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by: Laurie Mega

We at FamilyEducation strive to educate and support moms and dads, and to recognize the truly extraordinary parents who have overcome adversity and achieved amazing things for themselves and their children. In this installment, our first, we meet Melissa, a single mom who recently retired from a Massachusetts police force.

Melissa spent 17 years living in what she describes as a man’s world. She was a police sergeant in a city historically known for its problems with drugs and crime. She was the first woman promoted out of patrol on her force in 20 years, and was first in her class at the police academy.

She's also a single mom of a five-year-old boy. And while she she readily admits that her job as a sergeant -- a job she has now retired from because of injuries received in the line of duty -- being a mom has helped soften her.

Melissa the Cop

Until recently, Melissa's days went something like this:

Melissa worked second shift as a patrol supervisor. That means her work day started at 5pm, when most people are heading home. She oversaw anywhere from 15 to 25 officers, and patrolled alongside them until 1am. Then she headed back to the station to fill out paperwork and wait for her officers to return.

"Those moments of sheer terror are few and far between. But they happen and they're unpredictable."

“I didn’t get to go home until all my guys were in and all the paperwork was done,” she says. She uses the word guys because that was mainly the makeup of her team. On any given night, were one or two women patrolling, including herself.

Most nights included calls for what Melissa says was run-of-the-mill stuff: domestic calls, drugs, property theft. The real challenge of the job, she says, was the waiting -- not knowing when the call that could change, or even end, her life might come in.

“Those moments of sheer terror are few and far between,” she comments, “but they happen and they’re unpredictable.”

Nevertheless, she was the first one to throw a punch and the first one down the basement steps on a call, because, as she says “I knew everyone was watching.”

By about 2am, she returned home. She caught three hours of sleep before her son crawled into bed with her. Then her day began all over again.

She got her son ready for school, then came home to clean the house and run errands. When her son returned from school, her parents took over and she headed back to work.

“I’d be lost without my parents, the real superheroes,” she says humbly. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Raising a Son

When she isn't at work, she says, she is always with her son, and she’s very demanding of herself when it comes to parenting. Her son sees his dad three times a month, which means that Melissa is the sole caretaker and rule-maker. “I am the parent in his world.”

"I was Rocky Balboa at work, but Martha Stewart and June Clever at home."

She’s a little more than three years out of her marriage, and she knows that the combination of her job and her divorce has hardened her.

Her saving grace? Her five-year-old son.

“I was Rocky Balboa at work, but Martha Stewart and June Cleaver at home,” she jokes.

In fact, she credits her son for softening her.

“He has a tenderness about him. A soft spot for those who are younger than him. He tries to be that kid that is helpful and kind. He has a soft heart,” she says. The pride in her voice is unmistakable, but she quickly lightens the mood with a joke. “He’s bold with me, though!”

The Teacher and the Bad Guy

"It's not the possessions. It's getting dirty out in the yard. It grows your soul."

The greatest challenge for Melissa is a recent phenomenon and one she’s not familiar with in her line of work: being the bad guy. Where the grandparents and father get to be more lenient, Melissa must be strict. “I’ve seen what happens when kids aren’t raised right,” she says with a sad wisdom in her tone.

And while she teaches her son important lessons every day, she says he has become her teacher, too.

“He's had a knack his whole life of showing me what’s important and changed my priorities in a way that I can’t explain. I hope to instill that in him. It’s not the possessions. It’s getting dirty out in the yard. That grows your soul. I hope to instill that back in him because that is what he has given me.”

The Next Chapter

Now, Melissa has retired. Street fights -- a part of her job -- have caused her to have four reconstructive surgeries on her shoulder. But, that doesn't mean she'll slow down too much.

"I'm not built not to work"

“I’m not built not to work,” she says. Though she won’t return to full-time work, she would like to use her degree in psychology to help those who serve -- police, fire and emergency workers -- who suffer from PTSD. “I can’t imagine not being there for my brother and sister officers. If I can be there for their backup for that, what an honor that would be.”

Support and Strength

When I think about my conversation with Melissa, two words come to mind: support and strength. While Melissa has her support system, she is the support -- the strength -- for so many: her son, her fellow officers. And she continues to want to be that support.

Even on an ordinary grocery run, she wants to reach out to support others. She tells me when she sees new mothers, harried and tired, pushing their babies down the aisle, she wants to walk up to them, tell them it gets easier.

This is remarkable to me, that a woman who barely gets three hours of sleep at night wants to tell others that it gets easier.

I tell her, do it. I know, as she knows, that just a little support -- a little encouragement -- goes a long way with a mom

.For more stories plus tips and advice on being a single parent, visit our Family Life section.

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