THE BLOG
05/02/2016 02:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Authentic Parenting in the Madness of Single Motherhood

My alarm rang at 5:30 in the morning to begin the daily grind, and the very first thought that bounced through my head was I'm so thankful it's Friday. My son barged in the bathroom soon after I got out of the shower and asked if he could go downstairs to watch television while I got dressed. I made coffee and took the dog out, and then soon enough his sister came down the stairs in her underwear. She claimed she was hot in the middle of the night and took off her nightgown to throw it on the floor.

So there we were: tired mom with coffee in hand, kindergartener watching Minecraft tutorials, and almost-naked preschooler piled on the couch before sunrise. She picked It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from the shelf - of all things - and asked me to read it. A Halloween book in April at 6:20am wearing nothing but underwear. It's how we roll these days.

When you grow older and look back on your own childhood, the smallest details can bring nostalgia - the particular plates you ate dinner from every night, the music you listened to on a certain road trip one summer, the curtains that hung in a kitchen window for years, or that singular dish your mom would make in a way that only she can.

I wonder sometimes about the bizarre list of things my kids will one day remember about our daily lives together: the loud hum of the wheat grinder because it's how I insist we make Saturday waffles, my books scattered everywhere and stacked on every surface, the board games we always spill out in the same spot on the foyer rug, the lettuce pots we pick from on the patio in the spring, the lakeside spot we visit in the summer. Pieces of our daily lives are being filed away in their minds to someday tumble out in the form of nostalgia.

It's one of the scariest things about parenthood, a concept you can't dwell on too heavily. The notion that they are always mirrors, always sponges. Reflecting and absorbing.

Truthfully, this house feels like Crazytown more often than not. I cling to routines because they give me something to hold onto. But in between the daily milestones and markers on the clock and calendar, we walk a path that closely borders chaos.

Sometimes I would give my right arm for some help in this house. I crave the comfort and certainty of having a partner to discuss parenthood with, and more than that, a partner to lend a hand when bath time and dinner time and clean up and homework are all happening at the same time. Single parenthood is no joke - especially for the primary custodial parent doing the daily work required to get everyone where they need to be.

But sometimes I feel so clearly that this is a unique season. Even if I stay single forever, this is our only time that he will be 6 and she will be 4 and I will be exactly where I am in my own life and it is just the three of us. Always, just the three of us. I'm grateful for this time and the memories it's giving us.

We do what we want when we want in this house. We dance to James Brown in the kitchen while dinner cooks. We stay in pajamas on Saturdays until any hour we see fit. We laugh a lot. The fridge is cluttered with paintings and projects. We'll eat waffles for dinner, and no one is watching to tell me otherwise. We have inside jokes and made-up songs and silly quirks that only the three of us understand. This house is sometimes crazy, but it's never boring. We breathe deeply and love hard. We mess up and talk about it.

We had something to do almost every night last week as springtime school activities are in full swing. I pushed aside the usual dinner plans one night for an impulsive stop at a Chinese restaurant the kids love. It is greasy. And predictable. And mediocre at best. But it felt like a treat as I pulled in the parking lot unplanned on a school night and the kids fumbled out of the car and ran in to look at the fish tank while we waited on a booth. We indulged in whatever made us happy in that moment. It felt good.

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We were reading descriptions of all the Chinese zodiac signs that were printed on the place mat and assigning them to each other based on birth years. And my son said of one of the descriptions (The rabbit, maybe? Now I've forgotten.) You are that one, mom. It says shy and a peacemaker and you are those things. It's surprising that he sees these things in me. I am not shy with them as I have to be the voice asking questions and moving and advocating for them, but he's right in a sense. I'm an introvert at heart, and I hate conflict. When life's demands calm down and I can breathe a minute, I am exactly as he sees me.

I worry that they will only ever remember me as the frantic orchestra director, the air traffic controller, the drill sergeant, the one giving orders to everyone else to keep all the balls in the air in our crazy juggling act. But kids see your true nature. Even when you have to push it aside to tend to all the fires that await you as a parent, they can see it shining through a bit.

It's tiring. And one day, I hope to arrive back on a sure footing with less worry and uncertainty and perfectly balanced meals on the table every night and a house that stays clean more than chaotic. But maybe that never happens until they leave home, and I'm starting to accept that with gratitude. I'm just going to trust that they can sometimes see the real me through the madness.

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A variation of this post originally appeared on Katie's blog, Mama the Reader. Follow along there or on Facebook as she explores life as a writer, a reader, and a single mom.