Saturday, April 20, 2013

Excuses, anyone?

I'm great at procrastinating.

There, I said it. But the fact that I said it is the important part, because it means I recognize that weakness in myself and I'm able to make a point of avoiding it. What I don't do -- or try to avoid doing -- is make excuses that enable my procrastination.

Except when it comes to housework...but that's another post.

Yesterday I got stuck waiting for a train, which almost made me miss my daughter's drop off time at daycare (they walk the kids over to school), which almost made me have to wait half an hour to drive her to school (because there's only so early you can leave a kid alone in a schoolyard), which would have made me very late for a video shoot in Scarborough. I texted my friend while sitting at the rail crossing that I could be screwed.

"Screwed?" he texted back. "No understanding from the boss? Being the single dad of a 5 year old girl? Things happen?"

My response: "That's not an excuse. That's a single mom excuse."

Now, he knows what I'm talking about, but readers here might appreciate a bit of context before jumping all over me on that comment.

Here's the thing: I know a lot of single moms, and my friend; being a teacher; does as well. Some of them are fantastically dynamic. Others like to use what we call the "single mom excuse."
"Why are you so tired?"
"I'm a single mom."
"Why didn't you pay your phone bill?"
"I'm a single mom."
"Why are you always late for work?"
"I'm a single mom."
You know the pattern -- and don't pretend you haven't heard the excuse. There's absolutely no denying that being a single parent is extremely challenging. I know, because I live it. And unlike a lot of dads out there, I live it Monday to Friday, which means I get the school day morning rush part of the equation.

But one thing I refuse to do is to fall into single mom excuses. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it's unavoidable. But there are things that have to happen in life:

  • You have to pay your bills.
  • You have to be at work on time.
  • You have to eat.
  • You have to be clean.
  • You have get your kid to school.
These things are non-negotiable. All of them. So yes, sometimes there's a train. Sometimes you sleep in (but that's a poor excuse under any circumstances). Sometimes kids get sick. Sometimes there's a snow storm. The difference between the excuse and the action is that it's always been my view -- and you and I can thank my parents for this world view -- that what an adult does is mitigate the damage of these things that happen. 

Get stopped by a train on your way to work? Skip stopping at Tim's to get your coffee and get your ass to work. No cash for your phone bill? Call them and warn them it's going to be paid on payday (yup, they'll actually work with you to get your account paid). No cash for gas? Get a ride...and don't go out on the weekend! Slept in? You're missing your workout, buddy.

I don't claim to have all the answers to single parenthood. Not by a long shot. My tricks are a combination of remembering how I was raised and making stuff up as I go along. Here are a few pointers, though, that can help you keep your sanity:

1.,, and Since she was two years old, my daughter has known how to navigate to these buttons on my browser bar using the touchpad on my laptop. Good news: these are fun, educational channels full of activities. Better news: she stays glued to the screen while I grab my shower in the morning.

2. Contrary to popular belief, small children are perfectly capable of helping. In fact, they thrive on it. My daughter is in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays (junior Kindergarten, after all). So she packs her lunches on Monday and Wednesday, and puts them in the fridge overnight. She also picks out her clothes before bedtime, so we don't have to rush. Guess what. She LIKES doing this stuff, because it gives her some control over her world and a sense of responsibility.

3. She now gets dressed and brushes her teeth while I'm in the shower, so there's no longer a need to do things in sequence...we can, in fact, each take care of our different routines at the same time.

4. I know a few single moms who often feel defeated because they have to shovel the driveway (or mow the lawn), make supper, wash the dishes, and get the kids' lunches ready for the next day. I get all of that...what irks me, though, is when the "kids" are aged 13 and 16. "Oh, but they have homework." Uh huh. From the age of 8 I was washing and/or drying the dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor (as were both my sisters). From age 12 I was mowing the lawn -- reluctantly, but I did it. I made all my own breakfasts and lunches, and I helped with the laundry. In fact, from age 16 I mostly washed my own clothes and helped with the family's laundry (again, somewhat reluctantly...I was a teenage boy after all). From the time I started wearing dress shirts and suits (which was in high school, for various music-related jobs), I can't remember a time when I didn't do the lion's share of ironing my clothes. And I had homework the whole time. Get over it. It's just homework.

My point is, being a single parent is a pain in the ass, no doubt about it. But the responsibility to avoid excuses falls to the parent, and it's perfectly possible to make life happen within the scope of having to look after kids. Just to give you an idea, so you don't think I'm slacking off or have it easy in any way, here's what's required of my day:
  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Work out for 30-60 minutes (because as you'll see, this is the only time I have to do this).
  • Feed myself and my daughter.
  • Make my lunch, and my daughter's.
  • Shower, shave, etc.
  • Dress myself and my daughter.
  • Get her teeth brushed. Remember to brush mine.
  • Scramble to the door.
  • Notice the cat has no food and respond accordingly.
  • Remember the fish needs to be fed too.
  • Pack lunches, computers, homework, and miscellaneous things that she needs for school (which can be anything from a show-and-share toy to ensuring she's in full Supergirl costume; or the latest "Fairy Storm Trooper Biker Scout Super Mario Ballerina" regalia; for random costume days).
  • Get her to daycare by 8.
  • Rush home to grab the computer and/or lunch that I forgot on the way out the door.
  • Get to work by 8:30 with only a few moving violations to make up for time (work is 20 minutes away from the daycare).
  • Text "good morning" to about 30 people who otherwise would feel neglected if I didn't -- or sometimes perform the experiment and see who texts me first (usually about 3 of those people...I'm thinking of skipping the texts altogether, except it's the closest thing I have to a social life).
  • Work 8 hours.
  • Pick her up by 5:30.
  • Put food in both of us.
  • Chase down advertisers for the website.
  • Write. Write. Write some more.
  • Bathe and entertain her.
  • Tuck her into bed, hopefully by 8:30 (luckily she's a very good bedtimer).
  • Try to be engagingly social via text and social media while all of this is going on.
  • Crash in my bed by about 10:30.
That's on regular days. On Thursdays I also have two hours of private teaching and a choir to conduct, so my work day goes to about 10 p.m..

I think you can understand why I find the question, "What?! You don't have cable?!" utterly laughable.

I believe it's also understandable, therefore, when I occasionally skip a workout, or opt for McDonalds as an occasional time saver, or don't sign my kid up for soccer (really? a 4 p.m. soccer game when I get off work at 5? ...really?).

The point, once again, is not that I'm looking for pity or praise. I'm not even looking for donations to keep the website running (although I wouldn't refuse them). I'm not looking to single any group out as being lazy by contrast either. The point is, I'm an adult, and I take it as my job to keep excuses to a minimum and just get this shit done. And if your kids are old enough to talk, they're old enough to start doing some things for themselves. 

Being a single parent doesn't mean you have a free pass to miss appointments or fall behind. So now when somebody tells me they don't have time to exercise, I simply tell them what they don't have time for is sleeping in or watching late-night TV. 

And yes, I reserve the right to be pissed off when a train rolls through town at rush hour. Not everyone can live in a blissed-out state of Zen all the time. Sometimes you're just pissed about being late.


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