I See You, Single Mama

single mama

Today was pretty typical. I got up, got Claire changed, dressed, and gave her breakfast; got myself dressed and ready, and headed out. The drive to campus would be 35 minutes, but for our stop at day care, which makes it closer to an hour. I dropped her off and tried to keep my heart intact while she cried as I left.

I got to campus around 8:30. I started on emails and did a little mental prep for classes. I checked my grading queue to see that I had 97 assignments to grade since Friday. Some of these are just completion points and will be easy to input, but more than half will take time and energy to comment on.

I did this all until my 9:10 class. Then, my typically introverted self came “on” and taught class until 10:00. I then answered student questions and snuck in a couple more emails until my 10:20 class which lasted until 11:10. I had a Zoom meeting from 11:15-12:25, and then booked it to my next class, which was from 12:40-1:30. My office hours don’t technically start until 1:45, but I had students lined up before then, so after a quick bathroom break, I invited them in one after another to chat and ask questions. During any lulls in the hour and a half of office hours I had, I chipped away at more emails, tried to line up a babysitter, called the pediatrician, and scheduled some class observations. At 3:30, when the last student left (15 minutes after the official end of office hours), I realized I hadn’t yet eaten lunch. At that point, it wasn’t really worth it, so I decided a couple of bite-sized chocolate pieces would do.

At 4:00, when I had 62 assignments still in my grading queue, I had to leave so that I could grocery shop while Claire was still at daycare. I don’t like doing that because I need all the time at work I can get to stay on top of grading, but I’ve decided it’s worth it to give up a few minutes in order to not have to navigate the store with a fussy toddler. I shopped for the week, picked Claire up, and made it back home at 5:45. Once at home, I still had to put away groceries, make dinner, clean up from dinner, do dishes, water the outside plants, rinse diapers, pack food for the next day, mop the floor, feed the dogs, and bathe myself and Claire. That would be a lot by itself, but of course, with a toddler, it is just this side of overwhelming. At 20 months, Claire dirties everything thrice as fast as I can clean it, so any progress always feels like two steps forward and one step back. Not only that, but then she objects to not having my undivided attention, so I take periodic breaks to comfort her. Some days, I get very little done and just try to quell my frustration.

At 7:30 or so, I pause at whatever point I’m at in this circus and get her ready for bed. Then we snuggle in the big bed and read until 8:15, when she’s sleepy enough that I can put her down without a fuss. At this point, I have a decision to make: keep going, or call it quits and get in bed to decompress with a book chapter or a show. Usually, the latter wins out, because, let’s face it, I am exhausted. Luckily, she sleeps pretty well now, but for the first year, I could expect to also be getting up multiple times per night.

Where is my partner in all of this?  Well, his work schedule is eight days on and six days off. His eight days on are spent away from home, usually in some remote location without cell phone signal. So for literally more than half the time, I’m a single mama.

All that I listed is simply maintenance work. This doesn’t count trying to get ahead or deal with any mishaps. And not only is there the daily grind, but all those tasks that partners typically split—like dealing with the recycling and garbage, or picking packages up from the Post Office—normally fall to me because Crispin is home so little. Likewise, I find myself (like many other women in two-parent homes) taking on the cognitive workload:  scheduling doctors’ appointments, meal planning, lining up childcare, etc.

When Claire was younger, I often wondered, bewildered and a bit envious, how other families managed. I realized that some new parents are blessed with family being close by. Not only do our parents live on the East Coast, Covid made it impossible for them to come visit for a long time after Claire was born. We did everything ourselves. And when Crispin had to go back into the field, I did it myself.

I don’t write this to complain, nor do I wish to garner praise. I’m explaining my situation because I had a thought that I keep coming back to over and over, especially on typical days like today: Let’s hear it for every single mama (and dada) out there. I am lucky that my partner comes home after eight days. I can’t imagine those who, for choice or circumstance, don’t have that reprieve. Those whose partners are deployed, or incapacitated, or those who have simply chosen to go it alone. I see you, mama. I feel your exhaustion, your frustration, your loneliness. I feel your need to take your phone into the bathroom to scroll through social media on the toilet, just to have a moment to yourself. I feel your sacrifice, the drain of your constant decision-making, the weight of responsibility. I see your tears. But most of all, I see your strength.

Here’s to you, single mama.