I was out to dinner recently with my toddler and a close friend of mine. We were at one of my favorite neighborhood nooks, where the dining setting is close and intimate and the entire restaurant is smaller than my parents’ living room.
My daughter was twirling her spaghetti, that was dressed with butter and Parmesan cheese, while my friend and I enjoyed our end of the week cocktails. We were able to get caught up on the happenings of one another’s lives, while throwing in a little gossip here and there. Somewhere between bite 5 and bite 7 my daughter decided she preferred sitting on my lap, so she could twirl my hair (a loving act she has done since she was a newborn, and one I hope she never outgrows) and then, somewhere between bite 12 and bite 14, Ellie decided she wanted to sit on my friend Julie’s lap.
There is literally no space between the tables at places like this in NYC, so I did what any other mom with a 23 pound toddler would do. I picked her up OVER the table, supporting her butt with one hand and her head with the other and passed her over to my Julie – where Ellie then nestled in under my friend’s chin and twirled her hair. Julie and her husband used to live a few blocks away from Ellie and I – so we spent a lot of time together back in the day, when Ellie was nursing almost as frequently as I was having mild breakdowns. Julie is actually the first non-family member I left Ellie alone with, and I swear Ellie’s level of comfort with her has something to do with those early moments.
Anyway, we kept eating and drinking, and making chit-chat with the table next to us about what we had ordered versus what they had ordered, and at some point the man sitting next to me leaned in and said, “I’m sorry, are you two um… A couple?”
I paused, looked at Julie, who was holding Ellie and I laughed and said, “Oh, no, no, no…she is my friend…”
And he quickly apologized, “Sorry my son was wondering if you two were gay because I am…and well…”
Now anyone that knows me knows that this comment was hardly an insult. At all. And implying that I am coupled with someone as smart, beautiful, talented and tall as Julie – just added to the compliment. Despite all of this, I am not. Sigh…
Anyway, this guy was smiling at us, and I glanced at his adorable teenage son who was also smiling with curiosity, and I said, “Oh, no worries, I’m a single Mom – Julie is a close friend of ours.”
And the Dad said to me, “Ah! So am I! Well I mean…it’s just me…so I guess it’s all the same…?”
And I smiled and said, “Yea, I guess it is!!! (probably a bit too enthusiastically)…So you get it…the whole, ‘Jesus I just need someone to help put the dishes in the dish washer while I give her a bath…’ and the ‘will you please just sleep past sunrise on the weekend?!?!’ pleas that fall on deaf ears.”
And he put his hand on my back and said, “I totally do. And I promise it gets easier. I had a partner when I adopted my son and his sister… And he changed his mind so…”
And I interrupted, “Changed his mind about you or the kids?” (tiny disclaimer: I’d been drinking something called a Dirty Mac so at this point, my normally thin filter dissolved completely. Blame the vodka)
(The friend that was with him balked a bit, but the Dad didn’t seem to mind the question)
“The kids. He changed his mind about the kids, and we are fine. More than fine…and you will be too…” He said looking at Ellie, “And she is beautiful.”
I chatted with his son for a while about his love of basketball, and I picked his father’s brain around navigating the New York City Public School system – a worry that I defer to when I run out of things in the current moment to stress about. From what I hear, things get particularly complicated at middle school, where your child isn’t zoned for a school, it’s a lottery – or something like this. I must mention, I refrain from Googling this topic and figuring out what is actually complicated about the middle school years and beyond because I am afraid. It’s like when you have the same symptoms of a brain tumor, you don’t Google it because you know your findings will just stress you out even more.
Anyway, this Dad had great insight, the theme of which was, “You’ll figure it out when you have to, because you want to.” and the conversation was one of the greatest gifts I’ve received in a while.
It not only opened my mind up to the fact that single moms can also be dads – which is honestly something that didn’t occur to me for some odd reason…but was just another little note from the universe that things will be okay because they have to be. And it’s just one of the many, many conversations I have had in the past 3+ years that I defer to when I wake up at 3am panicked about the worry du jour…and for that I am grateful.
And, as I finish writing this, I find myself really craving one of those Dirty Macs. Perhaps there is more great conversation to be had over the next round.