Recently my husband has traveled for work, leaving me to steer the ship at home. When this happens my patience with the kids - at times - runs low. My craziness factor - most times - runs high. He doesn't travel much, maybe 3 - 4 times a year, but when he's out of town, solo parenting bears great fruits. Usually these emerge as really attractive character traits: resentment, anger, and rage (to name a few) directed at no one in particular.
Well usually it's directed at my husband when he calls to check in
me: Oh me? I'm great. Except the kids are fighting, I didn't sleep well, I can't go to the bathroom in peace, and Audrey was already in time out at 7am this morning. We're great - how are YOU?
And sometimes (always) it's directed at our kids
me: I'm the only adult here, so NO we will not swim in the deep pool. I don't CARE that you're practicing jumping in the deep end. That will wait for another time.
me: Put your clothes on. PUT your clothes on. PUT your CLOTHES on. If I say this one more time, you will NOT get to wear a dress today. It will be shorts and a t-shirt for you. Remember the last time you lost your dresses for a week? That will happen again.
me: Stop LAYING on your sister or I will come in there and remove you myself.
me: Get back in here. Now. What are you doing? Why are you playing
in the car? I asked you to retrieve water bottles and come back inside!
WHAT are you DOING? Why are you climbing into the driver's seat? What
do you mean the doors won't open?
me: 3 strikes and you're out. If you get 3 strikes, then you go straight to bed with no books and stories. You already have 1 strike from when you slapped Frankie's hand.
Audrey: (taking an inventory of her evening) I have 2 strikes.
me: You have 1, but it can be 2 if you really want.
When solo parenting, it forces me to let go of some things.
For example, who needs pants? Frances was the pants-less wonder on Thursday while I was at work. She ate breakfast in the car, spilled milk and cereal on her seat and shorts, then pooped three times. So she lived in a diaper for the morning...while at the YMCA. Just forget about the pants! And why even brush your teeth? One night Audrey threw her toothpasted toothbrush across the bathroom, landing on the floor (bleh). That's when I decided that toothbrushing would not happen for Audrey. I'm just not going to hold that standard tonight. Cavities be damned!
There were some hidden gems in the solo parenting weekend. In a quiet moment with Sean, he told me that on nights when I'm not able to sing his lullaby to him before bed, he sings it to himself. He showed me how does it. He said it helps him adjust his eyes from the light to the dark. When I'm done singing to him each night, he checks his eyes, and if they're particularly sensitive to the light, he knows that he's nearly ready for sleep. So on nights when he sings to himself, he checks his eyes at the end of his song, and if they're not ready for sleep, he knows he's forgotten a part of the song so he goes back and sings it again. This insight - born out of being the only adult to hear his musings for that day - is a gem. I realize that the window might be closing for how long he wants me to sing him to sleep.
Whenever Frances has asked for Tom while he's out of town, I've told her that "Daddy's at work." She's used to him going to work 5 days a week, so initially she bought it. But after three days straight of not seeing her father, that line didn't work anymore. She wandered around the foyer one morning looking for Daddy. She wanted to talk to Daddy on the phone. She wanted Daddy to put on her shoes. She had enough of me. She wanted Daddy. I would gladly have had her father around to change her poopy diaper, but he was nowhere in sight, and since she smelled awful, I picked her up to go find the changing table. In some twisted mom-reflex, though I knew she was poopy, I sniffed her diaper.
me: Did you poop? You stink! Frankie girl, did you poop?
But instead of her usual confirm/deny pattern, she emerged with her own jab.
Frances: No. Daddy poop. Daddy. POOP.
Now regardless of Tom being in or out of town, she answers the question the same every time.
Though I much prefer co-parenting, single parenting does have its benefits. Along with letting go of pants and toothbrushing, I often find that I let go of some things that aren't serving me. I tend to be gentler on myself and the kids (at least for the first day or two that Tom's gone), and I allow more fun. Our tradition when he leaves is to go out for donuts. While eating our donuts
Sean: Dad is missing out on all the fun!
me: He sure is. We get donuts, and Dad will be on an airplane.
Sean: Yeah. We get to have fun and Dad just has to sit at a boring conference.
Truth. We are having all the fun. It doesn't always feel like that, but when I can take a deep breath and remind myself of the pockets of fun - even with the insanity - solo parenting can be a little fun.