When you become a Single Mother by Choice (SMC), you expect to do a lot of things alone. In fact, a lot of the thinking and trying stage seems ALL about being alone. Deciding alone to go for it. Attending fertility appointments alone. Being pregnant alone. Most of us have supportive friends and family, but when we hang up the phone, log off the chat, close the door, climb between the sheets, lay in the dark, we are alone again.
Thank God I’m one of those people who think that’s a good thing. Being alone through my journey has meant I’ve been able to take it at my own pace. I’ve been happy when I wanted to be happy, grouchy when it felt right, pregnant and lazy and elated and calm. Whenever I wanted, I felt what I needed to feel, did what I needed to do, with no one to second-guess my decisions, resent my emotions or influence my thoughts.
Which is all well and good until I needed to put a leaf in my dining room table for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party. I do a lot of things alone. I made the cake alone – double layer chocolate, in a strawberry shape, with pink and green icing. Masterful. I hung the streamers from corner to corner to corner to corner alone. Blew up 23 balloons alone, bravely continuing even after balloon number eight burst in my face after one breath too many. I wasn’t quite alone when I did the fruit and cheese trays, but the presence on my hip of daughter #2, seven months old, is less helpful than you’d hope. I cleaned the house alone and wrapped birthday presents alone – no problemo. But the dining room table stymied me. To open it to insert the leaf, you have to pull from both sides of the table. Pull it from only one side and the whole table simply slides toward you. The last time I’d opened it had been for a family dinner, and said family had been there to help. This time, well, not so easy. The table is solid and stiff, with one broken leg that falls off when the table is moved so much as an inch. I tried to pry the table open with a screwdriver, but risked damaging the wood. Finally, the kids long since in bed on the night before the party, I lay on the floor under the table and put my toes in the crack in the middle of the table, with my back against the floor. I braced my hands on two of the table’s legs and pushed with my feet, slowly prying the table open like a weightlifter doing a leg press at the gym. Voila! Genius.
The party was a roaring success. Seven preschoolers decorated sugar cookies (that I’d baked ahead of time, alone) and played without conflict and sang happy birthday, and my girl was thrilled by it all – the cake and the candles, the balloons and streamers, the presents and the song. She said please and thank you and expressed only delight even when she got two books and a play-doh set that we already have. (Having requested previously loved and regifted presents only, getting doubles is guilt-free for me, too). The other parents helped hold the baby and serve the cake and clean up afterward, and it was a lovely two hours.
But the damn dining room table faced me again when everyone went home. I ignored it all day, but it was too big and the leaf needed to come out. This time it was even harder. It needed to be yanked from both sides to release the leaf, and then pushed back together, from both sides, to restore its smaller size. I waited until after the baby was in bed and the 3-year-old was safely in front of Dora before I tackled the table that night. I pried it carefully open from beneath the table (where scratches would not show) with a screwdriver and my fingernails to release the leaf, and lifted the heavy slab out. To push it back together, I moved the whole table against a wall so I’d have a brace, and muscled it slowly, smoothly, inchingly, back to its former size. Moving the broken leg inch by inch during the whole operation only added to the fun.
The funny thing is, I didn’t end up doing it alone. As I wrestled with the table, my big little girl drew away from Dora and Swiper, watchful and intrigued by mommy’s activity in the dining room. She played with balloons and talked to her dinosaurs and did the things that 3 year olds do, just at the periphery of my table project. She’s been underfoot for three years, and there is often a baby near by, and I am so used to NOT being alone anymore that I didn’t really register her presence until I pushed the table across the room and back together with a soft clunk. And before I could even stand back to bask in my small accomplishment, before I could quite register my triumph, my newly three year old, my watchful, funny, chatty little girl piped up and said “You did it, mommy!”
Where did she come from and who knew she cared? When did I go from being alone all of the time to never being alone at all? How is it I’ve now got two little companions to keep me company, to cheer me up, to cheer me on? I have no idea how I went from being an autonomous woman, a Single Mother by Choice, to being captain of this little band of people, this dream team, my threesome of girls. But I’m glad I got here. I honestly never minded being alone. And now? Now I never will be.