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A Widow's Words On Solo Parenting

"Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be“ - Carrie Fisher

I realized that as a girl and as a woman I had always existed but the moment my son was born, the mother in me entered the world too.

I was as fresh as my baby's bottom and my emotions were held in check while he struggled to breathe - his cord was doubled wrapped around his neck. I looked on in terror as the nurse whisked my newborn from my body - rushing him to an oxygen machine. My questions of “Is he okay? What's wrong?” were met by my pediatrician's “Just relax, he'll be fine.”  Her eyes told a different story.

At last, I heard him.

My stepbrother, Dell, and my husband, John, stood back from the baby.

Dylan Thomas Bocanegra's first sounds were that of a small goat: "baa."

When he was finally placed into my arms I knew that I would never be alone in my thoughts again. I had it all -- a husband, a swell of new love coursing throughout my body that I couldn't describe yet and a semblance of healing within the dynamics of my own family tree for a very short time.

Dylan was loved by the staff. He was so quiet -- the opposite of what he had been with me daily, kicking, doing somersaults, jabbing my ribs or my bladder -- always letting me know he was there. I rang for him but the nurses loved having this calm baby in the nursery -- until he came to visit me and found where the food was. For the rest of the stay in the hospital, they brought his crib into my room and left him with me because he screamed to be fed every few hours and was waking the other newborns. I knew at that moment that he was a fighter.

My paternal grandmother died giving childbirth to my father –- altering his perception of family dynamics when his own father gave him to his brother-in-law to raise him. My father’s biggest fear about my being pregnant was that I would die –- I also had surgery on my cervix only a few years prior and Dylan was considered high risk.

I, on the other hand, continued to ride horses at work up until my fifth month and took on other part-time jobs while reading about this butterfly that would grow into a person. I knew when he would be born because I felt his conception and as time went on told everyone I could that he was a boy. No girl would beat me up that much on a daily basis. My stepbrother had taken a week off to be here for the birth and Dylan came right on time –- the day before Dell had to leave.

Within 4 ½ months of that December day before Christmas, our lives changed when Dylan’s father died. After the funeral I kept waiting for him to come back. I didn’t know anyone who could relate to the loneliness, heartache or the many questions of what comes next?  Few knew how to talk to me in their own grieving process.  We aren’t taught to lose, we’re taught to win and it wasn’t in the cards for me to lose someone that early.

The phone stops ringing and the realization that -– the government recognizes in alarming numbers that grow yearly -- young widows/widowers continue to be treated differently after their child reaches age 16. The government dictates that we're simply widowed no more until we reach age 60, unless we remarry. Every year while raising Dylan, I have had to work within government guidelines if I wanted to be a present parent.   Meaning I had to give up a burgeoning career as a writer/actor to be out on the field -- at games or school events or the doctor's office -- so he wouldn’t be a latchkey kid. Am I saying that I had it worse? Hell no! I’m saying that there are hundreds of thousands of men and women that go unrecognized as "solo" parents who are doing what they can to better themselves and the lives of their children with very little assistance or acceptance.

I’ve raised Dylan in the belly of the beast where only the moon howls and coyotes run our streets in a town that has helped show me the many places he could have mentors and I always told him to keep his dreams no matter what a teacher, a friend or relative said to deter him. His dreams will come true as we all deserve hope in our dreams. I believe it’s why we’re put here -– to fulfill our potential and to help.

If it hadn’t been for a group of anonymous people I may not have made it through his school years and even now I look around and see little in the way of extending hope to kids who are different. I see many separate sandboxes still and am keen on making one large one where I can invite people to come play so that we might as artist and human beings unite and have fun again.

I’ve been turned down for local jobs for years -- by everything from local supermarkets to restaurants to department stores. Maybe it just means I’m not meant to work there? I’ve managed to get a job here or there that just covers my rent and in all honesty, I know what I would like for Mother’s Day.

It’s not the white knight syndrome placed on both men and women  --  but an opportunity to become a part of my community and Industry again as a writer/creator/performer.  As my boy challenged me last year to do my own art show by making “Shorty & Morty” a short film -– I challenge myself to keep dreaming that I will have my voice heard and that I no longer will be kept separate from but accepted as part of. When we gift opportunity we gain so much more.

To be heard, to have good friends, to love and nourish while accepting that back is a universal thought I’ve given to my son and his friends while growing up and to anyone in need who has asked. We all deserve to remain visible in an ever changing world that can make us feel smaller. With the recent recall of the riots of ’94 against the visit of an incumbent president –- I admit I got misty eyed, a lump in my throat but felt hope was here for a short while.

I may have mucked up a few things in my life (we all do to some degree). however, I parented my child to become who HE wanted to be, free to choose, free to work hard and never allow others to deter him from his vision of what he desires to become in life. And for me?  The realization through all my years of mommy combat I can now sit back and say I’ve also been working on parenting me. Wow, what a concept.

I hope that schools will realize that our children’s future should not be taken lightly -– and entrust that they can get accolades while small and teach us that they can make the right choices given the tools to learn and make decisions.

I knew that when my husband died all of my years of training and dreaming of my chosen profession would force me to make a choice that I've never regretted - one that placed me foremost as my son's mother. 

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Gary D. Henry May 13, 2012 at 04:45 PM
This is a very heartfelt article. I couldn’t imagine having to live two lives at once trying to navigate an avenue to calmer seas without succumbing to the relentless swells of an unsure future. Heroism is reserved for individuals who’ve made the hard choices and suffered the dark clouds of an unforgiving world and came out of on the other side withered, worn but never wavering from the task at hand. The relentless worry, the doubt, the inner turmoil that all solo mothers/fathers experience would qualify for such high praise . In reading this article and viewing the associated video, Ms. Fredric tells us how she did it and I must say that she did a fine job. It’s a heart-wrenching story to tell. Mothers are that way because they happily choose to be that way. Apparently, in Ms. Fredric’s case, life unmercifully smacked her in the face and made her adjust fates easy path to prosperity and happiness and thrust her into the high grass and made her plod through the tangled thorns of doubt and uncertainty. If I were in the entertainment industry, I would allow this writer her shot to regain what life took from her. She weathered the storm and it would be nice for her to see what calm really means. Stories like these are usually reserved for the silver screen. Ironically she gave up an acting career to raise her son and by doing so, unknowingly, created a screenplay of life where she would always be the marquee player and the undisputed superstar of one lucky little boy.
E.M. Fredric May 13, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Mr. Henry, You've got this mom crying this morning - overwhelmed by your kind words of understanding and encouragement let alone a boost for the morale. Wow...thank you so very much. You've written before and I've looked you up - just might buy a book - when I can afford one. Again, Mr. Virginian, a heartfelt happy tear is sent your way. *Typo on riots year, it was 1992 not 1994 - '94 was Vancouver.
Gary D. Henry May 13, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Thanks Ms. Fredric , if you supply an email or address, I will make sure a signed copy makes its way to you at no cost . It's the very least I can do for an individual who expresses such passion and dedication to the plight of such unsung heroes. You have a gift of plowing through the muck and delivering what people need to hear. I applaud you.
Helen Kwong May 13, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Happy Mother's Day to a super mom! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I was so touched and teary when I read your post and watch your video. I am especially moved by your courage and strength. I have similar experience as a divorced mom raising my 2 daughters by myself. They are also my best friends.
E.M. Fredric May 13, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Ms. Kwong - it is never easy to be a solo parent - I applaud you! Thank you so much for writing me - you made this mom one grateful one on this Mother's Day!
Helen Kwong May 13, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Thanks so much for your reply. Please call me Helen :) It's mom like you that made my day, knowing that there are single parents out there who understand each other, give each other strength, so we do not feel so alone. By the way, I loved the way you write :)
E.M. Fredric May 14, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Helen, Male or female in the solo parent department we need all the help we can get and thank you for the kind compliment.
J. Petras May 15, 2012 at 05:45 AM
Hello Ms. Fredric, Can I ask you a question? What is the worst out of the four, losing a husband with having an infant to raise, having dealt and survived cancer, having your government ignore you as a widow, making you irrelevant, or having your profession turn their backs on you and not even helping you get back to your dream? I think with the right contacts you'd be able to pick up where life was interrupted. Keep up the good fight, you are very inspiring!
E.M. Fredric May 15, 2012 at 08:29 AM
Dear J. Petras, A powerfully packed question. Wow. I was angry that my cancer went undetected for 2 years. I bled 21 days straight with doctors telling me I was fine so I went to the ER - nothing. I got a call - weeks later - a misread pap - 12 months prior. Working in a highly visible and strenuous production job – I naively took a week off for both operation and recuperation. Terrified but alive – cancer taught me a lot as death has. I know them well. Within 2 years I had met - married and was pregnant – my husband died four months after our son was born. Shocked - heaving from the marrow of my drained bones – clueless about what to do - I looked at my baby who would touch my wet teary cheeks and giggle. I knew the career that I had envisioned could never be if this child were to have a shot – something no one had ever afforded me. No silver spoons were we while I worked - became both parents and helped our community. Removing the meager assistance I had when my boy turned 16 was and is - unconscionable. Placing time constraints on widowhood is absurd – where’s the body? We’re like the secret society cancer was. Whose life has more value? It’s a demeaning and cruel action of social security’s - misunderstood - yet we’re taught that America cares. I would love to be gifted the opportunity to work at my passions again – a writer/actress/producer/ – as a paid part of a team. It only takes one person who cares. Thank you for your faith and hope in me!

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