"It was like a circus all the time," sighs a TV weatherman, whose three girls (under 10), "met me coming through the door every night, each with an earful of problems."
"It's the relentless exhaustion from all that never-ending responsibility that just burns you out" -- an Arlington interior decorator.
"And if you think President Carter has a schedule . . . We have to be the epitome of organization to make it." -- a research nurse.
These are the sagas, the nightmares, the war stories of a not-so-new, but growing breed: The Single Parent. They're trying to be two people at once: homemaker and worker, mother and father, family member and single.
Whether well-known and well-off or unknown and unemployed, countrified or citified, male or female, many Washington single parents agree on two things: There's never enough time, nor energy. And often, not near enough money.
From a sampling of those who have been there -- and survived -- herewith some techniques (and philosophies):
"Simplify your life by doing all your errands in a row and give up the idea of going to 10 stores to get the best bargains," suggests Miki Day, 32, mother of two, who also got rid of the dog "because she was too much like another child."
The south Arlington substitute school teacher, who calls herself a "child development specialist" and offers day care in her home, believes rethinking priorities is a major help.
"I cut down on volunteer organizations, even food and baby-sitting co-ops, and on the friends I'm socially active with. And the kids aren't in 14 activities anymore, but the ones they really want.
"I used to be a candidate for House Beautiful. You know, dinners with coordinated colors, always bright red tomatoes in the salads, etc. . . . but you have to simplify your life and cut out all that superfluous s---."
Says Carol Nowell, 29, a Pan Am flight attendant who flies to London out of Dulles and comes home to her 17-month-old daughter in a Reston apartment, "I can't afford the time to drive 40 minutes to something anymore." a
"Establish a home, a retreat where you and your child can relax, be comfortable," adds Nowell, "and use it as a buffer to get a shot in the arm for whatever's going to happen to you the next day."
Gerry Pleshaw, Washington representative for the city of Rochester, agrees that deciding where to live is the most fundamental question for a single parent. She and her 10-year old son Gregory, now live in downtown Alexandria.
"As a working mother, I can't stick my child in the suburbs," says the 40-year-old Boston native, a former special assistant to Mayor Kevin White. 4 "My son needs a city life where he can walk to cub scouts and the music store on his way home from school."
Pleshaw found a house and a live-in housekeeper before she found a job.
"I picked a house [near a divorced friend and her three children in a good school district] that was smaller than I could afford because I budget for the housekeeper as part of the house, the mortgage payment."
Trans-Century management consultant David Brunell and his 12-year-old son Paul share their D.C. Palisades home with a live-in college student who "can be a friend who's predictably in the house around suppertime and when I can't be home at night.
"You have to be lucky to find the right person and it takes time," warns Brunell. "We've had four different people in two years." (His son helps interview and choose his caretaker.)
"I also had to do some changing," admits Brunell, who used to work 10-12 hour days and go on out-of-town business trips. "It took me three to five years to change working habits, hours, and routines until I came to a better balance between professional and personal aspirations and needs.
"If I were by myself, I'd tend to wing it a lot, maybe staying downtown for drinks after work, but now we schedule ahead because Paul needs a clear sense of what to expect."
Graphic artist Art Iddings says that six years ago when he was left with an 8-year-old daughter to rear on his own, "I searched everywhere until I realized that i had become that person I was looking for.
"I became freelance so I could work out of the house," says Iddings, 52, "while my daughter sought out two neighbors and the mother of her best girlfriend as feminine role models and confidants.
"When she was around 10 and kept asking for a little brother or sister," he adds, "I got her a doggie named Fluffy that she could love."
Single parent Judy Johnson, 37, who gives workshops on the subject, counsels her students to "choose two part-time jobs over one full-time, find a job where you can bring work home, or create a job you can do at home.
"The financial benefits are lousy, but little kids can't wait for the attention. If you share your life more, it helps them to have respect for you when they can see you working so hard," says Johnson, a part-time floral designer.
Many single parents have discovered their children make surprisingly good helpers, especially in the kitchen. (So long as meals are simple.)
"One of my great satisfactions," says Brunell of his sixth grader, "is that he's got his morning organized and now makes himself a great lunch."
David Woods, a former WRC-TV director and weatherman, says he'll never forget the morning his three daughters suprised him with breakfast in bed, including scrambled eggs.
"Give some of the load to the kids," advises graphic artist John Gribbin, Vienna. Two summers ao he was left in charge of four children, aged 8-13.
"It was especially rough when I worked the 3-11 shift and had to precook dinner," shudders the almost 50-year old. "But now the kids not only start supper, but my son even thought up a chart to show who does what."
Single parents agree, however, that it is necessary sometimes to get outside help.
"I was bugging and nagging my son about cleaning the house," recalls Brunell. "We decided, finally, we needed some help and decided to pay for it. We didn't need to use our precious hours together being uptight and frustrated with each other."
Help may be as simple as eating out occasionally.
"We ate at McDonald's a lot and my weight sky-rocketed," laughs Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), a widow and single mother for the past seven years. Her son Kevin, 20, is now a sophomore at Howard University.
Bob Linsk, buyer/manager of Seventh Heaven stores, says he and 10-year-old Jeffrey eat out regularly after working out together at a health club.
"We're more like roommates," says Linsk, 45, of Chevy Chase. "And I try to give him a lot of leeway so we don't eat on any set schedule.
"The one thing we'll always have is love, and we could be a crowd of a thousand and not feel bad about hugging each other. That's important."
"Although my son still sometimes wishes I were home at 3 o'clock to give him milk and cookies," Pleshaw says they make more family time by going to, and giving, dinner parties together. (Her 10-year old helps plan and grocery shop, then fixes and passes hors d'oeuvres.)
"And, if my friends really object to my bringing him along, I usually don't go."
Diane Stoy, Arlington, a research nurse at George Washington University Medical Center, and daughter Heidi, 10, "regularly get up at 6 so we have an hour and a half together to have breakfast, discuss the day's plans, maybe just sit on the couch and read next to each other, and then dress together.
"It's a wonderful start," says Stoy, 33. "Especially on the days when I may not see her for 12 hours, it's just like a transfusion."
Another way to stretch togetherness is by phone.
Rep. Collins, often in Washington while her teen-age son remained in Chicago with her mother, thinks her letter writing and daily calls were crucial.
"I had astronomical phone bills each month (one time from Africa with 19 hours time difference). I was always leaving the dinner table someplace to reach my son before he went to sleep."
But, warns one mother, "Allow yourself re-charging time to avoid martyrdom -- routine, regular time you can count on, even if you end up taking a bath and reading a good book while the babysitter's there."
David Woods remembers boning up on single parenting with library books. Others say they are forever grateful to self-help groups like Parents Without Partners (pwp).
"There's instant empathy and when you get involved with others like you, you grow with a sense of belonging that boosts self-confidence," says Ann Parks, 48, Kensington, who 16 years ago was left alone with three children under 5. She is now director of information for the 8,000-member international organization.
Single-parent counselor Johnson has discovered, with her own daughter, two special ways to relieve tension.
"We role-play a lot and my daughter pretends she's the Mom. And when all else fails, we wrestle, instead of fight. We always end up rolling and laughing and hugging each other when all the tension is gone."
"The only magic is steadiness," says civil engineer Richard Huriaux, 35, of the District, whose daughter Emalie, 2, is staying with him now.
"Just love the kid and keep on truckin'."