There is a blog out there called "Single Dad Laughing". It's actually really good. But this weekend, I was certain I could start a blog called "Single Mom Whining." After all, it's the Christmas season, and if being a single mom isn't hard enough, there is the pressure and stress I feel because of the issue of , well, stuff.
What brought it on was my almost 6-year-old's upcoming birthday. In our community, when we have a birthday party, we try to make it about the child and his or her friends and the experience. Presents are either hand-made or optional. We love it because it is a win-win. No one has to stress over what latest toy to buy, and the birthday child (and his family) are not inundated with more stuff that will be used once then tossed aside.
But I couldn't help but have pangs of wishing when my son asked me if he could have a "real" party, one where he gets lots of presents from friends. Single mother guilt kicked in. Parenting guilt kicked in. Am I depriving my child? Am I just wanting to compensate him for having divorced parents? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that isn't the gift I need to give my child. A stressed, financially-depleted, guilty mother does not serve anyone. Friends who are stressed because of you don't either. Besides, I'd rather teach my son what really counts, and give him an opportunity to learn self-control.
I gave my son three choice toys I knew he wanted and I could mostly afford, he had a party complete with making graham cracker gingerbread houses and sweet handmade or handed down gifts from friends, and a hike in the woods where the highlight was finding an old wagon tire that was the perfect size for 6-year-olds to roll down hills. We had spent the day cleaning and anticipating the party. My children went off to their dad's in high spirits and I doubt my son even remembered he had asked me for that "other" kind of party. And I felt foolish for even thinking that was better than this:
The night before, we had picked up and set up our Christmas tree. I was in a slightly irritated mood because we had been shopping, and again, that is stressful because I am reminded of what I don't have or what I can't give to my kids. I inwardly grumbled that I had to carry in the tree by myself, that I have no partner to cheer me on, that I am taking on mortgage, car repairs, and parenting all by myself. We set up the tree, and I wanted it done a certain way but my eleven year old wanted it done the "right" way (because mom is increasingly not "right" in the eyes of an eleven-year-old). We exchanged irritations with each other, finally got the ornaments down and the tree up. As we took out the ornaments, I was flooded with such sentiment. There are such precious things here. Most of our ornaments are hand made and gifted to us. Thirteen years of teaching and so many of those ornaments are treasured gifts from students and families. Sweet ornaments from when my twenty-somethings were small. Serena and Davis enjoying each and every ornament "Oh!!!! I remember this!!!" It was like they had never seen ornaments before. Christmases over the years came to memory, friends and family who were in our lives, loved ones who had passed on. Gentle tears came, for so many dreams have been put to rest, and there is still so much to learn, and people to love. The irritation was soothed and I came into the present. I was immediately grateful for my sweet children who teach me so much.
Our tree ended up being beautiful:
In the midst of a bit of feeling sorry for myself, of my child's impatience with wanting something he couldn't have, of my own impatience turned intolerance in a charged mother-daughter interaction, I forgot the value of anticipation. Isn't that what this season is about? Anticipating something joyful, anticipating the light. You don't have to have it right now, and in fact, it is good to unload some old things before you do "get" it. It always comes. The gift is the anticipation.
I'm still making as much as I can for gifts this year, as I've done for some 20 years now. I'm telling the kids we are keeping it simple. We have projects going pretty much every day. They don't always get done but we have projects. We are planning gathering with family and celebrating loved ones, the REAL important stuff.
I can be Single Mom Whining for awhile. I have every right and reason to grumble some days. But I also have every right and reason to be deeply, humbly, and ever-grateful for this life. And I am!