Recently, a reader posted a challenge to me to write about three things I did right as a mother; I honestly did not think it was going to be so difficult, however, I can think of two things fairly easily, but the third one is going to be a challenge.
As my children have fairly unique names and I would not want anybody to read this allowing it to get back to them, as they are already embarrassed by me enough, I will call them X and Y; X being 15 months older than Y.
When X and Y were around 2 and 3, I took a part-time job working two days a week for a manufacturing plant working in their company store. The plant was extremely progressive boasting an on-site daycare or I never would have taken the position since it was mostly a wash on my salary.
Both of the girls hated going to the daycare; they were used to our days together of playing in the parks, water coloring, or going to the library or free museums. I took advantage of anything free in our small community; as we lived on an incredibly tight budget.
A few months into my new work experience, the receptionist was terminated; the plant manager asked if I could step in while they looked for a replacement. This would mean full-time daycare for X and Y, but it also meant a full-time paycheck; at least for a few weeks. I had not worked since I had been a teenager, so I was excited but apprehensive; still, I accepted.
My two-week stint as the replacement receptionist turned into a full-time gig and I became the receptionist permanently. The girls were miserable; frankly, we all were. The extra money turned out not to be very much by the time daycare was taken out of my meager entry-level salary; and, I missed so much work because the girls were constantly sick from the daycare exposure. I still had to pay all of those days, though.
I was exhausted, too; I worked all day and then still came home and prepared full meals from scratch every night for the three of us, and sometimes four if my husband was home. I was still responsible for the cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping as well; not to mention the entertainment schedule for X and Y.
One day, while driving home from work, I was just too tired to make dinner; Y was a little older than three by then. I decided to stop by McDonald’s and buy the girls the famed Chicken Nuggets; they had never eaten there. Take-out was a luxury we couldn’t afford, but I decided we had a little extra money by then, so what the heck.
When we arrived home, I spread the food out on the table and tried to make it exciting for the girls with the tiny plastic toy that came with their meal.
Both girls just glared at me; however, it was Y who got up from the table and got a cookbook out and brought it to me begging, “Mommy, can’t you please just make a recipe?”
Their entire lives we rarely ate fast food; even years later when I remarried and we could clearly afford to. I cooked for them every chance I could, trying to teach them it was better for them, and showing them I loved them with what I made.
Years later when X and Y were 19 and 20 and I lived thousands of miles away, Y called to tell me she was helping X move to a new apartment. “Mom,” she spoke into the phone, “I just looked into X’s freezer. She has all kinds of frozen meals in here. Pizza, all kinds of junk. Do you know she eats out at fast-food places all the time?”
I was stunned, I didn’t know what to say, “Y, I am thousands of miles away, and she is an adult, what do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know, Mom,” she replied, “Talk to her, we weren’t raised this way. It’s wrong. I make everything from scratch. I could teach her if she needs me to. She is just being lazy.”
I had no answers for her and she finally hung up the phone on me.
When X graduated from high school, I took her on a trip to Minnesota to go to the Mall of America; everybody said, “Oh, you have to go, once in a lifetime shopping trip.” Wrong. Basically, it is a huge mall with several of the same stores over and over again. Besides, I have no idea what I was thinking, as we are not really people who shop for no reason; I do not window shop, and I did not raise my children to aimlessly mill around if they were not purchasing something.
Still, we were there for five days; so we made the best of our time in the area. We did go to the mall twice. Once we were there for four hours and another time we went back for three hours.
The rest of our time in the area we went sight-seeing; we went to an old historic battleground, Fort Snelling something or other; we went to a castle; we went on a Mississippi River boat cruise; and we went to several museums. Our days were filled exploring the city.
One of the best nights we had was going out to a fancy dinner where we delighted in paying $8 for a glass of tap water, and $10 to park our tiny rental car blocks away from the restaurant. We enjoyed each other in a way we hadn’t in months. She had been a pain since turning 18 and deciding she no longer had to follow the house rules; needless to say our home had been tension filled.
There was a lull during our trip when I turned to her and apologized for the trip not being as exciting as I had hoped; it seemed it was a little more boring than expected. I was happily surprised by her response, “Mommy,” she has always called me Mommy, “You raised us to never be bored. Only boring people can be boring, I am having a great time, thanks for bringing me.”
We went on to talk about what life was like when she was little; how I often times had to do so much with so little, making everything from scratch. We laughed about how I would buy sheets from the thrift store for $0.50 and make matching outfits for her and Y. We talked about how I made Barbie Doll clothes one year for them for Christmas, and how challenging it was to sew them because they are so tiny.
She seemed really appreciative, until our flight was cancelled; then she flipped out and became hostile at the airport, but that is an entirely different story.
On December 31, 1994, X and Y’s dad came to me and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be a dad or a husband.” With that, he took two boxes of his things and drove away. I later found out he had a 17 year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his baby; he was 27 and we had been married for 7 years.
I moved in with my parent’s two states away; I immediately got a job and applied for college. Other than my brief foray as a receptionist, I had not worked since I was a teenager; but I did not have a choice now. My future ex-husband never sent a dime to support X and Y from the moment he walked out the door.
A few months after he left, he called and wanted to reconcile; we had gone back and forth as teenagers, but I was done playing games, I just couldn’t do that now that X and Y were in the picture. As soon as I declined, he started to get nasty; the police showed up at my parent’s with a warrant for my arrest for kidnapping my children, and I had to get an attorney to defend myself.
As the months wore on, the fight got uglier, but I continued working and going to school; all the while, trying to maintain as much normalcy for X and Y as I could. When their father would call, he would start to curse and tell them ugly things about me, so I would gently take the phone and hang up; leaving them in tears. They were still very young, Y was just turning 5 and X had turned 6 by the time our divorce was finalized.
By the time everything was over with him, he never voluntarily paid anything for their support. As soon as the child support order went into effect, he quit his job; so his unemployment was garnished and the kids did get something until it ran out. After that, they would get checks for $2 to $0.32 for the next few years; then three years after the divorce, he finally terminated his parental rights.
My second husband adopted the girls and their biological father rarely saw them afterwards. He simply was not a very good father; he did not provide financially, and when he saw them or spoke to them, he was high and belligerent.
However, during all those years, I never spoke one demeaning word about him. I always believed the girls had a right to determine who he was on their own, that it was not my place to run him down. I felt if I had issues with him because he was not right for me, I did not have to burden them with my bad feelings; that would serve no purpose for them.
I think that is something I did right.