I found the girls a daycare easily, through the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) list of registered providers. However, their daycare provider - who didn’t charge more than low fees DHS covered - didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Her house was tiny, she often had more kids than she was licensed to care for, and always had more than she was allowed to manage on her own. She didn’t teach the kids anything, just had a TV running all day and basically fed the kids and kept them alive until the parents picked them up. She was nice, but not someone who was going to teach J - who physically was behind for her age - how to roll over, and D - who should’ve been saying a few words by then - how to speak.
As the first month wore on without confirmation from DHS that she would be paid for her work, the provider was unwilling to watch them full time, repeatedly claiming they were too sick to stay at daycare, forcing me to leave work in order to pick them up. So while paying a friend out of my own pocket, I did everything in my power to get in touch with the right people at DHS and searched everywhere to find good daycares that accepted DHS payments. Most daycares charge parents the difference between DHS payments and school costs, which may result in paying $200 or more per week. Finally, I found a good school that only charged me a monthly copay for each girl. Even though I finally received approval for the first daycare, there was no going back. I continued to pay my friend to watch my girls for another two weeks until the new daycare had openings for both of my girls.
The first week at their new daycare, D got sick. And then, the slippery slope of daycare combined with winter began. The girls were sick often and rarely slept through the night, which meant that I was certainly not getting any sleep. At the end of March, we began a five week odyssey in which one or all of us was sick every single day. In addition, my house was a disaster, I didn’t have any help cleaning it and I was getting more and more depressed. Finally, the day arrived when nobody was sick. Two days, three days and then a week passed without any of us falling ill. I felt like a miracle had occurred. I also concluded that paying someone to clean my house would be a smart investment and hired someone to clean once a week. Since then, nothing I’ve encountered has been as tough as those five, miserable weeks.
Being a single parent means everything comes down to me. Cooking, grocery shopping, emptying a full trunk after shopping (I hate that), laundry, home upkeep, filling out forms, making calls, taking the kids to the doctor, even organizing, shopping for and buying food and decorations for the girls birthday party. It’s all me. Sleep is not something to get easily. But I knew that was the case going in and I think I’ve weathered it pretty well. I ask friends, coworkers and family for advice on everything from sleep training to snack ideas. Those same people have come through in a number of ways, helping me do house repairs, unexpectedly offering to play with the kids while I run errands, and coming up with solutions to the many dilemmas that crop up with parenting. It has made me feel connected to communities near and far as long-distance and local friends find ways to help me be a better parent to the girls.
One lesson I have had to learn is how to ask for help. One person cannot raise two kids by herself. My sanity has been tested many times, and a couple times I have had to call a friend and ask “Can you please come over?” Just having someone to talk to who also pays extra attention to the kids, can be life and sanity saving. I am so grateful to the friends who have come through for me in those moments when I felt I was about to crack.
The best side of being a single parent is that I know it’s just me and the kids and there can be no illusions of adult grandeur when there is only one adult. When the girls and I go out to eat, there is no adult conversation to be had at our table - especially when neither of the girls had started holding conversations - and there was no point in acting like a boring grown-up. One time the three of us were at a Japanese restaurant and one-year-old J tilted her head to the side. Then she slowly tilted it toward the other side. I self-consciously grinned as I copied her, even though the sushi chefs were mere feet away. J tilted her head to the other side again, and I mimicked her. D saw what we were doing and tilted her head as well, and soon the three of us were looking at each other giggling as we goofily tilted our heads side to side, following little J’s lead. To this day, one of the girls will spontaneously tilt their head to the side and the rest of us will join in, all of us breaking into laughter at our inside joke.
That exchange taught me another lesson. I may dole out the discipline (and hugs) but I am not the only one in charge. All three of us are part of this relationship, we all have a say. A family dance party may start not because I’ve decided to put in a CD, but because D turned on the stereo and J turned up the volume. Life with kids is spontaneous, funky and fun. When the girls are really challenging and I begin to lash out in frustration, I’ve discovered one of the best remedies is to break out into silly dance moves and the girls usually start cracking up. Making a fool out of myself and getting all of us laughing sets the restart button and as the adult, it’s always my job to get us back on track. Easier said than done, of course, but well worth the effort.
The best part of all of this is that the girls are doing great. As their first social worker pointed out a few weeks in, the girls have become very happy little girls. J learned to roll over and began walking shortly after her first birthday. D is now stating her observations in long sentences and singing songs - including the alphabet songs in English and Spanish - loudly, anywhere, any time. And I have become a fairy godmother, able to heal an “ouchie” with just a kiss on little fingers or knees. They are little comedians, dancers and expert huggers, and I get to reap the benefits of their comedy shows, dance parties and embraces. I feel immeasurable joy when J calls out “mama” so she can show me how well she wiggles to the music, and D points out that she has buckled her seatbelt by herself, once again. I am their world, and they are mine.
A month ago, I started looking for charms I could wear on a bracelet, representing what D and J mean to me. I found silver stick figures that could be filled with the girls’ birthstones, but I felt like something was missing. Then I received a card in the mail from my friend Gretchen. Inside was a bracelet with two gold-colored owls and one silver owl in between them. It was perfect. After all, it’s not just that the girls have given me the opportunity to have kids, or that I’ve given them a second mom, it’s that we’ve given each other what we wanted - a happy family.