As a single mother of two receiving a meager teacher’s salary and little to no child support, I managed to buy a house, pay my bills on time and involve my children in extracurricular activities. I was the cook, the clean, the tutor, the chauffeur, the referee, the police officer, the monitor, the folder signer, the folder forgetter, the “SCREW THIS THURSDAY FOLDER SIGNING” yeller, the apologizer, the back rubber, the tear wiper, the bedtime lullaby singer.
Single moms tout a single mom badge. Much of the time I wore a large, scarlett scripted “SM” on the front of my breast. All the world knows I am damaged and I am damaging my children. I felt doubly damaged because my children have different fathers. After my first divorce I quickly met a man who at first glance seemed the opposite of my first husband. He was not. I was too eager to provide a family for my son and I once again neglected to heed warnings from every person in my life. I jumped headstrong into the same situation. I now have two children, no marriage, and a self-inflicted case of Damaged Goods.
At other times I wore my single mom badge with pride and honor. I bravely stepped away from abusive relationships and resolved to pick up the pieces by channeling my efforts and energies into the betterment of my children. Friends called me Wonder Woman, family called me admirable, colleagues commented on my juggling skills. I knew I was barely alive. The single mom badge doubled as a buoy keeping me afloat when I truly wanted to sink. I felt a sense of duty to the office of Single Mom. I cannot let the sisterhood down. Single moms everywhere deserve me trying a little harder.
This all sounds sappy, powerful and ready to be stamped on a Hallmark card but lately I wonder if I overused the single mom badge. Did I invest so much in my single mom status that I lost how to be a human? When this flagrant judge gave the care of my susceptible son to participants of a Jerry Spinger episode, he ungovernably ripped away my badge and replaced it with an anvil. In a millisecond I lost the obvious; my son, my son’s potential, my son’s best interest, my son understanding he is a child and not an adult participant in a coup. But the not-so-obvious loss is my pride in all the years I spent pouring blood and love into a child who would not accept me. My ex can have my money. He can have my son. He can have the primary caregiver title. What I am not ready to give him is the small fight I have left to keep my son a good human. When they ripped the badge away they failed to see the imprint branded on my chest. I will always have some influence in him and with the little time I spend with him I will continue to uphold my values and expectations as a parent.
They can keep my badge and burn it in front of my son and howl with laughter as they tell him jokes and stories of my failures. But, they cannot take the 14 years I obsessed with that child. I tried too hard to make him be what he is capable of being. That is my failure. I gave my son too much power just as I gave his father. My daughter and my husband deserve all of me. I deserve me. I am not just a mom. I am human. I am a human who feels and needs and deserves to be accepted.
I don’t need a badge to tell the world of my status. I am good enough as is. Damaged and all.