Happy Father’s Day, Single Moms

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solo-mom Mother and child via Shutterstock

The other day as I was picking up my son from preschool, a little girl from his class tugged on my sweater and asked, in front of my son Eddie, “Where is Eddie’s daddy?” Without missing a beat, I smiled and matter-of-factly gave what has become my standard reply, “He doesn’t have a daddy.” The little girl stood, processing this impossible factoid, and before I could snag Eddie’s lunchbox from his cubby and dash away from the impending stream of potentially awkward questions, the young Barbara Walters asked, “Did his daddy DIE?”

“No,” I responded. “Eddie just doesn’t have a daddy. Some families have mommies and daddies, and some have just mommies, or just daddies, or maybe just grandparents. Eddie has a mommy and a sister, and that’s his family.”

This statement rendered me a total oddity of nature in the eyes of this 5-year-old girl, who had, as I was discovering much to my chagrin, been fully educated on all things bee and bird related. She smooshed up her face in confusion and began to ask, “But…”

And then my son interrupted.

“I twied a new food today, Mom! C’we go to Tahget?” he asked, totally unaffected. Yes. Yes, we can go to Target and get you a prize for trying diced pears today, little dude. Nice work. High five.

See, my son gets it. At least for now, he gets it. He doesn’t question his slightly unorthodox family unit, or the fact that though I bear little to no resemblance to the Virgin Mary, he was apparently borne of immaculate conception. I’ve told him simply and lovingly since he was old enough to inquire, that he just doesn’t have a dad, and he’s ok with that explanation. In fact, he’s better than ok. My son is happy. He’s delightfully happy, funny, smart as a whip, gentle, adorable, sweet, quick to laugh, empathetic. He loves monster trucks and cars of all kinds, video games, kicking a soccer ball, playing with friends. He’s a hugger, a kisser, and an all-around wonderful little person. He’s five years old. And he’s never met his ‘dad.’

The ‘why’ is not important now. It’s part of my history. It’s not something I dwell upon, fret about, wish were different, or feel victimized about. In fact, I am truly happy being a solo parent and genuinely believe that my decision to raise him alone was the best one I could have made for my son and for myself, given the circumstances. I’m not a fan of the term ‘blessed,’ but I consider myself so. Yes, working fulltime and raising children alone is at times exhausting – and yes, sometimes financially stressful – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except that maybe I’d not be turning prematurely gray, but hey. They make great boxed hair color these days. In non-drip foam!

As Father’s Day quickly approaches, I’m gearing up for the time of year when, in my family, we celebrate my dad, my beloved late grandfather (for whom my son is named, in part), my brother-in-law, and myself. Yes, I’m a mom but I’m also Eddie’s ‘dad’ in many ways, though he doesn’t likely look at me that way, and I have no current plans to purchase myself a jockstrap or grow a goatee. In spirit, however, and in an effort to raise a well-rounded kid who lacks a strong male role model in his everyday life, I’m both mother and father. I’m nurturer and I’m teacher. I’m “let’s bake a cake together” mom and “let’s go to the Monster Truck jamboree” dad. I taught my son to use his manners, and I taught him to pee standing up. I take him to the doctor, hold and hug him as he gets his yearly shots… and encourage him to be brave and shake it off when he falls off his bike. Yes, it’s a bit like having a split personality, but much more gratifying (and much less creepy).

That said, every year as we close in on this national holiday, I have ‘the talk’ with Eddie’s teacher, as they change from year to year. There will be class projects, see. The kids will make something special to take home to dad. Dads are invited to join the kids at school for a morning breakfast. I’ll explain to his teacher that I’ll be attending that breakfast, thank-you-very-much, and that perhaps my son can make his craft projects for his grandpa or his uncle or for me. Then, if I’m lucky, I’ll be the proud new recipient of a macramé tie that I’ll display at home on the bookshelf. It’ll go right next to the adorably painted-shut purple wooden jewelry box he made me for Mother’s Day.

So, this is dedicated to my fellow fabulous single moms. And plenty of not-exactly-solo-but-very-hardworking moms who oftentimes do their fair share of ‘fathering.’ For that matter, there are plenty of solo dads raising kids alone who deserve to be presented with a Mother’s Day jewelry box and half a Costco muffin while sitting in a too-small chair in their kid’s classroom, too. Maybe it’s time to do away with Mother’s and Father’s Days entirely, and just morph them into Parent’s Day, but hold it twice a year so we don’t lose out on a perfectly good Eggs Benedict brunch.

How To Survive as a Newly Single Parent

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How To Survive as a Newly Single Parent

When you get divorced, a lot changes. I admit, that’s an understatement. A whole lot changes. If you have children, forget the new chapter bullshit; you’re in a new book altogether. Wait. Scratch that. You’re in a different library, in a foreign country. The people here don’t speak the same language, the books aren’t organized like they were in your old house of literature and you can’t seem to find the damn directory anywhere.

Shit. This single parent thing is legit. Survival requires a skill set you most likely have either: a) lost, b) never used, or c) didn’t have in the first place. From things like clogged sinks and lawns needing mowed, to instantly being placed in the dual role of good cop and bad cop, the tasks a single parent handles on a day to day basis put an air traffic controller’s job to shame.

Success, however, can be accomplished, I promise. Should a person equip themselves adequately, single parenting can actually be somewhat appealing. Swear to God.

Here are some things you’ll need to come out on the other side of solo childrearing with (most of) your mental faculties intact, a smile on your face and only an average amount of therapy bills…

1. A babysitter. Preferably one with no social life, so when you call her from your closet floor at 6 p.m. in tears, desperate for some “you time,” she’ll be right there.

2. A back-up babysitter. And at least one more back-up for the back-up. This is serious stuff. Criteria for a quality babysitter ranges widely depending on age and skills of your children. The older they get, the less important things like “speaks English” and “is over 16 ” are.

3. Membership to a wine club. Or a discount liquor store. Or both! You think I’m kidding. I’m not.

4. A single friend of the same gender and near your age range. When you finally get a minute to yourself, have managed to find clothing that is not for work, “exercise” attire, or covered with last night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast, and still have the energy left over to hit the town, you’re going to want a wingman/woman. Choose wisely. Different friends, different crowds. ‘Nuff said.

5. A friend with benefits. There are going to be times when you, uh, would like some um, needs met. Unless you’re down with random hook-ups or have (equally unwisely) jumped back into a committed relationship, you might want to have a person on call with whom to handle this business. Just be careful. Don’t go falling in love and shit. Keep it together. Business is business, people.

6. A great group of supportive friends. Don’t blow it by being the party pooper all the time there, Debbie Downer. They have problems too. Listen and be supportive for them just as often (if not more frequently) than you bring your latest crisis to their attention.

7. Good neighbors. Ones you can look in the face the morning after a night out and who will either politely claim they did not hear you yelling at your children last night around 8 p.m., or, heard it, and were over in within five minutes to play backup.

8. Single parent friends and networks. Don’t know any? Try MeetUp. Seriously. These people will be absolutely essential to your feeling like anything other than a reject of the Members Only Club to which all your married peeps belong.

9. A virtual, cloud-based calendar shared with your ex spouse. Put everything possibly related to the kids and their whereabouts here. You can’t lose it, it’s highly accessible and it’s free. If you set reminders, you can’t forget about appointments (easily) and you can “communicate” with your ex sans contention. Well maybe, so long as you leave the sarcasm out of the comments section. Try hard. It’s possible, so I hear.

10. A sense of humor. Don’t have one? GET ONE. NOW. The only way to make this drama into less of a horror flick and more of an action parody is to be able to laugh, often, at yourself and your situation.

So quit whining already. The credits will be rolling before you know it, take off those pouty pants, get yourself together and hit the road, running. You can do it.

An Open Apology To My Kids On The Subject Of My Divorce

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divorce

I am sorry we failed. I will forever feel guilty that we broke your home and world apart. I know it’s ultimately for the best, but I know, and you have explicitly told me, that you would rather us all live together with some tension than separately tension-free. You don’t know that I was no longer living and now you have a mother, when before I could barely breathe. I know at 7 and 10 you want your mom and dad together and for that I am so sorry.

I am sorry you have to move back and forth between two homes. Going away for a weekend causes stress when I pack. I plan what I need: clothing, jewelry, shoes, jackets, electronics and toiletries. You are forced to move several times a week and you don’t complain. If something is needed from the other house you make due without or mention it without reprimand or annoyance. You are always in one car going to another house. It’s exhausting for me and I am sure it is for you. I created this and I am sorry.

I’m sorry you will have to deal with the uncomfortable and embarrassing reality of your dad and I dating, loving, kissing and hugging someone other than your mom or dad. It will be great for you to see what a stable and healthy relationship is. But, I get that lesson is not top of mind for you. Affection between parents is nauseating enough for kids and teenagers. To bear witness to your mom or dad with their girlfriend or boyfriend must be even more skin crawling.

I’m sorry that even though your dad and I are really good at not putting you in the middle, your reality inherently makes you smack dab in the thick of it. If we were married and you went out for a day with dad and had fun, great! Now sentences start with “no offense mom but I had the best time…with daddy and my cousins.” No offense taken, my heart is filled whenever you have good quality time with your dad and extended family, on either side. My heart breaks a little that somewhere inside, you feel a twinge of guilt for it.

I am sorry that you miss me at bedtime, are lonely sometimes in your new home, miss your dad when we go on vacation and have to always think about whose house you are sleeping in tonight. I’m sorry you have to tell your friends you have two homes, grasp for words to describe our significant others and have to spend every holiday split. I’m sorry that even though we try to handle it all behind the scenes, you still wind up being the western union, relaying messages back and forth. You are people, not robots, and I’m sorry that just because today is Tuesday and that is “my day”, doesn’t mean you don’t want to hang with Dad. And maybe on a Thursday, “dad day”, you want some time with me. You don’t have the luxury of having complete access to your parents. As you go to bed on your 10th birthday with tears in your eyes and tell me that now you have a to wait 365 days until you can get one dinner with just your dad, sister and me and how it really sucks that you only get that once a year, I am more sorry than you will ever know.

I’m mostly sorry that I am not a child of divorce. I know what it’s like to be left out from a group of friends, not be picked first for a team, feel insecure, lonely or do poorly on a test. I know what it feels like to be teased, want the skirt your friend has or wish you were allowed to watch a movie that I keep saying no to. I know what it’s like to want chocolate and not carrots, be annoyed with your sister, or brother, have a great day and want to run home and tell both parents. I know how it feels to yearn to be older, do more, make more decisions. I can relate and offer advice on all of this. I do not know what it’s like to be a kid of divorce. I do the best I can to empathize and put myself in your shoes. I will walk down your path next to you. But I can’t know your pain, the pain I have caused, and sorry is too small a word for what I feel.

I am hopeful that this will be your sucky lot in life and that your other roads will run smoother. We all have shit to deal with and within the pain there are innumerable lessons you will learn. You won’t realize these lessons, they won’t stand out. They will be part of the fabric of your soul. You will be compassionate, flexible and have a world-view that is one more expansive than I had growing up. From a young age you see your dad and I, as people, not just parents and this will serve you well.

My love for you is greater than my guilt. While I am so very sorry for all the sucky things that divorce means for you, I have the knowledge of what our collective alternative was and am unwavering in my decision that this was the best path for all of us.

But I’m still sorry.

Three Ways Splitting Up Made Us Better Parents

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Parents swear, and children suffer

My husband and I both come from families with parents who’ve been married for decades. Deciding to separate and then to divorce meant taking our children into a world we’d never experienced ourselves. More than anything else, we’ve both worried about them and how this will affect their lives.

The funny thing is that it hasn’t turned into the giant fiasco you might expect. It helps that our kids are still young and don’t think to ask us why. But what’s helped the most is that taking this step has made us into more involved and more centered parents, even if we’re no longer parenting together.

1. More Me Time. When we separated, we found a small apartment to sublet. During the weeks I stayed at our place with the kids, on the weekends we switched. Now that I have weekends to myself I have the break I always craved as a stay-at-home parent.

I get 3 nights a week of undisturbed sleep. There are no errands to run. I can meet a friend for brunch without having to line up a sitter or order a kids meal for a small companion. Last week I even got a pedicure in the middle of the day just because I could. I pick the movies and the tv shows I watch. I can lay in bed and read all day.

It’s actually an adjustment to learn to live with a couple of days of open time. You can start up old hobbies. You can connect with friends.

But best of all, when you see your kids again a couple of days later, they are more beautiful and more precious than they were at the end of a long week. My energy is renewed, my patience is restored, and we’re all ready to enjoy each other.

2. Less Stress. I do all my parenting alone now, which should be harder. I won’t say it’s easy. Sometimes I don’t get to eat my own dinner until 10 pm. But getting through those difficult hours after school and before bed are not so tough when you’re not already on edge.

I hadn’t realized just how much my misery in my marriage was weighing on me. There was always the question of when my husband would get home, what mood he’d be in, how we’d manage dinner, how we’d wade through the evening’s battles with the kids. If my husband was home, instead of managing something myself I would feel resentful if he wasn’t there to immediately step in and assist. I was causing a lot of my own pain and frustration.

Taking that out of the equation means a lot. After the kids go to bed I don’t have to deal with any anger or resentment at my spouse. I don’t have to face stony silences. We don’t avoid each other. There are no fights. It’s just a quiet evening for me to relax or clean up or take a bath. And it’s weird how much easier it is to get through a rough evening solo.

3. More Working Together. Now that there isn’t all this extra baggage of our own arguments and grudges, parenting together is a lot easier. We can talk about it clinically instead of getting upset in the heat of the moment. We can email back and forth. There aren’t any spontaneous blow ups. There isn’t any finger pointing or blaming.

If I notice the pack of diapers he bought isn’t the right size, I can just include a note about it in a weekly email about what’s going on, what the state of the laundry is, how they’ve been sleeping, etc. It’s a lot less loaded than the conversation would be if we had it together at the end of an exhausting day.

We’ve started to talk about disciplining strategies for our almost-4-year-old. We’re setting out a short list of rules we can consistently follow with consequences we’ve agreed upon. Dealing with these big issues has never been so easy.

Parenting alone may not be ideal but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Right now, I’m still working on finding my single parent mojo, but it’s not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

The Daddy Question

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daddy-question
“Mommy, when are you going to find us a daddy?”

I hear this question about once a week.  When I first heard it, I cringed. I was not sure how to answer it. I was afraid if I didn’t come up with the perfect response, my children would be permanently scarred.  I was afraid I would be sitting in family therapy in ten years trying to explain why my children were so angry at life. I would have to tell the therapist that I didn’t know the perfect answer to the “daddy question”.

That was then and this is now.  I have stopped worrying about this question.  I have realized that there are so many other reasons my children will need therapy, and this doesn’t make the top twenty anymore. Besides, I have several answers now.  My personal favorite is “It takes a while to find a person special enough to be your daddy.”

When they were younger, they didn’t understand the complexities of that question. I guess they just thought I would go down to the local store, pick one out, and bring him home.  They didn’t know what was taking me so long.  Now they are six years old, and they understand that it is more complicated. They know about marriage and they know a mommy and a daddy are supposed to love each other. Now, they have resorted to fixing me up.

Last year, my son came home from school with the exciting news that his friend had an uncle with a beard, a jeep and a jet pack.  Apparently, this was all my son ever wanted in a father.  I was a bit curious about the jet pack, but I decided it would be best to leave that one alone.

This past weekend, my children decided they were going to fix me up with the juggler in our town.  My son was absolutely convinced that he would be able to impress all his friends if his father was a juggler.  He invented an entire story about how cool it would be to show off his new dad.  My daughter was pretty excited too.  Imagine my relief when the town juggler was not at our church event.  I was picturing my kids screaming, “Do you want to marry my mommy?” in the middle of his performance.

My kids might be a bit pushy, but I have to admit after five years of the single life, I am starting to look like a lost cause.  I can relate to other single mothers in their quest to balance a challenging family schedule with a social life or dating schedule. That is a huge challenge.  Unfortunately, there is a second complication that I can’t overcome with an Outlook calendar and a reliable babysitter.  My past has left me with a big question.  Am I capable of opening my heart to a partner, or is there just too much damage?

I’ve contemplated this often.  I know I can love.  I have two amazing children and I love them unconditionally. I have learned to trust a few people. I have great work relationships.  But intimacy is different. Intimacy takes me right back to my original wound.  Of course, to be fair, intimacy is hard for people who weren’t sold for sex by their parents.

Some find my single status confusing.  They don’t understand why I am waiting.  Several friends have labeled me as a lesbian. They say it as a joke, but I think they are wondering. I think that comes from the societal belief that women aren’t single by choice. Women aren’t allowed to choose the single lifestyle.  I have to admit that I did contemplate an intimate relationship with the same sex. I thought it might be easier after my childhood trauma.  But I had two realizations. First, a healthy relationship with any person requires trust and an open heart. And second, David Beckham’s underwear commercials.

So, for now, I wait. And I keep working on my ability to trust and open to others. I continue to practice saying no when the wrong people show up. I keep standing in my new-found power and expressing my new-found voice. I keep practicing my patience and acceptance of what is. And I am hopeful that one day, I will say yes.

The Choice

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the-choice

I have been a single parent for 4 months now. Since September 16th, 2013 to be exact. One of the hardest parts of this transition for me has been to field the never-ending questions from my 4-year-old daughter, Minka. Fortunately, my one year old son, Cooper, is still little enough that he doesn’t ask questions; the extent of his confusion so far can be calmed with some extra hugs and a consistent nap routine.

One night, Minka was up crying for her dad and I was trying to hold myself together as I hugged her, quietly wiping my own tears away, and trying to explain that he still loves her gobs… he just made a bad choice not to be in our family anymore. I often don’t know how to explain to such a little person the issues that we as adults can’t even understand ourselves.

It has been 4 months since my marriage ended and I still cry almost every night and find myself going over her questions and trying to come up with answers to them. It is so hard to hold my kids together when I feel like I am broken into a million pieces myself. How do I hold my family, my job, my schooling, my friends, my social life… how do I hold it all together when I can’t even summon the strength some days to take a single step? It’s so hard to have patience, speak in a calm voice, give gentle warnings and do the mommy duties of the days when all I want to do it scream or hideout from reality.

It’s what I struggle with the most…

Taking it one day at a time.

Taking it one hour at a time.

One. Minute. At. A. Time.

When I look at my kids, especially Cooper, I see their dad. The way his and my Cooper’s eyes turn from blue to a dark grey when they are catching a cold, the shape of Coop and Minka’s ears that are identical to their father’s, and the sweet tooth that he passed down to Minka due to many nights watching cartoons and eating candy together. His blood runs through them. And so does mine.

Someday, they will ask questions and they will be mature enough to hear the answers. And when that day comes, I want to be able to speak truth to them in love. The only way I can do that is if I speak love and truth to them now. Show them love in my actions, speak love to them with my words, and demonstrate love to them in the way that I speak of their Dad. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life… not letting anger cement itself into the cracks of my broken heart.

Loving my kids more than I love holding onto bitterness is a choice.

It’s a choice I choose – and many days I fail – to make everyday.  Every hour.  Every minute.

There are so many times when they are sick, when they are grumpy, when they are whining in the middle of the night… so many opportunities to speak anger because I am tired, exhausted, and angry that their dad doesn’t have to pull any long days or nights with two toddlers. But then I look at them and remember that they feel the same confusion, sadness, and anger that I feel.  I try and acknowledge the anger and crap of the situation while embracing the overwhelming grace in the knowledge that they are the most beautiful part of my world.

So, I love them. I say nothing and just simply hold them when they cry. Hold them when there are dishes stacked in the sink because I haven’t had the motivation to clean up from the day, hold them when they are crying and it’s an hour past bedtime and all you want to do is go chill in front of the TV, hold them when I don’t know what else to hang on to. Hold on, and let the anger, the bitterness, the fear, and the anxiety go.

My prayer is that I take the time to open my fists, let my anger and hurt hit the floor, and wrap my arms around my kids in a love so strong that it soaks all the way into their being.

That’s all I can do.

Today

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today

I had an epiphany yesterday, during yoga, where most of my enlightenment occurs. Standard.

Our instructor asked us to think about the one person who loves you unconditionally, no matter what, and to dedicate our practice that day to them. I, of course, immediately thought of my children. They love so freely, so much, so fiercely and without reserve. Then she asked us to think about whether or not we were showing that same love back, did they know that we loved them like they loved us? And I had to stop and think… well, do they?

I think about this often; the legacy I’m leaving for my children, the impression of me that they will carry with them, the kind of role model I am for them. At the end of the day, what will my children remember about me and how I made them feel? Am I practicing what I preach? Am I living in a way that I’d want them to live? Am I teaching them to be the kind of person I want to be myself? Am I treating them as I would like to be treated?

As their mother and sole CEO of my household, I can so easily get caught up in the tasks, chores, errands and the day to day life kinds of things and forget to just be. I lose sight of the moment we are in, the beauty and the joy in this sweet time with my kids. The time is fleeting, and they will soon be gone and living their own lives. The time I have to positively influence them is rapidly decreasing, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Yes, I am the person responsible for their discipline. Yes, I am the one who holds them accountable for their actions and yes, I am the one who dishes out the consequences, positive and negative, all day, every day with no one to back me up. And this can be overwhelmingly frustrating. But it can also be a gift. I get to make an impression on my children that will forever shape their lives. What an amazing and remarkable gift that is.

And so I came to this conclusion, suddenly, powerfully, and joyfully during my practice: I will love my children every day like it’s the last day I’ll spend with them. Because it is. The child they are today is not the child they will be tomorrow. I will never again have this child, at this moment in time in front of me again, ever. When they wake tomorrow they have already changed.

So, I make it my great honor then, to leave the very best impression on my kids in every moment I am able. This is how I will succeed as a single mother. I will live each day as if it’s the day I will be remembered by.

May the force be with me.

Mr. Right

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mr.-right

Once upon a time I went out on dates looking for Mr. Right. Then I found someone, I stayed with him, I walked down the aisle, and I got ready for your happily ever after. And then, some time later, things all fell apart.

So now, here I am, plenty of years and a couple babies later, right back where I started. Single and ready to date. I’ve found myself full of apprehension and insecurity.

And it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not about the kids. They are not my baggage. And it’s not the other women out there, the skinny and child-free ones who’ve spent their last few years accomplishing things instead of staying home.

My baggage is me. That old single version of me. It complicates my love life in ways I didn’t expect.

The first problem is simple: the old me was hotter. She had time to go to the gym. She could pig out on a cheeseburger without gaining an ounce. She wore a ridiculously small size and owned several bikinis. The old me had body image issues the way most girls do, but now I look back at her and want to laugh at her woes of skyrocketing up to a size 6.

Because the new me has stretch marks. And an extra 20 pounds. And nipples that have been sucked on excessively in a very not-sexy way. Getting naked in front of someone is not exactly an enticing prospect. I don’t worry about me compared to a woman on a magazine cover, I have enough trouble worrying about me compared to what I was ten years ago. No matter how nice a guy is, I know how I used to look. I can’t help sometimes feeling like I’m shortchanging someone, giving them the less-optimal, second-hand version of myself.

Speaking of sex, that can get tricky, too. Taking someone new to bed can be exciting after you’ve had the same old for a really long time. But the excitement can wear off when you realize how much you don’t know about your new companion. What do they like? What don’t they like? Plus new person sex requires so. much. energy. Remember how you weren’t having sex hardly at all and it just seemed like such a chore to get in 10 minutes after a long day? That was nothing. Now if you bring a guy home you’re going to have a few hours, including foreplay. Some nights you may not have the energy. Perhaps you ought to consider having coffee at dinner instead of a glass of wine.

And then, well, there’s the kids. I have strict rules not to introduce them to anyone I’m not ridiculously committed to, they’re going to be a factor. If I go out with someone who doesn’t have kids, I either feel like I’m talking about them constantly or wonder if I’m not mentioning them enough. And when I go out with someone who has kids, then good luck. Sure, we have more in common and feel like we’re in the same place in life. The bad news is we never see each other. Between custody agreements, work hours, and parenting schedules it’s hard to get both of you in the same place at the same time. And you thought planning date night was hard when you were married.

The thing is, though, despite the fact that I’m self-conscious and scared and vulnerable, despite the fact that some of the guys I go out with are losers or boring or terrible in bed, despite the creepy internet dating messages from older married men, I have actually really enjoyed it. Among all the other parts of myself I’m trying to reclaim after splitting up, now I get to tap back into that confidence in myself when I went on a date that I used to have.

I don’t let that younger, hotter me scare me away. I’m smarter than that girl. I’m no longer scared you’ll be alone forever. I’m no longer convinced no one will want you. I know about commitment. I know about love.

I am a catch. I’m ready to own it.