be waltzed into bed.” Ms. Wiser goes on to reference such iconic television moms as Shirley Jones on “The Partridge Family,” Bonnie Franklin on “One Day at a Time,” Judith Light on “Who’s the Boss?,” and Linda Lavin on “Alice.” “Their very existence was empowering,” says Ms. Wiser.
I paused to think about these two different ideas. Are these my choices? Hungry for the attention of a man, easily open to suggestion, easy to take advantage of, vulnerable, and weak versus the shrill, uptight, ball-busting, and even sexless strong single mom on television (who would benefit from a bottle of Shiraz and a vibrator)?
But, I’m neither!
No, wait…I’m both!
Can I see what’s behind door number three, Monty?
I am an educated woman. Strong and outspoken. I know how to use a power drill, change a light bulb, troubleshoot most car troubles, and plunge a toilet. I have a good job and my outlook for the future is very optimistic. I spend a lot of time alone. Most days, I’m really comfortable in my own skin. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent casually dating for the last few years since I left my marriage. I’ve done it on my time, when the boys are with their dad, and it’s rarely crossed over into their world or even hit their radar. And, mostly, it’s been fine. I’ve met some very nice people and I’ve had mostly positive experiences.
But then, there are days.
Days like yesterday, for instance, where I’m suffering from a debilitating case of PMS and I’m screaming and yelling at the boys incessantly for minor infractions and I’m wishing – desperately – that I had a partner, one who could tag me out. He could come in, grab me gently by the shoulder, and whisper, “I’ve got this,” in my ear. “You just go lie down and read that Russell Brand autobiography you’ve been trying to get to. We’ll be fine.”
Instead, what I have in those situations are two little boys who must think their mom has lost her mind because she has to keep putting herself in timeout every hour. But then, maybe they don’t think that at all. Toward the end of the day yesterday, around dinner time, Tolkien said to me, “Mom, you seem to be a lot happier now than you were earlier. Maybe you were just hungry?” And then he kissed me.
It is these little moments of grace that keep me going.
I was reading to the boys a few weeks ago (as I have every night that they are with me since they were in utero). We were midway through book three of the Harry Potter series and Tolkien was lying next to me pulling at his underwear. I very frustratedly told him that if he was going to touch himself, he needed to do it in private. He got exasperated with me and said, “But my penis is sticking to my balls!” I looked at him, momentarily confused. As a woman, not only have I never been faced with a similar problem, I didn’t even know the problem existed.
Thinking quickly, I told Tolkien I could give him powder, but all I had was a can of baby powder from the late forties that my great grandma kept her whole life. It was given to me when she died. (Some families have jewels. Some families have furniture. Some have art. My family? I got a 60 year old dented can half full of talc.) I retrieved the can from the bookshelf and told Tolkien the back story. He was laughing hard at the idea of using sixty year old powder to fix his problem. He put the powder on and started to get back in bed to finish reading, patting me on the arm to say thanks in the process. Little plumes of 60 year old great grandma powder went puffing into the air. I started fake screaming, “Aaaagghhh! Aaaagghhh! You just touched me with your sweaty penis, old lady powder hand! Aaaagghhh! Aaaagghhh!” The kid was laughing so hard that he was almost crying.
And there it is.
If I’d been partnered, inevitably my partner would have quickly solved the sweaty balls predicament with a container of Gold Bond he probably would have kept in the side table drawer (is that where it’s kept?) But, instead, I handled the situation the way I handle most of what single parenting throws at me: with ingenuity, a whole lot of humor, and muddling through one day at a time.
Recently, I publicly announced my celibacy. But what I’ve realized since then is that it’s not sex that I wanted to step away from. I have no problem with sex. I don’t have any issues reconciling being a mom and being a sexual being. Like I said, I’ve had a great time dating as a single adult woman for the first time in my life. I’ve met a lot of nice people and while most of them have been mutually respectful casual flings, there was one that was more. It was a very brief, but still one of the most profoundly important romantic experiences I’ve ever had. The problem? He didn’t want a new family.
I’ve tried dating a couple of times since then, but it has been a largely unsatisfying experience – like trying to nurse on a teat whose milk has dried up. Now that I’ve been reminded what love feels like, now that I know, I want that.
You can’t unring a bell.
And so, what I’ve realized is that I’ve not taken a vow of celibacy, I’ve actually taken a vow of love. Meaning that it may be a whole lot longer than six months before I have sex again. Which is fine. Maybe I’ll become a shrill, uptight, ball-busting, strong single mom. But not sexless. I am perfectly capable of meeting my own needs while I wait patiently for things to unfold as they will.
I may need to stock up on Shiraz though.