By WENDY FONTAINE
For the past four years, I have called myself a single mother. I certainly am one, which is to say that I have full custody of my daughter and I’m not married. When Angie was two years old, her father fell in love with another woman and asked me for a divorce. Angie and I moved out of our family home and into an apartment, where we shared a bed, baked cookies in our pajamas, and worked hard to find our way back to normalcy.
On my own, with a toddler to care for, I suddenly found myself doing everything. I got one job, then two, and put Angie in daycare. I put up shelves and paid bills, cleaned the house and kissed the boo-boos. I juggled doctor appointments, birthday parties, work deadlines, and meal planning. I went on food stamps for a while, to make ends meet, and sold my wedding ring to buy Christmas gifts for my daughter. It was exhausting, but it was all part of the persona I had created to protect the two of us: I was superhuman, invincible, bulletproof.
Over the years, I’ve clung to this label of “single mother.” It has been my cape, my shield, the way I defend myself against anything or anyone who might hurt me. I’ve stamped it on my Facebook page, used it on my Twitter account, and declared it in conversations with friends and strangers. I’m a single mom, I said. I can stretch, endure, and breathe fire. You can’t touch me.
The title no longer fits, exactly. I’m still a mother, yes. I’m still unmarried, yes. But I have a partner now, a boyfriend who is dependable and loving. He takes care of Angie as much as I do, just in different ways. He gives her freedom, while I give her protection. He helps her fly. I give her a safe place to land. He takes care of me too. When I quit my jobs and went to graduate school, he took Angie to the movies and the aquarium so I could study. When I felt like dropping out, he suggested I give it another semester. And when I graduated with a masters degree, all three of us celebrated with brunch on the beach.
With him around, I can do all the things I did before, plus lots of things I couldn’t. Now I can go to yoga class on Saturday mornings. I can meet my friends for a drink or vanish into my bedroom for an hour to read a book. I can share my bad dream, take a nap, ride in the passenger seat. I can ask for help, and when I do, there’s someone there, someone I can lean on without the whole universe toppling over.