Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm just dating you because I like your family...

One of the most commonly heard things when you're a single mom trying to date is, "I don't think I could be a dad right now." When I go out on dates (few and far between), I tell my dates up front that I'm a mom. Because, to be honest, if they don't want to date a mom, I don't want to date them. It's a waste of my time. I don't hold anything against people who don't date parents; I was one of them for a while when I first decided to date again. Sometimes I still feel that way. It's hard to date a single parents because of the kids' schedules, our personal schedules, and custody agreements. My one attempt at dating a single dad didn't last long; we never got to see each other. We're still friends, but we aren't trying to force the relationship. Then there's the ex factor.

Most often, a single parent is in contact with the ex. Custody exchanges, child support, football games, dance recitals, holidays, etc. And the boyfriend or girlfriend of the single parents almost always inevitably meets the ex and after a long courtship with their significant other, may have to deal with the ex during the above mentioned occurrences. This can create stress on the relationship because the ex is always "there," whether physically or mentally, sometimes leaving the boyfriend/girlfriend feeling that they are being compared to the ex. Or that the ex is measuring them up, feeling a bit jealous of the relationship.

In some cases, like mine, this never happens. I only see my ex 4 times a year: when I take my daughter to and from the airport for visitation during the summer and for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Other than that, it's minimal phone contact. My ex lives a few states away; there's no running into him at a concert or having him for dinner for the holidays. Yet, he's still a father to our daughter. My daughter has never confused anyone else for her father. She knows who her daddy is, who her grandpa's are, and who her friends and family are. There's no denying that she knows who is who and understands those ties.

So why has every man I've gone out with a few times who isn't a single dad given me this line: "I don't think I can be a father right now."? Did I state in my personal ad or opening line at our first date that I was looking for a replacement daddy and I want to get married tomorrow? No. All I did was give you a chance at the very beginning to gracefully bow out. I don't date to find my daughter's next daddy. She already has one. I date for me. Of course, I want my significant other to love my daughter for who she is and treat her like his own child, but I don't expect him to adopt her; she's still loved and cared for by her daddy. And I don't expect my boyfriend to love my daughter immediately, just as I don't expect him to fall in love with me at first sight. Relationships take work and time, whether it's a relationship heading for marriage, or a relationship with a friend or child.

Is it too much to expect that people know what they want before they dive into a relationship? I don't mean what colors you want for your wedding or how many rooms you want in your house. I mean, can you date a single mom? Can you have a relationship with a woman and her child? Can you work to develop that relationship?

If not, tell me up front. Don't tell me weeks or months down the road that you can't date me because you can't be a dad.

I date for myself. I don't expect you to date me just because you want to be my kid's dad. Just like I'm not dating you because your mom and I get along.

Figure out what you want before you waste another person's time and efforts. It's not bad to not want to date a single parent. It is bad to string them along while you try to decide whether you want to date them or not.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Anticipation and Anxiety

Every summer my daughter visits her dad "Jake" in his home a few states away. We alternate who has her for the 4th of July; this year she was with me, leaving a few weeks later. Next year, he'll have her for the 4th as part of her visitation with him. As per our divorce and custody agreement, "Jake" has to fly here by himself, then fly with "Em" back to his house. When the visitation is over, he flies with her here, then returns alone. Until she is old enough to fly by herself (which I'm still not sure I want to do when the time comes; you never know what kind of people are on that plane), this is how it works, unless "Jake" wants to drive out here and drive back with "Em." But who wants to be driving for 18+ hours, let alone with a 4-year-old. So about 2-3 months before her visitation, I start looking at flight schedules and prices. About a month later we buy their "together" tickets; "Jake" buys his tickets for his flight with "Em" and I buy her tickets. "Jake" is then responsible for buying his own "alone" tickets. The majority of the time, "Jake" flies in the night before his "together" flight with "Em" so as to avoid any problems with delayed flights. He'll fly in, I pick him up at the airport, and he stays the night at our house. Then I drive them both to the airport the next day. Last year, we tried having "Jake" fly in the morning of their "together" flight, scheduled for early evening. What a disaster. To make a long story short, his flight was canceled, we had to change "Em's" departing airport and flight time, and she and I ended up running through the terminal (barefoot, since we'd taken our shoes off for the security portion) and I practically threw her and her belongings at "Jake" since their plane was waiting for them to board. I didn't get to say goodbye to her, and I cried the whole way home.

This year, "Jake" is flying in the day before. I still don't know which airport he's flying into, or when he arrives. For all I know, he's coming in on a flight that lands while I'm at work. He has either neglected or forgotten to share this information with me. Cuz, you know, I'm so hospitable and conforming, I'll just "work my life" around him. Whatever. Anyway, "Em" and I have things we have to do the morning and early afternoon of her flight, and I don't want to drive her around town then pick up "Jake" at my house and take them to the airport. I would rather not have "Jake" with us, as this is my last day with "Em" and it's special "Mommy/Daughter" time. So I left "Jake" a voicemail telling him that he'll need to get a hotel room for the night. I don't know if the airport he's coming into is the same as the one he and "Em" leave out of the next day. He may have to get a shuttle from his hotel to the appropriate airport. I don't know. But, even though I've put him up in our house in the past, there's nothing in our custody agreement that says I'm responsible for providing him a place to stay if he comes in the day before they fly out together. I'm not trying to be mean, and I'm sure he thinks I'm a (insert word for female dog here), but this is what happens when you don't share your plans with people and just expect them to be accommodating.

And I'm not exactly in the right mood to put up with him right now. "Jake" just finally started a job after being unemployed for almost a year. Therefore, child support payments have been few and far between. I can't legally prevent him from his visitation with "Em" until he pays me the 5 months of owed support, but it just doesn't seem fair. He chose not to work. In the beginning it was because of a pre-existing injury that was stressed by his previous job, but to not work at all while going to school one day a week seems just lazy to me. Why he couldn't get a job at McDonald's or a retail location? If you can't find the job you want, you get something to tide you over until you find it. Anyway... So he's been living off his V.A. partial-disability payments this whole time, which means he doesn't have money saved up in case of emergency. If something happens to "Em" while she's up there, he can't pay for medical services.

I'm excited that I get 5 weeks to be childless, but at the same time, I know I'll miss her. My friends ask me what I do when she's gone: party, shopping, date, vacation? My answer: sleep. For some reason, even if I get the recommended 8 hours of sleep every night, being a mom seems to sap all my energy away. So I recover for 5 weeks. Other friends, mostly parents, say "Wow, 5 weeks, that's a long time! Won't you miss her?" My answer: nope. I really will miss her, but I don't go crazy. Most "nuclear" families have a trade-off. Mom goes out with the girlfriends while Dad stays at home with the kids. Dad goes out with the guys, Mom stays at home. I don't get that. So these 5 weeks, in theory, are all of those trade-offs combined. But, my daily life changes little while she's away. When "Em" is here with me, she goes to preschool a few blocks from my work. So we get to carpool in the morning and evenings; a 20 minute drive-time versus 50+ minutes. But, when she's with her dad, I either have to fight traffic to get to work on time or convince my boss to let me do my morning work from home and get there at 10:00 after traffic has died down. But I can't get any overtime right now, so staying later at work to avoid rush-hour traffic is not feasible. I think I might start going to my gym, also a few blocks from work, until 6:30 or so. A little exercise won't kill me. But that puts me at home around 7, and by then there's no energy left to put into going out for the night. I am having a small party one Saturday while "Em" (and my folks remarkably) are gone, but the rest looks to be like my normal life, except with no child. And though 5 weeks is long for a child, it's short for me. It seems like just a few weeks ago "Em" turned 4; that was actually in April. And looking ahead, Halloween seems just around the corner; I've already turned in my request to my boss to leave early that day to avoid the mass of people trying to get home before dark. When "Em" and "Jake" take off from the airport, inside I'll sigh and say to myself, "Five whole weeks...what'll I do with myself." But before you know it, there's only a week left, and I haven't done anything different than what I'd normally do with "Em" here.

Ah, such is the life of a parent.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Welcome to me

I will admit this right off the bat: I know life is easier for me than many other single parents. But I don't want to discredit myself and say that life as a single mom is a cake-walk. My daughter and I live with my parents in the home I grew up in. I live rent-free and my parents do most of the grocery shopping. And yet I still feel the strain of bringing up my daughter without the support of a spouse. I love living with my folks, not just for monetary reasons, but because my daughter gets to spend so much time with her grandparents. She loves greeting them when they come home and covering them with hugs and kisses at bedtime. They enforce the rules that I have for my daughter and she respects them the way she does me, yet she knows that they are her grandparents and I am her mother.

My ex-husband and I are still on good speaking terms, so I won't bad-mouth him here. I will, however, post menial complaints just to vent my frustration. But to keep the peace and maintain my daughter's emotional stability, I never say a harsh word about my ex if it could come back to my daughter. For that reason, if I mention my ex, I will use the pseudonym "Jake." "Jake" lives in another state, so every summer, my daughter, "Em," visits him for 5-6 weeks. She also visits him on Thanksgiving every other year, and Christmas the alternate years. He calls her about once a month, and if she ever wants to call him, we almost always end up leaving a message on his voicemail. But more often than not, when she says "I want my daddy" or "I miss my daddy," it's because she's trying to get out of picking up her toys or brushing her teeth. I'll blog about how we deal with that another time.

I work full-time and make decent money...if I was just supporting myself. However, because in addition to car payments, insurance, gas for my car and my cell phone bill, I also have my daughter's pre-kindergarten tuition, dance lessons, swim classes and her clothes, having our own place isn't a reality. My take-home pay after taxes, 401(k), health insurance, and life insurance is enough to afford a studio apartment for my daughter and I, if only we didn't need to eat or need electricity. Such is the life of living in Orange County. When I was going through my divorce, my parents offered to let my daughter and me live with them until I could find a place of my own. Three years later, they've seen the prices of housing go up and would rather have me here with them than living in a scary part of town where I need three deadbolts. So, rather than have a place of my own, I live with my parents and save money.

I've thought about moving out of Orange County, possibly out of California. But my family is here. My church is here. It was hard enough moving out of state to be with my then-husband and his family. The only people I knew were his immediate family. When we decided that we were getting divorced, "Jake" told me to move back with my family, that he knew how much I loved and missed and needed them. My family and my church are my support system, and I don't know where I would be without them. I have a few friends across the country, but to uproot myself again would be hard, and it would be especially tough on "Em." The only life she knows is here in Orange with my parents and me. We moved back home during the divorce when she was just 16 months old; she has no memory of "Jake" and I being married and living together. This house we live in is her world, and to take her away from her family and church and friends at this age would upset her whole balance.

I've dated two men in the 3 years since my divorce, each for only a couple of months. I find it hard to date when my life revolves around "Em." I work, bring "Em" home, help get dinner ready, put "Em" to bed, then I'm just plain tired. And since I live with my folks, I do have live-in babysitters, but I try not to ask them to watch my daughter more than a couple of times a month, and when my part-time job has me out a few nights a month, it's hard to get out. And it's not like I'm the best pick in town. How would my personal ad run? "Divorced mom of one seeks single guy to be available whenever I am, but doesn't expect me to be available when he is. Must love kids that aren't his and must want to come second in priority." Yeah, not so much. I'm trying to believe that when I'm supposed to be with the right guy, I'll meet him.

Well, it's time I headed to bed. My hope is to post once a week. It might be more if I have a particularly hard day.

My fearless child, friends and I on Tower of Terror at DCA

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