Sick and The Single Parent

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There are plenty of things about single parenting that suit me just fine.  When we go on a road trip, I can decide to stop for the loo or a coffee break whenever I feel like it.  If I am too tired to cook after a long week at work, I simply order take away.  When doing the grocery shopping, I buy whatever is on special and I never have to worry about buying the “wrong” butter.  The kids and I pretty much just get on with things and mostly, we’re doing just fine.

But when a nasty bug hits, it hits hard.  About a week ago, what I thought was a bit of a cold came my way and as most parents know, a cold is just something you throw a bit of paracetamol at so you can continue on with your day.  Then I picked up my kids from a weekend with their father and it was clear my youngest wouldn’t be going to school that day.  I have the privilege of being able to work from home from time to time so I didn’t panic too much.  I came home, put my child to bed and whipped out my laptop.

Both my daughter and I became worse as the week went on and as much as I tried to just push through it, it’s just too hard when you’re doing it on your own.  Unfortunately, my closest family member lives a seven hour drive from me (thanks John Howard) and therefore there’s no one to call on when I need back up.  I have really great people who live close by who I am sure would grab some milk or a loaf of bread and drop it by if I asked, but it’s the 2am terror of a temperature that reaches up to 41.2 and there’s no more Panadol in the house.  Worse, there’s no one to look to for reassurance when you’re trying to work out whether the fever will break or whether to call an ambulance.

Then, the next day, when your child is finally asleep, and their temperature is mercifully back to normal, you still have to look after your other child, do the normal domestic tasks, get work done and generally carry on as though you aren’t sick as a dog yourself and struggling to get by.

Earlier this year I started a new job.  Since I’ve been there both children have been sick twice and I have been sick three times.  Each time necessitating days off.  Each time I have been wracked with guilt about taking time off a new job and wracked with guilt about thinking about work when my child is sick.  But the reason I think about work is because there’s only one income and there’s no such thing as a single parent having the choice to be a stay at home mum.  The government has made it clear that if you are a single parent you go to work, no matter what.  (As an aside, I’d be interested to see what a longitudinal study might reveal about this really poor piece of policy.. but that’s for another post).

And so it’s been a pretty crappy week here.  My daughter, as children often do, began to bounce back just in time for the last day of school and she and her sister headed off for a week with their father whilst I collapsed in a heap.  The house is a mess, the dog keeps getting lost in backyard because the grass is so high and I still feel like a big puddle of blerg.  Oh – and I’m still sick.  Flu apparently.  Fantastic.

I’m not trying to garner sympathy here, I’m just pointing out how freaking hard it is to be on your own sometimes… believe me, I have the eye bags to prove it.

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Mother’s Day Stall

Every year, the school holds a mother’s day stall.  Parents donate items and volunteers get together to package and then sell the presents to the children.  Each present costs $5 each and they consist of several little items put together.  My kids have always loved these stalls although now my eldest is in high school, the responsibility for the mother’s day shopping falls to my youngest.  She loves this!

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The mother’s day stall is an extremely important event in the lives of children of single mothers.  Without it, my girls would not have the opportunity to purchase a gift for me, which they feel they have done all by themselves.  Yes, I can take them shopping for mother’s day and give them the money to pay for their purchases but it’s not the same, they want to do it in secret, they want the build up, they want to feel as though I’m not paying for my own gifts.

When I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, I secretly hoped she would be born on Mother’s Day, even though it would have meant she was almost 4 weeks early.  I woke up without the slightest pangs of labour on the day and I had to concede that she wasn’t coming any time soon.  But I hoped that my (now ex) husband would recognise the day anyway.  My baby boy had been stillborn almost a year earlier and I felt that I should be recognised as a mother.  He did not feel the same and the day passed as any other.

After I had children, every mother’s day whilst I was married was awful.  My ex husband felt that child rearing was simply something a woman should do and there should not be a special day to celebrate this.  He grudgingly bought  a gift from the children but we never went out, he refused to take me to dinner/lunch/breakfast and I was never allowed to sleep in.  “Why on earth is she divorced from this prince?” I hear you musing.  Why indeed.

For a couple of years after the divorce, my ex took the children shopping for gifts but this stopped abruptly one Christmas when they were only 4 and 7 and the kids were devastated, upset that they didn’t have a present for me.  I told them I would be so happy if they made a gift for me, as this is what I really wanted and as they dried their tears they set about making me all manner of wonderful drawings and little books from their craft sets.

Since then I’ve always made sure they had money to buy me gifts.  They get such a thrill out of giving, often waiting until others have opened theirs just to enjoy the enjoyment of the person receiving the gift.  This is why the mother’s day stall is so important and why I want to thank each and every person who has ever been involved in donating and volunteering to make this happen.  For every single mum out there who buys her own gifts and puts them under the tree at Christmas, who gives her children extra pocket money around her birthday and then takes the children to the shops, who says (and means) that a home made gift is so much better, the mother’s day stall makes the children we love so much, feel as though they can do something for their mum.

It isn’t about getting a gift, it’s about the children getting so much out of going “shopping”, of doing something independently for their mum and not feeling any different from the other kids.

Backing Music: A Little Ray of Sunshine  – Brian Cadd

Outfit:  Pink fluffy dressing gown