It Takes a Village

by Teresa Johnson-Noe

Being a single mother has had its challenges. Beyond a doubt…challenges.  

Most single moms have a support system of parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents…etc. 

My journey has been much different than typical.

Let’s chat, shall we?

I could crack jokes and poke fun at my life all day long. I could get my point across in spades using my trademarked quirky or off-beat brand of  humor, but instead today…I choose a more serious tone.

Ok, ok…I will probably crack a few here and there…but don’t plan on splitting your sides today.

My life since having my son-fourteen LOOOONG years ago has been so full of “getting my mama on” I can barely hide that particular side of my psyche any longer. My nickname speaks for itself. In case you are new to my ramblings…my nickname is Mama T. Coined as a joke in my wilder band-groupie days, and now takes a more permanent and serious tone. I stay true to it. 

I like it. 

It suits me. 

Although, there was a day back when…when I did not believe for a hot second that it would ever suit me. Thus…my topic.

Single motherhood. It takes a village. A small but charming village of one.

Mama…mom…mother…mommy…etc…

It’s all relative.

I have learned a great deal while stumbling through this life of motherhood. 

I’ll take you back.

When my mom passed away, I assumed that I was never having children. And when I say assume…I mean, I never wanted one. I never planned for one, and, well… I vehemently refused to be a mother. I was selfish, admittedly. I was irresponsible (semi-admittedly). I refused to bring a baby into this sometimes horrible world. I refused to become a number. I was having NONE of it.

I spoke too soon.

After a long term relationship with a drugging, alcoholic, unemployed, wanna-be rockstar loser.  In the search for “normalcy” I hooked up with a church-going, seemingly polite younger guy.

And then...church going guy- knocked me up. Thrillsville.

Define irony, right?

What I considered normal was soon brutally rebuffed by a family accompaniment of certified bible beating lunatics.

This, my friends is a story for another time…simply because just an excerpt to this essay doesn't do it justice. And, the comedy points are way too over and above for this story, as I deigned to be at least a little serious today.

Needless to say…I had screwed the pooch on this deal. I was pregnant- and had no intention of coupling permanently with "baby daddy" 

I just didn't love him. I barely liked him, honestly. He was, for lack of a better term...rebound guy-and that was all he was. We were better off as friends, and still are to this day. 

So, long story (sorta short)...

Single parenthood here I come.

The most interesting problem I had was that of the fact that I had no support system. None.

My father was elderly, my mother had passed and my older brother was not happy about my choice. (This is a nice way of saying pissed off and unwilling to assist in anyway claiming that termination was the only answer for me.) My irresponsibility factor had bemused him far too many times up to my 30th year on the planet to this point and he was unconvinced of my abilities. He wasn't all wrong-

Hell, I was unconvinced.

But, I was having a baby…like it or not.

Being pro-choice is a huge mark of my personality as most of you can remember. But being pro-choice is also not the choice for me. That’s why it’s called A CHOICE, after all.

Anyway…I was having a baby. At 30. 

Single. 

Alone.

This was the challenge beyond challenges. The primer of my life.

I learned quickly on that being strong was the only option. Learning to roll with the knock-out punches was going to be the theme for the rest of my life. Pregnancy sucks. (and literally almost killed me) Babies are demanding and evil little time and attention thieves, and life, as I knew it,  was turning upside down.

Bottles, formula, green gooey baby food and the remnants of that same thing in piles of diapers in the hamper, an apartment that smelled of vomit, urine and B.O. 

Showering? A thing of the past. 

Sleep? HA! I laugh in the face of you rested people! 

I am super smelly mom and I am rocking this years line of burp cloths! 

A trip to the grocery takes two hours of preparation: 

The check list…diapers-check, burp cloths-check, full bottle-check, wipes-check, toys-check. And off I go…carrier and all. My 7-pound pork chop sleeping soundly.

I forgot the fucking binky! Damnit, damnit, damnit!

Sleeping baby is now wailing at the top of his lungs in the middle of the market and I stink and am yawning and shaking a rattle at him with as much vigor as I can manage.  He wants that damn binky. I am officially screwed. Fuck the groceries…I don’t need to eat. I’ll try to see the sunlight again again tomorrow.

As soon as I have him buckled in…my 7 pound slab of meat is now sound asleep again. 

In a smelly diaper. 

And I am behind the wheel of my beater truck crying my eyes out.

I am alone.

Three years later I have settled into life as a single parent. Now, despite my earlier insistence, I am a number, a statistic. WIC assistance pays for essentials. Food stamps pay for Gerber Graduates, and my meager waitress salary doesn't pay the bills. Payday loans get me into trouble, my credit is in the toilet,  and my apartment is teeming with cockroaches.. 

This is no way to live.

But the boy? He knows nothing. He is happy, well adjusted, thriving. Playing with the lego set I bought from Goodwill and watching Barney on video cassette. I couldn't afford cable…so we watched tapes. The boy was happy. I wasn't.

I just couldn't see beyond the loneliness.

Yeah, the loneliness. 

It was palpable.

I sometimes could swing a sitter and go out with friends. It always made me feel even more lonely. My single, childless friends weren't on a time frame. 

My single childless friends could take home a random guy and have no regrets. 

My single childless friends could party all night and sleep through the hangover the next day. 

I, however,  had a bubbly 3 year old to get back to. A 3 year old who rises at the butt-crack of dawn and insists on Tinky-Winky and Cheerios. Never-mind any form of intimacy or semblance of a social life or even or going on one date. 

It just wasn't in the cards for me.

When I finally did start dating…the package deal was far less appealing to each suitor than I had imagined. And there were the ones who did like the boy, but were looking to the future to have more children. Um, can you say…NO FUCKING WAY?

I was struggling with the one I had. AND I was 33 years old for crying out loud!

I was working part-time and back in school…determined. Social life be damned.

I was alone.

In 2008 I finally graduated from college. It set a great example for the boy and life seemed to be moving forward. I was off public assistance, I had a great job in my field, I finally had a house and- not a roach motel apartment- and some small sort of a social life. Nothing serious, but the loneliness was getting better. That, or I was just becoming used to it. I couldn't say, really. 

At the age of 8- non-existent (up to this point) baby daddy decides-now that he is married and has bought a house that he cannot even closely afford…that he wants to take sole-custody of the boy. I had never denied him visitation (and most of the time he had been living in Chicago with his then girlfriend-now wife and didn't want visitation…even when I offered.) 

The boy was happily involved in baseball, football, and cub scouts. His grades were average. He was still the same happy, thriving little boy…who loved his mom ruthlessly. He regarded his father only as the part-time guy. He never bonded with him fully due to his lack of effort. I never pushed the boy in either direction. In fact…my mantra had become:

“I know that you are upset with your dad for not coming to your 

baseball…

football…

choir concert…

pinewood derby…

etc…

but you should know that he loves you and will always be your dad.”

At 8 years old…even then…eye rolling always followed this statement. He didn't believe it, and really…even though it was my mantra…neither did I, for the most part.  But, no one was going to accuse me of poisoning the well on that piece of property.

The custody battle went on for almost 2 years…and all of the bitching and moaning I did in the years prior about having this weight of my baby…

being tied to my baby…

being anchored to my baby... 

and being ALONE changed.

Perspective…it’s a strange thing.

I wasn't chained to anything…only myself. This child…this boy…this pork chop…this bright shining light in my life I had taken wildly for granted. Being faced with losing him turned my life upside down again, but in the worst way possible. 

I was spinning. 

I didn't sleep.

I lost a good deal of weight from nerves and not eating.

My nails were bloody and picked at. 

My hair even began to fall out. 

My cigarette habit had upped it’s count to two packs a day. 

I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

The thought of losing the one man in my life who I could always depend on…for a hug, a smile, a kiss, and hair stroking “why are you crying mommy?” Was being threatened.

I had stupidly taken the best thing I had ever done in my life and made it into a burden, a life stopper, a complaint.

I was never alone. I had my boy.

The same boy who brought me cold chicken noodle soup when I was sick (congealed, slimy and uncooked as he wasn't allowed to use the microwave.)

The same boy who hit his first home run ever and ran directly from home plate directly to the bleachers and straight into my arms.

The same boy who cried like the dickens when he had to start preschool for fear of leaving me alone.

The same boy who hand crafted a card for every single birthday I have ever had…with no reminders.

And the same boy who told the attorney-with passion and sincerity…that he would never leave his mom…or never want to. And that I am the best mom in the world-with no prompting.

The same boy…without him…my world just doesn't exist, or turn, or make any damn sense.

I was never alone.

Not one day.

They say it takes a village to raise a child? I am that village…and I wouldn't take it back for one second.

The struggle was worth every single lost shower, every single wasted trip to the store, every fucking single missed date.

I am that village.

He saved my life…and he will never know it.

I never knew it then. 

I do now.

Now, as my life has changed and I am finally married to a man who loves this boy as much as I do and aspires to be the missing piece of my puzzle. I have had to explain to him that my puzzle was already solved…and he is the artist who stands and admires it with us.

My family.

My boy, my beautiful step daughter, my new and precious granddaughter, myself and my husband.

I was already complete…and now, I have bonuses.

Fourteen years old and becoming a man in front of our eyes. Still that same happy, loving boy of his toddler days.

Still makes me happy and joyful every day of my life…even when he does talk back.

I am so damn lucky.

Hindsight is that I would have known it earlier.

Life lessons on how to become a village, I guess.

I was only a grain of sand…I was growing.

Last thought-

The trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are experienced, you are unemployed.~ Anonymous

I am taking NOTHING for granted.