Gary Horton | High Fives to Single Parents


I don’t know how single parents get it all done.

Even more, single moms, who often have more tenuous jobs at lesser pay than their peer single dads. And let’s also toss in spouses of permanently infirm or permanently disabled. How do they get all of everyday life’s duties done and then keep it up over the long haul?

Here’s a shout-out and a high-five of praise to all of them!

So, why my newfound sense of empathy and wonder at their superhuman feats of selflessness and magical time management?

There’s a story here:

Carrie broke her foot two weeks ago while we were on vacation on a boat, 1,200 miles away. With her significantly broken foot suspended, we carried, wheeled, carted her to port, back across a very long dock in a dock cart, back through jetways and airports, back to the SCV, and finally, over to our podiatric surgeon who operated on her last week. It’s been two weeks of intensive care, constant motion, appointments all over, getting scooters and other apparatus, ice packs, leg vibrator thingies, drug store runs, and all the rest related to getting Carrie’s injury addressed and our house set up for the safety and mobility of my currently one-legged wife.

Broken feet are tough. You don’t get to walk on them. No jumping into the shower. No standing to wash the dishes or laundry. Or drive. Or just about anything — for about a month when you can’t put weight onto the newly operated foot.

Which triggers my renewed empathy for single parents. Because, with my spouse down, I own all the regular daily, time-consuming stuff she used to do but can’t. I happen to work full-time. But now, like a temporary single parent, I picked up another full-time job. All the shopping. All the run-around stuff. The dry cleaning. The post office. The shuttling people around. Cooking. Cleaning. Trash duty. Beds to make. Cats to feed and clean. Pots to water, plants to plant, socks to find, and everything imaginable around the house that for some reason has decided to suddenly break that now needs fixing. Single parents do this all the time, and not for weeks like me, but for years and decades.

There’s no down time. No “me time.” The giving these parents and caregivers do is awe-inspiring.

Buckling under the pressure of only two weeks, I am exposed as a single-parent flunky. I am a spouse caregiver weakling. This is just a sprint. Others have life-long marathons. Oh, I’m hanging in there, and doing a good enough job — but I know I’m getting tapped — and that’s to both my shame and my enlightenment.

How do single parents hold down 40-hour jobs — and often more — commuting back and forth from home to work and back at night, and then care for one, two, three kids, feeding, clothing, schooling them, getting them into bed before it’s too late and off to school while it’s still early?

Heaven help them if someone gets sick and they can’t leave home for work. Or the car breaks down. Or family emergencies intrude. Jobs get tenuous quickly and for most single parents, income flow is utterly crucial.

Plainly, parents and caregivers don’t choose this challenging, tenuous style of living. Untimely deaths, accidents, spousal abuse, unfortunate divorces and other dislocations force this path. And today we witness suddenly deported spouses forcibly escorted out of the family circle, leaving the other remaining in the U.S. alone with kids, often without the wage-earner to provide. Consider the abjectly horrifying plight of these ones…

Carrie and I know many single parents at work and in other settings and we always appreciated their commitments to all the dictates and requirements of their lives. Now, after Carrie’s accident, we’re in awe. Despite the obvious physical, mental, social and sheer energy toll having essentially two full-time jobs placed on single parents or single caregivers, they almost always toil ahead with chins up, with perseverance, smiles and joyful demeanors.

They are angels walking among us.

I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom raised four of us working a modest job as a data entry clerk at Farmers Insurance. She worked her butt off at work, came home and worked her remaining waking hours feeding, cleaning and parenting us. That was the ‘60s and the time of the “generation gap.” Vast differences existed between adult parent and teen child or young adult. Mom liked Nixon. That didn’t fly well with my Vietnam War-age sisters. Boy, would my older sisters give it to mom at the dinner table. Arguments were common. Gratitude expressed to mom, less so.

But Mom soldiered on. And on.

We all eventually grew up, learned gratitude, and expressed deep devotion for all our mom gave us. She was completely selfless. And she taught me the most valuable traits I know – sticking with it, getting things done, hard work, courage in the face of real suffering, honestly, and loyalty.

Now, two weeks into my caring for a temporarily disabled loved one jolts me again to greater empathy and appreciation for the millions of us who do the same, but permanently.

How do single moms and dads and caregivers get everything done, by days, weeks, years? How do they do all the time management, the energy, the consistency, the compassion and all that love?

Indeed, single parents and caregivers are the ever-committed angels and super-heroes walking among us.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column, “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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