Whispers in a Hurricane: A Single Mother's Strength, Felt Through Her Son's Eyes.
Mother and Son
Origins of a Single Mom
According to an article on singlemotherguide.com titled Single Mother Statistics, "1 in 3 children" in the United States "are being raised without a father." That's almost 15 million children. "Nearly half live below the poverty line." 55% of single mothers "are either divorced, separated or widowed."
We could spend days, weeks, or months discussing the social causes and there impact on society. Instead, I'd like to listen to the voice of a child, through the fingertips of an adult, that lived through the struggles of a very strong and compassionate single mother. It wasn't perfect. How could it be? And not everything went the way you would hope, but that is how we learn; by weathering the storm and waking up the next morning, after you almost quit the night before. Only to head out into the same hurricane again, and again, and again.
So brace yourself...here we go.
When I was 9, we had a sofa in the living room that unfolded into a bed. I lay there in my mother's arms, while my younger sister lay asleep next to me. Normally we would sleep in our rooms, but tonight she wanted us together. I like to think she held us a little tighter that night, but I really don't remember. Things moved pretty fast that night.
My father had been coming home late a lot lately. He would get home and an argument would start. Normally I was in my room when the fighting started. I would listen through the thin walls of the 50 foot trailer. This time I lay right next to my mom.
The sound of his Harley roared into the trailer park. I realized it was happening again, and had I been just a little older, I probably would have been able to figure out why we were sleeping in the living room that night. My heart began to race, my eyes watered. He would walk in drunk again. I knew exactly what I would do. I really thought I was prepared to fight,and that I was prepared to defend her.
I was wrong. When he stumbled into the room, I froze. He was drunk. Another fight erupted as soon as he saw us lying there, waiting for him. I don't remember what the argument was about. I don't really remember hearing anything at all that night. When I close my eyes I see angry yelling. I see hatred, but no sound. All that comes to me now is silence; silence and fear.
As he neared the bed, my mother pulled me closer. I looked up at the strange man's eyes. Those weren't the eyes of the man I had idolized. The man I thought had all the answers. No, this man was different. The drink made him different. As he hovered over my mother, everything slowed down. He raised his fist and took a swing at my mother. Only, his punch didn't hit its intended target. He hit me in the side of the face instead.
I don't remember pain. I don't remember how hard he hit me. I remember crying and I remember him apologizing to me. He apologized through blood shot eyes as my mother pulled me and my sister out of bed. She rushed us to the car where I watched him yelling through the back window as my mother drove away, leaving the trailer park. Leaving our home. Leaving my father. That was the last time we lived together as a family, and the night my mom became the single mother of two children.
Fault and Blame
I saw my father off and on for the next couple of years, and then not at all until I graduated high school at the age of 18. The heaviest burden of my childhood was the blame I had assumed. The guilt of destroying my family. All the bad days were, in my mind, my fault. And, there were plenty of bad days. We lived in the least expensive apartments, in the worst neighborhoods. My mother worked all the time. When my mother struggled to find a babysitter, she had no choice but to leave her 10 year old son to baby sit her 6 year old daughter. My sister was forced to repeat the first grade. Food was scarce. I got used to putting whatever I could find in the fridge together, and calling it dinner (I still enjoy a Miracle Whipped-bologna wrapped in a corn tortilla). It could have been different.
I was convinced, had I only not cried, listened to my dad more, not caused any trouble, or stopped the fighting, things might have been different. My dad would have still been there. My mother would not have had to raise us alone. She wouldn't have had to work so hard or so much. If only I had been better.
It wasn't until I was 26 years old and my first son was born, that I understood that it wasn't my fault. None of it was. The first time I held him, I couldn't fathom how a father could abandon his son, if just for one day. Much less 7 years. I felt such joy for the birth of my son, and unexpectedly, so much relief. I carried the burden without understanding what it was or where it came from.
I learned at a very young age, not to depend on anyone. My father taught me that. I learned there is no such thing as unconditional love. I learned the harsh reality of a world filled with people that were just looking out for themselves. I learned that if I didn't take care of myself, no one else would. Sounds a bit morbid for a 10 year old, but as I look back, I still struggle with some of those feelings now.
The first time my father had agreed to pick me up during the separation, was to spend the weekend with him. I packed for the weekend. Then my sister and I sat in the living room ready to be picked up. We waited. The time he had agreed to pick us up, had come and gone, and we continued to wait. We waited most of the day. We even turned down a trip to McDonald's as the sun went down, because I was sure he would show up, and was afraid to miss him.
He never did.
We rescheduled several times, and each time we ended up disappointed. I was certain he would arrive for every date he scheduled, but he never did. Finally, my mom stopped trying to get him to come by. To this day I wait for him, and to this day he still manages to disappoint me.
I struggled with school. No real reason, other than I didn't really care. I had no interest, and why should I have had. No one else seemed to care. I don't even remember my mom finding out I was struggling until I was forced to attend summer school after my fifth grade year.
None of this was her fault. She was barely keeping us in an apartment, and putting food on the table. I'm sure she cared, but she rarely had time to ask about school, so I really didn't have time to talk about it. My biggest worry was where I would go after school.
Both my aunt and my grandmother lived on the same street, so they usually shared the responsibility of holding me until my mother could pick me up. Unfortunately, neither of them showed much interest in having me around. It seemed like all the adults I spent time around were annoyed I was even there. All of them, except my mom.
The few good memories I have of that time are centered around days my mother would keep me out of school so she could take me to work with her. It didn't happen often, but when it did it mattered. It was our chance to be alone together. To talk. These moments gave me hope. It was here I learned how hard she was working to keep us together. It really brought us together.
Just The Two of You
Who is Your Role Model?
Who was the most influential person in your childhood?
Growing Up Fast
I was fortunate enough to see my mom remarried when I was 14 years old. She married a great man, unfortunately for all of us, I didn't realize just how great until I was out of the house and had my own family. Until then, I felt like I was being replaced.
Like many movies, the oldest son and the stepfather did not get along. Not only did we not get along, but I made him miserable. I'm sure I also broke my mother's heart in the process.
When I look back, I can see that I lost much of my childhood. I grew up to fast. I was both mentally and emotionally older than my age. Not only was I left alone with my younger sister, but we faced some very grown-up issues.
My mother taught me to not open the door unless it was the police. A drunk neighbor always seemed to mistake our door for his, and would sometimes bang on it while screaming for his wife to open the door late at night. And if it was the police, I was to lie about my age for fear that I might be taken from her. Apparently, on more than one occasion, the neighbors would call the police to check on the children that had been left alone in the apartment. Fortunately, I was a tall 10-year old.
The circumstances and added responsibilities forced me to mature faster than i normally would have. I became the man of the house. So when my step-father (the new man of the house) began taking over those responsibilities, I became extremely defensive. When we fought, and we fought a lot, I felt i was always blamed. I felt like my mother always sided with him. I felt betrayed. I was with her when times were their worst. Not him. And it drove me away from the family.
Growing up a little faster
When I was 11, I was allowed to join an intermediate football team. Monday through Friday I would walk to my grandmother's house after school. There I would change into my pads and practice uniform. About an hour before practice, I would begin the two mile walk through the neighborhood to Phoenix Park for football practice. A couple hours later, after practice, I would unhook my shoulder pads, slip my helmet underneath my jersey and begin the the walk back to my grandmother's house.
A couple months into the season, my father called and invited me over for the weekend. He promised to pick me up from practice. Like every other time, I could barely contain the excitement. I was sure he was coming for me this time.
When the day came, just as practice was about to start, it began to rain. It was a good, heavy rain. Coach cancelled practice and everybody left. Everyone that is, but me. I couldn't leave, he was coming for me. I threw my shoulder pads and helmet on and waited on the bleachers, in the rain. I was excited, but a little nervous, and very wet. I waited until the sun went down and the rain stopped. I waited until my mother pulled into the parking lot to pick me up.
I didn't see my father again for 7 years, but he played just as big a part in crafting the man I was to become as my mother did. I didn't understand why we had to fight for everything. I assumed it had to be my fault. All of it, the separation, the divorce, and the pain had to be my fault. Now that the dust has settled, I realize how complicated life can be. I know that there was nothing I could do then to mend our broken home.
I learned that it was never going to go the way we hoped, but we learned by weathering the storm.
So brace yourself, here you go...
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Raul Sierra Jr