Saturday, September 11, 2010

House of cards

This school year began with high drama when, a week before the first day, I was informed that the city-run afterschool program had been cut for budget reasons. I had personally called the city's administrative offices the day before and received confirmation that yes, the program was on and would move ahead while the school tried to raise money to help pay for it, so it came as a surprise to me when I received a terse e-mail from the school that essentially said You are all fucked. Actually, I sort of wish they had just come out and said that. It would have added some much-needed humor to the situation.

I called the YMCA, which was the alternate suggestion provided in the e-mail, and was given a price quote for ~12.5 hours a week of "care" that made my head explode. After I'd picked up the fragments of my skull, I spent the next three days worrying and coming up with Rube Goldberg-esque plans for transporting G the two miles from her school to our house. I knew she would be fine on her own once she was safely at home with the door locked, but getting her there, in the absence of school buses, seemed next to impossible. Then, the Friday before school started, I got an automated message on my voice mail - actually half a message, as the first part had been cut off - that retracted Tuesday's e-mail and confirmed what the city had told me in the first place.

If you're imagining me being jerked around like a marionette on a string, that's more or less how I felt by that point. Hey, it's okay! I enjoy stress and uncertainty! They keep life interesting!

Only not.

Anyway, this experience highlighted just how much I rely on the routines I've developed over the last four years. I frequently get told that "you make single parenting look easy," and maybe that's true, but if so, it's not because I'm some sort of superwoman - it's because I have systems in place to keep everything running more or less smoothly. Throw a wrench into one of those systems, and instantly I become that single mother, the flaky, unreliable one who makes people roll their eyes and say uncharitable things under their breath. I've sometimes found myself in conversations where people say those things to me about other single mothers they know, and I always tell them to have a little more sympathy, because I know I'm just one broken-down car or canceled afterschool program away from being in the same position - and that's with only one child to tend to. I can't imagine what it would be like if I had two or three or four.


Widow in the Middle said...

It worries me that budget cuts end up hitting the programs most needed and relied upon by single/only parents. In these trying times, my sons' public school fees went up to well over $1,000.00 and don't include any of the extra fees for music and sports programs. I had to be put on a payment plan.

The after school program my sons went to was a life-saver both when my husband was ill and after when I was working and just needed a short break. But I was often criticized for using it because some people felt my 4th and 5th grade sons would just be fine as latch-key kids. In fact, it wasn't until late middle school that the boys felt comfortable on their own. People need to give single parents and the kids a break!

I am so sympathetic to any and all single/only parents out there. To always be on guard fearing that car breakdown is wearying. I absolutely would have been near hysterical if I received a terse email as you did. I'm blown away that the situation wasn't handled with more compassion toward the poor parents scrambling to figure out alternative plans. I hope the school comes up with a way to continue the program but at least for now it is on.

Sandy said...

I was the single mom with the broken down car. And I did fall apart ALOT.

I had 6 kids to raise alone, my youngest is autistic. Their dad didn't pass away, he just went away, drifting around as if he had nothing to be responsible for.

We survived... my kids are all now grown and despite all my falling apart, have turned into pretty great adults.

I give that credit to God.