One of my favourite writers is Walt Whitman, the modern American poet, and he wrote an incredible long poem called “Song of Myself”. While I’ve always liked the style of his writing, I always found this to be a bit self-indulgent. It begins with the line which forms the title of this post: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” which to me always sounded like a very individualistic way of thinking. A proper case of blowing your own trumpet, if you will.
Having said that, I’ve found that part of this journey of becoming a single mum has been becoming comfortable with “singing myself”.
I’ve never been known to be good to myself psychologically. I come across as quite cocky – gallus is the Glaswegian term – but I’m generally hiding insecurity left, right and centre: when I make things, I think that anyone could make them. When I parent, I think that people around me are doing it better somehow, or that I’m flawed. I’m definitely not pretty enough or thin enough or domesticated enough or successful enough at my job.
But recently, I got an exciting new role in work which involves working with a team far higher up the pecking order than I could have imagined, in spite of going part time and only being “mediocre”, in my mind. I genuinely went into the interview feeling a bit gung-ho because I didn’t think I’d get it in a month of Sundays. Maybe that’s what allowed me to overcome the anxiety I felt about the whole process.
I was as high as a proverbial kite all the way home. I practically skipped up the road. I collected the little guy from childcare, fed him, and gave him his bath. We played with the new train set I had bought on sale at the weekend. We ran around the little postage stamp square of grass in our communal back garden together. I put him to bed with his milk.
By the time I had done all of that, I was only just about up to sticking a box of Farmfoods popcorn chicken in the oven and downing a pint of diluting apple juice.
I sat in my living room and realised that all I wanted was for someone to recognise just how well I’d done, and how much hard work I’d put in, and the extent of the guts my application and interview had actually taken. Most of all, I wanted someone to hand me a medium rare steak with peppercorn sauce and a glass of chilled champagne when I got home, with a congratulatory card and a hug that says, “I feel this. This is good for you, and for us, and for our little one.”
I caught myself at that point and realised how selfish I sounded. Just as I’m uncomfortable with the opening lines of Walt Whitman’s poem, I’m uncomfortable with those horrible moments that come along where I feel needy and individualistic. But sometimes, it can’t be helped.
When I’m really low, I want nothing more than someone to wrap me up and tell me it’s ok. When I’m really high, I want someone to celebrate those successes with me. The reality is that, even though we single mummies have our children and are never really alone, it’s a very lonely path without another adult around you and in that boat with you.
So here goes, single mummies. If nobody else will sing us, we have to celebrate ourselves and sing ourselves.
You are incredible.
You are doing something which is difficult even with help, and you’re doing it by yourself.
You’ve brought one or two or three or more lives into this world and you’ve given up so much to do that. You gave up your time, energy and your once-toned body and, no matter how hard you work out or how carefully you eat to try to win it back, you’ll probably never regret that. There’s nothing cuter than when my little boy climbs over me and blows raspberries on what was once a much thinner, less scarred and stretched tummy, even if my newly tired body means that I’ll never pull George Clooney.
You gave up aspects of your health. You spent three months or more being sick and feeling knackered to bear this little person, and now you catch every bug that goes round nursery from them – they’re very generous like that. You are so tired out that when you do catch a bug, it floors you, and there’s no such thing as recovery time.
If you’re like me, you lost what was the most important relationship of your adult life because that little person made such an impact in this world with their tiny feet and tiny hands and beautiful smile that the dynamics of your marriage or relationship would never be the same again. You don’t blame your little one, but you know that maybe some things wouldn’t have happened like they did without their part in the changing nature of your relationships.
You don’t really have adult conversations any more because your whole world is consumed with your child. Sometimes, you catch yourself on the phone to a friend or chatting to a colleague and realising that they’re the first adult you’ve spoken to in days. Even when you do speak to grown-ups, it’s usually about your child – when they napped, when they last soiled a nappy, and whether they pulled anyone’s hair that day.
You have a mandatory curfew of your child’s bedtime, and God help you if you’ve forgotten any basic groceries – no popping out to the shop for you.
As a single mummy, your children fill your every waking moment – and lots of your not-so-awake ones too. You’re never on your own, which is a blessing and a curse. They will frustrate you constantly: they’ll throw tantrums when you leave and throw tantrums when you come back and throw tantrums when you feed them and throw tantrums when you try to let them sleep…but then they reach up to you with both hands wide open and ask for the only thing that will make it better. “Mama,” they sob, with a big sniffle and those gaspy shoulders. They seek your comfort and reassurance and love to get them through the other side of their upset. Your heart leaps, even if you haven’t even been given the chance to pee/shower/cry alone for three weeks or more.
If you work full-time, you ache whenever your childcare tells you that they learned a new word that day, or achieved a new milestone, and you weren’t there. But you keep doing it, because you’re the main – or only – source of the money to give them a life that they deserve and a roof over their heads, and the food that they want in their tummies.
And if you do make the decision to cut your hours, you scrimp and save and budget. You give up that night out or that takeaway and you buy Asda Smart Price everything and batch cook for a whole day at the weekend. And then you worry, as you always do, that you spent a whole day cooking instead of playing.
We set ourselves adrift into a constant swirling current of insecurities. We have, at some point, lost the person we thought would love us forever for whatever reason, and we ask ourselves why. We question our looks, our ability to maintain and be successful at adult relationships, the things we could have done to save what we had with the fathers of our children.
We are bombarded subtly and quietly with messages that single parent families aren’t the norm, and they aren’t quite good enough, thanks to the most innocent presentation of “normal” family life in branding, advertising and the media.
We put ourselves through the torture that is modern-day dating in whatever form because, more often than not, we seek validation from someone else rather than being comfortable with “singing ourselves”.
And yet we try to tell our children that they are good enough; that they are fantastic human beings; that they can do anything they want to. We know that they are. We tell them frequently so that those thoughts become habits and their self-esteem grows with them.
Worst of all, we do all of this while refusing to tell ourselves the same thing.
We are good enough. In fact, we are better than good enough. We are really bloody awesome; we just don’t like to tell ourselves that often enough to make it feel true. It makes us uneasy. It feels selfish, and we feel guilty for those selfish thoughts.
It’s time to change all of that, and when we do, our children will learn by example, because they are little miniature, living-breathing-moving embodiments of everything that we are.
The fact of the matter is, mamas, that loving children come from loving parents, and we need to start the process by loving ourselves.
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”