DSCN0920Like many parents, I saw multiple articles pop up on various news feeds about the study released through Pediatrics yesterday, linking “Selective Eating” to ADHD, anxiety, and depression in children aged 2-5 years. Or, more specifically, “917 children aged 24 to 71 months.” Out of these 917 children, they observed that 20% of them showed signs of moderate to severe selective eating. Being a mother of a child who refuses to eat most foods, and will choose to go hungry an entire day instead of eating food she doesn’t like, I worried over this linkage. According to the study, my child may be depressed or anxious if she’s not eating her vegetables.
The team of doctors heading this study observed that nearly half of the 20% of children who showed signs of selective eating (SE) had parents who were from single-parent homes, kids whose parents used drugs, or who had moms that were anxious themselves.
Their findings stated that “Children with SE at either moderate or severe levels were more likely to have elevated symptoms of anxiety or depression, to experience hypersensitivity to taste and texture, to have mothers with elevated anxiety, and to have family conflicts around food.” Of course these mothers and kids have anxiety and family conflicts around food. Single parents do not have the luxury of purchasing an abundance of healthy foods for their kids to try. I know this. As a single mom, I’ve been there.
1929264_43796148281_6279_nMy daughter started refusing food when she was around 18 months. Before that, I’d chopped up vegetables to mix into her pasta, and fruit in her oatmeal. I am, by default, a healthy eater. I limit processed food, eat fresh ingredients, all of that.
But when she stopped eating, I lost my mind.
I worked part-time cleaning houses, and went to school full-time. I did not, by any means, have money to waste on food my kid refused to eat. I stopped making food for myself, and ate whatever she didn’t eat, but it got worse.
She’d only eat a certain brand of cereal, the yogurt with the berries but not the peaches, and scrambled eggs one week but not the next. I couldn’t afford to purchase food she wouldn’t eat, and sat at the table with her, begging her with my eyes (and eventually words) to take just one more bite. I’d watch her take two bites of her so-called favorite meal and be done.
Going to friends’ houses for dinner or lunch was no longer an option. After a few years, my daughter would look at me and ask, “But what kind of food will they have?” with a worried tone. She’s just over 8-years-old now, and I’ve relinquished all control over her diet. She knows what food is healthy, and what is considered junk food. She knows she has to eat before doing an activity, even if it’s an apple or some cereal. It took us years to get where her refusing a bite of food didn’t make my stomach churn with stress. My anxiety over the possibility of wasting food only exasperated her anxiety about trying new things.
I am also a picky eater. I go through phases where all I want to eat are mashed potato patties with fried eggs, or pasta with meat sauce. I choose restaurants based on what I’ve already had, because I really can’t afford to go out to eat, so I want to make sure I love what I’m buying. I also rarely eat sitting down, and hardly ever eat a full meal. When I realized how much autonomy I had in my own diet, I gave the same respect to my kid.
How much of my anxiety over not having enough food had caused her to stress about it? There have been times that we relied heavily on food stamps, WIC checks, and donations. There were months where I’d eat peanut butter sandwiches and saved the “good” food for her. If she didn’t eat, I freaked. “How could you not be hungry?!” I’d say. “You need to sit right here and finish your food. This is all we have,” I’d demand.
I no longer say those things. I encourage her to listen to her body’s messages before and after a meal. “Do you want a snack or a meal?” I’ll ask. Most of the time she just wants a snack consisting of fruit, crackers, and cheese. And we sit at the table together and eat, and fart, and laugh. I prefer things that way.

I set up the birth tub the night before Mia was born. It wasn’t out of expectation. The next day was her due date and I figured, out of any day, that’d be the least likely she’d arrive. But she did. First thing in the morning. It had nothing to do with a mother’s intuition. I wasn’t a mother yet.
I suppose there might be some similarities to an article I wrote going viral, but maybe not. Writing is something you nurture and care for and witness its growth over time. Maybe, just possibly, it could be your own, inner child. Or maybe I’m looking too much into it.
All I know is, the day before my article on Vox came out, I met with a friend who’s a web designer for Mamalode. We talked about switching my blog to a different platform, SEO, and, finally, starting a professional page on Facebook.
I’d anticipated the pieces coming out on Vox and Scary Mommy for a couple of days. I’d flipped my blog all around, changing pages and pictures, and changing the title. I shut down my Facebook page, making all posts only visible to friends, and made myself a “Stephanie Land, Writer” page. It felt pretentious and weird, but freelancing is my business and that means promoting my brand to get clients, even if that brand is me. Either way, I had to proclaim myself publically as a writer and own it, even though it felt cheesy.
My boss called me Thursday morning right after I’d gotten up. Coraline had been up late and slept in. I was still groggy, had barely gotten out to let the dog pee, and definitely hadn’t had any coffee.
“Have you checked online yet? Your piece came out on Vox, I bet you’re excited about that!” she said.
I hadn’t even woken up my computer yet. The old laptop takes several minutes to get moving in the morning. I let it do its thing, finished my conversation, and went about attempting to boil water for coffee. My bank account was overdrawn for the first time in years. My truck wasn’t running right and needed to get checked out. And I had to mail documents for a hearing next week.
I squinted at my email account, and had a bunch of messages about people following my blog. I frowned, not really knowing what that meant, and checked my blog stats. It’d had almost 4,000 hits in the last hour. Comments were coming in so fast I couldn’t keep up and finally shut them down. Most of them were positive, but quite a few were negative.
Fullscreen capture 7162015 24823 PM.bmpI’d known the Vox piece would cause a stir, and knew it’d piss a lot of people off, possibly defaming my character a bit, but the story and writing were excellent. I trusted most people would see through it, and see the real story that needed to be told: that the big house on the hill doesn’t mean a perfect, happy, life, and my disenchantment from discovering that as a maid.
The comments kept coming in, and people were searching me on Google to get to my blog. They were sending me awful messages, but most were extremely supportive and even inspiring. I kept thinking, “I’m so grateful I started that public page last night.” Most of my Facebook page had been public lately in an effort to promote myself. I couldn’t imagine having thousands of people flipping through years of posts and pictures. I hadn’t expected the popularity at all, but maybe it was a mother’s intuition to protect her kids, I don’t know.
By noon, blog traffic had reached 10,000 hits, which was close to how many hits it’d ever received since I started it in 2009. People from larger news outlets had contacted me for permission to run the story, or if I could send them more of it. Then I got a message from an agent interested in the book I’ve been working on.
I still hadn’t brushed my teeth. I’d boiled water for coffee three times. And why wasn’t the mechanic calling me back?
I finally got a hold of Mia to tell her the news. She’s still visiting her dad until Sunday.
“So I’m extra extra famous now?” she said.
“Yup, sweetie, the book I’m writing about you will probably get published now,” I said.
I could hear her smile through the phone. She told me about her new doll, and all the accessories that came with it. I was so happy to hear her little voice.
You start out on journeys to be a writer, hidden in rooms, scribbling in notebooks, hiding them from others. They’re your private thoughts. They’re things you wouldn’t tell a best friend. Then you get published, and it’s the deepest, most confusing exposure. Part of you is thrilled to get noticed while the other part is terrified that someone has discovered how you really feel. Then you remind yourself to sit back, and enjoy it.
Because this is what over 20 years of hard work paying off looks like. This is what your kids will learn. That if you keep at it, keep working at the dream, you’ll get there. They can choose to do anything, and they’ll know it’ll be possible because they watched you do the same.

It’s an odd thing to wake up one morning and by the day’s end your family has shrunk a little. Not in a tragic way, thankfully, but by way of summer visit, a leaving for a few weeks, a vacation that I’m a little envious of.
DSCN1796I can’t figure out if Mia and I drive each other crazy because we are opposites or so alike. We argue a lot. I find myself trying hard to show her love and affection but it gets muddled and mixed up and we both end up frustrated and exhausted. When she started seeing a therapist a couple of years ago, it became obvious that we were in a sort of relationship counseling. Some days are better than others, but almost all are a struggle of battling wits, manipulation, and endless questions. I am raising a girl who wants to be close but pushes me away because she needs me to fight her to come back. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I can’t be everything she needs all the time, and she has a hard time with that.
But then she leaves for these periods of time and I’m left surrounded by the essence of her. I become consumed with regaining my living space, rescuing it from her constant clutter. I rearrange furniture, bag up piles of papers and random toothpicks-in-putty creations that seem to be everywhere, all the time.
So I clean. I dump out the dozens of little bins in her room into a pile on the floor and separate the hairbrushes and doll shoes and markers with no lids. I throw broken toys in the trash pile, and other ones in a bag for Goodwill.
I often clean when I am angry, or when my life feels especially out of my control. Mia and I will argue and I’ll escape to the bathroom to wipe it all down with disposable wipes.
Today I cleaned because Cora is sick and teething and fussy and sleepy and I have too much work to do. Because she’s not adjusting to being at daycare so we’ll try again in a couple of months. Because I want to write and edit and maybe, just maybe, work on my book but it’s pointless to try. I have only so much patience for one-handed typing while the stuffy-nosed baby, frustrated and nursing, bites my nipple hard.
I need to lie flat on the floor until the carpet leaves marks in my cheek. I need to write fast first drafts to edit late at night. I need to spread piles of papers in front of me and tuck them back into appropriate folders. I need to get my head in order so when I sit down to work I stop thinking about money and hunger and parenting plans and my kid who cried out of fear her dad would be angry she’s getting her sister’s cold.
Then, there’s a part of me that aches for Mia. I know it’s not easy for her. To be gone, to be there, then return. When she was little, she’d scream for hours out of exhaustion from transitions. She copes with it better now, especially because her dad doesn’t know how smart she’s become in the last six months. The restrictions on screen-time and knowledge of what food she’ll eat don’t carry over.
It’s taken me two days to type this. I adjust my legs and wake Cora up and she cries from being too hot and too sick and too awake. But my foot was asleep. I had to move. I had to.

“The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants.”
― Johnny Depp

I dropped my newly-turned 8-year-old daughter off at summer camp this morning. It was in a basement, there were no windows, but they had a lot of the usual morning chaos happening. My daughter didn’t look too thrilled to be there. She knew one other kid, our neighbor, and he was already in a deep conversation over the foosball table. I said goodbye, kissed her, hugged her, and told her the neighbor’s mom would pick her up at 5. Then I turned on my heel and walked out.
I had no worries about her running, crying, clinging to me, asking me not to go. Those days were in the past, and were primarily for my benefit. Mia’s always been one for independence. When I’d called to check on her after an emotional goodbye, her caretaker chuckled and said she was fine as soon as I left. “I think the tears were for you and not because of you leaving,” one told me once. Whenever I picked her up, it was rare that she was happy to see me. Which, let me tell you, gave me a huge “horrible mother” complex. But I’ve also made sure to put in years of constant reliability, showing up when I say I will.
That’s always been 75% of parenting to me.
Mia was about Coraline’s age when I started her at daycare. I just learned the months from 10 to 12 are a separation anxiety phase. Mia, of course, loved daycare, loved naptime, loved to sit at a table and eat with her friends, and took to the head teacher like she was a grandma. Coraline is a bit of a different story.
I thought Coraline’s attachment to me was the result of my solo mom status, but it’s just who she is. Since birth, Coraline would cry so hard if someone else held her, it took me a while to settle her . The only time she cried was when I put her down for more than a few minutes. By the time I found a woman (known locally as “The Baby Whisperer”) to watch her once a week, Coraline followed me around the house, her little hands clinging to my legs. If I picked her up, she’d squirm to be put down, then cry with her arms up, wanting me to pick her up again. For the last few weeks, she’s spent a lot of time in the Ergo carrier. It’s like a neutral place for her. I’m not carrying her, but she also has her chest pressed against mine.
Then there’s the dog.
DSCN1780Bodhi’s separation anxiety got worse the more she bonded to me. I’d return and find her frantic, drooling, and the couple of times I had to leave her in her crate, she rubbed some of the skin off her nose. It’s already hot here, so there aren’t any times during the day that I can leave her in the car (which isn’t much better anyway). I’ve bought books, I moved her crate into my room and made it into a cozy den, I’ve purchased essential oils and thundershirts and better dog food. I have picked up my keys and put them down. I have walked out the door and left her for ten seconds, then thirty, and so forth. I’ve left her with my older daughter while I run quick errands (telling the neighbors across the hall of our building first). I think she’s slowly improving? I don’t know. If I move anywhere in the house, she’s so close she’s touching me. If I leave, she’s beside herself with glee when I return. I think I figured out a way to leave her alone for short times without her getting frantic, but I haven’t tested it too much.
This, of course, has been a lot of pressure on me.
I understand how she feels. I know panic attacks. I know that feeling of not being able to breathe, of feeling like you can’t move while your insides want to run. I know panic, thinking you’ll die, while your vision’s edges turn to black. I know it’ll take time before she doesn’t feel that with every trigger, and I know they won’t go away completely.
But I not only can’t walk around in my own home from a baby who cries if I avert my attention, I now feel like I can’t leave my house without doing some kind of damage to my dog’s recovery from trauma. At least with the baby, I know she won’t always prefer to take naps with her hands shoved deep into my armpits, grasping on to the hair there like a chimp. I know by the time she’s Mia’s age, she might be able to cope okay with being left alone for a day of camp. I hope so, anyway.
What I find most difficult about being a solo mom is being someone’s person without having my own. I am the end of the line. I have no one to turn to for emotional support. On days that Mia is unrelenting with arguing and my bank account has three bucks, I can’t fall apart and cry. I grit my teeth, clench my jaw, and take deep breaths. Tomorrow might not always be a new day, but it is closer to the end of this rough phase we’re all going through. It’s been my survival skill. I keep my mind a year ahead or sometimes more. If I don’t let myself fall apart, it won’t become a habit.
And we’ll get through this.

It’s been a year. Almost. Both of my girls were conceived on my birthday. Mia came on her due date of June 21. Coraline showed up five hours after hers had passed on the 16th. They both came so fast. Mia in four hours, and born at home. Coraline came in a quick, white-knuckled hour, and just barely at a birth center. In the next week, Cora will turn one and Mia will turn eight.


Photo by Logan Parson

A friend asked me once what my biggest fear was with having a second daughter on my own, and I said the exhaustion. I feared being emptied out to the point I wouldn’t be able to scrape together enough to be a good mom, or be good to myself. This morning we all sat around our kitchen table eating from a bowl of apricots, blueberries, strawberries, and plums. We all laugh a healthy amount, the baby smiles all the time and exceeds most developmental milestones, and Mia is advanced in reading, writing and math. I worked over 30 hours last week at three different freelancing gigs. From an outside perspective, it looks like we’re skating through, sailing smooth, and accomplishing life without a hitch. But a few things have become normal in the last year that I probably wouldn’t have been paid enough to do without them if you’d asked me a couple of years ago:

  1. I no longer eat dairy. Yup. I went from eating almost nothing but dairy before Coraline was born to feeling like I’d throw up if I ate any. I’ve tried bringing it back by sneaking it in here or there, but I always regret it. My diet was already limited by a lack of wheat flour, but since Coraline, I’ve removed all dairy (including chocolate), peanuts/peanut butter, pineapples, onions, garlic, bananas, most cane sugars, eggs that aren’t organic (expensive) and I think that might be it. The only explanation is a known grass allergy, so eating any plant that begins by shooting a single blade out of the dirt first doesn’t jive with me. I asked an allergist about this, and she shrugged, said that could be a good hypothesis, then added, “pregnancy fucks up your system.” Thanks.
  2. I don’t have sex. I don’t have sex with myself. The thought of it makes me nauseous. I have a hard time kissing Mia on the lips. I tried to overcome this last fall, and it was pretty exciting and great for a week or two, probably because I really really wanted it to be. I wanted Coraline to know some sort of male figure. I wanted Mia to have someone to play with. But having a horny, hairy man in my bed was not worth the trouble. He decided I wasn’t, either, pretty quickly in one conversation a week before Christmas, which totally sucked. But I’m pretty happy doing this gig with as little amount of boy drama as possible.
  3. Photo by Logan Parson

    Photo by Logan Parson

    I am always (besides one saving grace day of daycare) in a three-foot radius of a baby who cries if anyone else tries to hold her. Coraline is attached to me. She is my sweet, happy, cuddly monkey. Mia was a completely different baby. I was her caretaker and a point of reference in the wide radius that was her world to explore. By the time she was a year old, she’d mastered several words, had started walking (often away from me in large distances), and we spent a lot of time apart. She visited her dad and went to daycare. She slept in her own bed. She didn’t like to be held close. Coraline doesn’t like to lose eye contact with me. She sleeps on my chest or in my armpit. She’ll fall asleep in her car seat, but I haven’t had any luck getting her to sleep without touching me in some way otherwise. At near one-years-old, she still seems like a baby to me, when Mia was already on her way to being an independent toddler.

  4. I rarely drink alcohol, quit smoking, and don’t miss them like I thought I would in those times I said I should give them up. I also eat primarily organic, cook all my meals at home from ingredients and not a box, and, due to the recent acquiring of a dog, walk about two miles a day. I still haven’t gotten back into rock climbing, but it’s hopefully on the horizon.
  5. I don’t sleep. I mean, I do, but hardly. I stay up past midnight working most nights, and get about three hours of good sleep before Cora wakes me up to nurse or my back wakes me up because it’s in varying degrees of pain.
  6. I don’t give a shit what other people think. I don’t have a problem saying “no” to social things. I love, love, love spending a quiet day of just me and Coraline, which I often get to do.
  7. I work from home. Like, actually work on a computer, getting paid to write. People send me paychecks because I wrote something they liked. Okay, maybe this one will never be normal.
  8. We live in a two-bedroom apartment with our own washer and dryer that we can afford. Again, another thing that was beyond my wildest dreams.
  9. I don’t go out to eat. I don’t sit on patios to have a beer with friends. I don’t go out past dark. I am usually either working, taking care of kids or a dog, eating, sleeping, showering (sometimes), or watching a show on Netflix or scrolling through a Facebook feed until my vision gets blurry. I don’t read. I hardly write my own stuff. It’s a rare moment that I sit, relaxed, with my eyes closed and face pointed to the sun.
  10. I’m happy. Sure, I get grumpy, mad, sad, stressed to the point of anxiety attack, and whatever. But for the most part, I am possibly the happiest I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s the work-load. Maybe I’m just one of those people who’s only happy if she’s working all the time. Possibly. I am surrounded by laughter, ridiculously cute moments, sweet sighs, snuggles, and cute, comical antics. How could I not be happy?

DSCN1657It’s weird to be this healthy. I’m 36 and fitting into pants I never thought I’d be able to get past my thighs again. I’d love to get a vacation. Or even a staycation. I’d love to go out to eat with a friend. It’ll happen. Coraline, sadly, won’t be a baby forever, a thought that gets me through the frustration of not getting a break. I have years where I’ll be able to sit on patios over brunch and mimosas. But this time right now will be the minutes I’ll wish I could get back.

It wasn’t at first sight. She shook in her outdoor kennel, next to that dog who wouldn’t stop barking. Next to the pacing Airedale with long, matted hair. No, this little red dog looked like any dog, except her whole back end quivered when she sat, but her eyes stayed on you.
Say you had kids with you, say you had two. One holding your hand and one strapped to your chest. The older one just wanted to go pet cats, just wanted to look through the dogs, just to see. Then you saw this little, trembling dog.
Once you put a leash on the dog and walked ten feet away from the front door, she did that thing where they sniff the air, snort at a dandelion, and pee. She ate grass. It looked like she’d had puppies recently. Her ribs showed too much. She walked a little ahead but kept her ears pointed at you. She never pulled; she was just on a walk. Same as it ever was.
Then you and the kids sat in the grass. This dog that’d been shaking from fear rolled on her back, right in between you three, and let out a huge sigh. She went from uncontrollable fear to pure relaxation in minutes. She looked up, ever so lovingly, at your older daughter, and you saw they matched. Maybe they saw the loneliness in each other. Maybe this dog knew. Maybe all those times you told yourself that the right dog would come someday when you weren’t looking like single ladies in their late 30s say about Mr. Right had truth to it. Maybe it wasn’t just a lie you told yourself when you saw other people cuddling with their fantastic dogs.
0511151640That’s pretty much how it went. I’d always told myself I didn’t have time for a dog. Told myself I didn’t have patience, or energy, or the proper space. But I asked how to apply to adopt. I filled out the paperwork on a hunch while my daughter fed her treats in the lobby. The dog’s fear and anxiety could prompt scary situations, especially with the baby who didn’t know any better and the eight-year-old who did but respected no boundary. Bringing a scared, fifty-pound dog into our little apartment could be a terrible decision. But I handed over the clipboard with my signature.
They agreed to hold her for twenty-four hours, and we had to return her to her cage. My oldest said, “Boy Mom, that little dog is going to make a family really happy. I hope she finds them soon.”
Our lease required a doctor’s note in order to get an animal. The property manager emailed me the paperwork the next morning. I called my daughter’s therapist, whose office was a block from our house, and asked if she’d fill it out. We’d talked about it already. Mia needed a dog. She had attachment and trust issues from her dad cutting their time in the summers at the last minute for three years. From her never knowing when she’d see him again every time she said goodbye. I always did my best to be the dependable one. I showed up when I said I would. I didn’t change plans. I didn’t promise things I couldn’t keep. And I’d promised her we’d get a dog someday, something she reminded me of daily.
By one o’clock in the afternoon, I’d handed in the note from the therapist that said my daughter needed a companion animal with heartbreaking honesty. The pound called and said we were approved. I drove to a box store and picked up dishes, a collar, a leash, and food. I drove to pick Mia up from school. She was expecting her Big Sister to pick her up for their weekly outing, but I stood there with a bright purple leash in my hand. Mia saw it and knew what it meant.
“Are we getting the dog?!” she said. I nodded. “Oh, Mom. Thank you thank you!”
I’d tried to talk myself out of this many times. I’d even sent texts to friends who’d also try to talk me out of it, asking their opinion. They repeated everything I’d told myself. This could go very, very badly in quite a number of ways. She was a scared, homeless mother who’d been abused. I saw too much of myself in this dog. I knew what she needed. We had that understanding already.
DSCN1642 I changed her name from Yogi to Bodhi, the Buddhist term for enlightenment, the true form, and freedom from hatred. It only took her a few days to learn it was hers. She took to us completely, and trotted after Mia from the living room, the bedroom, and back. Bodhi’s curled up body became a fixture wherever Mia settled during the day or at night. After a while, Bodhi even started to appreciate the baby for her baby ways. Coraline likes to crawl over the dog’s middle when she’s stretched out on the floor, pausing to teeter on her belly and laughing.
One night, Bodhi wanted to sleep under Mia’s bed instead of with her, which caused Mia to pout and curl up in a tight ball way up on the top bunk. We’d only had Bodhi for a few days, and I woke up just after midnight to the sound of the dog pacing the hallway, whining. I thought for sure she had to poop and started to worry over how I’d get up and do that without waking the baby.
“Bodhi,” I whispered. Her head appeared immediately in the light of the hallway from my slightly opened door. I patted my bed. She leaped up, turned around a few times, and let out that huge sigh again, resting her head on my legs. My sweet dog. No doubt.
* * *
DSCN1692I look over at Mia and Bodhi lying on the couch together, watching TV on a lazy Sunday morning. Bodhi has her head and front leg draped over Mia’s belly. We’ll take her for a walk later, maybe to that special spot by the creek. Mia complained about having to walk the dog last weekend, but after we were out for a bit she said, “I feel happier for some reason.”
I’ve had the same reaction. I vacuum more. I find myself outside gazing up at the pre-dawn sky every morning before any coffee is made. I walk a mile a day or more. I do laundry more often. I wipe up more drips of drool off the floor. And I feel happier for some reason. A reason that comically snores. A reason that knows when I need to feel her warm, heavy head in my lap. A reason that is currently lying across my feet under the desk.

A knot usually builds in my stomach at the beginning of the month. It’s a turnover of bills that are due, namely rent and that one private student loan payment I can’t defer. I’ve looked for work seriously for the past couple of months. As a freelancer, I figure at least five regular clients with added one-time jobs will be necessary to be lucrative. I currently have one, and the added two who have hired me but I haven’t worked at yet. I’ve found in this industry, getting from “hired” to “paid” is a big leap.
Snapshot_20150302Last night, I sat and stared at the closed blinds. Coraline slept in my arms. I’d overspent on stuff for Easter by five bucks, starting the dance of waiting for paychecks and direct deposits before checks clear. I thought maybe I was getting depressed. I’d been scrambling and scraping for too long. The last year has been especially tough, often not having enough, but we’d made it. I’d found an apartment we could afford. All the years of college, of toiling over words, of long hours promoting myself, gave me this launching point. We’d made it to me growing my online platform to something I could be proud of, enough to go out and ask people to hire me to write for them. I felt like jumping up and saying a proud “TA DAH!” and presenting Stephanie Land, Freelance Writer, and all the jobs would come in. My small amount of income would triple, I’d pay off my credit cards, and I’d be able to leave the state and take the girls on a trip somewhere. But all of these weeks went by so fast, and it was suddenly four months into the year and I’d only accomplished a fraction of my financial goals.
DSCN1509Recovering from putting myself through college with a newborn was harder than I’d thought. I had no idea I’d suffer from a fear of my own mortalityI didn’t think I’d be so enraptured with Coraline that months of having barely enough income and support to pay the bills would be worth it. But I still made progress. I secured good shelter. I gathered resources to help us through this (hopefully) last time of needing them. I lowered my monthly bills by $140 while adding life insurance. I used my tax refund to pay off a third of my credit card debt and transferred another chunk to one with 0% interest. I applied for funding to write a book. I wrote. I submitted. I got published and started the process again.
I hope this foundation will carry us through the next several years.  
But last night I felt sorry for myself, tired and weary of the struggle. I searched online for blogs written by other single moms who had done the same. Who had their kids full-time. Who’d gone from depending on government assistance to successful careers. But most of them were written by former stay-at-home moms who’d divorced. A lot of them focused on dating. Then I stumbled on singlemomsincome.com and this lady had gathered a whole list of ways to work at home. She has ebooks and links and words of encouragement. Enough that I felt inspired. But it still came from a post-divorce woman. Someone who’d started her family with a platform of marriage, and had a partner in the beginning. Her kids visited their dad every other weekend.  
I thought instead of occasionally posting on here, I should do so with purpose. In the next few weeks, I’ll add a tab that lists resources I’ve used when my total incoming money was less than a thousand dollars. Sometimes a lot less. Writing or talking about living well below the poverty level hasn’t been an easy topic for me. I hold on to a lot of shame and guilt surrounding it all. It’s time to let that go.
With luck, this blog might reach another full-time solo mom, desperate to not have to fill out applications for assistance and pay all her bills while affording dinner out. Maybe she’s a survivor of abuse, too. Maybe she’s estranged from her family like we are. And I can comfort her a bit, or give her confidence, and say “I know, I’ve been there, too.”
That’s who I’m writing for. That’s who I’ve always written for.

I stayed up late a few nights last week, gathering old journal entries and blog posts and digging through notebooks I kept from when Mia was little. I’d forgotten such a huge part of her life.
There are things that happened with her dad that I just don’t tell anyone, or have rarely spoken about. When we finally got out of Port Townsend and away from seeing him every day, I tried my best to forget. Those first two years of her life have a lingering sense of a bad dream with a few images of sweetness here and there. Going back and reading my private journals and logs made me see things without the prison of anxiety. I see Mia differently.
DSC02134She was Coraline’s age when we were first homeless. We lived in this little cottage that served as a shelter with the housing authority. I had a flip-phone and a radio to entertain us. She had one basket of toys. We went for long walks during the day. She talked all the time. Up until that point, she’d been a quiet, watchful baby. After we separated ourselves from her dad, she started crawling and talking and entertaining herself.
For years, I’ve felt guilty for what I put her through. That I endured the abuse and exposed her to it. The constant moving, getting out of Port Townsend, driving six hours every other weekend for visits, her getting shuffled around so much, then moving her to Montana, all felt like I’d put her through hell for my own reasons. Because “selfish bitch” was his favorite thing to call me after “crazy.”
I found this old file I’d written in for a while. It just has dates and records of conversations or incidents. I did it in case we went to court again, and had to stop because I’d dwell on the words too much. Looking back on them now, it’s so obvious what hell we were going through with him. Not just me, but Mia, too. Back then it was normal to hear him call me names and yell. Now I can’t believe it was ever said. One thing’s for certain, we had to get out of there.
DSCN1534Last night, for the first time, I made the girls one dinner. They both ate spiral pasta with red sauce and the three of us sat at the table at the same time. Coraline added “boo” to her vocabulary. I think so, anyway. Maybe it’d be more accurate to say she put another one of her regular sounds into context. She’s gaining a sense of independence, and crawls further away from me when we go places.
This morning, Mia came in to get me up, and woke Coraline up, too. I was all hunched over on my side with my knees almost to my chest to prevent my back from complaining too much. “Cora was up for two hours last night,” I said. “She was wide awake and crawling around the bed. I had to put her in the playpen with my hand over the edge to get a little sleep.”
Mia asked if she could take her and I said a thankful yes. When I came out of my room 15 minutes later, they were both completely dressed with coats and hats on. I decided we deserved a trip through the drive-through coffee stand. I dropped Mia off in front of her school on this patch of grass and gave her a big hug and kiss.
“Thank you for being so helpful this morning,” I said. “You’re such a good kid and a great big sister. You look beautiful today.”
DSCN1541She’s been upping the ante on style lately. This morning she had on purple tights, a dress, a sweater, a purse, white gloves, a jacket, and matching hat. She looked so fancy standing there in the morning sun, unlike me and completely like her. She stood there, beaming, and blew me a kiss, holding her hot chocolate with that fancy white glove and I thought I should take a picture. But by the time I’d gone back to get it, she’d lined up.
“Elastic Heart” by Sia played as we drove to school this morning. I’d heard it plenty of times, but the lyrics grabbed me harder:
You did not break me, I am still fighting for peace.
And it’s all for you, Mia. It’s always been all for you.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWZGAExj-es&w=560&h=315]

DSCN1452My dear Coraline Cairn,
We’re sitting at the kitchen table together. You’re eating banana pieces. You pick a chunk up with your long fingers, squish it inside your chubby hand, and raise your fist in the air. I imagine you thinking, “Behold! Banana!” but I know you’re not. Before the banana, you ate a puree that came out of a pouch. Whenever you see me take one of these out of the drawer, you start bouncing in your seat and laugh. Eating’s kind of your favorite thing in the world.
I needed to write this months ago. I should have been writing this sort of stuff down in the past nine months that we’ve been getting to know each other. I hardly have pictures of you, let alone a baby book.
What pains me is I know I’ll forget most of this. I won’t remember the sounds you made this morning as you woke up, but that you screamed at the top of your lungs for a whole month. This first year with you will fade to a blur, like your first months already have. I’ll be left with impossibly small onesies, a few photos, and some Facebook posts. My hope is, when you’re hurt by this as an adult, I’ll whisper that you’ve always been my favorite, and all will be forgiven.
Your sister doesn’t have a baby book, either. I did write about her all the time. I’ve been reading those scenes late at night. I can see your big sister at two so clearly through what I wrote. I remember how wispy her hair felt on my cheek. I remember her voice. I remember how impossible some days felt. Some minutes, even.
Even if I don’t end up writing about you as much as I’d like, or take pictures of you other than crappy ones from my flip phone, know that I am mindful of how short of time you’ll be a baby.
With your sister, I fought to own my physical space again, and spent most of the day preparing for bedtime. Almost every decision I made revolved around 7:30 at night when Mia went to bed. I sat in the next room, hoping she slept long enough to give me a break. Your sister started her years with a mom who clawed up the slippery slope that was completely losing herself in motherhood. She had a mom who struggled through depression, questioning her self-identity. Her mom was insecure, anxious, and so stressed.
You, my darling, don’t have to deal with that shit.
DSCN1431You were born to a mother who’d been doing this on her own for quite some time. Being home with you is like a sweet Saturday afternoon instead of crippling isolation and loneliness. I love our little bubble of an apartment, where I plan to keep all of us in for years, instead of moving every few months.
I kiss your sister goodnight in her own room with her big bunk bed and walk out to her Taylor Swift CD. She sets out her own clothes, bathes herself, and even ties her own shoes. Sometimes I offer to make her pancakes and she’d rather play outside with her friends. She reads to herself at night, and has math homework. She talks about boys and watches horrible TV shows that make me miss that blue puppy.
You watch her dance and jump around and laugh. And you’ll be just as big so fast, oh so fast.
So even though I lack in recording memories, know that I hardly ever put you down. I love when you sleep on my chest so I can rest my lips on your head, inhaling deep enough for your hair to tickle my nose. Know that even though we’ll forget most of these first years, you were rarely far from my arms, looking up and smiling at me.
With love.


 While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt