I’m a widowed mother of three kids. When my husband passed away more than two years ago, my oldest child was only seven; the youngest was about eighteen months. You have no idea how often I hear the words, “you’ve certainly got your hands full!” I’ve heard the retorts other mothers come up with, namely “and so is my heart.” I honestly hate that reply, not because it’s untrue, but because it just sounds so saccharine and cheesy. I’m aware almost no one means anything by it, except to point out that you’ve got more than one docile child in your cart.
They’re not wrong, I really do have my hands full. Being a solo parent to three kids, at very impressionable ages, is a task that no amount of coffee can prepare you for.
I’m walking the never ending tightrope that is parenthood, and I’m doing it alone. Not “their Dad has them every other weekend and Wednesday evenings” alone, like, alone alone. There is no break when Daddy gets home. There is no “the kids are asleep, so I’m going to jet to the gym/ Target/go for a walk” to blow off steam at the end of the day. There is no one to confer with about grades, my worries about their health, growth, or just how much they infuriated me that day (with the implicit understanding that I love them fiercely, regardless of how maniacally they behaved.) It’s non-stop, every minute of every day. I’m “it.” Sick kids, happy kids, sad kids, mad kids, needy kids, tired kids, wired kids…I’m always “it.”
Despite all I am for them, though, the truth of the matter is that there is nothing greater than what they have done for me.
I’m about to admit something that I’m not sure I have before; when I was younger, I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. My husband and I led a happy existence: work hard, play hard, come and go as we pleased, vacationed when we wanted, nary a responsibility outside of the office. By my late twenties, though, my biological clock hit me like a Mac truck, and we quickly became pregnant with my oldest. Despite the normal overwhelming love that motherhood brings about, it wasn’t until I became a caregiver and widow that I realized how blessed I really was.
I was always taken with being a mother, from the moment I felt my sweet daughter enter the world. I’d never felt such all-consuming love for another being. I remember, moments after giving birth and holding her for the first time, thinking that I could do this a dozen more times. I was so smitten; not only with this beautiful little person, but with who I was with her. I knew then that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her (or any of her siblings that followed.)
The years that ensued weren’t totally kind. Days after our second child was born, my husband, Kenny, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. For the next four and a half years we’d have a litany of highs and lows, including the addition of one more little monkey to the bunch; I gave birth to him two days after Kenny finished radiation treatment on his brain – I spent my eighth and ninth month of pregnancy waddling into Memorial Sloan Kettering with him. Yet, having so much “life” in our home made it livable. We spent long treatment days at the hospital plotting to surprise them with a trip to Disney World. We spent nights cuddled up with them, days “off” at the beach, or boardwalk, taking in the simple moments as best we could.
Despite his biggest attempts to ward off this neurological ninja, he passed away in the spring of 2017. Every time I’ve wanted to jump down the rabbit hole of grief, never to return, I had three beautiful reasons not to leap. Every time I’ve wanted to give up, to settle for a life of loneliness and mediocrity, I’d look at them and know they deserved better; they needed better.
Being both a mother and a father is every bit as exhausting as it sounds. I am not just their only caregiver, I’m their only daily role model.
We were supposed split that duty; he’d show them about working hard at a career, those long days mingled in with time off for balance. He was supposed to show my boys how to treat a woman, and make sure my daughter knew how she was to be treated. He was supposed to show my boys all the Dad things. I’m now the only person to show them how to treat one another, how to be responsible, how to be goal driven, how to have life balance, and most of all, how to really live.
At first, it was all for them; there were so many days it took every once of energy I had to do what I knew I needed to do. Every morning, though, they woke up, and looked to me for guidance, and I knew I couldn’t let them down.
Over time, I started to want to do things not just for them, but for me, too. I was no longer just spinning my wheels to keep them moving, but to enjoy my own future, as well. If not for them, I can’t even imagine what would have become of me after Kenny died. I am forever indebted to my children for giving me drive when I had none; for giving me reason and purpose when I couldn’t fathom having any of my own. They’ll never know how much their mere existence in this world saved my life.
So when the cashier at Target inevitably tells me, as they always do, how I’ve got my hands full, I’ll do the same as I always do. I’ll smile, nod, say “I certainly do,” while thinking, so cheesily, “and so is my heart.”
Megan Courtney is a widowed mom of three young wildlings, ages eight, six, and three, and dog mom to two goofy black lab mutts. She writes about her journey through widowhood and single parenthood on her blog (http://mom-entum.co/), and continues passionate work as an advocate and fundraiser for the National Brain Tumor Society. She is also a fitness enthusiast and health and wellness coach, who’s training for a half marathon and working toward earning her CPT certificate. Megan holds a BA in English Literature and always finds inspiration in the little things: her favorite song, a new book or planner, or a fresh set of pens. You can find her on Instagram as @megs_momentum.