The Weight.

Usually, when people ask ‘how are you?’, the answer comes pretty naturally – ‘oh I’m fine, thanks, how are you?’. Because whether you’re happy, sad, tired, hungry, worried or stressed, ‘fine’ implies that you’re coping. You might be vaguely homicidal, but you’re handling it. And usually, when I say I’m fine, it’s because I am. But sometimes, when I hear ‘how are you?’, my mind goes blank because sometimes, I am not fine.

I would like to preface the rest of this with three points:

1. I do my very best not to complain about single motherhood (to most people anyway. Some probably wish I’d shut the fuck up). I try not to mention that I am tired all the time. That I cannot pee in peace, or finish a meal without interruption, that there are tantrums in my household almost daily. And not always from the two year old. I try not to mention the times that I have been told no one will date a single mother, and the times that, against my better judgement, I have believed that (my better judgement is pretty solid though, and always comes raging back soon enough to remind me that I don’t actually give a fuck – even if it is true). I try not to mention how lonely and isolated I sometimes feel. I try not to mention the desperate, all-encompassing, constant anxiety I feel about raising a daughter in this world. By myself. And I try really hard not to mention that sometimes, I feel like I am doing a shitty job.

2. I know that I am lucky. I know that some people would kill to have children, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened for them. I know that I am lucky my daughter is here, and that she is healthy. I am lucky that we have a place to live, food to eat, people who love us, and time to spend together. I know it could be worse. I know I don’t have a monopoly on the parenthood struggle, but that perspective is not always easy to keep.

3. I love my child. With everything that I have, and everything that I am. I love her so much that the thought of not being able to keep her safe and protected forever makes me feel physically sick.

All that being said, I don’t know many single mothers. I know even fewer who have small children. And I know even fewer than that (if any) who don’t ever have the respite of another parent taking their child for a week, or a weekend, or even a day. So I don’t know who to say this stuff to. That is not to say my child and I don’t have time apart, we do. I go to work, and she is not there. Sometimes I will have a night out, or a weekend away, and she is not there. But even when she is not there, I feel the weight of responsibility – is she behaving? Will she sleep OK? Is she actually just a nuisance? – I feel this deeply and acutely, no matter where I am, no matter who I’m with (or who she’s with, for that matter), and no matter how many vodka sodas I’ve had. I am it for my daughter. And sometimes that is too fucking much.

People say to me, quite often, that they don’t know how I do it. The short answer is ‘because I have to’. The longer, more complicated answer is ‘I don’t know either. Because sometimes, I don’t think I am doing it. I feel like I am failing. Failing myself as a woman, and failing my daughter as a mother. Sometimes I wonder how I will make it through the day without imploding with unexpressed anxiety, self-doubt, rage and fear. Sometimes I feel like a fraud because, like I mentioned above, what do I really have to be down about?’. I know people mean well, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes I really don’t know how I do it either.

Sometimes though, I am surprised by some external reminder of how it is only inside my head that I feel these things; that maybe, despite feeling exhausted and overlooked and useless and anxious, that is not what comes through. A friend whose opinion I respect a lot told me recently that he likes the way I’m raising my kid. That I’m killing it (the raising part, not the actual child). Being a parent isn’t often about external validation, but sometimes it is nice to hear. And sometimes, when it might feel like you’re drowning under the weight of it all, it’s a very welcome lifeline.

Anyway. Enough about me. How are you?


I am way ahead of you…

At the end of a very brief romance approximately a year ago, I was told ‘yeah, I didn’t really wanna deal with a kid’. On a date once, I was told ‘at least you have a pretty face’ – the very obvious implication being that that was all I have. I was reintroduced to a friend of a friend recently, who told me he remembered my ‘big bum’. While speaking to a friend at a bar once, his friend sent him a text asking why he was ‘talking to such a fat cow’. I had someone tell me recently that he laughed at my writing ‘mostly for how bad it was’. I’ve been told several times that ‘guys only talk to you because you have big boobs’.

I honestly do not know what the point of being such an asshole is. Because, the thing is, there is nothing on that list that I haven’t already thought about myself. Sometimes I don’t want to leave the house because I worry I look like a fat cow with a big bum. I wonder all the time whether my daughter and I will be a team of two forever (though we all know three’s a crowd, so I reckon that’d be alright). I have had boobs since I was 12 years old (pretty old for a cow), and I’ve always had a fear that they’re the only reason people are talking to me. Every time I write something I am filled with crippling self doubt, because I know so many wonderfully talented people, and I wonder ‘why would anything I say be worth their time?’. The joke is on the guy who told me I had a pretty face though, because most days I don’t even have that.

For most of us, it is a hard enough battle to be kind to ourselves without having to fend off insults from others. I have never given anyone permission to speak to me like that, so why have I given it to myself?

Unless someone is the kind of raging douchebag who talks about ‘grabbing women by the pussy’, there is absolutely no point in slinging shit at them, because most people are their own worst enemies and their own biggest critics. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t tell someone they look tired, because whether they are or not, you telling them that will make them tired. Of your bullshit. Don’t be the person who makes someone’s day worse, when maybe it’s taken them all the courage they have to get out of bed. Being a dick doesn’t serve anyone. I’ve never felt good after saying something nasty about someone, and I’ve definitely never felt good after saying something nasty about myself. So let’s stop fucking doing it. OK?

And just by the way, (forgive me for breaking our newly made promise so soon), someone who does talk about ‘grabbing women by the pussy’ shouldn’t be in charge of a knife and fork, let alone an entire fucking country.

To the ones who broke our hearts,

There are some things we would like to know, some of them big things, like ‘why wasn’t I enough?’ and ‘of all the lies you told me, why couldn’t you have left “I love you” out of it?’ and some small things, like ‘how long before I can delete you on Facebook?’ and ‘what the fuck is the Netflix password?!’

But we would also like you to know some big things, like ‘people told me not to trust you’ and ‘I wish you happiness (eventually – if, in the meantime, you have an embarrassing sexual experience, or your winning lotto ticket goes through the wash, I would be OK with that)’, and some small things, like ‘you’re lucky I didn’t punch you in the face when you snored’ and ‘I really enjoyed looking through Becky’s ‘Bali 2011′ photos too, and especially liked all the heart eyes emojis you left’. We will miss some things, like the Sunday ice creams and the spontaneous road trips, but not others, like the road rage, or the fact that you still think American Pie is the funniest movie you’ve ever seen. Even after we watched Shaun of the Dead together.

Mostly though, to the ones who broke our hearts, we would like to say this: we will be OK. We’ll be better. We’ll be enough. Not thanks to you, but in spite of you. And we don’t even need the fucking Netflix password because it’s on auto login anyway. 

Best to wear baggy pants. Just in case.

In the Handbook of Life (if it existed) (if it does and no one’s told me this whole time then I cannot be blamed for not having my shit together) (I can), I imagine there is a chapter dedicated to “Moments When You Will Feel Like All The Air Has Been Sucked Out Of You And You Don’t Know When You’ll Be Able To Breathe Again” (a cumbersome title, but hey, I didn’t write the book). In that chapter are no doubt a mixture of happy moments, like seeing your child for the first time (unless, like me, you were flying high on post-surgery drugs), or having the person you love propose to you (obviously hypothetical, but I’ve heard good things), and very awful moments, like goodbyes that might mean forever.

Not to make light of any of those very serious scenarios, but there is one moment that will blindside you every single time it hits you, and it is best illustrated with a quote from the cinematic masterpiece of our time: Mean Girls. Sometimes, you will feel as though your “stomach is going to fall out [your] butt”. I’m talking about the moment you have, for the first time since a breakup, any indication that your ex has moved on. Whether it comes in the form of a passing comment from a mutual friend, a loved up Instagram post, or (fucking hell) an actual real life encounter, and regardless of whether or not you harbour any residual feelings, there is a brief moment where you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or throw up. Now, don’t get me wrong, this has only happened to me a couple of times in my life; I don’t have palpitations if I see someone I went on a few dates with out with someone else, I’m not a maniac. However, on the rare occasion it does happen, I don’t see it coming, and I have to check that my stomach is still where it should be.

I don’t know where this reaction comes from, and why it’s reserved for certain people and not others. Maybe it’s innate anxiety about being confronted with someone who is all the things I couldn’t be. Maybe it’s just a pathological hatred of small talk, made worse by intrusive thoughts like ‘I’ve seen you naked’, and ‘You like your own Facebook statuses’. Whatever it is, it’s fleeting, and it serves its purpose because sometimes, you know, you need a really good reason to quote Mean Girls.

It’s been done before. Sue me.

A letter to my child. When she is old enough to read. And swear.

Hey babe. I’m your mum. I’m not sure who let that happen, and I’m not sure about your feelings on the matter, but I’m pretty happy about it. I will apologise for that haircut you had when you were nine though – who knew a ten dollar ‘do would be such a bad idea?

Now, I don’t know what the world will look like when you are as old as I am now. Actually, there is a lot I don’t know. Like why people put dogs in their handbags. Or how America’s Funniest Home Videos is still on air. However, there are some things that I do know, and in case I haven’t told you them by now (and since my memory is already shockingly selective) I’m writing them down for you. On the Internet. Obviously.

Firstly: Someone will break your heart. It doesn’t make them evil, and it doesn’t make you stupid, but you’re allowed to think both of those things. For a little while. If the same person breaks your heart again though, well shit girl, you might be a little bit stupid…

You might also break someone else’s heart. That also feels shitty. Forgive yourself. Eventually.

Please be kind. Sometimes it’s really easy to be an asshole. I know, because I’ve been one. A huge, gaping one. Sometimes being kind is hard, but so is learning to walk, and I’m sure you’ve got the hang of that by now.

If you don’t know the difference between your and you’re by now, there is a chance you may not actually be my kid. And if I ever see you write defiantly where you mean definitely, well, I’m sure it won’t be too late to adopt you out.

There are two things I hope I’ve taught you to say. The first is I’m sorry. Sometimes it won’t be enough, sometimes it will. Sometimes you won’t realise how much you needed to say it, or how much the other person needed to hear it. Say it and mean it, even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard. The second thing I hope you know how to say is I love you. Some people will try to tell you it’s overused. Fuck. That. If you feel it, say it. Be vulnerable, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that’s weak.

Sometimes the only thing to do is to dance around your house in your underwear. It’s cheaper than therapy, and if you forget to close the curtains it makes the neighbours laugh. Or have you committed, I don’t know what your neighbourhood is like.

The last thing I want you to know is this: Sometimes the world is a really ugly place. Usually it’s hard to understand why. Often it will make you feel sad, or angry, or defeated, or afraid. Please don’t let it make you bitter. Let it make you compassionate and brave, and let it remind you that we are all connected. Don’t take the ugliness into your own heart, or you will miss the things that are beautiful.

You’re alright kiddo. As far as sidekicks go, I’m glad I’ve got you. I love you.

It’s not contagious. 

Recently I attended a party for some dear friends leaving New Zealand. It was a great night: too much food, too much alcohol, an awesome band, bunk beds, a trampoline, and some spectacular dance moves. However. I had to navigate a bizarre conversation with someone I can only describe as a dickhead. After chatting to this person for a while, he asked me the question I dread since having a child: “So, what do you do?”.

Now, I am under no illusions that anyone actually wants to hear what a stay-at-home mother does all day (you will never catch me spouting shit like ‘shaping a young mind’ or ‘most important job in the world’. Fuck, I’m lucky if this kid can stop eating paper and bits of fluff for long enough so I can give her an actual meal), but if you ask, be prepared to feign interest. If I’ve listened to you wank on about insurance for ten minutes, you can at least pretend to care, for just a moment, about the small person who grew in my body. Don’t let this be you:

Him: “So, what do you do?”

Me: “Ah I recently had a baby, so at the moment I stay home to look after her.”

Him (whilst I watch his brain short-circuit): “Oh wow. Ok. Do you have a picture of her?”

Me: “Yeah, here she is.”

Him (clearly struggling with this interaction now): “Oh she’s really cute…”

Me (rejoining the conversation of the people around us to save him from the awkwardness he obviously feels): “Yeah she’s pretty cool.”

Him (after a silence of approximately ten seconds): “Ok. Um. Well, I have no idea what to say now.”

He then made the quickest exit I’ve ever witnessed. And avoided me for the rest of the evening. And by avoided me, I mean couldn’t even look at me. Did I accidentally blurt out to him that if he spoke to me for any longer it meant he’d agreed to be my kid’s new dad? Are a few sentences about a person I spend close to 100% of my time with too many? Did he have so little experience speaking to people with children that he thought they did nothing else, and could speak about nothing else? Quick answers: no, no, and it fucking looks that way.

For anyone wondering, I deliberately try not to talk extensively about my child, for the exact reason that I know a lot of people can’t relate, or just don’t care. And that’s fine. But let’s just remember that most people don’t want to be defined by what they do. I also, among other things, graduated from university, lived overseas, make the perfect cheesecake, can fit my whole fist in my mouth, and once got banned from a hostel in Austria. And none of that is information I’d offer up if all I was asked is ‘what do you do?’.

I’m sure our friend is much more than just a guy who works in insurance. For a start he also has no tact and is terrified of babies. 

Single and ready to…do whatever the hell I want OK?

As a single woman, I find people are often willing to provide me with unsolicited advice or encouragement about how to get out of this sad state of being ‘without a man’ that I find myself in. In case there was any confusion about how well-received this advice is, I would like to offer my own words in return – on behalf of women everywhere who define themselves with so many more interesting and meaningful words than ‘single’.

– I do not need to stop looking because that’s when love will stumble onto my doorstep. I am not looking now, and it’s not because I’m hoping it means Mr Right (URGH) will show up. It’s because my life is not defined by whether or not I have a significant other. I am significant. On my own. 

– I do not need to ‘go to places men go’ in order to increase my chances of meeting one I might like. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many places I’m likely to find men and not women. Except maybe 50% of public toilets, and prostate exam rooms. Hanging around places like that will more likely find me an arrest than a date. 

– I don’t need to ‘go out with him just once’ because I might like him. I don’t need to put myself through an hour of awkward questions because the payoff could be something so much greater – a boyfriend. I don’t have to endure a blind date just because I should be grateful for the chance to not be alone. I’d prefer if I met someone through something that was actually enjoyable, rather than an experience that makes me want to stab forks in my hands. 

– Don’t tell me that my humour/intelligence/independence/beehive hairdo is intimidating. If that’s true, fuck whoever is intimidated. I shouldn’t be made to feel like somehow that makes me flawed. The kind of people, not just male, that I want to meet are not intimidated by humour/intelligence/independence/fabulously coiffed women anyway.

– I am not ‘without’ because I am single. My life is not lacking, or empty, or lonely, or less meaningful because I live it as one, not as half of two. Being single is seen as being a transitive state, i.e., no one is single forever, just in between relationships. But whether or not I remain in this ‘transitive’ state is not important to me, and if my relationship with myself turns out to be my longest one, then I am not to be pitied for that.

Don’t mistake any of this as scorn or dismissal or hatred towards people in relationships. I know so many people in happy relationships, and I love them. I will go to engagement parties and weddings until my shoes wear out, but when I show up alone, pour me a drink instead of throwing me a pity party.