Most single mothers I’ve known over the course of my life have stopped wanting. They’ve convinced themselves that they don’t need or want anything in order to survive. They don’t want fancy shoes. They don’t want more to eat. They don’t need sleep. They don’t need love.
It is far easier to willing eliminate a possibility than to be told you can’t have it.
When my mother was young, she learned quickly not to want the things she couldn’t have. If she didn’t want it than it didn’t matter that she couldn’t have it.
– It didn’t matter that she didn’t have it.
– It didn’t matter if she didn’t find it.
– It didn’t matter if she couldn’t afford it.
The lack of it wouldn’t burn a hole in her soul because she didn’t want it anyway. And if she didn’t want, she couldn’t miss it. Her heart wouldn’t long for it.
She learned to take care of her own mother this way. She learned to check the price tags before she asked for something. When she was a kid, she learned to deal with dirty cloths, empty stomachs, gas station bathroom baths, warming water on kerosene heaters to wash her cold face in the dark. They’d had no choice; my grandmother would work three jobs for years to get them back on their feet. My mother and her siblings learned to take care of themselves so that their mother didn’t have to.
Her mother wouldn’t have to tell her that they couldn’t afford her dream prom dress because she’d pick one on clearance. Her mother wouldn’t have to tell the school they couldn’t afford the AP class college credit test, because she dropped it as soon as she found out it cost money. She protected her mother.
My mother never wanted us to learn this.
I couldn’t protect her.
During long lonely nights at the kitchen table filled with endless scrap paper jostled by budgets and crinkled with rage, she tried to figure out how to afford little league, guitar lessons, field trips, nice cloths, new shoes, haircuts, Christmas presents, birthday parties, and good schools in nice neighborhoods. Suddenly and likely for one of the first times in her life, she found herself wanting all the things she’d spent so long convincing herself didn’t matter. But now she wanted them all for us.
And it crashed down on her during those smoke filed night. All the pain she’d ignored – all the want she’d refused to feel crumbled onto the the kitchen table alone in the dark staring at the numbers that taunt their inadequacies.
So they eat a little less. Smoke a few more cigarettes.
Sleep a little less. Drink a little more coffee.
Pick up a second job. Crunch the numbers again.
She figured it out. She always figures it out.