My first date with S. was over Bloody Marys and fried potatoes at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn. Fleetwood Mac was on the stereo. We bonded about our New England roots, and delighted in throwback slang, like ‘wicked’ and ‘grinder.’ I insisted he take the leftovers home. He walked me to my small DUMBO loft, which sat on a noisy highway. Before we said goodbye, he asked if I wanted to hang out again…
I said, “No… Just kidding… Yes, of course.”
The truth is, even if we didn’t hang again, even if I never heard from him again, even if I ghosted him immediately, that lovely mid-morning date with a handsome, interesting guy was good enough for me. A brief flirtation and fiery cocktail was all I really desired.
After all, I had a seven-month-old upstairs.
S. and I originally met on Tinder, where I was open about the fact that I’d had a baby via sperm donor. He was not the first, nor the last, guy who embraced that not-so-insignificant detail. During my pregnancy, the only man I craved was Justin of the Peanut Butter Cup, but when I finally recovered from my C-section, got into a breastfeeding groove, and felt quasi-human again, I had decided to get back on the market.
Why not? First of all, my parents and sister helped me so much. On a deeper note: I had nothing to hide. I felt extremely liberated by my decision to become a ‘Single Mother by Choice.’ It was (and still is) a great pleasure to talk to new people about the journey.
Which is why I had mixed emotions when things with S. got serious quickly. I didn’t need him around, but I sure wanted him around. He met Hazel on date three. By date four, we all went to a Dolly Parton concert with his parents and siblings in Maine. We took her hiking upstate, which coincided with a work trip for him. We watched her crawl for the first time on the floor of a hotel lobby — while on a magazine assignment for me. Everything just meshed. We were the modern definition of Togetherness.
But it wasn’t all room service and L.L.Bean. Things get real, fast, when you’re dating with a baby. Before we even reached the three-month mark, we survived chronic carsickness, Lyme disease, daily sleep-deprivation and a devastating professional heartbreak (mine). I never had time to shop for lacy bras, let alone shave my legs or wear glowy makeup. We barely went to any cool, cultural activities unless they ended by 6:45 p.m. Those early stages of dating that are often filled with drunken nights and romantic drifting were pretty much impossible for us.
Whatever the sacrifices were, we liked what we had. We felt lucky. We were falling in love. He adored my daughter and helped me so much. Then life got even more real.
I’m very social — as the ultra-reserved S. will tell you — so it’s no big surprise that Hazel is a chatterbox. It was a little surprising, however, when she started calling him “Da-Da” around 11-months-old. Granted, she also called dogs “Da-Da’s.” We laughed it off by telling people she thought S. was a big puppy. “DaDa” soon turned to “Daddy” and while we never pushed it, we also never corrected it. People would say, “Awww. Kids just know.” Do they? I had complicated feelings about it. Mostly I wondered: Is this happening too soon?
I sought advice on a popular Single Mom by Choice Facebook group that had always been helpful in the past. “My daughter started calling my boyfriend ‘Daddy.’ I feel comfortable with it. He is overjoyed. Is this okay? I’m scared.”
No one responded. Not a peep. Not even a “Like.”
Had I betrayed the group? I started to worry it came off as insensitive. They might have thought I was bragging — but actually it was the contrary. I felt proud to be a solo parent and idolized the single moms who helped me get there. Alas, transitioning into a more conventional family structure was about to be one of the hardest decisions of my life. I felt friendless. I guess I didn’t belong in that Facebook group anymore.
Instead, I turned within. What would it really mean if she started to call him Daddy? I knew we’d be together for a long time, but relationships are always risky. When it came to raising my daughter, I could make whatever choices I wanted. Was I prepared to release my grip on that autonomy? Would it still be Hazel-and-me against the world? It took a lot of soul-searching and reflection. It took trusting conversations with S. and private moments with Hazel and all my female intuition. In the end, I followed my heart. Like everything else in our relationship, Hazel calling S. “Daddy” felt natural and right.
During my first months as a single mom, sometimes I’d wish for a partner to delight in her gloriousness with. The hilarious, life-affirming things babies do can be so heartwarming and surreal that it occasionally felt counterintuitive to experience those happy-tear moments in isolation. Now that she’s two, I’m tested more physically than emotionally. I’m constantly carrying Hazel, the stroller, her scooter, her helmet, our groceries (aka: waffles, Talenti and wine), my coat, her jean jacket, my pocketbook, her pocketbook, her babies, my keys if I can find them, etc. I often get home and my arms and legs are shaking. Now I can say, “Thank goodness I have a second set of hands!” I’m so grateful to have a loving partner worthy of my and Hazel’s complete adoration. I could also say, “One more pair of socks to pick up and also, um, the will to move my body for, um, sex?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” It’s not a single mom or working mom or married mom thing — parenting can sometimes feel crazy amazing and crazy hard.
Many times a day — especially now that we all live together in an apartment in Brooklyn — I ask myself, “Am I still a single mom?” I think about bringing Hazy home from the hospital. Just the two of us. She came a month early and was so fragile yet so fierce. When I wasn’t trying to fatten her up or lull her to sleep under the warm October sun, I’d just gaze at my baby… in shock and awe and wonder of it all. Those first few months of her life were powerful and miraculous — as was the entire road toward motherhood. Single Mom is still in my soul, and I’m not ready to say goodbye to her. We’ve been through too much.
But I am ever so grateful for the way parenthood has unfolded so far. This road-less-traveled to motherhood has rewarded me with so many beautiful and surprising gems. Baby to dating to Daddy, everything came out of order. All that matters is that it has always felt right.
(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)