On Friday evening, my adventures in single dad-dom came to an end, right on schedule. And that right there is one of the most humbling lessons I have learned in this little experiment of mine. I guess that is the difference between an adventure and life. No matter how hard some of the days were, I knew the end, if not quite in sight, was looming not far behind; I could tell myself to hang in there, because when this day ends, it would be one less to go.
Unfortunately, that is a luxury most single-parents don’t have. When they are sick or tired, down and under, yesterday and today, they still plow through the day knowing tomorrow life continues. It can either be paralyzing or motivating.
I know many single-parents do it and bring their kids through with shining colors. These are the unsung heroes of our society; behind-closed-door miracle makers, that demonstrate the potential of the human spirits is so much deeper than we allow ourselves to swim. I now have new found appreciation for what they do; the sacrifices they make, the tears they hide, the pains they cannot afford to limp…to fill the empty chair at the dinner table.
But knowing what I know today, single parenthood should never be a household. I suspected it before, but now I know, child rearing is a tag team affair. To do it otherwise is short-changing the children and cheating the parent.
This past month, I surprised myself with what I was capable of. Few years, indeed few months ago, I didn’t think I could spend few hours, let alone days caring for a single child and not lose my mind. But this past month, I had two, and didn’t call my wife crying. Not a single time. Even when I was sick, I didn’t. Lord knows I wanted to. But I figured, why? If I didn’t think she needed to drop everything and hop on the next plane home, why burden her with something as minor as my not feeling well. So I labored through high fever and did what I had to do. But what I realized was that raising a child is a 24 hours a day endeavor that requires every minute of a parent’s attention. You don’t realize this when you have a partner to share shifts with. By yourself, you quickly learn when their eyes are open, yours don’t blink. When they close theirs, you struggle to keep yours open through dishes (I have hardly done this many dishes in my life!), laundry (now I know why ads for used washers and dryers proudly proclaim having no children in the household), folding , sweeping, mopping, cooking…. By the time you think of doing something for yourself, it’s late at night, you better get some shut-eye because you know the little rascals will crow long before the sun. Bottom-line? You don’t have a life. Not outside your responsibilities as a parent.
With this realization and surrender, you craft your routine to your life. When you do this, when you look at home and those you share it with as the star around which all else orbit, the magic starts to unfold. You fall back from your height and realize the clouds might be full of wonders but seldom smell as sweet as the earth beneath. Big gifts come in tiny hands, and if you wring 24 hours, you get something far more. We are all humans, until a two-years old brings out the super in us.
But no matter how super a man (or woman), when it comes to the home, a man and woman is what the gods order. For good reason too. Parents need break, and kids need options and backups. Because no one person has all the right answers; even geniuses sometimes get it wrong. And when it comes to housekeeping, houses are built with four corners because it takes four hands to make a home.
However, something has puzzled me since my wife’s return. When she was gone, I took care of the kids, the house, and all that comes with those. And I did a damn good job too if I may add. Look, the house is still standing, and I never once had to dial 911. Moreover, I had at least two readings each week, writing, working overtime at work; in my side gig as a freelance web designer, I even created a website for a client. But since my wife came back, I find myself extremely short on time. I don’t have much energy, I don’t sleep enough, I don’t have time to do the dishes, laundry or to write. Even this post, something I could do in an hour or two after putting the kids to bed, I started writing a week ago. Why is that? How come I did more when I was alone, and now that I share the chores with another, I lack the strength to lift my half?
Furthermore, my experience in this adventure opened my mind to a lingering sexism in this society that perceives itself to be so far ahead of places like Africa when it comes to male female relationship. Whenever I told someone I was at home with two children all by myself, they reacted as if it was something extraordinary. They would congratulate me for “stepping to the plate” or wish me luck probably because they thought it was an undertaking only luck could pull me through. Don’t get it wrong, I appreciated all the words of encouragement I got, because hey, I too thought it was a big deal big enough for me to fail. But still I wonder, would their reaction have been the same if I was the one gone for five weeks leaving my wife to play single-parent to two children? Could it be even though domestic affairs have becomes both husband and wife affair, the woman is still expected to be more at home in this department? In which case, how far have we really come?