The first thing that went wrong was the lock on the door. It didn’t work.
Our friends S and R generously lent us their Cape Cod condo the weekend of Father’s Day. They were away and Ken was on an extended business trip. I thought that a quick outing to the Cape would nicely break up the time while he was away. We unlocked the door of the condo just fine, but locking it was another story. I leaned heavily on my technologically savvy teenagers to figure out the lock’s mechanism. No dice. None of us had a clue about how to work our friends’ door.
My first inclination was to call Ken who was a continent away. After all, the man can walk me through complicated computer problems over the telephone. But I quickly realized that, as talented as he is, even he could not figure out how to work a lock he had never seen. The kids and I did the next best thing. We called a locksmith who, five minutes and $65.00 later, showed us that all we had to do to lock the door was lift up the handle.
And then it hit me like a megaton of bricks—this is what single parents go through every day. They don’t have the luxury of calling on a partner to get them through a rough patch. I can remember the extensive debates Ken and I have had over the years about little things like low-grade fevers, sleepless babies and fussy toddlers. Tylenol or Advil? We had no idea what we were doing, but it was less scary to be in the dark together.
Here’s another thing about our weekend away—driving. I had to do all of it. Ken always does the driving while I snooze in the front seat. This time it was completely up to me to get my kids from Point A to Point B since neither of them has a driver’s license. That’s a lot of pressure on someone with a lousy sense of direction that doesn’t like to drive.
But one of the biggest things that I learned on that fateful weekend was that Anna and Adam weren’t thrilled to be so far from their friends. That’s right, I’m not their whole world anymore. Not even remotely. So I expended a lot of energy on trying to make them happy. Unfortunately, the two of them have very different ideas of happiness. One likes the beach; the other hates it. One likes the movies; the other is not so keen on sitting in a theatre for two hours.
I finally ditched the kids and called Ken from a coffee shop. “They’re driving me nuts,” I said breathlessly into the phone.
“I think what they’re doing is developmentally normal,” he said. “At this stage, they don’t want to hang out with us that much.”
I knew that Ken had spoken the unvarnished truth. I even accepted that truth; it was just hard to see it in action.
By the end of the weekend we had had enough of one another. My children demanded that we leave the Cape a day early. No Monday morning departure to beat the Sunday traffic for this solo driver. They couldn’t stand to be away from home for another minute. That’s when I did something I swore that I would never do as a parent: I gave them the “You do not appreciate me” speech. I hate to admit this, but it was not the first time I’ve done that.
“I am, “ I said in my best martyr-like voice, “only as good as my last favor or the last thing that I bought for you.” Then my kids got into a row with me about how that wasn’t true as we waited to be seated for brunch. People were staring.
At the table their bottled-up resentments came tumbling out. Adam was still furious that we didn’t go to his favorite beach, missing out on eating the best onion rings on the face of the earth. Anna had passed up several invitations of a lifetime that had been sent in rapid-fire text messages throughout the time we were away together. And I took out a small loan to take them to the finest restaurants and buy them the loveliest souvenirs.
“Neither of us asked you to bring us here,” Anna said. “This was all your idea,” Adam said. That’s when I really blew a gasket. “You have no idea how much I do for you.” As soon as I said it, I heard how flat and clichéd the comment sounded. Of course, my children had no inkling of everything Ken and I do for them. How could they? They’re not parents yet.
As for me, I am humbled and awed by those parents who bring up children on their own with grace, wisdom and the hard-won experience of figuring out how to lock a door.