Trying to do something right

As I type this in the dark of the cloudy, diffused, early morning daylight, Nate is sleeping off his ninth consecutive night shift. I’m convinced that this isn’t just some sort of new guy dues-paying hazing exercise at his restaurant, as it is a wily attempt on behalf of the chefs to break up our relationship.

That is, whatever kind of relationship you have when the only time you see your sigOth is as you quietly dress in the dark so as not to wake him.

Which also explains some of my wardrobe choices lately.

One of the hardest aspects of our work situation right now is the whole single mom-ish piece of it. I’m not a single mom, of course. If I did, my insurance premiums would be way less and I wouldn’t be in possession of a dog hair-encrusted Washington Redskins blanket. But when I’m the one getting the kids dressed and fed, racing off to a 10 or 12 hour work day, coming home (hopefully) in time to read them stories and get them back into bed, all while trying to eke out a little down time for myself, it can get brutal.

I’m starting to feel more and more, as I’ve mentioned before, that that World’s Greatest Mom Trophy is escaping my reach. I’m more apt to dump cereal in a bowl for them a breakfast (Nate’s idea of the last circle of hell) than to attempt my famous eggs. My patience wears thinner and I find myself raising my voice more often than not, and making those idle threats that oh, every parenting expert in the world tells you don’t work. It’s hard to even make the quality time we do have together stick when I’m racing through the bedtime stories, knowing I still have taxes to do, dishes to wash, a blog post to write, dog pee on the kitchen floor (again), and no clean underwear.

Boy do I appreciate you single moms. You sometimes single moms. You formerly single moms. You military moms. You chefs’ wives. You parents of 800 children.

So in an attempt to resume my regularly scheduled life this weekend, I channeled the actions of one of my wisest single mom friends, and just got out. I dragged the kids to hair salon with me on Sunday, had my hair purdied while the kids ran around shrieking, and tipped the stylist a whole lot.

Then, against better judgment, I insisted that we were going out to a nice dinner, dammit.

We hit the local better-than-average Italian restaurant for the 5PM shift on Sunday, which sounds like it would be empty–except that we live in the Kidlandia section of Brooklyn. The manager offered us the one remaining table by the front window, right next to the panic-stricken older couple who took in the frazzled mom (with the good hair!) and her two catastrophe-ready daughters.

I wrangled Thalia and Sage in to their seats as we narrowly avoided the Great Booster Seat Meltdown of 2010, inspired by the horrible fact that there was only one and not two booster seats remaining. I kept the hungry girls occupied with crayons and word games, copious amounts of focaccia, and the (bribe) promise of dessert. Good dessert. We told stories. We quietly sang songs with silly words. We talked about the pussy willows in the vase on a nearby table, and how no, you can’t pet them right now like you do at Grandma’s.

Add the Great Pussy Willow Meltdown of 2010 to the Narrowly Avoided List.

Forks were loudly dropped and quietly retrieved. Loud high-pitched giggles were shushed down to a safe volume. Angel Hair was removed from Sage’s face (that she had put there). Miraculously, not a single glass of water was spilled.

A third meltdown was then averted as the busboy quickly wiped away the dusting of evil grated cheese that had accidentally fallen on Sage’s plate.

I didn’t divert my eyes from the girls for a second. It was exhausting.

The wine helped.

Mine, not theirs.

As we waited for the check, the eye-rolling couple approached the table. I braced myself, mentally creating my excuse about Nate the chef, and the long hours and how I just didn’t have it in me to cook and clean tonight so please please pleeeeease forgive us for dropping all the forks and singing the song about farts. I was prepared to cry, should it be necessary.

“I just want you to know,” the man said through a wide smile, “your kids are wonderful.”

What? They are?

“Oh, absolutely!” he beamed. “We were a little nervous when you sat down….”

I admitted I was having a bit of a breakdown myself.

“Well,” he continued as he buttoned his jacket, “it’s because you’re paying attention. Thank you for all of us. It was a pleasure.”

Thalia and Sage and I skipped the six blocks home. I let them sing as loud as they wanted.


79 thoughts on “Trying to do something right”

  1. Threaded throughout this whole parenthood/marriage/life thing are these little crystals. Generous of you to share this one.

  2. We all gotta do what we all gotta do. Major kudos to you, lady, for pulling it off with humor and wit. I raise my (filled to the rim) wine glass to you. L'chaim!

  3. Your girls are gorgeous and hilarious and, although they sometimes drive you batty, I'm so glad you got out with them for a boost of mommy confidence.

    I remember being in the same situation– my children were ridiculous, and I was freaking out trying to shush them; after dinner, a kind older couple came over and gushed about how wonderful they were and oh, lord– they eat sushi, too? WONDERFUL! They were right, and I ordered dessert.

    I hope things get easier for you all.

  4. Oh, that's so lovely. I am totally with you on pretty much everything you covered here — the single-mom-seeming reality, the need to do something for yourself, the nail-biting nice dinner out. So glad you got a little positive feedback on one of the many, many things you're doing right.

  5. Sometimes I think that's why it's so hard to get “you” time — it's just exhausting to make it happen.

    I can totally picture you guys sitting in that restaurant. Great scene. Great voice.

  6. I too am alone with my kids – A LOT. I am not afraid to take them out (I'd go NUTS staying home) and if they cause a ruckus, then I embrace the ruckus (till they go to bed at which point I cry into my pillow.) 🙂

    Well done.

  7. I'm a TV industry widow. My husband disappears for days at a time, shooting commercials, during which time I am functionally single, and during which time it takes a great deal of effort to not go crazy.

    I don't know the full-time single moms do it. I stand in awe of them. Also, in awe of your bravery. My children would dismantle a hair salon entirely, and no amount of tip would put it back together again.

  8. A breath of humanity in a busy world: that's what the elderly man's comment was, that's what your dinner out was, that's what your blog is.

  9. I LOVE it when people compliment my kids on their good behaviour in public situations like that so I've started making an effort to do the same for other mothers. Once in a while, everyone needs to hear they're doing a good job and mothers are too often overlooked.

  10. Coming out of lurkdom to tell you what a great job you are doping, though it may not feel like it somedays.

    I too, am going through single parenthood right now. My husband is a nursing student with long clinical days and lots of patient research and papers to do. I'm forever trying to keep Makenna quiet so Daddy can work, but some days, it's just easier to get out of the house. I haven't braved the hair salon with her yet though.
    You and your girls deserved the break and I'm glkad you got out and enjoyed an evening out.

  11. What an awesome story. With a very validating ending. You're doing things “right” way more often than you think.

  12. I admire you for getting out with them. When I'm exhausted and frazzled I'm so much more likely to stay in and yell. Which is kind of aerobic when you think about it, so I've got that going for me.

  13. You have got the best voice in your writing Liz – funny and wise. Love this – especially that you went and got your hair done (GOOD FOR YOU!)

    I'm taking this with me as inspiration as I prepare to fly cross-country with both kids solo on Thursday.

  14. I don't know how you do it – work 10-12 hour days bookended by almost-single parenting and still have time for brilliant posts. good for you for getting your hair did. i'm so glad they noticed what a good job you do.

  15. Thank god for people who will say things like this.

    Behaving in restaurants is one of those things that's high priority for us, so it's nice to hear once in a while that our efforts have not gone unnoticed.

    Great job!

  16. I feel your pain and I admire you more than I can say for going out to dinner solo. I honestly don't know how single moms do it either, but I do know that paying attention does make a big difference. Kudos to you. . .and kudos to the couple for telling you what a great job you're doing!

  17. Mrs Q, we waited til we got home to have dessert. I wasn't going to push my luck!

    Ironic Mom: Thank you. Yes, that's exactly what it was. A little humanity.

    Lori: You're right, I'm going to do it more too. Mamas paying it forward. Yeah!

  18. Good for you! It's tough enough taking those outings even with a partner. I agree…BIG props to single parents. BIG. and how nice of that man to comment on the GOOD stuff. Seems that most of the time people only expend energy to let the world know how annoyed/put out they are. We need to give each other the “thumbs up” a lot more!!

  19. Tears stream down my face as I read your post. I can relate in the worst way and it is so difficult! Thank you from a mom who feels like nothing is going right.

  20. you did win the award! we all do the best we can, given the circumstances.

    i'm skipping with you and the girls 🙂

  21. I am continually in awe of your ability to juggle all the different aspects of your life so beautifully.

    I know from your perspective it must look like you're almost dropping balls left and right. But from out here, in the audience, it's a damned impressive performance.

    I hope your life and Nate's slow down a bit as soon as possible, though, so he can make his fancy duck fat eggs for breakfast and you can take an hour to get your hair done without company, and all of you can spend more time together.

  22. Well done you. How nice of the man to come and give the compliment out loud, rather than just think it to himself.

  23. Thank you for writing this. My husband was away all weekend and by Sunday night I felt like a pretty horrible mom. The thing is, I know I'm not. And your post reminded me of those moments when, like you, I am doing it right – and darn well.

  24. What an amazing post. I just found your blog and love it already! Going out to eat is one of the most stressful times with my kids but I insist on doing it, both so I get a break from cooking but also to teach them how to behave out to dinner. Keep up the good work.

  25. Great story!

    I always get nice comments when I go places with my twins and they don't cause a riot. I wonder if that's because people start out with lower expectations from a dad out alone with his kids than they do from a mom. In any case, it's gratifying despite my having very little to do with their behavior!

  26. Thank you all for the nice comments.


    And Jaelithe, YES the main goal would be for us all to be together at some point. Wouldn't that be refreshing!

  27. Awww. It is so nice to hear about people actually saying something nice!

    I had a similar experience once, when I was still pregnant with baby #2. I gave in to the begging from the backseat and stopped at the library on our way home from day care. Unfortunately, my toddler started getting a little too loud, and I had to make her to leave before she really wanted to. As I stood outside the library trying to get her to stop screaming at me and walk to the car (I was pregnant, and tired, and did not want to carry her), a nice lady came out and said I was doing a great job, and that it would all pay off someday.

    I'm still waiting for the pay off, but that comment just about made my week. I should write myself a letter to read when I'm 60, to remind me to do things like this for the next generation of struggling moms.

    I hope the scheduling woes ease soon.

  28. We started our own computer business over a year ago. I knew that when we started their would be long hours and a lot of hard work. And I am sure it will all be worth it in the end. But some days, like yesterday, I feel like everything is on my shoulders. The house the kids and all the activities they are involved in… well it's just a LOT. So I appreciate your post so much. I have some days that I don't know if I am gonna make it thru! But this post gives me strength in knowing that I am not alone. Thanks for sharing your life with us. And I do hope things calm down some for you.

  29. I can relate in that my husband works 12-hour shifts (5pm-5am) 3-4 days a week (alternates bi-weekly) as a Sheriff's Deputy and leaves before our baby girl & I are home for the day, and is in bed before we're out of it in the mornings… some nights when I'm home alone and E (almost 15months old) is on a cranky/teething/crying/fussy jag I can only sit down and cry myself… other nights I buck up, head to Target and let her run around while I browse… I can't imagine doing it with more than one child, or on a more regular basis – to the single moms – I salute you!

    Good for you on the hair, and congrats on the compliment 🙂 I hope you are able to remember that the next time you're about to go nutso 😉 *HUGS*

  30. Wow, what a mom! It's almost like having the people on the plane giving you the evil eye as you find your seat, only to tell you that they were “wonderful” as you wait to file down the aisle. Yeah, not every parent is bad. And yes, wine always help.

  31. Good for you. Hang in there! As the wife of an oft-traveling hubby I am sometimes single mom as well. Although the single (divorced) moms I know get every other weekend to themselves — can you imagine?!?!

  32. All hail tolerant strangers!

    I've been through days like that, single-momish days. My husband travels a fair amount… My kids get toast w/ jam, which is one step up from cereal : )

  33. Beautifully written. Thank you. And the elderly gentleman was right on. It was because they were paid attention to. I see the opposite on planes, parents want to read their own thing, and actually expect their children to sit quietly while they do their own thing.

    Ain't happening: just realize it, they need attention.

    Good job. You should get the Mother of The Year Trophy.

  34. I am a single mom of ONE and I find that hard. I would have assumed the guy was going to say exactly what you thought b/c that is what us moms always do.

  35. I feel like you have perfectly described my life over the past 10 months. My husband has been working over 800 miles away for 16 days at a time, then home for 4 or 5 days. While I am not technically a single mom, it sure did feel like it.

    Having someone notice all the hard work you do and compliment you on the good behavior of your children just makes things a little bit easier, don't you think?

    Luckily for me, my husband is now working much closer to home and we see him almost every day.

    Give yourself a pat on the back. A mom's job is hard no matter what her situation in life.

  36. Seeing how hard you all have it, I'm duly honored you take time out of your days to come here. Thank you.

  37. First…I just found your blog – and I love it. Second, I panic everytime I walk in to a restaurant with my four year old son – and would avoid taking him (and the baby) to a restaurant alone at all cost..Good for you

  38. I don't know how the single moms do it, either. I am in awe of them each and every day. Kudos to you for acknowledging them AND for doing such a splendid job when it was your turn to be on your own. I love that the man came over to compliment your girls. When I was little, my mom would make sure that she told us about every compliment she got on our behalf and how she was so proud of us. Give yourself the pat on the back, but let the girls think it was ALL THEM. If they are like me, it will inspire a lifetime of good behavior.

  39. Agreed…every word of it.

    We've had it happen (once or twice), too…we go out for dinner and walk on eggshells the whole time and then get complimented by some very-generous stranger. I nearly weep at the kindness of it. Whether we'll admit it or not, we Moms need a pat on the back sometimes…and it just feels so good to get it!

  40. I'm off to get that glass of wine and sit back and think about what I need right now and work my lovely daughter and little boy into it too…

    …oh yes, and get myself and DH (a Nate too) off the computers and into bed for a little loving…the one without the baby in it! LOL!

    thanks for the inspiration and the reminder that it doesn't have to be perfect…hugs

  41. This made me cry. I'm a single mom.It's never easy, but sometimes SO rewarding.

  42. Thanks for sharing that story… it really made me happy. I am the same way about watching my kids like a hawk in public, so I can imagine how amazing it felt to hear that (I always picture people saying something like that to us at restaurants, but strangely enough it never happens…)!

  43. Great snapshot! I loved it. “Westwant” terror is common in my life. My four-yr-old is the consummate gourmet and sits there like an angel (except for that one time when he decided he was a chicken–oh dear God). My seven-yr-old is getting better but still views the world as his playground. And I do mean playground. The single mom gig is hard, but you learn to manage the hysteria and shock. Sometimes I think the mother of the year trophy is going to be a t-shirt with a hole in the armpit, stains, an unrecognizable glob of something right where your breast would be and white smears from deodorant. That or a hair scrunchy.

  44. Just the other day I told a young mother having dinner with her two adorable kids how lovely her family was. I remember a man once told my mother that about myself and my siblings while we were out to dinner, and how happy it made her. Motherhood sounds so exhausting, but I'm hoping I'll be as good at it as you are someday!

  45. Your blog shot to the tippy top of my list ever since my best friend in California emailed me your Grass: Greener column in February. I passed it along to some other friends and you've gone a bit viral in my circle. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you– for the Grass post, for this one, and for all the rest.

  46. For the last six months my husband has been working very long hours, including weekends and all nighters when disasters have struck. It is hard on everyone in the family in such situations. My daughter has had a tough time with it all and I wrote about it this week and got a lot of responses from other Moms who live permanently with husbands absent because of work, such as military wives who are not only alone but also are worried about the safety of their husbands.

    So yes, you have to get out and do things and make life as much fun as you can for you and your children. It's essential also for the preservation of your sanity too!

    I hope things improve for you soon.

  47. Oh, bully for you!! Doesn't that feel good when somebody (even a rank stranger) says you have good kids/you're a good mom? Had that said to me once on an airplane and I lived on it for about a month.

  48. Wow, I am so glad that you decide to go out and live life anyways. Staying at home a dwelling doesn't solve anything.

  49. I love when things are going way better than you thought. It's like waking up from a horrific nightmare where you married your high school boyfriend only to realize that it's not true, you did marry someone else, and he's a good guy, and he's snoring really loudly right next to you.

  50. Thanks for a story that had so many little “Oh, that's so true!” points in it (the sense that it feels so hard until I put myself in some other parents' shoes, the stress of getting the kids through dinner in a “nice” restaurant, the glow when others compliment us on our children's behavior, the amazing power of positive attention with kids). The way you write always makes me feel like you're writing about my life.

  51. This made me cry. In recogntion and in gratefulness that one person had the kindness in him to tell you you are doing a good job. Because you are. I have done exactly that dinner with my two girls. And when someone smiles at us instead of glaring and someone else tells me how sweet my girls are, I mentally pat myself on the back. And that gentleman is right on: It is because we are paying attention, mostly to our children, but also to the impact our children can have on others. I really think that means a lot. And not in a cringing guilty way or an apologetic way. Just in a way that shows we are confident in our ability to not infringe on others' nice time while having a nice time of our own as a family.

    I also loved the averting of the great meltdowns of 2010. Such evocative phrasing!

  52. Oh my god, Liz. I want to say how proud I am of you but I'm afraid it'll come across as condescending…it's so hard to go it alone. (No matter how much my husband disagrees with that statement.) Again, I call for some village building. Bearing the brunt of the parenting is just not sustainable. I mean, if you care about your sanity that is. Good luck with better hours for Nate to come!

  53. You described my day to a tee except my hair is usually dreaded from lack of shower.

    If you are ever in the CLE you can bring your kids to my restaurant anytime! My kids are there 4 days out of the week running around like chickens. It would be a blast!

  54. No doubt the couple thought you'd be neglectful because someone with such good hair would obviously not be a doting mother.

    I am counting the days until my husband returns from his conference, and he hasn't even left yet.

  55. You know, I really don't think that people appreciate nearly enough how HUGE random acts of kindness (and compliments) are. That couple was lovely to tell you what they did.

    And kudos to you, Mom, for making sure that all the other diners had a lovely dinner as well. Exhausting for you, I know, but that's our job, right??

    Now go and put on some clothes that MATCH, woman! 😉

  56. My husband worked 60-80 weeks and 30 hour shifts when my oldest was first born (he was in pediatric residency) and he often left before E woke up and wasn't home until E was asleep (he even began putting a stinky undershirt in in his crib because he was worried that E would forget him) so although I was not a single mom, I was a frazzled mom. And a lonely mom. So I understand.
    PS> I had the same thing happen at a restaurant. I was braced for the negative comment and the couple said almost WORD FOR WORD what that couple said to you. Maybe they travel around to help frazzled moms?

  57. My husband told me today he will be traveling for a week in June and combine that with the week in August that makes in impossible for me to go Blogher (Argh) and I almost bit his head off. And that is two weeks a year.

    Parenting is hard. Single parenting is even harder. Sometimes single parenting is really hard because you get used to the help.

    And I was annoyed at 2 weeks a year. And the lack of Blogher.

  58. Bravo!

    As a “sometimes single parent” (my partner travels for work quite a bit) I can totally relate to the frazzled nature of doing it all by yourself.

    I love that you got the compliment at the restaurant. Isn't it interesting that what takes so much effort on our part (to entertain, to keep quiet, to keep the peace) can look so effortless to others? Anyway, keep up the good work, Mama. : )

  59. I have the chills after reading this & tears in my eyes – it brings me back to when my kids were 2 & 3 & newborn & my husband worked nightshift & was in college during the day. I felt so alone. I remember everyone loving Fridays & I dreaded them because it would be day/night 5 of me alone w/ 3 kids & on the weekends I worked. But every week I would do just what you did & manage to get the kids & myself out, alone & somehow it helped me survive. Thanks for sharing & not being a hero – it makes it easier for other moms. And hang in there, you'll survive!

  60. I took my 2 yr old son to Noodles & Co. yesterday which turned into a disaster and I walked out of the restaurant cursing myself “why do I even try”. I know how you feel. Thank u for this post and reminding me to hang in there, us wonderful Moms are doing something right.

  61. Liz. We single, or sometimes single, or might as well be single moms don't have it as easy as the ideal might promise. But as you've written:

    You can dooo it! (Said with the accent from that Adam Sandler movie.) Believe me – if I've managed to do it for 6 years, pretty much anyone probably can.

    Getting out of the house, taking a risk, was the right thing to do. The more you do it, the better trained the kids will be to handle it, and the easier your life will get. (I suppose they will also get older – and believe you me, that is the single mom's greatest blessing.)

    Also… it doesn't hurt to move to a place where childcare is practically free. But that's another story.

    But I don't really need to tell you any of these things that you already know. Let me tell you that I do feel your pain. And I'm sorry that Nate's job hours are so rough on the family. At least he is following his kismet.

    So… when you are feeling overwhelmed just think of the voice of one of your wisest single friends with that accent saying “You can do it.” all the way from Africa.

    Love you all. Hal

  62. What a sweet story. I feel your pain, as a working mother of 2 little boys. Life can be hard-really, hard-sometimes but people like the gentlemen who complimented your girls, help bring things back in perspective.

  63. I'm so late to this post. But I had to comment and say – Well done, you. Yes, it's exhausting to always be watching, but you seem to be doing it right.

  64. So glad you got out! And that you took the girls with you. Oh wait… 😉

    I'm glad you had a good dinner, even though it may have been a tad stressful for you. Congrats!

  65. I am single parenting 3 year old twin boys and a one year old little girl now. I took all three of them out to eat at a restaurant recently because I was craving a taco salad so bad I couldn't stand it. We had a great time. They didn't sit still and they were patting the poor man in the booth behind us on the back as he tried to eat, but just as I was cleaning everyone up and getting ready to leave, a man with just one child came over to our table. He told me that I had done a wonderful job with three kids that small and asked me jokingly if I'd like to teach his daughter how to behave so well. I couldn't help but beam and tell the babies how great they were in the restaurant the entire car ride home.

    Sometimes a nice comment from a stranger will save your day and maybe your life. 😉

  66. As someone who used to skip down Montague street with her own single parent mother, singing songs from West Side Story at the top of her lungs, I salute you.

    And so would my mom and many many more.

  67. My comrade, I salute you. I took my 2 and 4 year old out once alone and wished desperately for a flask or a discreet shot of heroin.

    We took our kids out all the time and they usually did fine. I guess the complete breakdown was because we weren't tag teaming them.

  68. Been there – same type of restaurant but with an large milk spill resulting in an outfit change made from extra sweatshirts (on hand for a/c. (yes, it can be done). Love especially the surprise compliment.

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