Appreciating My Single Mother’s Struggle

Justine - Southwick, Massachusetts
Entered on May 5, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in run down cars and patchy lawns.

When my parents separated, my dad kissed my younger brother and I goodbye and moved 700 miles away. It was just me, my mom, and brother with little income coming from my mother and no income coming from my father. So my mom got a second job, bought a small house, and my brother and I saw her less and less.

Nights were quiet with just my brother and I. I would cook macaroni and cheese, clean up the house, and do homework with my brother. I wanted my mom to be home with us; to do crafts and play Scrabble with us like “normal” mothers seemed to do. Instead, she would come home at 7:00 p.m. with an arm full of groceries, check my homework, and catch the evening news before falling asleep to do it all over again.

I remember my mom and I driving by big houses in the upper class parts of town when I was a kid. There were bright green lawns, each blade of grass shiny and cut perfectly to match the one next to it. The houses themselves, all brand new, had shingles and windows that seemed to smile and wink at you. Sometimes there were even dads outside mowing the lawn or clipping the bushes. As I “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” at each wrap around porch and perky rose garden, I began to realize that this is what I longed for more than anything. I wanted that normalcy.

“You should be grateful for what you have,” I remember my mom used to say when I crooned over each luxurious mansion. The phrase seemed meaningless to me at 11 years old. It wasn’t until I was older that I completely understood the phrase and what my mom meant by it.

After years of watching my mom walk through the door at 7:00 every night, I began to realize that she wasn’t abandoning my brother and I, but was working to take care of us. Every household appliance, carton of milk, and two dollars for lunch money contained a piece of my mother. Our house, which she had taken out two mortgages to purchase, became a symbol of pride rather than embarrassment. She cooked a nice meal for us as much as she could. She tried to make it out to our sports games after work, even if she had had a long, stressful day. She even took a loan out for my first car; a ‘96 Dodge Intrepid. But, above all, she was our family rock, and we were a happy, healthy family, even without a father.

The thing is, I want to believe in the fantasy with the non-divorced family, wrinkle free kakis, convertibles, and the perfect lawn. But I don’t. I believe in my mom and our family; with our broken fence, our mismatched furniture, and my mom’s ‘95 Navy blue blazer that’s always in and out of the shop. Everything we own my mom has worked herself into the ground to get, and her independence and strength is something that I’ve inherited. I believe in my single mother, the strongest person I know, and appreciating everything she has given me.