On being a single parent

It’s been a while!  The knee injury slowed me down for a while, then in the midst of that I discovered I had been short-listed for pretty much my dream job.  The interview process (two…TWO very intense interviews!) and then starting the job has kept me busy. I’m back with a blog about how those tougher times and tougher messages your body is giving you can be the source of much strength and joy.

I have noticed since starting the new job, and being 110% desk based, that I am not designed to sit at a desk all day – of course!  Ok, there has been a good bit of work for me to get a handle on and so it really has been about giving it 110% for the first couple of months.  And will be for the next couple.  I work on a beautiful campus with woodland walks, and haven’t done a single one of them yet!  Instead I have been playing catch up and dedicating myself to laying a good foundation – doing this job really is an honour and I want to do my best.

My body is telling me to move and so this week I ordered a standing desk.  The health and safety officer came to inspect my workstation and recommended one.  It’s a dynamic station, which means I can move it to any level and still sit down, especially as a I transition to standing as I work.  I know it will make a big difference.  I’ll write about that when it arrives.

AND, as usual, I am listening to the messages my body is giving me.  My body is, quite literally, aching to move.  I’m still walking to work most of the way, and my daughter is still walking lots.  She likes being carried too – which I give her because she is 4 and because it is a good measure of how strong my core still is! I can carry all 20kg of her on a 45 minute walk home without putting how down to rest once – thank you Katy Bowman and Mutu Mamas!

So, to the original idea behind this blog post.  The lotus flowers in the featured image represent the idea that beauty often has it’s roots in the muddy darkness.  The idea that something negative can blossom into something positive is a powerful one.  As above – the last couple of months of quite stiff, painful joints has taught me why I started this journey originally and I am using it as a reminder to reignite my quest to move more. So easy to fall back into the habit of staying still!

It got me to thinking of how much I have moved my body the past few years.  I snapped back into shape immediately after giving birth.  The advantage of being a single parent  – you don’t get much chance to sit still.  I had absolutely no idea what being a single parent involved, and couldn’t possible describe it here.  And yet, everything I found so difficult it would overwhelm me to the point where I felt like giving up, so hopeless I didn’t see much joy in our future, every one of these things has turned into a deep, dependable and dynamic strength.

My day used to look like this: wake up at 6 still exhausted, and sort of brush my hair.  Put on un-ironed clothes. Maybe some make-up.  Toddler wakes up, and I dress her in the clothes I have sorted into piles while exhausted on Sunday night.  She would prefer to pick her own stuff and have fun doing that, but we don’t have time as we leave at 7am to catch the train into the city (we lived a little farther out a year or so ago as it was cheap).  Carry toddler and buggy up concrete steps from basement flat.  Run for train.  Usually carry toddler and buggy up/down steps at train station of lift often broken. Crouch on wobbly train next to buggy so I can be close to toddler and make the journey fun for her. After train walk 45 minutes across town to creche and then ten minutes back to work.  I worked on the 4th floor and no lift as it’s a listed building.  I would make the journey up and down the stairs 20 or so times a day.  Often carrying an armful of textbooks, a table or a few chairs.

After work collect toddler and then no point rushing for train.  Evening schedule a free-for-all.  Walk 45 minutes across town and often just miss a train, so hang out out at station for 20 minutes.  Crouch on train, or stand but hold her so we can be close.  Get home and carry toddler and buggy down concrete steps, feed her and start getting her ready for bed.  She sleeps early.  Great! I can have some me-time.  Collapse into bed 20 minutes later.

I didn’t, and don’t, have a car.  So any shopping was carried home on my back, on the buggy and in my hands.  Toddler usually wants to be carried at the exact moment I have 5 full shopping bags dispersed on and around me.


Other single parents I know have incredible stories.  One mum I know got caught in the Dublin floods of 2011 and had to abandon her car and walk through the streets in hip-height water whilst cradling her 9 month old baby to get to safety.  This eventually meant sitting in a parked bus for hours then walking to relatives once the river had taken back some of it waters.  The amazing thing is she woke up at 6am the next day, as every other, and walked to work after dropping her baby off at creche (popping in to Penneys on the way for un-flood-damaged clothes). All in the name of love and simply having to when you are the sole person responsible for putting a roof over the head of a little one and food on the table.

A few years ago an extraordinary friend of mine lost her husband when their baby was 2 years old.  In a country without her family, she has moved house several times by herself, dealt with more bad news and managed to raise a wonderful little girl during the most harrowing grief.  And she makes me laugh most days, keeping her sense of humour through all of this.

I know single dads who raise the bar and do anything to make sure their children feel loved in the face of having lost their relationship and so (as it usually is) face living without seeing their children daily.  I know three single mums who are studying for college degrees in any spare time they have.  I know a single mum who is editor of a top magazine, and one who does amazing work through an NGO.  These people never fail to inspire me, every day.

Among the worst of times include getting unimaginable bad news, financial difficulty, losing my home all while trying to cope while dealing with the day to day demands of a nursing baby.  Having someone try to break in to the flat with no one there to help secure it and make it safe while attending to a scared child.  Being unable to take a day off sick as that would mean the pay packet wouldn’t stretch to paying rent.

Each of the daily actions above used to feel very unsupported.  Every step was mine alone, and I often didn’t feel I had the physical or emotional strength to carry on. But each step was training.  Because the fact is, anyone can do this, do this well and find their joy in it.  I don’t think joy always has to be a struggle to find, but I do know they joy is always there. All the more joyous after digging so deep to find it!

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Each difficulty has immeasurable benefits, such as these practical ones:

  • no car = more walking and more forces (while having to carry things)
  • basement flat = lots of walking while carrying a heavy load
  • crèche other side of town = long daily walks with my toddler
  • no lift at work = easily the equivalent of a gym session on one of those step machines

And to think, I used to feel a little sorry for myself during some of the more difficult days with the long commutes. I was moving, a lot, every day.  I was with my daughter a lot (I had thought it would have been easier to have her in a crèche near home so I wouldn’t have to drag her across town – so glad I kept her near me!).I was using a range of movement.  I was learning, in the true spirit of the transcendentalists, to be self-reliant and to see the inherent goodness in people and in nature. I had and have everything I need. All lessons which are serving me so well today and give me a deep sense of contentment. I felt I was deep in the woods and really learning to live!

Many of the truly stunning moments of my life from the last few years include days like this when the little girl woke so early after we both went to bed early following a tiring week.  What else to do but grab a few treats and have breakfast on the seafront (a beautiful advantage of living a little way out from the city!).

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I look back with such gratitude at the challenging times.  I always managed to make the best out of what we had, and days I felt I couldn’t do it fuelled me to plant seeds, to reach out with my biggest prayers, many of which are blossoming so brightly today.

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I started this blog to remind me to keep moving.  A huge motivation behind that is staying healthy for me and my girl, so I am strong enough and energetic enough to give her everything she deserves.  If I can do this, anyone can.


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