Every summer I solo parent. I’m not a single parent, that’s different. Single parenting is real.
Solo parenting is a strange alternate universe where I have a partner, but for six months it’s in the past: I had a husband. Between 6:00AM and 9:00PM I’m the sole captain of our three-year-old, one-year-old, dog, cat and chicken ship. And we are probably crashing.
I dole out snacks and shuttle children to playdates and doctor’s appointments.
I discipline, searching my brain for logical consequences to marker graffiti on the walls, toys thrown at sisters, and post-preschool tantrums. I fix scraped knees and hold up bicycles for little feet to pedal. I wipe butts and breastfeed, sometimes at the same time.
My husband works in the Alaskan salmon industry which begins each year, ironically, on Father’s Day. The Sunday fishing season opens our tiny town of fathers and mothers all head for the water, sometimes for weeks at a time.
He’s lucky to work on land in processing instead of on the water, so he sleeps at home every night and I don’t have to worry about him when the summer storms rattle our windows. Still I text him photos of our days like he’s on a work trip, all summer. Look how the kids have grown! There’s Charlotte with food in her hair, there’s Hugh, with all of his clothes off drawing permanent marker tattoos all over his body. Yes, I miss you. Yes, I love you.
This has been our life since before we were married.
The flip side of a hard summer is winter freedom, long days at home watching football, trips to the pool, and walks in the snowy mountains.
The hardest part of solo parenting is going to church alone.
One Sunday I walk up the concrete steps to the open doors, holding a carseat under one arm and sticky hand in the other, and notice all the families heading into church. Look at all those moms and dads ready to share the challenges of managing babies, together. My face is tense as we step inside and I feel guilt on top of the fear. I want to feel peace at church but I can’t find it. I worry the toddler will throw a toy. I worry the baby will pull down the sound recording equipment in the back of the church and run away laughing. Most of all I worry everyone will turn in their seats and say to each other, look at that bad parent.
Today, my friend, Lori, slides into the row behind me. She’s carrying a car seat and a wiggly toddler too. She smiles. She’s solo-parenting too; her husband works in a copper mine so he works two weeks on and two weeks off all year. She makes it look easy. If it’s not easy she makes it look good.
After the pastor gives the children’s message we’ll gather our kids and climb down to the basement nursery. We’ll talk about parenting books and sweet potato recipes. We’ll share vacation dreams and tricks for our gardens. Actually, Lori will share tricks, I’m still learning how to garden, so I’ll listen.
Sometimes I go to the nursery alone. I start to wonder why I even bother to come to church when our entire family is stuck down here, under the feet of the musicians upstairs. We hear the thud of the base and the rising of fifty feet for a new song. There’s no clock so we lose track of time, waiting for the familiar melody of the closing song to tell us it’s safe to emerge.
Then Lori joins us in the bright little room and she doesn’t look lost, she looks like she’s done this before. She’s comfortable in our season of parenthood and at home in church with unpredictable babies. She sets her eight-month-old on the carpet beside a toy train while her toddler runs to join mine at the rice table. “How was your week?” she asks. And church begins.
Genny Rietze lives in rural Alaska with her husband, two young kids, and a dozen chickens. She writes in the early hours of the morning, runs a community compost program by day, and practices guitar during bath time. She loves rainy days and the friends who welcome her to church when it feels hard to go alone. Find her on Instagram taking pictures of food @gennyrietze or shoveling dirt at @hainescompost.