I don’t know how single parents do it.

Parenting is hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve written many words to that effect. Parenting robs you of sleep and energy, time and patience, money and, well, more money.

(Of course, parenting is rewarding too. But everyone else already talks about that.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve occasionally had to take care of Lucas by myself.

Oneal’s dad suffered an injury a few weeks back. Dad had difficulty moving around the house and cleaning his stitches. Oneal and his brother Ron took turns going to Tahanan to take care of Dad. Lucas and I stayed behind in Antipolo, because of school and work.

At three and a half years old, you’d think Lucas would be a little easier to take care of. He can mostly feed himself. He runs around. He can entertain himself with YouTube Kids or toys. You’d think, with my mom and my brother around, it would be relatively easy.

But really, it’s not.

My mom and my brother have to work too. Oh yeah, and I have a full-time job. And Lucas, well, if you’ve never met him, let me tell you that he is very talkative. He talks nonstop. In school, his teacher asks one question and he answers with ten detailed sentences. Sometimes he makes up his own stories.

And he is very inquisitive. Oneal often says he’s Generation Why–everything you say to him is sure to be met with “why?” And he asks about everything: lightning, electricity, why we can’t go out, what is this made of, what’s under that?

He is also full of boundless energy. I’m sure all parents of toddlers say that, but when other parents and teachers also say that about a child, all incredulity, then perhaps that’s something. (I once asked his pediatrician, in mild desperation, if he was hyperactive. She laughed and said no, he was just a very energetic little boy.) He wakes up in the morning and starts jumping on the bed, hiding under the pillows, tickling me or Oneal, climbing all over us, piling blankets and stuffed animals on top of each other. He dances out of the bedroom, and jumps towards my mom or my brother, shouting cheerfully, “Good morning!” and nearly knocking them over as he rushes in for a hug. He hops into the kitchen for chocolate milk. Even seated in his high chair, strapped in with the seatbelt, he manages to reach over to the table for his cup of water, backwards to the water dispenser, down to the cat, while swinging his feet back and forth. Even when he’s tired and sleepy, he still has all the energy in the world for a tickle fight with me and Oneal, hugs and giggles with Loola and Nunu, storytelling with Simba and Cat and Giraffe. Only when he latches on to my breast does he finally fall quiet and drift off to sleep.

I regret to say I don’t have a lot of patience. I lose my temper at him when he keeps jumping on the bed instead of lying on the towel so I can put on a clean diaper. I threaten a little too often to throw away his toys or to deprive him of YouTube Kids. I wish in exasperation that he would nap so that I could work in peace for a few hours.

I really do not know how single parents manage. I count the days until Oneal comes back to take him off my hands. I count the hours until school so I can sit in the bedroom while someone else holds his attention for a little while. I count the minutes until he’s asleep so I can set up my laptop and work.

I wonder how I would have managed if I had gotten pregnant at 19, at 21, at any point when I was much younger, with a far less stable income and far less patience. I wonder what despair I would have felt at not having anyone else to rely on, what fear would grip my heart if I couldn’t make ends meet, what guilt I would feel if I could not afford vaccinations and vitamins and healthy food.

I have help, obviously. My mom works in the afternoons, so if I have a meeting in the morning, I can ask her to play with Lucas. At night, my brother helps me put Lucas in the bathtub. On weekends, my brother will let Lucas play video games in his room so I can rest or do laundry or take care of other chores. If Lucas is suffering cabin fever, we’ll do a video call with his Ninong Cranky.

It’s not all bad, obviously, but then I only have to deal with this for a few days at a time.

And I have to admit, there’s a joy in having the child to myself. There’s contentment in Lucas sitting on my lap, watching The Mandalorian for the nth time. There’s wonder at his fearlessness and excitement as he zooms downhill on his bike. There’s satisfaction in watching him help out in the kitchen, with the laundry, while putting away his toys.

I think, when I have Lucas to myself, I’m forced to really watch him: how he’s grown, what he thinks, how he interacts with the world around him. When it’s just him and me, I hear his stories and the enthusiasm with which he tells them. I see his excitement at school and his eagerness to learn and to do things. I feel his trust in me and his love for his grandmother, and his fondness for his uncle. I get to share in his experiences of tasting food for the first time, and his hands getting tickled by finger painting, and his utter fascination with color and art. I get to teach him how to play with the cats and how to do yoga.

Maybe this is where single parents draw their strength. Maybe this is how they overcome fatigue and trepidation and anxiety. Maybe it’s this privilege, of watching in wonder and joy, of healing hurts and washing wounds, that helps them power through adversity.

Whatever it is, I salute single parents everywhere. Parenting is hard, and I send my prayers and strength to anybody who has to do this alone.

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