Today, my 22 year old son Taj completed his academic career as a Harvard undergraduate. Within minutes, he texted me: “Holy shit! I’m done!” and a steady stream of tears ensued.
On the day I gave birth, I would never have guessed Harvard College would be in our future. I was nineteen when I learned I was pregnant. I received welfare, food stamps, and state assisted medical coverage. Although I had a fire in my belly, I knew many odds were stacked against us. With assistance from my family and communities, I would raise my multiracial – black and Latino - son as a single mother.
I can vividly recall the day of his arrival. I was hopeful, overjoyed, scared. Even more, I was committed to being the best damned parent I could be. We sat together for the first time on the hospital bed, I looked into his eyes, then whispered into his ear: “It’s just you and me, bebe. It’s just you and me.”
As my son recalled in his own writing: “For the next eighteen years, colored here and there by spurts of fatherly resurfacing, it was just the two of us: driven by each other’s support and the support of our family and friends. We jumped blindly into new adventures that took us across the length of the country—she, the fearless leader, and I, the hopelessly devoted follower.”
We were strongly bonded at his birth and have been since. Though nearly paralyzed by fear at his birth, I was confident in the parenting philosophy I’d begun developing soon after I knew I was pregnant. Namely, I would not let him cry for long periods of time without my response, I would read to him at bedtime every night, I would never use his bedroom as a place for punishment, I would never use the word “no,” I would encourage critical thinking by allowing choice as early as possible. Finally, I decided, parenting should be fun most of the time. I continue to truly enjoy parenting; even into adulthood, I am continually fascinated by new aspects of his learning and behavior and I am truly grateful for him.
In spite of our bond and my fascination, raising Taj as a single parent has been a daily act of resistance. At his baseball games, we were often the only single parent family in the Midwest town where we lived. Many times, he was one of two black or brown children on his soccer teams. As I prepare to head to Harvard for Taj’s graduation in a couple of weeks, I still cringe when I imagine the Harvard family picnic—all of the parents of his closest friends are partnered.
While in some ways my strong woman of color exterior thrives under the daily resistance grind, there is an inner sister that is deeply pained by the day-to-day. When the statistics come tumbling down and I consider the heinous acts committed by racism and sexism on my dating pool, I am numb. At 42, I am no longer angry; these days, I am sad. At times, I feel lonely. And on some days, tears and I seem to be closer friends than I’d like to admit.
I am often mistaken for the proverbial “strong” woman of color. I don’t deny this wholesale. I have had to be strong to get my son and I to where we are today Indeed, I recently finished my PhD at the University of Michigan and, as I mentioned, he just finished college. Although I may not have always needed a partner to care for me, at times I want it. There are times when I think to myself: “Can I just fall one good time and a fine ass, solid, loving, compassionate partner be there to keep me from crashing down?”
Looking back at my time as a custodial single parent, I recall the moments of longing for loving support. They were fleeting moments but ones I was too afraid to engage for fear that they would detract from my sense of purpose and my notion of what it means to be a successful woman of color.
I realize now that my engagement with this sense of vulnerability would serve to build me up. It is in our moments of vulnerability that we learn to trust others to serve and to love us. I wish I would have pushed myself in this way just a bit more. I wish I would have allowed myself to feel the sadness, to feel the pain, and to know that I would be alright if I did!
I share this as a means of normalizing the gamut of feelings single parents experience as we have journeyed on our paths of resistance. As I have grown, I have learned that married hetero couples experience their own bouts of difficulties. My married friends have sometimes struggled to feel love in the context of their family structure, just as I have.
So here we are: Taj and I at this critical juncture. He is choosing to live on the East Coast for work and I’m in Southern California. The world awaits me. Now that he is set to jump into this next phase of his life, I will use this freedom from parenting and partners to explore new geographies. Undoubtedly, I have occasional days of sulking and sadness but thankfully they are coupled by days in which my being single feels like a cause for celebration!
Maria R. Tucker is an educator in southern California. Her interests include social justice and love which are pretty much interchangeable. Her son has changed her for the better.