Until recently, I spent many of my waking hours imagining what it would be like if my daughter’s father were around. I assumed this was her dream, to grow up with both parents. So I took on this dream as my own, nurturing it as any mother would do for her child.
For my daughter and me, single parenthood is the only reality we’ve ever known. (Lexi’s father and I divorced during her infancy.) I don’t know what it’s like to split responsibilities with another parent, and she doesn’t know what it’s like to have Dad around to play with her.
Still, I was conscious of the fact that she was the only one in her first-grade class who didn’t have both parents present on a regular basis.
What was it like for her to see her classmates walk hand-in-hand with their fathers each morning on the way into school? How did she feel when friends recalled various activities they did with Mom and Dad over the weekend?
For sure she must want her father there to kick a soccer ball around, or to have an alternate lap where she could rest her head at night.
It wasn’t until this year, at age 6, that she asked, “Are you ever going to get married? I think you should marry Daddy,” and I told her that we had, in fact, been married. “You were?” she asked in disbelief, as if it were a joke.
That was it. She didn’t follow up with, “What happened” “Why aren’t you married anymore,” or any of the questions I feared. In fact, what soon followed was: “Well, when you get married again, can I be the girl who drops the flower petals on the ground?”
You bet, my dear, you bet.
Last year, Lexi’s kindergarten class did an art project using pictures of the students’ families. She wanted everyone on her neon pink poster board — not just her blood relatives, but the friends of mine she has grown close to and her friends as well.
Although a lot of households with married parents spend time developing their immediate family, we’ve made other strong relationships. We spend Monday afternoons before dance class with my 88-year-old grandmother. We’ve lived with my parents, and they have a unique bond with Lexi.
One day Lexi may want a further explanation for why her father isn’t around. For now, she knows that her dad and I met in Hawaii, where we walked atop inactive volcanoes and played in the surf of beaches that are much warmer than those blanketing the Maine coast, where we live now. She knows she was born in Truckee, Calif., not far from where her dad was stationed with the Coast Guard. She knows when she was three days old, we took her to the Lake Tahoe Station and her dad showed her off to his co-workers.
She doesn’t know the things that made me pack up her nursery and move back to Maine several weeks later. She doesn’t know how he got out of the military soon after, but chose to live in several states — none reachable by a day trip in the car. I’ve always painted the picture that he loves her, regardless of infrequent calls and visits.
For years I voiced my worries to friends and family members, asking whether they thought Lexi felt like she was enough. It wasn’t until my mom responded with, “Erinne, I think it’s you who is questioning whether or not you are enough” that I realized Lexi is living proof that I have indeed been enough.
For days afterward, my mom’s comment stuck in my head, beckoning me to rethink what it means to be a single parent. My 6-year-old wakes up every morning with a smile on her face and silliness on her tongue, ready to embrace the day. She doesn’t ho-hum about going to school; she rarely whines or complains when things don’t go her way. She’s happy. She’s social. She leaps at the opportunity to try new things (not food so much, but activities, yes).
She’s all the things I once was before I let stereotypes about single parents convince me that Lexi’s childhood was insufficient without a father around.
I finally stopped spending so much time daydreaming about the perfect family for my daughter when she was showing me all the signs of feeling complete.