The Sleepover Party
Before packing everything we owned to move 3,000 miles, Daniel and I packed our suitcases and drove across town. Ascending the rock studded cement steps, we arrived at our third door—a shiny brass doorknob on a white framed glass door, opening up into the fun and artistic home of our friends Anissa and little Cece. The walls were decorated with Anissa’s talented artwork, rainbows danced at the breakfast nook, a cute bunny nibbled quietly in the living room, toys overflowed, fish swam, and if a unicorn had walked out of the back bedroom I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
Anissa and I met when she posted in our Single Moms By Choice Facebook group, offering childcare with her toddler daughter in tow. The four of us were instant friends. The kids were only a month apart in age, and she and I understood each other in a way that no one else could. There was relief and a thrill when we found each other, discovering that our stories were almost the same, and more importantly our outlooks moving forward. We had both been faced with an unexpected pregnancy before making the decision to embrace motherhood, and we continued to rejoice in it with every (exhausted) fiber of our being.
Because the choice to be a solo parent came during the pregnancy and not before, we both had slight impostor syndrome when we hung out with the Single Moms By Choice group. They were an impressive bunch of strong woman, most of which were in their late 30s-40s with successful careers to show for their years. These woman who, for one reason or another, decided that they either didn’t need or didn’t want a man to have a baby with. The majority of them had experienced expensive and complicated fertility journeys, overcoming the odds with determination and grace.
I had been interested in the SMBC group, long before I found myself at potlucks with them. As I entered into my 30s, I become acutely aware of the fact that I seemed to be surrounded by incredible, ambitious, beautiful women—the majority of which were single. It struck me as odd. Individually the ladies fell on all spectrums of the story, some had escaped bad relationships, some had never found a lasting one at all. I landed somewhere in between, having found a great guy, but we had decided to end the engagement before the wedding. Collectively, we were all actively searching and coming up empty handed.
I once went on a date with this Swedish guy. He was sexy and smart and only in town for the weekend. We practically spent the whole time together. When I mentioned my observation to him he said that he had noticed the same phenomenon in his own country and had some thoughts on the matter. He believed that the strong women who don’t need a man, come across as not wanting a man. The shift in gender equality and easy accessibility to birth control, had meant that women had the opportunity to focus on their education and careers instead of creating families. Consequently, traditional gender roles, which historically gave everyone a place and a job in the household, had been disrupted. Uncertain of where they belonged, intimidated, and feeling inept at successfully wooing an empowered woman, men were left floundering. And, as years tend to sail by quickly, having not made room for a man, women remain infinitely alone.
At the time, I was personally on the fence about having children, caught between a blaring biological clock, and the joys of pressing snooze to sleep-in indefinitely. With the birth rate on the decline, what felt like a personal dilemma was actually a global crisis. It seems that Sweden had put significant attention into raising their fertility rate, though both of our countries fell below the threshold of 2.1/per woman—the minimum to maintain an equilibrium between the elderly and young. The power to make personal decisions often comes with a collective price. Though the logical brain has the power to override instinctual impulse, perhaps our inability to settle hinders our ability to settle down.
Making the decision to have a baby is only the first step in the large expanse of parenthood. Afterwards there are a million decisions that one must make, most of which can be contradictory to what your friends have done, without making either of you a better or worse parent. Anissa and I navigated parenthood with a similar mindset, making the same choices on things like co-sleeping and nursing. The four of us fit together effortlessly.
There was an excitement about spending this time together—Like one long sleepover. Daniel was so happy! His sweet friend Cece, with her Shirley Temple curls and frilly dresses, brought out his gentlemanly side. He often just tenderly rested his arm around her back, or held her hand, soaking up the feeling of closeness.
In the afternoon we took our cold drinks to a patch of sunny lawn outside their apartment, and the kids played in the blue kiddy pool, warmed by a long day. Some of the water made its way to the lush orange and green nasturtiums, by way of a pail green watering can—Daniel’s little toddler body straining under the weight of it. But always up for a physical challenge, he successfully hoisted it up, pouring the water out on the happy plants.
It was from this yard, one late afternoon, that we heard the chanting of a Black Lives Matter march off in the distance. We felt the beat long before we could make out their words. Neither of us needed any prompting as we scooped up our kiddos and made a run to catch up. Our kids are just barely still small enough to run with, mine already much more than half my size—the neighbors smiled at my effort. We managed to catch up just at the very end of the long stream of masked protester, and walked parallel on the sidewalk, remaining COVIDly conscious. Those that didn’t have signs, had their empty hands raised, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. Charged with their energy, we joined in the wave of chanting and the electricity of the group made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. We marched up the hill with them, the intensity maintaining. When they turned right and headed on, we turned left and headed home, talking to our kids about what we had just experienced and why. It doesn’t feel like two is too young to start the conversation—Cece is biracial and Daniel is a white male—The future starts here.
There is vast comfort in knowing another solo mom who always seems to be on the same page. In a parallel universe we would have just moved in with them and raised our kids as a team. Anissa is by far one of the most patient, creative, beautiful, mindful, Super Moms out there. She took us on smoothly and graciously, making dinner or watching Daniel, whatever she could do to help. The support took a huge weight off of my shoulders, while I bore the pressure of tying up all the loose ends. I was immensely grateful. Especially when everything is always more complicated and stressful than you anticipate.
For example, my car, dubbed Howie, just wouldn’t start one morning, foiling my attempted to rush out the door. Waiting for a jump from AAA became a test of composure, forcing me to breath through the wasted time. Eventually I arrived at my apartment, but made the mistake of parking in the driveway and the battery died again. A face-off between the inevitable delivery of the shipping cubes, and the eventual arrival of a mechanic to replace my battery, had me anxiously waiting with sweaty crossed fingers. Miraculously, the mechanic finished just as the semi-truck arrived, and I slipped my car out, as the fork lift brought the cubes down into place by my garage.
Before I loaded everything into the shipping cubes I set an appointment to call Bio Dad. There was a small part of me that hoped that if I told him that we were moving so far away that it would be the catalyst that he needed to come meet his kid—he might even beg me to stay. Maybe just threaten to take me to court and force me to stay. Or send the cops to the airport and detain us. I’d fight him. He wouldn’t have the right— he’s not even listed on the birth certificate. I’d win in court, but it would be a dragged out show down. It would probably be super expensive; definitely be dramatic and stressful. I really just want the freedom to move away, peacefully. He picked up on the second ring. “How are you? ….Moving?…. Oh, where? That makes sense… That’s good… I’m glad that you are making the best decision for you and your child.”
We chatted for another 40 minutes, like we tend to do once a year. We always go a couple rounds of slaps but no punches. He touches on my decision to keep the pregnancy— and how he’ll never understand why. I touch on his decision not to be a part of the kid’s life— and how I’ll never understand why. We don’t get too deep into it, but emotions rise for a moment, and then one of us always eventually stops the loop and changes the subject. He makes jokes, I laugh easily, the tension loosens. We always remind each other that we only want the best for each other. We remember why we liked each other so much, and acknowledge how complicated the situation is. And then we leave on a high note, addressing each other by name to say goodbye. He always sends a little bit of money. Not as much as the court would have him give, but he does it without prompting and consistently on the last day of every month. It helps him sleep at night. And it puts some food on our plate. Mostly it’s just an acknowledgment, a nod to the fact that Daniel is here and he hasn’t forgotten that. Life is long and their story is not over. At the end of the day, I’m just relieved that there is no drama, and I maintain the freedom to move.
Packing, purging, planning and posting my beloved house plants for sale, every day becomes a series of tasks and hoops. Feeling nervous about trying to sell Howie during a pandemic, I was surprised to be reminded that things often have a magical way of working out—a benevolent benefactor not only wanted to scoop him up for a generous price, but also allowed me to keep him while I was still in town. Putting one foot in front of the other, I try not to think too many steps ahead, because it doesn’t take much to feel overwhelmed. Our time in Oregon is starting to come to an end, but we have one more Portland door to enter, before heading to Vermont. Daniel and I pack up our suitcases once again and head into the SW hills.