Divorce and Separation · lesbian mom · mom of boys

Privilige and Birthday Cake Slices

Well the boys turned six. I have six year old twin boys.

It also marks a year since my ex moved out. She moved out a week or two after their birthday last year.

This was my last “first” as a single Mom. I had a year of firsts after my Dad died. It was all messed up. This was different. This could be a year of new beginnings not mourning. Divorce definitely carries a sting but nothing compared to the loss of my Dad. I was excited this year to navigate this new existence with my sons to be more present with them in these moments. I didn’t have the stress of my crumbling marriage hanging over every holiday and event. It was actually a relief in some ways.

And it was different “firsts” than when my Dad died. Like it was my first time managing the pool as a single mom. It was the first time stacking firewood by myself. I mean I stacked it often by myself in the past but I had someone else I could ask to watch the kids or help stack the wood while I watched the boys. This year the boys helped me.

I was nervous for the birthday though. Because it’s hard being a single parent. I’m bad at planning. Even worse since doing it alone because I feel like I survive day to day and there isn’t room for future planning. I decided to bring them to an arcade and a movie on Friday, their actual birthday. Then Saturday rented a bounce house…which was amazing…and had their friends over. It all worked out. Grubhub for pizza. And friends and sister who showed up for me with all the things that I forgot (mainly the balloons- my sister, and my asthma medication that I need to breathe- my friend)

It was a long two days. The boys were spoiled. Starting in the arcade with me. By tonight when they came home I was kind of annoyed. They were not acting grateful for everything that they had been given, and were already asking about an expensive present for Christmas.

There followed a physical altercation over a birthday present and I sent them to bed. I did not yell. I calmly told them they were acting completely unacceptable and needed to go to bed.

There were tears. Then when they were in bed they wanted clarification on why I was upset. I started with the fight that had occurred downstairs. I then went into, “You guys are not grateful, your not thankful for ALL that you have. You are such lucky privileged boys. I did not have what you have when I was little. I never got picked up early from school and brought to an arcade, and a movie, and then a bounce house. My parents would not have been able to afford all I do for you guys. And you are just not getting it.”

“So you didn’t do karate?” one of them asked, “No, I didn’t, not until I was in high school and I paid for it with my own money.” Then one of them rubbed his eyes and said, “That makes me so sad Mama,”

An aside- I was not destitute. I played soccer, basket-ball, and I danced for eleven years. But I knew beyond that there was not extra money for say the dance team, extra lessons; now had I been a prima ballerina I have no doubt my parents would have made it work. But while I was a good dancer we all knew this was not going to be a lifetime career for me. We lived in a town though that was white suburban. I didn’t have designer clothes and my house was not a huge colonial so I was made fun of over the years for being “poor” by the bullies based on my town’s standards. I know I wasn’t poor. I know we always had food, and shelter, and our bills were paid, as was most of my college tuition. I had a car when I turned 16 (not a new car, and the brakes failed but…I had a car). I didn’t have to pay for car insurance until I bought my own car when I was 23. So again- I am not saying I was not privileged. Because I certainly was. But I learned early that I needed to work hard to have what I wanted because what I wanted and what I needed are two different things.

My kids…well I wanted to give them opportunities that I didn’t have. That’s why I let them try out karate- and they love it. And it’s good for them. I also still work my butt off for everything that I have. I’ve built my business. I also still have the cushion of my parents- well now my Mom, if and when I need her. I know she’s there for me.

But I digress. So I say all of this to my sons, and I end with, “I work so hard to give you guys everything I possibly can, everything that I may not have had the opportunity to have.” I don’t yell. I say it quietly and sitting on one of their beds. And they both start crying and one of them leans into me to wrap his arms around me and says, “Well you do a really good job Mama.”

I hugged him back, and then I rubbed their backs for a little while and they are now sleeping soundly.

It’s a hard thing. Balancing. I want my kids to be grateful for what they have, I don’t want them to feel like they have to work as much as I did as early as I did, but I also don’t want them turning into entitled little shits.

They brought home the Scholastic Book Fair magazine. I remember every year we would have to be dragged in front of these beautiful mountains of brand new books for the book fair. The same Scholastic Book Fair then and now. Then I would know that I had a one or two book limit. I would always see at least a few other kids with piles of books they walked out of the room with. It seemed unfair. That I could only get my two books, and other kids could walk out with ten or more. I love books. I definitely felt jealous. What I failed to acknowledge were the three kids who left with no books. Looking back now I recognize there were kids living in poverty in my classes over the years. But I never thought about that at the time. I mean I was grateful for the two books I had, but also incredibly envious that I didn’t walk out with ten. I feel ashamed writing this now but it’s true.

So my sons bring home the Scholastic Book Fair magazine and tell me about the kid who got eight books. I asked them if there were kids who didn’t get any. They were unsure. I let them pick out two each. And then I asked them to pick out two for their cousin. Also those books are damn expensive.

I don’t know what the answer is. I know I want my kids to be happy. I want them to be grateful. I want them to work hard and to appreciate that I work hard for what we have. As he wrapped his little arms around my waist and told me I do a good job. I squeezed him so tight back, and said “Thanks baby. I love you.” I’m going to keep bumbling my way through this parenting situation. And hope I produce two functional, humble, not entitled, woke, white dudes. In the process. I’m learning too.

*** The highlight of Friday was stopping at the grocery store because I needed snacks for the party on Saturday. This was after the arcade and the movie. The boys were tired and on sugar highs. But there we were. I said yes to almost every bad cereal they put in the cart because I didn’t have the energy to say No. We were at the checkout with a seemingly cranky woman who pursed her lips and looked super irritated with the existence of all of us. The boys chatted amicably. Told her and the bagger it was their birthday. Asked for gum. I said No. Hard No. Enamel issues in one kid. Then it was, “Well Mommy lets us at her house,” and I put my hand on my head and squeezed my hair to keep from screaming, and said, “Well you can do what Mommy allows at Mommy’s. With Mama no gum.” They put it down. The cashier watched and heard and scanned the single pieces of cake I had allowed the boys to get. One each. Because we didn’t have cake on their birthday. Just movie popcorn and arcade bad food. I was tired and weak. Well the cashier said, “Mmmhmmm, this is where it’s at. Ain’t nobody got no fucking time to make a whole damn birthday cake. Yes girl. This is the smartest thing I’ve ever seen. Single slice of cake for their birthday.” Then we made eye contact. I realized she was actually complimenting me. I realized she was saying this because she realized I’m a single Mom who was tired and feeling judged by my kids and bought them cake on a grocery shop trip at almost 7:00 pm on their actual birthday. I smiled. Truly smiled. And I said, “Yeeeeessss. Ain’t nobody got fucking time for that.”

*** I told the waiter at the arcade I’m a Queer nurse (I swear it came up in conversation, because I’m not some one who overshares). He comp’d my entree. I left him an insane tip for a 40.00$ bill. He was the sweetest little gay dude. Pay it forward to the Queers.


Raising Kids Lesson #45732…

When I worked in the ED there was a tech who came out of a room after I had been in for my initial assessment. The kid was sick-ish. Meaning probably admission material but not ICU level and potentially could go home if he had a robust response to treatment. I was maybe twenty-five. I was good at what I did. But I was and still am in a sense; controlled chaos. I remember the tech came out laughing and I asked him what he was laughing at? I was assembling my IV equipment, glucose machine, i-stat for chemistry, and an 02 mask. He said, “The parents, they looked like woah! When I went in right after you walked out, so I told them, ya know she’s good. That’s just how she is. Your kid is gonna be the best taken care of kid here though with her as your nurse.”

I remember I stopped what I was doing. I had big curly hair. Still do. It was everywhere. I was sucking on a cough drop because my asthma was acting up and there had also been a GI smell I just couldn’t get out of my nostrils earlier from another kid. I had a pile of stuff on my IV cart. Other nurses would, set things up, make it all pretty, put the tubing in the same spot every stick etc. I don’t think it was ever in the same spot. That tech held for me for countless IV starts. He knew to just hold the kid. That as much as it looked disorganized I was actually crazy like a fox and never dropped anything on the floor. And if I did I had a spare. In my pocket. He’d had to fish out a spare from my pocket. Once. Maybe twice.

I got the line in that kid in one smooth shot. By the time the Attending saw him he was sleeping soundly, his parents each had a coffee in hand, and they all had blankets. The kid had 02 going and fluids and meds. He went home five hours later.

I’m still sorta that way in psych. Sometimes I think clients don’t know what to make of me. I still am completely unable to recognize how chaotic I can seem but in psych I think it’s more maybe I seem detached, distracted. When in reality I’ve already got you assessed and am narrowing down my medication options and also deciding what gem I’m going to slip in to shatter your defenses to get you to really feel something and maybe by default cry.

I don’t realize that I have a style or a way or a presence until people tell me. That moment was eleven years ago. I still remember the look on the tech’s face, and can imagine the look on mine. First off I didn’t realize I came across like a tornado in that room. Second I had no idea the tech thought I was good at my job or that he remembered after hundreds of lines where to find the spare three way stopcock I always kept in my pocket. Never know when you’re going to need to push adenosine. Just saying.

In psych though clients have a different relationship than in the ED and different expectations. Over the years I’ve been asked directly by a few clients at the intake what my assessment is, diagnosis, and some have even asked what I think their personality traits are. It’s kind of fun for me. I may totally geek out in the moment when I get to be like the cop at the end of a case explaining and divulging all the things I’ve picked up. The ones who ask after one appointment ask because they are skeptical. Skeptical that I’m paying attention. Skeptical that I know what I’m doing. Skeptical that I could get to know them enough in sixty minutes to make recommendations like medication. I get it. But I kill it. Every time. Because hello people. Since 2007 I’ve done nothing but rapid assessment in one form or another every day for hours a day. I also got a couple degrees and training in it. That moment when I relay straight faced, with eye contact, everything I’ve observed, surmised, and suspect and how that relates to my recommendations they usually stare back, jaw drops a little, and sometimes their eyes well up with tears, sometimes they just open in surprise and sometimes a little hint of admiration. It’s that moment they feel seen.

I felt seen by that tech in that moment eleven years ago. It doesn’t happen often that some one catches me off guard. I generally think I’m invisible so am always surprised if some one reflects something incredibly accurate about myself back to me. The scariest time that happened was last week. In the car. With my sons.

I asked the boys if they like living in our town. I bring it up now and then because I’m not sure if we will move or not. They rambled on in their 5 year old way about yes, maybe, no, but we should live next to their cousin, because that’s their lifelong goal and dream to live next door to their cousin. I laughed and said, well if we move with your Aunts and cousin you won’t be in school with…then listed their friends. Then they were contemplative, and I said somewhat surprised, “I kinda like living here.” Never thought I would like rural living. Declan says, “Because there’s no people Mama. You don’t like people. That’s why you like it here.” I looked in the rearview smiling and surprised, “What do you mean baby?” “You don’t like big crowds, (how the hell did he know the word crowd?!) that’s why you didn’t want to go to the Fair. It’s why you like to just be by the pool. It’s okay Mama. We like living here.” Damn. Just like that. I was actually speechless.

None of it was wrong. I don’t like people. Especially big crowds. The pandemic didn’t help. I also blame working in healthcare. We see the worst of humanity. Makes it hard to want to really engage with random people. And yes, the yearly town fair is the bane of my existence. I will not work at it. I will not attend. In every way it is completely abhorrent to me. Cow manure. People. Bees. People. Hill. People. No parking. People. I also do prefer my pool. To everywhere in the world. My two favorite people are my sons. After that there are maybe ten-fifteen people I think I need regular contact with (Yes Mom. You’re on the list;).

Aside from that though, the point is my son. I think I am raising a future mental health professional. Because he saw me. What’s funny in those moments is his twin brother is totally silent. He’s the observer. He’s going to be the politician. He doesn’t agree or disagree outwardly but I know if I asked him he’d know his brother was spot on. He just wouldn’t be the one to call me out. Twins. It’s a whole thing. I am so often trying to survive the grind of single mom-ing, business owning, and being a clinician that I forget they are watching. Seeing. Learning. They know me as well I know them. It’s a scary thing. This vulnerability with our kids. I feel it more as a single mom. Because they spend 85% of their time with me. And I with them.

These boys are perceptive and caring and it’s weird to start to shift from thinking of them as these dependent beings to independent beings who can make assumptions about me. Learn from me. Emulate me. They did not get my general disliking of socializing. These boys talk to every one about everything. It’s cool that they can see this part of me, and be different from me, and we can all be okay with that.

That moment in the car was a parenting first. Feeling “seen” by my kids. In a way I really hadn’t ever experienced with them. I just keep hoping what they see is good enough, wise enough, and strong enough for them. It’s such a shift from childhood and seeking our parents approval, to adulthood and seeking it from our kids. It’s part of parenting I didn’t expect and still find it hard to define at times.

This is one parent’s reminder. They are watching. Always.