All posts by Crissi Langwell

Author, writer, blogger. Follow me at crissilangwell.com.

Working and SINGLE Motherhood

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(A prologue to yesterday’s post, Working and Motherhood)

To me, the scales are pretty evenly matched when it comes to staying home full time for the kids vs. continuing your career and helping with the financial contributions of the household.  But what of the single mother?  Life happens, and it doesn’t always fit in a neat little box.  Sometimes it’s just the mom.  Sometimes the dad is gone before the baby is even born.  And that baby is coming, no matter what the situation is.  And those kids need.  There is no real choice, there’s just the fight of survival.  There has to be an income, and so a single mother must work.  But the way daycare costs, well, it can wipe out a lot of low income salaries.

The hardest part about being in this situation is not knowing where to turn.  It is far easier to stick your head in the sand and hope it gets better.  This is a rough ride, the kind of ride our mothers never wished upon us, but where we have now found ourselves.  We are suddenly inundated with fears and questions.

A baby is coming. 

A BABY is coming. 

That baby needs a place to sleep.  He needs clothes to wear.  He needs diapers.  He may need formula.  And then there’s the money to pay for this.  How?  Where will the money come from?  I’ll have to find a job.  But who will hire me?   How will I even go out to find a job when I have a baby with me at all times?  And where will he go if I do get a job?  How did I get into this mess?  How am I going to do all this alone?  What can I do?

What can a single mother do?

1.  Rely on family and friends.  Now is not the time to be too proud to ask for help.  When they say it takes a village to raise a child, they weren’t kidding.  Ask friends for childcare trades, take turns eating meals at each other’s homes, and accept any hand-me-down clothing that comes your way.  Move in with your parents, share a home with another single mother, or find a (safe!) roommate situation so that the rent will not be too steep.

2.  Plan your meals out for the week.  Then plan your shopping list accordingly.  This will not only save you time, but it will save you a bundle of money.  It will prevent you from grabbing frivolous items that you “might” use for meals, and will curb spending money on meals out since you already have dinner planned out at home.  Not only that, it’s healthier for you and your child.  And remember, a lot of generic brands are actually name-brand items in disguise.

3.  Budget, budget, budget!  Write down all your expenses for the month.  Those are your first priorities.  Before each paycheck hits your account, sit down with the bills and write a check out for each one that is due before the following pay period.  Make sure your checkbook is accurately balanced every week to ensure that no surprises come your way.  For every charge that goes against a negative balance, an additional $35 or more will be subtracted.  If you bounce 4 items, that is over $100 in charges.  That is money being thrown away.  Avoid going in the red at all costs!  I find that the best way to do this is to leave a little cushion in there that is untouched, and that I vow to never go under.  And beyond that, put a little in your savings every chance you get.  Even better, plan a savings deposit in your monthly budget.  Christmas will be here before you know it, birthday season is around the corner, your kid just shot up a foot overnight and needs new pants, your insurance only covers 80% of the bill and you need oral surgery at the same time your daughter needs braces (maybe I’m speaking from experience on that one….).    You never know when an emergency might arise, and it is always better to be prepared for it.   This money could even become a new car to replace your battered vehicle, college tuition for your bright child, even a down payment on a new house one day.

4.  Utilize the Freebies section in the newspaper, Craigslist, garage sales, Salvation Army, and Goodwill for deals on gently used clothing, furniture, and anything else you might need.  Avoid buying new if you can help it.  You might get a better deal getting a used item than you can getting something new!  Put the word out to your friends that you are looking for certain items so that they can ask around.  My whole condo is furnished with donated items thanks to a bunch of my friends who gathered items from their friends.  As a single mom moving into my own place for the first time, I had nothing.  They ensured that my house did not remain empty, and that it became a home.

5.  Think about what you want to do with your life, and start making it a reality.  It is never too late.  Look into scholarships and Federal aid for college, and start taking courses that will bring you closer to that goal.  Furthering your education will open more doors for you than anything else, will ensure your future, and will provide your child with a lasting example to live by.

6.  In the meantime, what are you good at?  Make a list of your talents and interests, and begin brainstorming ways to make more money for the household.  Whether it be babysitting, housecleaning, sewing alterations, canning, jewelry making, painting, freelance writing, catering parties, becoming a personal shopper for the elderly, or walking the dogs in your neighborhood, there are many ways to create a little extra income.

7.  Connect with other moms, especially single moms.  And then ask them how YOU can help.  Why am I telling you this?  You are the one who needs help.  So why are you to look for someone else to help?  Because of this – for some reason, helping someone else brings you up further than you were before.  Helping others connects you with people who can help you in turn.  And giving your time and energy to bring up someone else who desperately needs it, even just needs it a little, feels amazing. 

But what if, after all this….

What if after you’ve tried everything…..

What if the situation is just too bleak….

What if it still isn’t enough?

                                    To be continued……

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Working and Motherhood

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“So, are you coming back to work?” someone asked me for the umpteenth time.  I was 7 months pregnant and counting down the days until maternity leave started.  My back ached, my feet were swollen, I felt like one huge marshmallow.  Working retail and standing for 7 hours out of the day was taking its toll on my whole body.  And I was determined to work all the way to the end so I could have that much longer to stay home with the baby.  I was most definitely coming back to work.  Hey, the bills needed to be paid!  But the closer I got to her due date, the more I was weakening in my stance.

As luck would have it, I was pulled into maternity leave a lot sooner than I wanted.  At 34 weeks, I got a call from the doctor at work that the baby was taking in meconium (fetal stool) shown by a shadow on her lungs in the ultrasound.  This was my first baby, and the call jarred me.  I was helping a customer when the tears came unexpectedly.  Something was wrong with my daughter!  An appointment was set up immediately in San Francisco for a 3D Ultrasound, and my future ex-husband and I rushed down there early the next morning to find out what was going on.  The ultrasound showed every single hair on her body (I was giving birth to an ape), the curve of her mouth, the motion of her swallowing, the features of her face and her tiny hands…..  It showed everything except for any meconium in her lungs.  The emergency, thank goodness, ended up being a false alarm.  But by then I had already given notice of my leave.  I was only several weeks early, and I figured I could use a couple weeks of vacation at the end of my leave if I needed to.

My daughter was born in early February.  She had a full head of black hair, a beautiful rose mouth, and tiny hands that grasped my finger tightly.  From day one she would lift her wobbly head off my chest and take in her surroundings, so curious of the world.  She refused to sleep at night, but would nuzzle against me during the day as we napped on the couch.  She was beautiful and precious, by far the best and most brilliant thing I had ever made.  And when the decision came to leave her and go back to work, I couldn’t do it.  I stayed home with her for the whole first year, keeping my benefits with Kaiser through COBRA.  And I would have stayed longer, but the household required a second income.

Three years later when I was pregnant with my son, I was faced with the same dilemma.  I was working healthcare at this point, and had a very strenuous job that involved heavy lifting.  When I finally left this job, I knew I had no intention of going back.   And that brought me great relief.  We were in such a place financially that I didn’t really need to work.  Not only that, but the costs of the kids’ daycare would have been too close to my income.  It just didn’t make sense to go back to work.

But by the time my son was 4 months old, I was DYING sort of itching to go back to work.  I needed to get out of the house!  Anyone who claims being a stay-at-home mom is easy has never tried it.  Your friends are your kids, the very people who are around you constantly asking you “Why?” and needing food at all hours of the day, and making huge messes, and talking babytalk, and spitting up on your clothes, and crying, and crying, and crying, and not sleeping at night or taking naps during the day, and being Miss Finicky and Mr. Fussypants…..  AUGH!!!!  To take a shower meant waiting for my 3 year old daughter to take a nap, and placing my infant son in his carseat by the stall, trying to get the soap rinsed out as he screamed bloody murder.  And no matter how hard I scrubbed, the smell of spit up never completely left my body.  We didn’t know any other families with kids, so I was their constant playmate.  Barney haunted my dreams.  All shopping trips took twice as long as I loaded kids into carseats, unloaded them, chased a 3 year old while keeping my hand on the baby in the shopping cart, soothing a crying baby, then soothing a 3 year old who had reached her limit.  By the time my future ex-husband would get home, I was crawling out of my skin and ready to murder him on the spot for asking me what was for dinner and why half of the cat’s whiskers were missing.

I was lucky.  I got a job right away at an Assisted Living Center, a really wonderful facility, where I worked full time.  I attempted pumping during the day, and gave up in favor of driving home to feed my son midday.  I supplemented his feedings with formula, so he got a mix of both during his first year.  My future ex worked at home on days that I worked, taking the kids with him if he needed to go.  On days that he couldn’t watch him, my wonderful employers allowed me to bring the kids with me. 

For a new mom, working oftentimes means putting the baby in full-time daycare, 5 days a week.  That is 5 full days of the baby bonding with someone other than their mother, and that can be heart-wrenching, and not to mention, EXPENSIVE.  But it does allow for a household to be able to make enough money (hopefully) to live comfortably and save for the future, and allow her to continue on the career path that she put in place before the baby was even a thought.

On the flipside, not working means giving up a degree that was worked hard for, making a household work with less (and diapers cost a fortune!), and the danger of losing one’s sense of identity other than “the baby’s mom”.  But it allows the baby to form a bond with their mother, giving them a sense of security that is so important in that first year of life.  It also allows the household to be better managed.  And the added bonus?  There is no daycare bill.

To work, or not to work.  It’s a hard decision to make once a couple decides to start a family.  Are you a working mother?  Or do you stay home with the kids?  What are some of the reasons for the decision you made, and would you have done anything differently?

Stay tuned for “Working and Single Motherhood” tomorrow.

Why Moms Are Made

This hit my inbox today, and it made me laugh so hard that I had to pass it on.  These are answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions about moms.

Why was your mom made?
1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
2. Mostly to clean the house.
3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How was she made?
1. Out of dirt, just like for the rest of us.
2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
3. My mom was made just the same like I was made.  She just got bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of ?
1. Clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did you get your mother and not some other mom?
1. We’re related.
2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?
1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?
1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?
1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My grandma says that Mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

Who’s the boss at your house?
1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because dad’s such a goof ball.
2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms & dads?
1. Moms work at work and work at home and dads just go to work at work.
2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.
4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?
1. Mothers don’t do spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?
1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?
1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.
2. I’d make my mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

Ford Aerostar Van

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I hate driving my dad’s BMW X5.  I can press the key, and the seats and mirrors adjust exactly where I need them to be.  Another flick of the button rolls the windows down on a hot day.  It has plush heated leather seats, keeping my tushy warm on the coldest mornings.  It takes turns so tight and gathers speed so fast that I can merge into traffic on a dime.  I have 15 preset radio stations for FM alone, though I mostly take advantage of the CD player.  The sunroof has two options: keep the sunroof window open and let the sunlight and breeze in, or leave the window closed and just let the light shine through.

Alright.  I don’t really hate driving it.  I love it.  I really, really love it.  I love the feel of it, the look of it, the power that exists as I pull onto the road and let the car soar.  I now understand the relationship some men have with their cars when I drive this machine.  This car demands respect, other cars move to the side and yield to me.  I am important, look at me, I am driving a BMW X5.  What I hate is giving it back after my dad is finished borrowing my vehicle, a 1994 Ford Aerostar Van XL, the car we use to get hay for my dad’s horse, dubbing it the “hay van” with the entrails of alfalfa that it leaves all over town.  It’s the machine with the power to get from 0 to 60 in 125 seconds.  What was naïve bliss in driving a crappy car, having the understanding that I am very fortunate to have a car without a car payment that works almost all the time, turns into heightened awareness at every one of the van’s flaws once I’m done driving the X5. 

What is wrong with it, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…..

The steering wheel leaks some sort of black goop that gets all over my hands when I drive it.  I put a cover over the steering wheel to help alleviate this problem, yet the goop is still coming out.  I have no idea what it is, or where it is coming from.  It’s like it’s spawning and multiplying all on its own.  I’m not entirely unconvinced that its alive. 

The horn does not work.  It hasn’t worked in probably 10 years.  This is extremely irritating when someone does something stupid in front of me when they are driving.  I have had to create “The Idiot Button”, an invisible button that I press on the dashboard that pulls up an invisible sign that says “You’re an Idiot” (I’m not making up that we made this up.  I promise!).  It keeps me from yelling things that my kids probably shouldn’t repeat, it keeps the road rage down to a minimum, and it entertains the kids every time I touch the dashboard.  When a driver cuts me off (and it’s done so often when I’m driving the tin can), I just tell them, “Here, let me give you some of this,” and push the “button”.  It’s working so well that my mom is thinking of having one installed too.

The sliding door is stuck.  Once it fell off, hanging only by the bottom hinge.  We got it fixed, thank God!  But now it gets stuck.  The kids have built up their arm muscles pulling the thing open and closed.  But then, guess what?  It doesn’t align properly with the button that lets the car know that the door is closed.  While I drive, the door ajar light flickers on and off.  That wouldn’t be so bad except that it makes a clicking noise as well.  Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick……..  Over and over and over.  At first it was torture to listen to. Now I just turn up the radio loud and use my imagination that it’s a drum beat.  A really fast, annoying, hyper drumbeat.  By someone with no rhythm. 

The heater blows out cold air that is wrapped up in warm air.  Oh, and it only works in the front.  Any kid in the back wraps up in a blanket to stay warm in the winter months.  In the summertime, same deal, but warm air wrapped in cold.  And did I mention that the passenger side window doesn’t roll down? 

The hinge for the back hatch has broken off.  This was fixed too, and it worked beautifully three whole times.  And then, when I opened it to put groceries back there, it just snapped.  Again.  So now when I go get hay, I get out of the car and hold the hatch open, trying not to feel too much like an idiot as the human hatch hinge while the rancher loads two bales of hay into the back.  And when I need to get groceries, my daughter holds it open while I quickly load it up before she loses strength.  It is amazing how a little hinge can seem like such a luxury, one of them rich people gadgets to keep their arms from getting tired.

The car, without exaggeration, gets 12 MPG.  It constantly smells of alfalfa.  As clean as we try to keep it, we will never be rid of years of coffee stains on the rug, scuffs, rips in the ceiling, wiggly armrests, and some sort of white goop that is still sticky in the (get this) cassette tape storing drawer.  It is too big for any normal parking space, including the space I park in at my apartment.  Cars pass me right and left, cutting me off to not be stuck behind the “slowmobile”.

Driving the X5 with its smooth suspension and graceful road manner, and then getting behind the wheel of a gawky oversized van, the transition is painful.  But keep me from the X5 for awhile, these problems are all just minor nuisances.  The van works.  It has enough room to hold all our sports gear on game days.  It’s the most requested vehicle when it comes to moving someone out of their house or hauling a trailer to the dumps.  It’s not too fancy to allow a little (a lot) of sand to get in the carpet after a trip to the beach.  It’s beat up enough that any hell my kids give it absorbs into the abuse it’s already received.  It’s a good old car that has served us faithfully as we’ve needed it.

Do I want a fancy car like the X5, or like a Lexus, or even like a VW Jetta?  You bet I do.  I would give anything to get behind the wheel of a clean smelling brand new car and be able to call it mine.  Being in the driver’s seat of an X5 makes that dream even sweeter.  But it’s not in the cards right now.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this single parenting life is the game of stepping stones.  One step at a time.  One achievement to get me to the next.  One obstacle after another to conquer and get past.  I came from divorce a broken woman.  I emerged from that over time to start earning my own living.  I got my own apartment, a job I love, and slowly built up a life that the kids and I are proud of.  The car stepping stone is ahead of me, but not right in front of me.  I cannot jump from the van way of living immediately into the X5 way of living.  I have not earned it yet.  I still have more time to put into it.  And if I jump too far too fast, I’ll fall and everything will crumble.  Yet, be assured, this Aerostar is not where I am landing.  I’m just resting for a moment behind it’s goop filled steering wheel before I leap again.

What is your Aerostar, the constant in your life that you want to make better?

Chiming in on Logging On

Reading Meda’s latest blog, I couldn’t help but nod vehemently.  The computer has this way of drawing you in and keeping you there.  What was supposed to be just a few minutes to check email ends up being a few hours of catching up on Facebook, reading various blogs, and clicking links faster and faster as our attention spans grow smaller and smaller.  We get sucked into our online worlds so deeply that the real world gets a bit fuzzy.

But the upside of online?  It really is a great tool for keeping in touch, especially for my daughter and me when she is in her dad’s care.  Case in point, the three-way conversation between me, my 11 year old daughter, and our close friend and babysitter on Facebook just today…..


Wine Country Mom: You are the best babysitter ever!

Wine Country Babysitter: Oh goodness, I just tried.  I had fun though with the little guys.

Wine Country Daughter:  Hey I am not little! I big!

WC Babysitter:  Ha ha, okay 🙂 One day, because I know you will be taller than me sooner or later. But until then, you’re little!

WC Daughter:  Can I be a little big?

WC Mom:  You’ll always be my big baby princess. Mwah!!

WC Daughter:  Baby? I’m pretty sure that means I am small.

WC Mom:  Nah, it means you’re precious.

WC Daughter:  I sure don’t feel “precious”.

WC Mom:  You are one of my most precious treasures, and I love you very much. I am incredibly lucky to have you as my daughter.

WC Daughter:  I swear I am not giving you any money!!! LOL!

WC Mom:  😛 Now get off the computer and spend some time with your dad, silly girl.

WC Daughter:  If I have to…………….Wait while I am in Dad’s care I don’t really think you’re the boss of me……………..

WC Mom:  Keep talking. You have to come home sometime…..

WC Daughter:  Or will I?????


Hmmm…..  On second thought, maybe it’s just best to not chat online with my “precious” kid when she’s out of my hair…..

Take Your Munchkin to Work Day

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Yesterday I was able to take my daughter to work with me.  As a service to her, I took her through the whole routine.  We got coffee at Starbucks.  Then she went to a meeting upstairs where she ate tiny muffins and drank OJ.  She then went on a tour of the office.  We went out to lunch at Mary’s Pizza Shack.  We came back and ate ice cream out of the office freezer.  We celebrated a birthday with apple pie and Dibbs.  And then she had a meeting with the big boss with cookies and more juice.  In between eating, we may have even done a little work as well.  Needless to say, she can’t wait to go to work when she gets older!

John Burgess’ daughter also went to work with her dad.  Click here to get to the video she helped to shoot and narrate. 

Oasis

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My favorite time of day is between 6 and 7 in the morning, that moment of time between waking up and getting the kids ready for school.  The house is dimly lit, the only light from the dome above the kitchen table.  For the moment, the house is free from the sound of arguing children, slamming cabinets, pounding footsteps on stairs, shouts to hurry the pace because “Mom’s Bus” leaves in 2 minutes…..  The only sound that can be heard is the soft rustle of the newspaper as I savor every story as the entree to my side dish of egg and buttered toast.  The gurgle of the coffee pot fills the dining room with its warm aroma, and is the topping on the cake of early morning bliss.  This is my tiny island from reality in a life filled with deadlines, schedules, and the tug of war for my attention.  This is my oasis.