The Arithmetic of Single Mothers

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Artwork by Emily Clancy, used with permission from the artist.

Eighteen clementines on the counter, too many for a small family. Packed into lunches, they knock against the thermos of chocolate milk, become bruised. Eighteen days until Spring Break, each day marked off on the calendar, she needs to find a babysitter. Eighteen years to get this right.

Two days to every weekend, lawn mowing, grocery shopping, fixing the broken gutter. Two laundry baskets filled with clean clothing needing to be folded, socks, pants. Two years old when he started to love dance, ballet, tutus. Two boys who teased him until he stopped. Two superiors at two different jobs massaging her shoulders, kissing her cheek, why can’t you take a joke? Two hours between getting off work and bedtime, homework, dinner on the stove. Two college degrees, two jobs. Two bandaids, both knees. Two cats curled up on the foot of the bed, purring.

Five dollars for ice cream at the end of the bike ride, he’s making rocket sounds as he goes down the hills. Five missed violin concerts, awards ceremonies, invite-your-parents-for-lunch days because she was working. Five weeks total without electricity, moving money around from credit cards to checking accounts to cover bills. Five days saved up for a vacation, backroads to Alabama, camping on the Nantahala along the way. Five shooting stars. Five items packed into a lunch, fruit, vegetable, sandwich, milk, a treat.

One hundred and thirty-six miles to Grandma’s. Five hundred and seventy-nine miles to his father’s. Thirty-seven miles to work. Eighty-seven point two miles to the best place to go hiking, the trail with the two waterfalls, where a Great Horned owl flies sometimes even in the day.

Seventeen thousand eight hundred and forty dollars in legal fees until the judge said no more, leave her alone.

Forty-one thousand two hundred and thirty-two dollars for childcare while she worked.

Eighty cents to a man’s dollar.

Seven hundred dollars saved away, the start to a college fund, astronaut, engineer.

Seven sick days to be divided between her and her son, multivitamins, cough drops, hot baths, echinacea. Seven types of tomatoes in the garden, cherry, pear, Roma, beefsteak, early girl, moneymaker, Cherokee purple. Seven minutes late to the bus stop, hurry, hurry, grab your cello, get in the car. Seven emails returned before leaving for work.

One house, potted plants, rocking chairs. One income, mow lawns for extra cash. One man who said his friends said he should date single moms because they’ll never say no, but he tells her this like he’s trying it on for size. One man who suggested she find time to exercise more. One man who said she didn’t make enough time for him. One time too many, she doesn’t date anymore.

One hour in the car commuting, radio on, singing loudly, only the interstate listening. One friend who sends her son gifts when he does well in school. One crockpot bubbling with black beans put on this morning, their earthy smell filling the house when she gets home. One pair of favorite pajamas.

One chance.

Twelve months to a year, dog-eared day planners, karate tournaments, work events, a project on Mount Everest, tri-fold poster board. Twelve weeks of summer, borrowing money for day camps, promises of camping. Twelve birthday parties, pinatas, science experiments, treasure hunts, candles on a cake frosted too soon, caving in. Twelve lines on the kitchen door frame, each with a date, now only four inches away from the line that says Mama.

Written by

Mother. Southerner. Storyteller. Bread and Roses. #race #class #poverty #gender #equity #children #egalitarianorganizing #bottomupstorytelling *views my own*

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