Sometimes when you need empathy for stupid crap, you really should be careful about where you go to get it.
This morning, my neighbor gave me a ride to pick up a car. And we each asked how the other was doing. I was going to complain about Huck working too much and being out of town too much and this rotting corpse of old man winter which has us currently mid-blizzard and diving down into the deep negatives (metaphoric and Fahrenheit both). But I had the impulse to hold back a little. Thank god. He told me his family has endured two deaths in the past week and one birth and he's headed out of town to deal with all that. Well... no body's died here so everything is hunky dory.
How I learned this lesson: several years ago, in February (a place where I like to stash my deepest depths of despair to dig up and revisit annually), I called a friend. I was bawling. She was surprisingly snippy. "What the problem?" I'm bored and it's February. This parenting stuff, this not travelling, this winter, this boring routine over and over and over, and work, and home, and errands, and work, and laundry and errands and work and dishes and errands. I'm not going to make it!! "Silence." Hello? Hello? (Icey voice) "My brother was just shot 17 times by the New York City police and YOU are crying to ME because your bored." Oooops!!! Of course, the boredom sometimes associated with the glee of parenting should be taken seriously and given loads of empathy. But she can certainly be forgiven her short temper with such a mundane ailment given the level of grief and outrage she was justly entitled to. Of course, I can't go around calling all my friends and asking them if anyone's been shot recently. There's no way I could have known, until she told me. Since then, I've been cautious about complaining about life's pedestrian nuisances (except on my blog! You are hereby warned).
Speaking of empathy Olympics, I have been hanging out with the world's most singlest mom ever. I know lots of mom's who are single but who also have these fabulous 50/50 kid sharing relationships with their ex's and/or live next to their parents. They frequently have way more breaks than I do and go on way more dates than Huck and I. Whereas I can feel bad for them that the relationship didn't turn out the way they expected, it's sometimes hard to cough up much sympathy for someone who's definition of "single mom" somehow includes weekends off and three weeknights out while grandma takes the kids. And sometimes I have to listen to a lot of angry envy and unrealistic wistfulness ("Gosh, I wish someone would hang my mirror for me!" Hire a handy man. Or were you saying you want someone to hang your mirror while also second guessing your parenting, or who's parenting you second guess? Yeah, I'd like a husband like the one you think I have too.
I understand disappointment and frustration and exhaustion but not the assumption that because I am currently married it's all easy and nice and dear hubby comes home from his supposedly high-paying job every night to relieve the nanny, bathe the kids, do the dishes, massage my feet and fix the faucet while I go out on the town with my friends. Parenting is damn hard, married or single. Honestly, I don't know what it's like to be a single mom and I'm lucky enough to have a pretty rad husband who doesn't make it tempting to find out. But I do know that I don't like being told how easy I have it by someone who gets every other week to herself, to travel, go out, ride mountain bikes, read books, and not do 4 times the amount of laundry and dishes.
I also know a lot of single mom's who do EVERYTHING and it's all on them. And a lot of single moms already know that marriage is a lot of work: some one always steals the covers, has different financial priorities, and leaves dishes in the sink, and they don't waste much time trying to tell me how great my life is compared to theirs. Generally, it's a waste of every one's energy to compare at all, however I'll admit that one's spouse being out of town is preferable to him being either dead or deadbeat.
Even though I'm still married, I do sometimes feel a little sorry for myself out here in Spokane. People don't generally move to this town because it stole their hearts (ala: San Fran and Portland). They move here because of family and/or jobs. Most people here have built-in babysitters (extended family) and it's hard to watch them have their free weekly dates while we get one every great so often, when family visits. Although I was recently the recipient of free babysitting from a divorced mom and also a hard working dad so it's not as boohoo-ey as it once was around here.
So, I met this German woman. Her daughter and mine are near twins. And she is so smart (aeronautical engineer: I find I get along GREAT with women engineers). She's an "older" mom and her family is all passed away. And here she lives in a foreign country. And it's just breath-taking, the utter single-ness. What if something happens to her? AND for ten years, she has not had more than a couple hours to herself. TEN YEARS! Holy crap. And you know what she says to me? After all the shit I've gotten for deciding to have my children younger rather than older. After all the pronouncements of Older Mom's being better with all their money and careers (I was shoo-ed out of a conversation among Seattle mom's because they were talking about careers and I "obviously don't know anything about that." Yeah... I HATED Seattle.) and security (there's no such thing) and supposed patience (that's a laugh). THIS woman says to me: "You were so smart to have your priorities straight at such a young age as to what really matters in life and to do this when your family was still alive and you were healthy." Which really was how my decision-making went. It's hard to complain about Huck being out of town too much to her, about my family, ALIVE, in Oregon, and about our twice yearly date nights.
This is the woman who fed me foie gras recently. She's got impeccable food ethics, except for this one snare she caught while living in France. It tasted like olive paste, but goose-poopier. This trial was part of my renewed thrust to try anything new, which includes reading a biography of Hugh Hefner (dweeb!) and trying out a Glock .40 (heavy).
So anyway, the winners of the Winter Empathy Olympics 2011? Over-all single moms are definitely on the podium, although some of them do need a reality check on how easy they seem to remember marriage being and the fact that the State of Washington enforces a parenting plan which is fairer than most moms get. I don't think I'm even among the medalists this year, although it's February and I feel kind of entitled to at least a bronze, if you can't tell. Maybe a dark chocolate medal will do.