Going solo - FamilyEducation

Going solo

December 09,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Scott left town on Tuesday to fly to Texas for his grandmother's funeral, leaving me to solo parent for a few days. After a few days alone with the kids, I am ready to kneel down and worship single parents everywhere--I mean those truly single parents, who take care of their kids 24/7 365 days/year. I've been sick with bronchitis all week, trying to grade final exams, put together end-of-semester reports, tend to our still-invalid dog and the rest of our menagerie, AND recover/learn enough algebra skills to help L. with his homework, and have felt, mostly, barely human.

But I'm not here to whine and complain. It's Friday, after all.

I still remember vividly the first time I had to solo parent. Scott was on the job market, and had to fly to San Francisco for a few days for a conference. L. must have been about seven or eight months old at the time. I remember how the thought of being left alone with him with no help at all struck terror into the very core of my being. How would I cope? Would I cope? Who would I talk to? What if something happened? In the end, of course, I did the coping part just fine--you have to, really; there aren't too many choices. You just take a few deep breaths and dive in. I do remember that the hardest part of being alone, of being the only parent responsible for a small child, was the heavy sense of responsibility I felt constantly; the feeling that we were alone, he and I, and that I had to somehow step up and become double the parent. After I got him to sleep at night, I would collapse on the sofa, looking for someone to talk to finally, and finding only the cat.

I never think much about the wholeness of what marriage is--what it stands for--until my husband is out of town and I wander around at first, feeling like the exposed half of someone else. The first day or two I'm very conscious of my separateness, then slowly it becomes less obvious, although still there, like a thought niggling at me in the back of my mind. The one thing I worry about--over-anxiously when Scott is away is the fact that the kids become my sole responsibility for a few days. When I leave work to pick up T., or to get L. from school, I am conscious of the fact that it's just me, no one else to fall back on. I feel more tense, on guard. The spectre of what-ifs plague me, day and night. What if something happens to me on the way to picking up the kids from school? Who will know? What will happen? What if one child falls ill in the night? What if I fall ill in the night?

I miss my husband, this other half of me. Life is too busy these days with two kids and work to reflect much on my aloneness, the way I did in those old days as a new and tentative parent just beginning to understand what it was all about. I feel a bit like an old pro with this parenting business, and it's a good feeling, it really is. But what will really be good and golden is when our family comes together effortlessly again, falling back into conversation patterns, easy jokes. I'll feel less small, and less like I'm carrying alone the sweet burden of our little world.