I always knew single parenthood would have its challenges, but I never imagined it would make me ill. Not ill-ill, thankfully, just a queasy kind of ill whenever certain subjects come up in our house. You know, like love, marriage and dating.
The first time my daughter, who I’ll call “Drama Girl,” practiced the wedding march across the kitchen floor I knew I had a problem. She was wearing her finest dress-up gear: a flowing pink tulle Easter dress, shiny silver play shoes, lots of baubles on her petite fingers and wrists, and a white bath towel on her head. “Mommy, I’m getting married!” she crowed as she took that fateful first step down the aisle.
Watching her, I smiled, but, truthfully, I felt kind of sick inside. In those early post-divorce days anything remotely resembling dreamy gazes, white gowns, gleeful couples, drunken bridesmaids, romantic honeymoons, or new promises made my stomach turn. I had one word for the whole lot of it.
But like a cat determined to find the one cat-hater in the room, Drama Girl kept at it – and me – with full-blown bridal mania.
“Catch it, Mommy!” she would yell, tossing a bouquet of plastic flowers tied together with a scrunchy at my head. I watched as she pulled her turtleneck up over her head until, inside out, the limp cotton arms flopped over her shoulders like a veil made by some demented Land’s End seamstress. And there were fifty bazillion nights of watching Cinderella while my daughter squealed, “Oooh, look! Prince Charming and Cinderella are getting marrrrried! Mommy, why can’t you make me a dress like that?”
I knew my daughter wasn’t trying to torment me; she was doing what many girls her age did. I made a pact with myself to bite my tongue during this phase – even when she asked me questions like why I didn’t wear a wedding ring like other moms. After leaving too many teeth marks in my tender tongue, I decided the next best way to cope was to stick to the facts (“because I’m not married”), and to try my best to hide my sadness and fear of that thing called marriage.
One day Drama Girl stopped playing bride and went on to bigger girl activities like playing soccer and re-enacting scenes from High School Musical. I stopped worrying and being afraid and went on to my own adventures like dating, wondering if one day even I might find someone to walk down the aisle with. I became more confident in my ability to handle life and love – until, that is, my children started thinking about dating, too.
This Valentine’s Day I took Drama Girl and her brother to Dairy Queen for a special treat, not knowing I was in for a special treat myself. While enjoying our desserts, Drama Girl suddenly looked up from her cookie dough ice cream and informed us that she recently had broken up with not one, not two, but three second-grade boys in her class.
Startled by this revelation, I quizzed her about the boys and why exactly she had ended their “relationships”. She was very matter-of-fact in her response: it was simply time to trade in for a new boyfriend.
My six-year-old son didn’t want to be left out of the conversation and chimed in that he was looking for a “hot girlfriend.”
I nearly choked on my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard.
Then, as if to punish me once and for all for putting away the Ex-Lax too soon, Drama Girl began to tell us what her first date will be like (fortunately, far into the future…and taking place innocently enough at the DQ) before stopping to ask, “Mom, when will I know I’m in love?” followed by the kicker, “Do you still love Dad even though you’re not married?”
My memory is a little fuzzy after that, but I vaguely recall biting down on my plastic spoon and growling “Eat your ice cream before it melts – NOW!” before passing out and falling face-first into my half-eaten Blizzard.
I am getting better at handling my kids and their questions. Just last month my daughter asked if the ring I wore on my right hand was a divorce ring. Immediately, my stomach twisted itself into knots of uncertainty, but I calmly replied, “No, I just like the way it looks there.”
I braced myself for her response.
“It’s really pretty,” she said, admiring it on my finger.
I relaxed and smiled. For once, we both felt fine.
With another school year around the corner – and more talks about the birds and the bees sure to come up – I’ve stocked our house with Pepto Bismol and ginger ale. I have a funny feeling my tummy and I are going to need them.