A FINE SPRING MORNING. 6:30 A.M. Beside me, sleeping soundly, is a man who—against the odds, given my experience to date—I am hoping will be the real thing.
I should be exhausted. I’m not. The French have a saying, “ Vivre d’amour et d’eau fraîche,” which means “To live on love and cold water.” It’s a concise way to describe the initial giddiness of a new relationship, that time in the first few weeks when food and sleep seem unnecessary. So high am I, I wake up before the alarm goes off, though I set it only four hours earlier.
I zoom across the room and, my mind racing, hit the off button so the radio won’t blare. I must plot my next moves carefully because down the hall, also sleeping soundly, are my son, Henry, and his best friend, Charles, a child I help co-parent. It’s not at all unusual for him to sleep over on a school night, which is what last night was. Which means this is a school morning. Which means I should’ve gone to sleep by eleven at the latest. Which I didn’t.
What to do? What to do? Routine is important to my style of parenting. I stand there in my robe and weigh my options. “Inconsistency leads to fear in the children,” I begin to lecture myself, “and if I don’t make this a regular morning …” I know I should open the back door and let the dog bound in to lick the boys awake. I know I should burst into the room, sing loudly, rustle them from their bunks, and lead them to the table for a ten-decibel breakfast of Poppin’ Sugar Crunchies.
Never mind. We’ll deal with broken rituals in therapy at a later date. I must have silence.
“Boys,” I whisper, rousing them earlier than usual, “I’ll make you a deal.” Though they’re groggy, their ears perk up at this last word. “I know morning is a time for us, but just this once—if y’all will dress real quietly and hurry up and hop in the car, I’ll take you to Burger King for breakfast and”—now they’re awake and listening—“I’ll let you be as annoying as you want in the car and I won’t make you stop.”
In a flash, they’re up and at ’em, on tiptoe, carrying shoes and socks in hand, to be applied in the Toyota. I’ve made them the ultimate bargain. I spend half my life in the car telling them to tone it down, I can’t concentrate, yadda yadda yadda. This promise to let them take over is like giving an Emmy to Susan Lucci.
Glancing at the car clock, I realize that, in my love-and-water frenzy, I’ve given us 45 minutes to make the 5-minute drive to school. Now what? Unbelievably, the BK Lounge gets the order right on the first try, so that only kills a little time. What now?
I know, I’ll run to the H.E.B. I lock the boys in the car and pick up some orange juice, coffee, and milk. Back in the car, there are now thirty minutes left and the boys have big, big news for me. They’ve invented, if it is possible, a new sound that’s more annoying than any before it. “Check this out, Mom,” says Henry, giggling in unison with Charles. They begin simultaneously blowing through their straws into their orange juice boxes and rubbing the straws up and down against the containers’ opening. The sound is like a five-hundred-pound cricket slowly chafing his chunky thighs together. Worse than a hundred nails being dragged down a blackboard. I say, “ Quit it …” and they shoot me a look. A deal’s a deal.
By the time I have dropped off the kids and made it back to the house, my man is awake, dressed, and heading out the door to work. I try not to sigh.
For eight years now I’ve been a mother. For most of that time—except for a brief, mania-inspired, mostly long-distance marriage—I have been a dating single mother. And while keeping the kids quiet when a new man is sleeping in my bed falls into the stuff-dating-moms-invariably-must-deal-with category, there is, I’m convinced, another whole, whacked-out angle that child-free singles don’t have to face.
I call this the Mother Love Factor ( MLF). Let me jump ahead of myself here with a wee bit of foreshadowing. Not long ago I ran into an ex of mine, Andy. Handsome, rich, funny, wonderful. Naturally, I couldn’t bear to be with him—we dated for roughly fifteen minutes. He was too normal.
I was discussing my latest dilemma with him. A man I’d been with for nearly a year was on his way to take a third vacation with his alleged ex-girlfriend. He’d asked me to be there for him when he came back. “I swore I’d never stay with a cheater,” I whined to Andy.
“But he’s not cheating, Spike,” said the wise one. “He tells you. It’s not a secret. Can I tell you something? You have had the most bizarre string of relationships of anyone I know.” This from a man who’s had more than a few odd relationships himself over the years. Andy went on, “You know what the next one’s going to do? He’s going to give you two months to fall in love with him. Then he’s going to say, ‘Did I mention I’m having a sex-change operation?’” I gave Andy a pained smile, but he wasn’t finished. “Then he’s going to say that despite the switch, he still wants to sleep with you”—wait, there’s more—“and you know, you’re still going to want to sleep with her.”
Should this hypothetical romance come to pass, I’m afraid Andy’s right. I would hang in there. And that’s a trait—camping out too long with Mr. Wrong—I had long before I was a mother. But being a mother has only increased this tendency.
The MLF, you see, relates to the archetypal Everymother—who is of course more nurturing, loving,