I am once again posting homework. The final project in one of my classes is to write a ten page memoir essay. After thinking about it and starting over many times I finally just went back to what I always write about, Max. Some of this is from stuff I had written in the pst. I don’t post these assignments to have people comment necessarily, it just seems like a free blog when I don’t have any other ideas for the day. Also, it’s obviously a rough draft, I am sure there are lots and lots of grammar and spelling issues.
Max: I love you Mommy.
Me: I love you more.
Max: I love you most.
Me: I love you infinity.
Max: I love you infinity plus one.
Me: Hey, infinity is the biggest there can be.
Max: Yeah?…Rubber chicken!
Seems as though rubber chicken is the ending to most of the conversations that I have with my son, Max. Max is short for Maximus, which I found out after choosing, means “the greatest.” Like most parents I do believe that my child is the greatest. I am now raising him alone. I grew up with two sisters and zero brothers. This world of rearing little boys is like reading Chinese to me. But, only if Chinese is messy and hilarious. As I write this he is six years old, and sad to say, it wasn’t that long ago that I realized I, as a single mother, could bring him up in just as much of a spectacular way that any two loving parents married and living together could.
I remember distinctly the day I found out that I was going to have a baby. I took an at home test in the bathroom of Ben’s work, my husband at the time. I expected to have to wait the full prescribed five minutes there alone in the handicapped stall. But, after less than thirty seconds I saw two pink lines in the test window. TWO PINK LINES! I was beside myself with happiness. I went out to tell my husband the news, and he was glad as well. But, as I left to go home I knew that my joy did not come from the idea that I had created a life with that man. Our marriage began when I was only twenty years old and very naïve. I had thought that if I was a model wife and tried hard at our relationship that we would be together like we’d said, until death. Sadly, after about six months he decided that playing house was no longer for him and we spent most days at odds with each other. He constantly verbalized his un-sureness of if he wanted to remain together and I silently wondered if I could make it work anyhow. So, the reason I was overjoyed when I found out I was expecting was because I knew that there was going to be another person in the family, one that might actually like me.
The next nine months flew by. I absolutely loved being pregnant. Luckily I had minimal sickness and those kicks to my tummy made me happiest of all, even when they came in the middle of the night.
Our marriage change little during that time. There were some alright times and there were hellacious times. But on a Friday night in September of 2001 I went into labor and we went in the hospital together.
My labor was short and fierce. Max, who I had named about halfway through my pregnancy, came out not breathing and with a very low heartbeat. I was paralyzed with pain and exhaustion and could not even lift my head to see the emergency resuscitation table where they placed him. After less than a minute he started crying. The nurse exclaimed to me that he had my red hair and I started crying. He was cleaned up and given to me to hold. Let me be honest, that boy was UGLY! His head looked like misshapen silly putty and his face was bruised everywhere. By this time half the extended family had wondered into the delivery room and were commenting on his cuteness. I knew that the effects of labor would fade, but I wanted to tell them all to stop lying and admit that he looked horrendous. But, beyond his looks he was already my greatest love. He was healthy and wonderful.
The next six weeks became my favorite time of my life. I was ordered on a strict bed rest and I obediently followed doctors orders. I took the time off from my job ast the coffee shop in Seattle where we lived It was me and Max and all those TV dinners that my sister had stocked my fridge with while I was in the hospital. I wondered if it was OK to hold him as much as I did, because I rarely put him down. His father was at work all day and when he got home I would share the holding. But other than that, I never wanted to let go of him.
After six weeks I realized I had better get back to work. So, my mother who lived close helped out with babysitting as I started back at my job. Though I was happy to be moving around once again at the place that was my one and only social outlet, I missed that little boy immensely. When I went to pick him up that first day I was convinced that he grew while I was gone. The time apart became easier, and his grandma loved the time she spent with him.
Max was already showing signs of being a intense boy, far different from the little girls I had been used to my whole life. As soon as he learned to stand he was pulling himself onto the couch and falling off. There were pillows surrounding any and all furniture that he was able to climb for many months. Then he began talking. A few words came easy for him. Momma, Dadda, and he called my mother mamma. Then, he developed his own language for things. He called water “ahum” and milk he named “dahum” among other things that only I understood the meaning.
Max was developing perfectly. His father was working steady for the first time in years. I was convinced that we were going to make it as a family. Then, one night Ben decided to go out with friends after a work function. He ended up staying out very late, coming home very drunk and it was pre-baby madness all over again.
This happened a couple more times and then, when he insisted on going out at night, I began to leave myself. Though I was not out for fun, but instead just wanted a good nights sleep. I told my parents that I had a hard time sleeping at home when Ben was out of the house with friends. I never let them know the real reason I crashed on their couch was that I was scared that Max was going to be affected by hearing his father scream at his mother.
One day, after one of these nights, I took Ben’s car for the day as I had to get it serviced and he then took my car to work. I put the baby seat in the back and climbed into the cab I noticed some cups in the front seat and went to clean them out. One cup in particular had a thick ring of dark purple lipstick around the rim.
So, not only did I find out that my husband and the father of my child had another women in the car that I had bought for him, he had driven around the type of tramp who wore tacky lipstick to boot. I was beyond irate and getting an oil change was then the last thing on my mind. I went into the house again and threw as much clothes as I could into a couple suitcases, grabbed all the baby supplies I could find, and left. I never went back.
The next week max turned one. His family birthday party was not going to be until the weekend and for his actual birthday we just made a small cake and watched him eat it with his fists while sitting in his diaper. While taking pictures and laughing at the requisite mess he was making I began to cry. I excused myself into the backyard where I bawled. I was feeling sorry for myself for abruptly becoming the single mother that I swore I would never be. My mother came out and ordered my sappy self back into the house to enjoy my son’s only ever first birthday.
The next year was a blur of max’s first and divorce proceedings. I slowly became accepting of the fact that I would be the first divorcee in all of my family. I eventually was able to take off my wedding ring, though I was always aware that cashiers at the grocery store would glance at my naked finger when my little boy was acting up. In my head they were all thinking, “Silly young girl had a baby without a daddy.”
Max saw his father intermittently at first. He would watch max on the weekend while I was at work. Then he began to have days where he would “oversleep” and miss my early morning arrivals on the way to my job. Most of those times I was able to take Max to my mothers. Once or twice, I did not have the option of bringing him to grandma’s house and he spent the day at my coffee shop job in the baby sling that I could carry on my back. I felt like such an idiot, but let me tell you, the tips on those days were amazing.
Ben ended up quitting his job and I was able to work weekdays and bring Max over to his house. One day, as I was picking Max up I noticed the door was ajar to the house he had moved into. Max was wandering around all alone and there was a Cheech and Chong amount of pot on the mantle. Certainly not the amount one would keep for personal use. I scooped him up and left and immediately called my divorce judge. He told me that in my case, I did not have to respect the court ordered visitation rights that Ben held and I could discontinue visits immediately. And I did.
However, I was then stuck with a lack of daytime babysitting. So, I called up my sister who lived six hours away. She met me halfway and said she’d take Max as long as I needed her to so I could find other means for childcare.
The next ten days were filled with crying and desperate calls and visits to daycare centers. I finally found one on a Friday, and I went to pick Max up and would then bring him there on the following Monday.
The very hardest thing I ever had to do was pass over my crying baby to someone who was a stranger to him that first morning. Mary’s Daycare Center was an in home daycare where he was loved and taken care of very well. But the fact that I had to use people outside of my family to provide care for my son gave me a lot of guilt.
Max did not see his father for months. We never heard from him at all. I was accepting this, even enjoying it. I never had a child with the idea that I would have to divide my time with him in the first place. I was more than happy to take on full time mommy duties.
A few months past, Max was about two and a half at this point. I received a call from Ben’s mother who informed me that Ben was now homeless, sleeping in a hospital parking ramp and horribly addicted to heroin. My gut said, “feel sorry for him.” But I knew there was nothing I could do for him, so I went for the first time and asked Max about his daddy. Two year olds don’t engage in deep conversation so what I said to him was, “Do you remember your daddy?” while showing him a picture. Max was very verbal and responded with, “Daddy sleeps in the chair and cannot get up to play.”
I was beside myself with guilt. Ben admitted to his mother that he had been using for over a year. There were, he admitted, times when he would shoot up while Max was in his care. And some of those times he became too high to move let alone properly care for a toddler.
Not long after that I was offered part ownership in a coffee shop back in my home state of Minnesota. I jumped at the chance to leave behind Seattle and the lingering fear that at any time Ben could come around and haunt our lives again. A few months later and we were relocated.
For the first time, it was just me and Max. In a home all our own. I was terrified. Max was a toddler by every definition. He whined, he laughed and he was learning about life at the most rapid speed he would ever learn.
We spent the next two and a half years in a mother son partnership at that coffee shop. I went to work with max every morning at five am. His daycare did not open that early so I was able to spend the early mornings with him by my side behind the counter of the espresso shop. He would place stools randomly around the work area so he could climb up and ask the customers what they would like. He even learned how to pull espresso shots.
With very little exceptions this was our life every day. I worked on the weekends many times as well, and on those days he was to spend the entire day by my side as there is no such thing as weekend daycare in the small suburb where we resided.
When he was in daycare he proved to be a difficult task for the teachers. That little boy inherited my defiance and would rather kick and scream than give in. We had twice annual parent teacher conferences and during one his teacher said to me, “Max has behavioral issues. We are going to have a specialist from the state come and evaluate him for any developmental difficulties that he may have.” I knew he was a challenge, and I readily admitted that to the staff. I was unsure how to raise a child and I wanted all the help I could get so I agreed. But I knew what they were testing for: ADD.
While I respected the concerns of his daycare, I was not about to and never would allow them to begin a lifelong regimen of psychological medication on my little boy. I was scared.
The results came back and he was not diagnosed with the disorder. I was so thankful, but still worried about his behavior. At this point the was nearly five and in the four and five year old pre-school classroom. The specialist noticed that during learning time, as they called it, Max would wander off into the play area and then get scolded for not joining the class. Yet, the teacher would immediately orally quiz him on what the lesson was and he could spit back the correct answer without effort.
I knew he was smart in the same way that every parent believes their child is smart. But they decided to place him in the room with the Kindergarten through sixth graders in order to hopefully capture his attention. It actually worked.
Max began to thrive in the lessons that he was learning and I was so relieved not to be called in for on the spot conferences each time he acted up.
My proudest moment while he was attending that pre-school was one Fathers Day. Max was not able to make a Fathers Day present for his dad, who was at that time strung out on the streets of Las Vegas, or Wyoming, or somewhere in California. It was tough to keep up. But, when he came home from school he handed me a card and a tissue wrapped present. I opened the card and it said in messy letters: Happy Father’s Day Mommy! I confused max when I began to cry. I was so happy and I wasn’t even sure why that was. The gift was a paper weight made out of nuts and bolts and screws. I placed in on my desk and I still smile when I see it.
Work, however, was not going so well. I was working a minimum of fifty-five hours a week and I was lucky if it was that little. We were still stuck in a small dingy apartment with neighbors who yelled at each other that was similar to the yelling we had suffered a few years before. I was unhappy and I was leaking that emotion onto my mothering.
So, I decided to sell out my portion of the shop, which made me no money whatsoever, but I was free. We decided to move from that tiny town into St. Paul, where I would be able to begin college once again and where my son would be able to receive a better start to his education.
June 1st of 2007 was the last day I worked at that coffee shop. The weeks before I had packed up my apartment, found a new one in a strange town where I would have to start all over again. But I felt so good about it and I was never happier at any time in my life. There was going to be a few weeks in between my new job and the old one, so when I walked out the door on my last day of work I had bags all packed and after picking Max up we immediately drove out of town, and then out of state.P>
We headed back to Seattle to spend a couple weeks with my family who we had not visited in a couple years. The time we spent there was great, but the best part was the road trip.
I was absolutely broke and applied for a credit card for the soul purpose of taking this trip. It did not have a huge limit, so our vacation would be limited to only necessities.
Before leaving I had researched various websites which listed oddball roadside attractions. We based our rest stops on where we would see the things like the world’s largest buffalo statue and the world’s largest stack of oil cans. At each stop we would take pictures of max standing next to the statues and bought a post card of the attraction as well.
Max learned that when we stopped he was allowed to dig through the cooler in the trunk and pick out one food item and one drink. He also appointed himself at all gas stations to washing window with the squeegee near the pump. He never actually stopped with the windows and half the country got to see our car with sloppy streaks all over the body of the car as well. We took the same route that my family had taken on many previous family vacations. I was so happy that my son was able to begin the tradition with me. It was our first family vacation.
And then, for the first time I realized that regardless that we did not have a daddy around, and with out little siblings for Max to play with, we were still indeed a family. I had always been so occupied with the thought that ours was unlike any I had known in the past that I never realized that to max, this was exactly what a family was.
After we got back to Minnesota and settled into our new home things changed for us quickly. I was at a new job, Max was at a new daycare and soon we both started new schools. He thrived in kindergarten and was quickly labeled “gifted” though I still don’t know what that means other than I like to brag to family members about it.
Not long after school started, I began dating someone and found myself in my first relationship since Max’s father. A couple months passed and I decided that it was time for the two of them to meet. Max was eager to meet Mommy’s friend and the first thing he said after hellos were exchanged was, “Do you know why my daddy doesn’t live here?” I was mortified, couldn’t he have chosen to talk about Pokemon or Transformers? When no guess to Max’s question was given he elongated his entire body and sang in a beautiful opera voice, “Diiiiiiiiiiiivvvoooooooorceee!” This wasn’t the ice breaker I had expected, but nothing Max does ever is.
We’re now in a routine that works for us amazingly. Max entertains me every day with his child curiosity and unparalleled wit. It almost hurts to think that he is already one third of the way through his childhood, but then I think about the way that he will break out into the world when he is out of my care. I can’t wait to see what he becomes.