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Single parenting and crossing the bridges of life with my children

The drive to the courthouse was long. My mother sat beside me rambling on about how “we” should have done this sooner.

It was May 1992.

The bridge connecting the two towns came into sight and it appeared almost ominous. The sky was cloudy as typical of a Florida summer afternoon. As I drove over the long bridge my eyes welled up with tears — but just for a few moments.

During the minute or so it took to cross the bridge, I mourned the loss of my husband. Not because I loved him anymore or would miss him, but because I had to admit defeat and knew my children would be paying the price in the end.

My husband wasn’t dead, but when I crossed that bridge and entered the courthouse, I would be granted a divorce after just five years of marriage. I knew once the papers were signed, my soon-to-be ex-husband would be out of our lives forever.

No surprise, he wasn’t at the courthouse. The judge granted me sole custody of our three children. Because of his criminal record, any visitation with them would be done with my mother present; however, she never needed to supervise. He never came back.

Since he never replied to the divorce summons and never proved income, the judge set the child support at $900 a month. I never saw even one-fifth of that.

Driving home from the courthouse, I drove back over the same bridge. This time, a smile came over my face. I was free to live a life void of fear, doubt, and betrayal. The sun shined through the clouds and I thought, “This will be a cinch.”

I was 25 years old with three children, 6, 4, and 2. I had no clue what I was doing. I went to parenting classes and joined a mother’s group. It was as if in becoming a single parent, I swallowed a dumb pill and forgot all I had already learned about being a mother in the last six years. Suddenly, everything was different.

I had taken on a new role. I had to learn how to be both mother and father — the nurturer and the punisher; be the evil Shredder trying to destroy the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and then play hostess for Barbie and her pals at a tea party. I was the fisherman, the ballerina instructor, the makeup artist and the football coach.

Tables turned along the way and at times my children became my support. One night, when my son was about 7, the bills sat in front of me and tears rolled down my cheek as I tried to figure out how to pay them.

He walked over to me and placed two small hands on my face. Gently wiping my tears, he said, “Don’t cry Cinderella. You can’t go to the ball like that.”

Along the very long road of single parenthood, I came across several more bridges. Some were as easy to cross as the one I drove over on the day of my divorce; while others seemed like I would never get to the other side where I could finally coast easily. But the most important bridge I finally made it over was called “growing up.”

Side-by-side with my children – now 29, 27 and 25, I grew up. I made mistakes along the way – plenty of them. But what parent hasn’t? My children always forgave me. Maybe it was because they knew we were all in this thing called life together.

We are a team and we faced the bridges of childhood, adolescence and now, adulthood together.

On occasion, I fall prey to those silly Facebook games where you click and find out your true personality, who you were in a past life or what your favorite color says about you. I know they’re just computer-generated but they amuse me at times.

The other day I clicked on one that said, “Get the Bible quote that describes your life.” I was given 1 Corinthians 13:7.

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

alyssa schnugg is city editor of the EAGLE. Write to her at alyssa.schnugg@oxfordeagle.com