I am writing this from deep in the heart of Maine, where I'm on an assignment (yes, the glamorous life of a reporter: Maine in January). As a single parent, traveling is probably the hardest part of my job. Without a spouse or nearby relatives to count on for backup, I either have to pay a sitter to stay overnight--a high and non-reimbursable expense--or prevail on friends to take my 8-year old daughter in overnight. Luckily, I have Phyllis, a friend in the neighborhood who is also a single mother. We have become each other's go-to person whenever we need backup. My daughter will end up staying with Phyllis three nights in a row this week, and Phyllis already warned me not to bring her back a thankyou present because she expects to soon ask me to do the same when she goes out of town. When Phyllis's five-year-old daughter had to have emergency knee surgery a week before Christmas (a staph infection from a small cut, but that's another story), Phyllis called me to see if I could fill in for her at the hospital while she ran home for fresh clothes and toys. Of course, I said, in part because I know she would do the same for me (unlike the childless friend Phyllis called first, who said she would come, but could it wait until after her hair appointment? Geesh).
I was thinking today that Phyllis actually helps me out more than any of the many married friends I have in my neighborhood, perhaps because she can empathize with my situation. I think sometimes couples get so caught up in their own family dynamics that they don't think to offer a hand to the single parents they know. But believe me, we could use the help. Or even the occasional dinner invite. I wouldn't give up being a parent for anything, and I don't even think it's all that hard, but it does get lonely sometimes, and the logistics can be tricky if you have to work late and your sitter can't stay, for example.
So, Phyllis, this is your present from Maine--a very big thank you for being there for me, for offering even before I ask, and a promise that I will always do the same for you. What more can we working parents ask than good friends to empathize, sympathize and pick up our kids from school when we can't make it?