by Gwen Frisbie-Fulton
Before my son was 2, he had lived in three states and traveled through many more in the back of my station wagon. Indiana, Rhode Island, New York, Ohio, Virginia — I was trying to make a living working when he slept and be a mama when he was awake. Those were the longest two years of my life and only the first two years of his.
I came to Greensboro as a resting place, a nesting place and to find a place to call home. Two days after I arrived in town, my friend Liz decorated a tiny Christmas tree and helped me hold my son’s first real Christmas in her living room. He ripped up wrapping paper and tried to eat the ribbons.
A week later, Cakalak Thunder — Greensboro’s radical marching band— invited all the children they collectively knew to celebrate my son’s second birthday. A tiny birthday boy drum major, for two blocks he led Cakalak and a gaggle of parents and kids banging on oatmeal containers, grinning wildly the whole way. The families we met that day still make up the core of our community seven years later. The kids are getting taller, their feet get bigger, their vocabularies have grown to include syllables and, more recently, cuss words and bad jokes. They all wear each other’s hand-me-downs. Like a makeshift extended family, they are growing up together.
When I held a yard sale, packed up a U-haul and drove my infant son and four cats out of the patchwork of soybeans and cornfields that make up the middle of America, I put on a brave face. I knew what the world held for a young, single mother. I knew that my choice was, in essence, an agreement to walk a thin line, balancing work and parenting, providing for and caring for, and that this line was going to run right through poverty, exhaustion and, frankly, the middle of me. I knew that becoming a single parent meant that I would endure the raised eyebrows of those suspicious of my ability as a mother and my worth as a woman; that we would be marginalized from what is considered a “real” family; and that somehow my choice had rendered us incomplete.
But I bought a run-down house, planted a weedy garden and declared Greensboro our home. We insisted that we were a full and complete family — just us two. We moved to a ragtag neighborhood, where no one raised an eyebrow or asked where we came from.
Instead, they just showed up.
My friends have helped me remove the stoic mask that so many tired mothers have to put on. Christina and Glenn clap wildly at my son’s violin recitals when I am at work. Scott makes videos of him performing to show me later. Brian sends him postcards from every stop on his travels; bits of news from all corners of the world. Ling Sue, Susan and Larkin send me texts from the car-rider lane telling me they are bringing him home with them, sparing him another long evening in childcare.
Elizabeth, Cricket and Amethy send pictures of him at lunch when they drop by the school, so that I can peek at them on my phone under the conference room table. Liz and Mercer will take him countless nights so that I can work, go on a date, drink a little whiskey or just sleep in. Patricia picks up little things for him on her travels, leaving them as special, secret presents on the porch. Alabama leaves him letters on the bookshelf that he isn’t to open until he is 18. Aisha opens his drawers, helps him fold his laundry, whispering “Shhhh… we will surprise your mama.” Katie and Monica march into his birthday parties chanting wildly and brandishing his name on homemade flags. John and Becky show up to everything he ever does and cheer for him like no one has ever danced/played/run better ever before. Justin calls him “Little Man” and hugs him with big, warm hugs just like a man should a growing boy. Karly and Jason travel across time zones to pick him up, wearing futuristic space costumes and take him on top-secret missions that end, inevitably, at Yum Yums. Catherine and Heather take him for entire weeks during the summer when I can’t afford camps, smooching the top of his head when he arrives and making him eat his vegetables, just like he was their own.
Because he has become theirs. I didn’t know that when I was making the decision to “go it alone” as a mother, I wasn’t going to be alone at all.
I cannot wait for the day I return the favors I have been given.
Gwen Frisbie-Fulton is a writer and mother living and working in Greensboro.