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As a Mom, I'm Picking up the Pieces

I'm writing this knowing my bank account is overdrawn, because I'm still waiting on four, unexpectedly late paychecks. I'm writing this from my couch, where my 19-month-old is sleepily nursing in my lap.
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I'm writing this knowing my bank account is overdrawn, because I'm still waiting on four, unexpectedly late paychecks. I'm writing this from my couch, where my 19-month-old is sleepily nursing in my lap. I'm writing this in between the tugs on my heart strings and knots in my stomach and angst of being alone.

My little family has faced many weekends like this in the last couple of years. Like any practice in abstaining, we got used to not spending money for a few days. My reaction is to isolate myself a bit more. I don't talk to friends much. I don't feel like I'm their equal when I'm this broke, as temporary as it may be.

Last week, I went to bring my friend, who'd just had a baby, dinner. I sat at her table, doing the familiar action of holding a small baby while trying to eat, carefully picking food I'd dropped off of her incredibly new little frame. I kept looking around, and started to seethe in jealousy and self-loathing.

My friend had a housecleaner. She had a mother-in-law staying with her. She had a husband at work who made enough to support the three of them and their house, two dogs, and two cats. She had a pile of boxes of things people had sent her, and a lot of things she'd planned to return because they didn't need them.

I looked over at my girls, playing so sweetly together, and thought of when Coraline was just born. I was completely on my own in an empty house just two days after I'd given birth. My cousin had stayed with us for a few days, and left us with a freezer full of pasta dishes, and some friends had brought us some food. Other than that, I was alone with a newborn who screamed if I put her down, and a rambunctious 7-year-old who, though I didn't know it at the time, had recently come into contact with head lice.

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Though Cora's dad wasn't there then, he's here now. For the last month, we've seen him almost every day. He got a full-time job and has committed to helping me with daycare costs while having ample time with his daughter.

Mia's had a hard time with this, since her dad lives a few states away. Last night, when Cora's dad came to hang out for a couple of hours, I turned to Mia and asked her if she wanted to go to the store for cupcakes.

We live next to this ritzy hippie store, full of organic produce, but they also have baked goods that we can purchase with food stamps if we ever need a treat and can't afford one. When Mia was little, eating food in the dining area of a grocery store was the only way we could go out to eat. I guess we've kept up with the tradition. On the way there, Mia skipped along next to me, holding my hand.

"Have I told you how much I love you lately?" she said.

I laughed and said not really.

"I love you so much, Mom," she said. "You're the best mom anybody could ever have."

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We ate our cupcakes, and I sat across the table from her while she talked about school, and mentioned one of her friends who was really really grumpy that day.

"Am I ever really really grumpy?" I said, knowing I was often. I didn't always handle the stress of raising my kids on little money well.

"Yeah," she said. "Like if I'm not listening and I know I'm not listening."

"I feel like I'm kind of hard to live with sometimes," I said.

"You're a great mom," she said. "You get grumpy, but you just had a baby by yourself. I know it's hard."

Lately it's come to my attention that I've exhausted myself for a long time, and I'm beginning to feel the mental and physical toll. My hair's about half as thick, and going gray. I don't sleep for more than three or four hours. There are always about five things I need to be doing, not including taking a shower or going pee.

I'm looking for a therapist, though I'm not sure what it'll do to help.

Despite all of this, I've kept busy with my work as a writer, which is still literally living the dream, even though it has times of famine as far as payment's concerned. I've already been published several times this year, and am putting the finishing touches on a book proposal. My article through the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago made it to print in the newspaper--an essay featured in the Style section--and I have several others coming out soon.

These last few months have been life-changing with Cora's grandparents and father becoming a part of our little family. I've been estranged from my family for several years, and it comes with its own realizations of my own issues revolving around trusting others. In that sense, sometimes it's easier to be alone.

Coraline took to her dad instantly. I'm pretty sure on some level she knew she was his. Watching them together has been full of moments of unexpected sweetness. She wraps her arms around his whole head, and runs to him for a hug when he leaves.

All of my desires to find a suitable partner have faded. It might be from a mix of no longer having the ability to put energy into it, to wanting to focus on my family's recent expansion and how that's affecting everyone. But dating seems more like a drain I'd slip into and disappear in.

I think it'll be a long while before I can jump into anything like that.

Coraline's finally starting daycare two days a week. I don't think I even need to say what a huge relief that is. It seems like things are always just on the brink of sailing smooth, or at the tip of a wave and not breaking the crest. Or sometimes they do for a while then dip back down to weekends like this where I have absolutely no money.

Darkest light's before the dawn, you know. Even in these moments of self-loathing, it's important to pause, and know: this is where we go from. This is where we rise.

A version of this post originally appeared at www.stepville.com.

Stephanie Land is a writing fellow for The Center for Community Change.