Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ponytail

On a previous weekend, I took MiniMac to the park. My seat on a picnic bench provided a perfect view of him flitting from swing to slide and back. At the end of the bench, a man also sat. Sporty and tall, his U of Georgia t-shirt caught MiniMac's attention as they quickly made friends. The whole time our son telling him about the game day chant and the recent UGA spring game. As MiniMac ran off, a little girl, approximately MiniMac's age, ran over to him.

"Daddy, can you fix my ponytail?"
"Sure," he said and turned her around to adjust the sprig of hair with a tiny boing at the nape of her neck.  As he adjusted it, she reached back to feel it. 
"You're doing it wrong, Daddy. Do it like Mommy does." He attempts to pull it tight through the tiny band bedecked with a little flower, yet it is no better off than the first time he tried. 
"Is Mommy coming back?" she asked.
"No, honey," he answers. As he does I felt a little shift and static in my heart. 
"Do you remember where I told you Mommy went?" he asks in a tone that I recognize as being pleasant but manufactured as such.
"Yeah," she says more matter of factly. "Heaven."

He is sitting less than two feet away from me but I feel like an intruder in a very private conversation. I don't look toward him as his daughter goes running along after his "go play with your sister" suggestion. 

The daily sounds of the park consume the air and he then says to me, "I am not so good with the ponytails."  His statement had less to do with ponytails than the fact I just heard this man ask his toddler if she remembered her Mom is in heaven. His voice seemed to hold two sounds in tandem: Yes, I can do this. But how in the _____ did I get here.

I look at him. He might be 35. He clearly has two young daughters. And I say, "Yet."
He looks back at me and I say again, "You are not so good with the ponytails, yet." He gives an uneasy nod. And I say, "Remember the first few times you played frisbee? Or basketball? You are probably much better at it now." He gave a chuckle that sounded a bit like his whole laugh track was dusty and neglected.

Our Mom was a single parent at one point in her life. Her segueway from work to home rarely included, "How was your day, Mom?" And more often included a barrage of: Where is/are my cleats/skis/shinguards/tennis racket/legwarmers/Blondie cassette? And we are lucky that in between running us to every event and activity, my Mom didn't add a new weekly activity:
Every Saturday morning at 10 am, beatings for the children of this house.

I know the weight and magnitude of raising a child and I don't know what that would be like on double time, as a single parent, whether by choice, by accident, or by default.  And this man, likely capable of successfully achieving a litany of milestones, made me take notice not because he could not put a 3 year old's hair in a ponytail, but because he, even more so than this tiny sprite bouncing around his legs, wanted to do it exactly how Mommy did it.

I am a person who occasionally is moved enough to want to hug a stranger and this was one of those moments. Not because he needed it, not because I related some profound wisdom, but because I think the circumstances would be a bit overwhelming at times if I wore them as my own.

And it is a reminder that sometimes a ponytail is symbolic of something so much greater.

And because I never realized for my own Mom the task at hand when you are a single parent, so thank you. And yours was a job well-done. Sometimes she made it look rather easy. Maybe that is the trick, or the strength, or the stamina single parents have to master.

And my apologies when we were young and fully absorbed in soccer games, singing Our Lips Are Sealed, or saying, "We are not having meatloaf AGAIN are we?" that we did not inquire more frequently How was your day, Mom?

85 comments:

Kat said...

Wow. Nothing like starting the morning off with a good cry! With all the not so fun crap going on in my life right now, this was a great slap in the face. Thanks for the reminder to be thankful for the good things we do have. Kat

Jean said...

My heart just broke a little and swelled a lot while reading this post. Thank you!

Chez Zizi said...

Oh my. You made me cry. How weird to be there when that took place between him and his daughter but you said the right thing to him when he spoke to you (no surprise to me considering you write fabulously).
And of course nice nod to mom. Have a nice day.
Zizette

My name is PJ. said...

For someone who so easily makes me laugh on a regular basis, you sure know how to make a girl cry....

Christopher said...

That's sad, I can't even imagine...

AmyLK said...

this is beautiful. And thanks for the reminder that I am not good at this YET. I will be! smiles

Badass Geek said...

Thanks for putting things in perspective, as usual.

Cara Smith said...

I think I would have started crying right then and there.

I bet you gave him something to think about though with the "yet".

Shorty said...

Perfect choice of words to the gentleman, my dear.

Simply Suthern said...

That was sweet. I am sure he appreciated the affirmatiom of his efforts and hope for the future.

You know how to tug on heart strings.

Thank you.

Reins In Seattle said...

I was crying before I even got to the mom part. Thank you beautiful daughter. It was a labor of love and you kids made it easy (most of the time)

TKW said...

Yet. You are not very good at ponytails yet.

You did a wonderful thing right there. I'm a little goopy after reading this. Very touching.

Susan Erickson said...

Grief will be part of all of our lives eventually.....compassion is so important....you helped! As for your Mom ....anybody who does anything well, makes it look easy....

MommyLovesStilettos said...

Wow. This really puts a lot of things into perspective. What a great post!

Eva Gallant said...

That was so poignant! Touching.

jayme said...

wow. thank you for that story. my mama was a single mom for awhile and slowly but surely, i'm starting to realize how great she really was.

Lucia said...

So so true, I see it in my brother's life. He has 4 boys, his wife my dear sister in law passed away from breast cancer in 2009. It's been tough for him luckily the boys are old enough to help themselves (16 (twins) and 19)except for the youngest (10). Everything so tidy when she did everything for them, now they struggle between laundry and clean bathrooms. It's funny my mom is staying with us and when I come home, I come home to my youth because I smell the homecooking she used to cook for me when I was young, the food I ate and then ran out side to play never once saying "thank you that was delicious." I did last night and any night she decides to cook.
I'm so lucky to still have her.

The Bug said...

This was beautiful - and of course I'm reading it at work & wiping my eyes when my boss comes out of his office. Sigh.

Georgina Dollface said...

Wow, that was sad and touching. I can't imagine what it must be like for him to have lost his wife, the mother of their children. Thank you for being to kind to him. know many others would have just stumbled along awkwardly and not known what to say. No doubt you gave him a bit of hope. - G

Erin said...

Wow, nothing like a good cry at 845 in the morning. Thank you for telling that story. It put things into perspective for me today.

Tia said...

So sad, but sweet! I bet your words really helped him make it through the day.

Joanna @ The Casa said...

First time by your blog.

Beautiful story. I hope he knows the girls he's raising will come to love the way he fixes their ponytails.

Mira said...

Ai god you had me at ponytail. No fair making me weep at 7am when I was just thinking what pains in the butt my children were having me up since 5. Fine. I'll take your stinkin' perspective. Snort.

Thanks ; )

MommaAmma said...

Ugh, I'm not a cryer and you made me cry!

I ache for these fathers. I know one who lost his wife last year and she was an amazing woman. I don't know how these guys do it but I know words like yours help so much.

Susan said...

That poor man. This was such a touching post. You're response to that dad could not have been more perfect.

Kristina P. said...

You have such an amazing way of balancing hilarious posts about getting drunk, with sweet posts like this.

The Boob Nazi said...

What a great story.

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Big lump in my throat! It is so hard to be a single parent. You were so kind in just a few words to this man who was clearly suffering a loss. Thank you to all the parents who do it even when they aren't good at it...yet!

Erin said...

I'm so glad that a mutual friend shared this today on her Google Reader.

This is a wonderful reminder to us all...thankfulness and perserverence.

And beautiful writing, too!

Intense Guy said...

Bravo. You've unleashed another JennyMac masterpiece.

I'm in awe of the feelings you evoke with the written word.

Kris said...

What an amazing story. All the best.


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Amy said...

How wonderful that you were there for him. I'm sure he'll never forget the kindness of the stranger in the park when he tackles things even harder than ponytails.

And cheers to your mom for raising a great gal (nearly) all by herself.

K A B L O O E Y said...

Oh my goodness, I'm all choked up now, and my daughter wants to know why I sound funny. In a minute she's going to want to know why I'm hugging her so tight. Terrific post; hope you see that dad again as time progresses. Maybe the ponytails will get tighter. (And feel free to tell him that this mom in a 2-parent household, raised in a 2-parent household cannot tie a ponytail worth a damn.)

vanilla said...

Thank you, JennyMac, for this account. I had three teens at home when their mother died. I'm afraid I was not a very good "single parent". Sometimes we just stumble along, doing what we can.

(That was years ago, and all the kids have now given me grandkids, who in their turn they are turning out greatgrands.)

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

Sad yet beautiful. He will learn and she will too, that daddies do it differently from mommies but still, it's done with love.

You were meant to be in on that conversation so you could share it with all of us.

Dumblond said...

Oh what a great post.
My husband was raised by a single mom, along with his three younger siblings. My mother-in-law is one of the best people I know on this earth and I am constantly amazed at how she was able to raise four wonderful people with no help from her ex.

Emily said...

Woah. How moving and heartbreaking. I love your outlook on the situation, though.

shortmama said...

Beautiful...Im not sure I would have even known what to do or say in that moment

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

What a touching post. I'm sure that man will remember your words for a very long time. I know I will.

Jen said...

What a sweet post, JennyMac! I got pretty close to teary-eyed at the end there. I really hope your mom reads this. :) And I love what you said to the man. I love that you didn't help him fix his daughter's hair or give him a sympathizing smile. Instead, you reassured and encouraged him. Wonderful.

jules said...

Wow. How quick you were to be politely encouraging. How kind of you. I fear my immediate response would have been a lame, "sorry." And you are right. He will get better! Sounds like he is a great single father now!

Khak said...

Lump in my throat, crying over here. I would have hugged him too!

Liza said...

Just...ohhh.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Wow. This made me cry. I was that little girl and I lived it and remember it like it was yesterday.

I would have wanted to hug him big time!

Pricilla said...

The resilience of children. Thank heavens for that.

There sat a very good father with a tough row to hoe.

cornflakegirl74 said...

What a touching story. I'm a little verklempt, I have to say. So there you have it: you almost made me cry on my very first visit to your blog.

I'll be back for more :) Thank you for reminding us of what's important in life.

DeNae said...

A woman we knew collapsed and died from an aneurysm, leaving her husband with four kids, including two girls. Seeing him week after week, with the girls' hair not quite as 'done up' as it used to be, nearly broke my heart. She's been gone maybe five years now, and they're all doing better. But damn, that's just a killer situation.

Helena Halme said...

What a moving post. Wow. My mum was a single parent too so I know exactly how you feel. You described it beautifully.

Helenaxx

Barbaloot said...

A single parent is maybe the one exception I would take to actually eating meatloaf. I guess they've got an excuse for making it:)

The man in your story sounds like a good guy----hope things work out for him.

Anna said...

How heartbreaking.

undomestic chica said...

I almost cried reading this.

M-Cat said...

Beautiful post. I thank GOD every day that I am not pulling single parent duty. My hats off to those who do.

Grand Pooba said...

Oh my god I would have started bawling right there.

Herding Cats said...

This breaks my heart. I want to give him a hug too :(

Aging Mommy said...

Young children don't think that way, to ask how was your day Mom - they see us as invincible and in many ways need to do so as otherwise their need for order and feeling safe is out of whack.

As for this poor guy, I agree, solo parenting must be oh so very hard but when you end up there because your partner has left this earth rather than moved on still within it the burden must be even greater. I would have wanted to hug that guy too but doubt I would have had the courage to. I hope someone is there giving him a hug.

secret agent woman said...

I'm not a full-time single parent, since the kids do have a father in their lives. But I do know the strain of managing a household on my own and coming in from a long day of work only to hear, "What's for dinner?" the second I walk in. It makes me keenly sad for those who have to fill both roles every single minute.

Elz said...

Gorgeous post. I would have had to hug him, to hide the tears in my eyes. Going to hug my kids now.

Jen said...

What a story. I just finished a novel where kids lost both parents, but of course that was fiction and it happens every day in real life. I wonder often how single parents manage, and even those where both parents work, but the cruelty of losing your spouse and then having to go on and raise the family left behind - overwhelming. One can only hope to rise to the occasion and get through it. So glad I swung by today :)

hotpants™ said...

Thank you for sharing, but did you have to make me get all weepy and sad?

Little Ms J said...

While I know your mom appreciates the sentiment now, weren't we all little self-absorbed shits? Can you remember how dramatic every little thing in our lives were and how we related to Real World? Now I want to give those little shits a good spanking.

Little Ms J said...

Oh, and because I'm not completely heartless I should say that you brought a tear to my eye about the dad... I can't imagine what he's going through, but I think your words were profound. "Yet" is powerful.

Ed said...

Poor guy. At least he had girls. Boys need their mommy way more.

SmartBear said...

Speechless.
I'm so glad you gave him a little laugh. He probably needed it.
Best,
Tina

Laoch of Chicago said...

Nicely done.

Semi-Slacker Mom said...

Yet. So true. I want to give you a hug for bringing these tears to my eyes.

kel said...

AWWWWWW! what an amazing post!

Allyson & Jere said...

That just broke my heart into a million little pieces. That sweet, sweet Dad. How much he must be hurting right now.

You wrote about this so beautifully. Thanks for sharing. And you're right, we don't ever fully understand the magnitude of parenting, until we're there. I'm grateful and in awe of my parents every day for all they did.

Excuse me while I go and blow my nose and call my Mom now.

DaisyGal said...

you sweet sweet woman, I want to hug you for sharing that with us.

I just recently wrote about my fear of losing my husband too early in this life and how it just sneaks up on you...that feeling and how you see people who have lost thier spouse in the middle of it all and you're blindsided with grief and fear again for them and yourself.

You wrote a beautiful story, I do hope that he and his daughters hearts are healing.

Talia said...

As someone who was a single mother (working two jobs @ 60+ hours a week)for over 5 years this is lovely.

Blessings to you for such a great post.

blueviolet said...

That made me so sad. They'll get there.

Mighty M said...

I am sure he will grow to be a master at the pony tail....such a touching story.

HalfAsstic.com said...

How insightful, and true and beautiful.
God bless that man and his children.

Aunt Becky said...

He will win. We all fall down. We all get back up again.

Myya said...

WOW, Beautiful touching post! What great words you gave to him. I am sure that just that little boost was what he needed & I bet it is carrying him until his strength takes over.

I'm Jamie said...

I must applaud you on your quick and touching reply to this man... how hopeful and encouraging, yet lighthearted enough to bring him a (probably much-needed) smile ;)

Vivienne said...

Man o man. I'm just in tears here. And not just for the plight of this single father to two young daughters, but for the man who has lost his partner, his love. So sad.

Hampton Rhodes said...

Whoa Man! This brought tears to my eyes<3

Caty said...

This post brought tears to my eyes....especially when you told him "yet." Your heart just pours through your writing.

Mommy Lisa said...

you are so nice JennyMac - your Mom is proud.

Erin said...

he will learn how to do a ponytail. and i wish you'd have hugged him. but i know what you mean.

another achingly beautiful post.

Mrs Montoya said...

I haven't been here in months and this was the first thing I read. And again, and still, I think you are the most dynamic woman in the world. I would have been crying all over him and making my kids play with his daughter and you just said something so simple, and perfect. I saw your Mom's comment, too. I love your story woven in with his. You're amazing, JennyMac. Happy belated (birthday) I think

Ellen@FirednFabulous said...

I have not have a vacation all summer, so my upcoming beach trip to Montauk will be JUST what I need. I always know I need a vacation when I just can't manage to take a break from the computer. I'm always on. ALWAYS. And it cuts into my beauty sleep, which I desperately need because my undereye bags have recently been in FULL EFFECT. Not cute.

Postman said...

Moving. Didactic. Beautifully told. What more could one ask in a blog post?

Postman said...

P.S. I'm off to ask my mother how her day was.

Maria said...

Wow! What an eye-opener! More than wanting to make his little girl's ponytail, I bet he wishes he still had his wife with him...