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June 2nd, 2016 is the day that I became a single mother to my then, one year old and six month old. My daughter, barely walking at the time, with her brown curls bouncing with every wobbly step, put her hands on either side of my face in comfort as I sat in the floor grieving. I was grieving the loss of the person I had thought I would spend my life with. I was grieving my idea of what a “family” should be. I was grieving for my children, who would now grow up as I did, bouncing back and forth between their mother and father’s homes, wondering why their parents weren’t together, like so many of their friends’. I grieved my life as I knew it, a life spent chasing my daughter and making bottles for my son while simultaneously cooking and cleaning and loving their father.
At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom, engaged to their father, who was a disabled veteran. We were renting a beautiful home in Northern Tennessee. I drove a minivan and also had a PT Cruiser, their father drove an old pick up truck and a Jeep. All of my family, except my father who lived 10 minutes down the road, lived an hour away in Virginia. His family lived 12 hours away in Illinois, except for his brother who also lived in Virginia. We had a golden retriever named Roxie. It had been a life that could have made most people happy.
But their father and I fought too much. We could never agree, and small arguments would quickly turn into screaming matches and slammed doors, until one day he packed up his car and left for good. Neither of us were blameless. We were equally responsible for the downfall of our relationship, but he was the one who finally decided enough was enough.
He moved to Illinois to be with his parents. He took the PT Cruiser, and my minivan broke down just two weeks later.
So there I was. I had just turned 22, living in a house I could not afford on my own, a broken down vehichle, with two babies, an hour away from most of my family, with $500 to my name.
I gave our landlord a 30 days notice, gave my minivan to my neighbor because I had no means of fixing it, packed all our of belongings into a U-haul and then a storage unit, and moved in with my mother.
Though we were broken up, their father and I continued to fight for months. And I was heartbroken, lost. I had no idea where to go from there. I had never lived alone. I had been with their father since I was 18. I had little job experience.
I spent months sleeping on my mom’s sofa, wallowing in self pity.
Then, one day I woke up with purpose, with determination to do everything I could to make my children’s lives better than mine had been. I applied for every job that I could, I applied for apartments. Three days after applying, I was offered a position at my local Walmart. A month later, I got the keys to my new apartment and bought a car from my cousin on the same day. While I went to work, my children stayed with my mother, my grandmother, or my friend.
It’s now been a little over a year and a half since I got that job, that apartment, and that car. I still live in the same apartment, but I’ve made it into a cozy home for now. I’m now working as a home health care aid and get to take my children with me. And though the car I bought from my cousin broke down, I was able to buy another one with cash.
Their father moved back to Virginia a year ago, and frequently sees the kids. We even take them places together, as a family, sometimes.
But it isn’t easy.
My heart still breaks when my daughter cries at night for her father. My heart still breaks when my son runs up to me after spending the night with his father and throws his arms around me because he missed me. My heart still breaks when I have to budget and can’t afford to take them to the zoo. My heart still breaks every night that I sleep alone on my sofa because even two years later, I still can’t sleep in my queen bed alone. My heart still breaks when I come home from a long day at work and have no one to talk to or hold me while I de-stress.
But I’ve also learned to be very grateful for what I do have: a home, an income, a support system in my friends and family, and two beautiful children who light up my world. A daughter who never fails to make me smile with her made-up songs and silly dances. A son who is gentle and caring and loves to cuddle with his mama. I strive every day to be the best mother that I can be for them.
The truth about being a single mother is...it’s the hardest, loneliest, most heartbreaking thing I have ever had to do in my life, but it has also shown me that it can be very rewarding, and has opened my eyes to what matters the most in my life.