We’re in Central Park on Mother’s Day, and my 2-year-old son Julian has disappeared. He was in the sand pit, needing to pee, and the few seconds it takes for me to find his shoes is enough for him to run off. My daughter, Chloe, 7, is zigzagging hysterically across the playground, a one-kid search party, but I beg her to stay close. I can’t lose both my children in one day.
We find Julian five minutes and 67 horrific thoughts later, next to a water fountain and a dad who is clearly wondering why he’s sans grown-up. The reason: I am a single parent—at least temporarily—and I’m in way over my head.
Last March my husband Justin got the job that would take us to his hometown, where we’d have more space and family nearby. But he had to start immediately, which meant someone needed to stay behind to wrap up our life in New York. I wasn’t a real single mom—I had a second income, emotional support and visits from my husband—but for 3 months I was solo day-to-day, outnumbered by little people.
Losing my kid was only one of the fun “firsts” we checked off during my single mom stint. There was also the first call to poison control, and first visit to the ER. I tried to think of it as a feminist adventure, but fought constant disappointment in myself for not being more patient, energetic and resourceful.
Looking back, though, I see an upside in the things I learned about my marriage, myself, and my kids. For starters, I was a mommy martyr. Pre-move, I would tell people (sorry, babe!) I was essentially on my own during the week. Not fair or even true. While Justin did often come home post-bedtime, he always happily cooked, got up with pukey kids and took care of the house, which was a huge help. Now I make an effort to notice those things.
And it became clear that in the single mom scenario, the older kid often loses. (Poor Josh Duggar, oldest of 19.) When you’re alone, parenting is triage, and the littlest the code blue. My exuberant toddler required most of my attention, which left the parenting dregs for his older sis. Poor Chloe, especially close with her dad, felt neglected, and developed a chip on her shoulder we’re still chinking away at.
But kids are resilient, and rise to the occasion. As it turned out, losing my kid was not the most memorable moment from that Mother’s Day. It was Chloe sneaking into my room to tell me to go back to sleep, somehow getting Julian out of his crib (I don’t wanna know), and serving me cereal and irregularly cut fruit in bed.
Today, handling two kids is no big whoop. Now I can take both kids out all day, and it doesn’t even feel that hard—because I know when I get home, it’s Daddy’s turn.