Today is exactly one year from the night I became a single mother.
I hate those words. I hate the way they sound on the lips of happily married mothers pitying me. I hate the way the drip from TV commentators who spit them like a venomous accusation. I hate the way they fail miserably to encapsulate the supreme honor and ache and sorrow and honey-dipped sweetness of the work. I hate the way the very term connotes abandon or recklessness. I hate to feel self-conscious about my brown skin and light daughter and that insufficient phrase. And so I don’t say them much. When I was carrying my daughter, nosy women would ask how pregnant I was, and I would feel my teeth grit and lips snarl as I struggled to remain calm. There’s just one level: pregnant or not! I would laugh, attempting to downplay my frustration, thinking deep down that, actually, one could argue the closer I got to term, the less pregnant I became! Single motherhood is the opposite, because as time goes on I become more and more of both, and the words seem to fail the feeling.
I stood on the stoop and watched my breath dance across the air. The weight of the car seat in my arm grew steadily heavier as my eyes filled with tears, the frigid air stinging my cheeks as the tiny drops traced lines across my cheeks. I looked at my daughter peacefully asleep, unaware of the chaos we were plunging into, and wondered how? Where? What next?
At the time, focused purely on getting out, getting space, seeking repair, seeking peace, I couldn’t imagine the winding road to this moment. I hoped distance would lift the haze from our world. I genuinely believed then that our family would be whole again by now. With time it’s grown clear that I was marching steadily to my current reality.
I remember the joy and terror of our first night alone in a silent apartment on an unfamiliar block, minutes from him. There was indescribable comfort in knowing this empty space was ours to create and support a peaceful life. Rolling on a floor free of cigarette ash and broken glass. No one stumbling in late and loud. No more Saturday mornings spent driving through the neighborhood looking for his truck. Just us. And the flip side of that reality has been no one to catch lizards that creep in the crack in the back door when the weather suddenly turns cold. No one to pick up scattered books or shoes or fold laundry. No one coming home to warm the bed and hold me close. It’s just us.
I no longer ache for him as a man, but she requires him as a father. I no longer desire reconciliation, but friendship. I am far from the broken-hearted, sad, and lonely woman doing what was “right.” I am the woman on the other side of wreckage, moving forward. And I guess I don’t know how to do that.
My girlfriends tell me I need to start dating, open my heart to another, get laid. The thought of someone inside my space, my schedule, my mind, my body… I begin to hyperventilate at the possibility. The idea of going on a date when there are dinners to make, baths to give, lesson plans to write, and errands to run overwhelms me. It’s not the to-do that overwhelms me. It’s the desire to prioritize a stable environment for my daughter that makes dating seem so silly and disruptive. I can’t imagine what I would wear as the only clothes I truly like are my Saturday jeans, Christmas clogs from my sweet mother, and a slouchy sweater I’ve affectionately dubbed my “at-home” sweater. I don’t want to make conversation about where I went to school or what books I’ve read recently or if I’m up to date on that thrilling new podcast, as the only thing I’ve watched in eight months is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and, frankly, adore it.
I want a man who sees me in my fullness, knowing the journey of getting to this place was a shattering, brilliant, epic battle. I want a man who respects that I have put my child above and before all else and would do the same. I want a man who desires to build a family with me and honor the truest calling of my life – motherhood. I believe in deep love and romance and passionate sex and lazy mornings. I believe in partnership and a communion of souls. I believe I will find the man who will grow in this life with me, but I’m not looking. Because more than I want a partner or even a loving embrace, I want this life of just us. I chose it. I choose it each morning and each night.
I am the stardust and willfulness of a thousand stumbles and false starts which have collected like water droplets into the heavy rainstorm of my being. I came with much urging dancing into the light. From my earliest breaths, I have balanced upon a tightrope of existence.
At my beginning, not much more than a whisper of possibility and a dark slick of curls, I have lived now a few decades within these brown, round, enigmatic walls, gliding through space, a busy mind nestled within a cautious body. I carry fading scars, sore wounds, ancient worries, and dizzying joyfulness in my swaying hips, my steady gaze, my booming voice which at times cracks and breaks and falls off over sweet and sour truths. I have been a creature of contradictions seeking an anchor in stormy waters.
As a girl, I heard the woman of my daydreams singing back at me, calling out to be true, and I let that fiery ball called “someday” creep from my anxious belly up my throat, forcing out a scream. I shouted from bridges covered in starlight and desire, desperate for guidance and clarity. I grasped at offered straws, clinging to versions of myself that fit the moment and whim. True, but incomplete. Yearning. I longed for someday to be this very instant, and to be beyond the journey, finally at some unknown destination. I beckoned for that place to meet me halfway. In truth, I was yelling to deepest self, for underneath the hopeful moonlit paths of girlhood was a fractured soul seeking fullness.
Womanhood has been this. A dirty battle between imagination and fear, and I on both sides fighting with all my might. I suppose I couldn’t see my whole self for the mists of longing and consequence obscured my view. Coming through the rolling fog in pieces, for many years I stared at the sky waiting for the clouds to pass and my fullness to be seen. I wanted badly to know myself, and envied the love so many close to me had found. When I finally found him, my daughter’s father, I needed to be loved. I craved it. And I allowed that need to obscure all else.
It was in motherhood that I first set eyes upon my whole self. It was by this journey that I ascended beyond the girl scratching at the dirt, digging a steady foundation. Her first breath was the gold leaf which filled the cracks of my soul, strengthening my purpose. What forgiveness! And love. And genuine magic to know her and offer her clear skies. In motherhood I came to know that which I have been, I will always be, and that which I desire to be, I have always been. All the moments until this one are buried within me, holding her up, and lighting our path.
I don’t know how to be this version of myself. I don’t know where I go from here or what I’ll encounter. And it’s alright. We are so much more than alright. I hate the label, but I love the life.
My self. Essential. Seen now from top to bottom. And when I leave this world, I will have dented and bruised and filled the space about my body with the flailing of raw, honest living. I will exit as I entered, a powerhouse of wailing vibrancy, and this time will have been the transition, the breath, the pause between all that I could become and all I ever was.
Words by Adrienne Oliver