Exploring the “Solo” in Solo Mom

Exploring the “Solo” in Solo Mom

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A divorcing mom’s journey back to self

The warm Pacific held me from the waist down, my feet firmly rooted in the sand. How many times had I stood in that ocean, facing the horizon, asking the water, the sky, the spirit of the Hawaiian Islands to heal me, to guide me, to witness my grief, to hear my gratitude, to wash away the layers, and to settle my soul into awareness, acceptance, and peace?

On that morning, as my breath took on the cadence of the gently swelling waves, as the waves buoyed my arms momentarily, then laid them back to rest before crashing behind me, I had nothing to ask. I was simply sinking into my feeling body, simply noticing, simply becoming the waves.

Six months prior, my spouse had moved out, ending our 14-year marriage and demoting me from full-time stay-at-home mom—a job I loved—to coparent, sharing the care of our two sons while performing emergency CPR on my all-but-stagnant career.

In a move that said, “We see that you’re struggling far more than you’re willing to admit,” my parents had gifted me with a five-day trip to Maui with my mom and my cousin, who was also going through a divorce.

For five days, we talked, laughed, cried, shook our fists at the sky, and absorbed every ounce of healing energy that island had to offer. For the first time since my teen years, I sat by a pool for five hours doing absolutely nothing—not even reading—just staring at the ocean, giggling with my cousin, chatting with the super-cute flight attendant occupying the lounge chair next to mine.

On our final morning, just a few hours before my flight was scheduled to leave, I had waded into the ocean to thank Maui for yet another amazing stay. As my breath took on the waves’ rhythm, the edges of my body melted into oneness with my surroundings.

And then—how do I say this?

It wasn’t really that a thought occurred to me or that a physical feeling arose in my body, though what I experienced did touch my mind and body to a degree. What I experienced was—not a vision, but a sensation—a path unfolding in front of me, a sensation of myself as an individual, a whole person, complete in and of myself, moving toward my future, one breath, one thought, one decision at a time.

I’d felt that way in yoga class several months prior, when my teacher invited us all to lie on our sides, in the fetal position, with our arms hugging our knees. She said, “You are the one constant in your life; you are the one who has been with you all along.”

I’d felt that way long, long before, as a child, when I would lay my baby blanket down on the floor and populate it with everything I could need—my favorite stuffed animals, some graham crackers, a glass of milk. I would sit in the middle of my blanket, knees to my chin, arms wrapped around my shins, imagining I was on a raft, floating in the middle of the ocean, loving that my raft held all I could want or need.

Self-contained, self-sufficient, self-loving, full, whole, complete.

For the past 14 years, I had made my life decisions, big and small, as one half of a couple. For the past 10 years, I had made my life decisions as the parent primarily responsible for the care of my two sons. Now I was on my way to divorce, I was coparenting, and thanks to the ocean water sloughing off the layers, I was returned to me.

What if I started making life decisions from this place of presumed wholeness and self-sufficiency? What if I made my life decisions based on the assumption that all things are possible, and if I have the will, I will find the way?

For years I had accommodated my soon-to-be ex-spouse’s insanely busy work schedule, giving up attractive opportunities so I could be available for our kids. For years I made our children’s needs my top priority. For years I poured my individual desires and ambitions into the cracks and crevices left open after the rest of my family had claimed their space. For years I took third place.

Standing in the ocean, consumed by this awareness of my wholeness, I felt relieved and empowered: relieved because it had been so long since I had touched the full circumference of my own being, and empowered because, after depending on someone else to provide for me financially and on others to shape the course of my life and schedule of my days, I was reminded that I had the strength, courage, and calling to guide my own life, starting right then and there.

Yes, when I returned home from that vacation, I would return to parenting. Yes, I would return to divorce negotiations and to a lifelong coparenting relationship with my ex. And, yes, I would return to those long and painful days away from my kids, when they slept at their other parent’s house.

But now I understood that during those long and painful days away, I wasn’t just a mom recharging her batteries so she’d be energized when the kids returned. I wasn’t just a writer amping up her money-earning mojo. I was a strong and independent woman building a life for herself.

And it’s a damn good thing I realized it, too.

If I were to ignore the “Solo” in my “Solo Mom” life, where would that leave me if, say, my ex took our kids on vacation for a couple weeks? Where would that leave me, say, on the first holiday I spent without my kids? Or 10 years from now, when my youngest son (theoretically) moves out?

Empty. Rootless. Alone.

Ignoring the “Solo” in my “Solo Mom” life isn’t good for me or for my kids. They aren’t my security blanket; they aren’t my comfort; they aren’t my shield from loneliness; they aren’t my identity; they aren’t my path. It wouldn’t be fair to any of us if I used them that way.

So while I’m knee-deep in the parenting trenches, helping my children establish solid foundations on which to build their lives, simultaneously I am building my own.

If you have a Solo-Mom story or experience to share, please submit it to Perspectives.

Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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