First thing you learn, at least the first thing I learned, about being a single mom: it’s hard, almost impossible. I signed the lease for my new apartment on my 10th wedding anniversary. Let’s just say I’m a deadline-driven kind of girl, and after years of thinking “I can be broke, and alone all by myself,” it hit me, my deadline was 10 years. I had to get out.
That was two years ago. At the time, my daughters were 4 ½ and 21-months, and PBS had just aired a documentary called “P.O.V – Waging a Living.” The film looked at four people, three of them single moms, all working full-time and none making enough to make ends meet.
How’s that for a timely glance into the crystal ball?
One by one their stories debunked the American Dream, which is work hard and you’ll get ahead. One-quarter of the adult workers in this country have dead-end jobs paying less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. That’s 30 million people.
There was the 41-year-old waitress and mother of three young kids who made $2.13 an hour and sometimes paid more than 90 percent of her nightly tips to the babysitter. Yep, right there with you, sister. My gig was working nights in the sports department of a local newspaper, but I didn’t make much. The one night a week I both had the kids and had to work, I paid their sitter a buck an hour more than my hourly wage. Figure in commute time and those shifts cost me $10.
The apartment I picked was small for the price, one bedroom, but it has plenty of green space for the kids to play, and trees to climb. And the selling point, location, was that it was smack in the middle of my three tightest girlfriends’ houses. Five blocks in either direction to two of them.
When you divorce, everyone and their Aunt Nellie tell you to go where you have the strongest support. In other words, make sure you are living in the right village, because it’s going to help you raise your kids.
My own village was in crisis, with cancer and Crone’s Disease and unemployment. We were all holding a life ring in one hand, and trying to keep someone else from going under with the other
Nobody had the time or energy to watch my kids. So I learned the second great truth of single motherhood. As much as it is impossible, it is possible.
The key to my survival was creativity. I know every store in town that has free childcare, and I’ve tested most of them.
The unanimous family favorite is Ikea. My girls play, I find the quietest spot I can to give the couches a serious quality check, and on the way out everyone gets cheap ice cream.
Thanks, Ikea. Nothing like an hour of free childcare and a cheap ice cream cone to help defray the high price of freedom. Now if you’d just add Wi-Fi.