I don't think people give single moms enough credit. Maybe it's just in the sheltered bubble of South Tulsa where being a single mom is a rare thing, but I hear a lot more praise directed toward married moms who work at home or outside of the home. While I think it's great that society appreciates the efforts of stay-at-home moms now more than ever before, I think we still could use some work at supporting the unbelievably difficult job of the working single mom. This isn't a post about the "Mommy Wars", the ongoing debate about who has it worse, the working mom or the stay-at-home mom. It is more of a preface to the story I am going to tell that involves my own mother, who was a single, working mom in the '70's and '80's. It isn't easy now but I am sure it was even harder then.
My parents were divorced when I was very young. I have some very vague memories of the time that my parents were married to each other. Some of the memories are my own that have a dream like quality to them. Other memories are the kind that you develop after hearing often told tales. They are mostly memories of good things or common, everyday things, like the memory of chewing on artificial grapes, making them stick to the inside of my cheek with suction or of being in the basement of the house that we lived in and that I can no longer envision. The first couple of years that my brother and I lived with just my mom are pretty much void of memory. I guess that means nothing traumatic happened, except for the time I pooped in my pants in kindergarten and the nuns who were our teachers were threatening to check everyone's pants to see who did it since no one had the nerve to admit to stinking up the joint. I sat in my soiled undies, shaking with the fear of being caught. As luck would have it, the end of the day bell rang before my pants were checked and I went home, ashamed yet relieved at having not been caught. In retrospect, I have been a teacher and a mom for over half my life now, and I can always tell who has the stinky pants. I'm sure the Sisters had to know it was me. I won't even try to understand why I was spared public ridicule, but I am thankful.
My mom remarried when I was in 2nd grade. The guy she married made her happy at first. I think he probably seemed like he wanted to be a family man and he was modern and cool. My mom was a young woman in the early 70's. She grew up quiet and shy in a very small farm community in central Illinois with an abusive and old fashioned father. She had been married to my father in another small town, going straight from high school into the life of a stay-at-home mom. And now she had the opportunity to have some fun and feel like she was a part of the exciting changes going on in the world, especially for women. She was able to work, be a mom and have the security that being married brings. I'm not sure when things started to get bad. I was pretty young and the details aren't clear, but I know we went from living in a nice little house to living in a small apartment. Eventually, my mom found herself living with her two young kids and an alcoholic. A mean drunk who wasn't so interested in being a family man after all. He scared the hell out of me. He was loud and tall. He kicked and hit walls and doors and threatened my mom. I don't remember ever feeling any affection for him so there was no big disappointment when he turned ugly, but I remember waking up in the night hearing him shouting at my mom and feeling a new feeling. Hatred. I shook with it. I'm not sure if I shook more with rage or fear.
My mom has always had a knack for decorating and even in our smallish apartment, she came up with cute ideas to organize and ways to make our things look nice. One of the things she did was to turn a long, double sliding door closet into a kind of storage area. She put in shelves and had a neat little space set aside for him to keep his things. I was quite a reader and read whatever I could get my hands on. I was intrigued because up on a top shelf, way out of my reach, were some of his books. One in particular caught my eye. I wanted to read it. I asked him if I could see it. "Which book?" he wondered. "That one.", I pointed. "To Kill a Mockingbird." But I had misread the title. I was still phonetically sounding out words but by then was also decoding using familiar words. I thought the book was called "Tequila Mockingbird". Oh, man, did he laugh about that. He thought it was adorable. I remember feeling really embarrassed about it, once I realized my mistake. I felt ashamed. At the time, I didn't understand why I felt ashamed, but I guess being a child and being familiar with the name of that sort of drink was a bit more than I was comfortable with. He didn't even let me see the book.
It wasn't long after that time that my mom had him leave. I know how hard she tried to work it out with him, but his problems were more than she could deal with, especially while trying to protect us. It was a sad time in our lives, but eventually we had a nice, quiet life again. Things work out the way they are supposed to, I guess. If it weren't for him and the way things ended up, I would never have had some of the people in my life that helped make me the person I am today. My next post will tell a story of some of those people.
Thank you for reading!