Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DSOT: Part II (Social Life)

Short of major purchases or lavish trips, there are few things that can eat up your funds faster than your social life. You can drop big bucks going out to dinner, a club, a movie, or a concert. But don't forget the babysitter!

If you are a single mother by choice, you don't have another adult in the house to look after the kids while you kick up your heels with your girlfriends. You don't have an ex-husband to take the kids off your hands every other weekend and one evening a week, thereby freeing up your time enough to make a social life possible. If you're lucky, you may have someone -- or sometwo or somethree -- who you can call upon to relieve you so you can get out. But if you are like me, you don't . . . not really, anyway. And that is a problem.

Time to start thinking about "Deprivation School of Thought!" That is what I call doing without a "luxury" in order to prevent going broke.

Sure, I have friends (other mothers) whom I could call to ask if they'd take my boys for a little while so I could go out. I have made requests in the past, and I am most grateful to these people when they have accommodated me. I have asked for child-care help when I have had a work prospect, a chance to advance my writing career, a job to perform on a school-vacation day, a scouting commitment with my older son, and an opportunity to get rich (trying out for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire). I have not, however, sought their assistance for something as frivolous as painting the town red.

Whenever I broach the subject of needing a favor, I feel very uncomfortable. Since becoming an adult, I have viewed myself as a superindependent person. I do not like asking for help for anything. But the reality of being a single mother by choice is: you must ask for help sometimes. Once I've asked, accepting that help then makes me feel guilty. That's because I know I cannot reciprocate to the same level.

With my house in such a bad state, I cannot have that family's child/children over for a playdate, much less a sleepover. So I've offered to drive the children places to relieve the mothers of some of the back and forths (with only a few exceptions, they haven't taken me up on it). I've bought Christmas presents for the mothers, yet they've bought me ones in return or given me something I've needed: last year, a Christmas tree. I have brought presents back from a West Coast writing conference, written thank you notes, taken their children to a farm day and holiday library program, and even invited one on an overnight camping trip. His mother and a male neighbor had separately tried to get him through the night sleeping outdoors, but only I succeeded. It was a coup greatly appreciated by the family and of which I am very proud. Still, no matter what I do, it never seems enough to me.

I live in a constant state of feeling indebted to other people, especially in regard to my inability to invite children over.

So to avoid the pitfalls of having to ask and feeling guilty -- not to mention enduring the possible discomfort one feels when sensing real or perceived resistance, pity, or judgment that asking might bring about -- the single mother by choice without free and willing help must hire a babysitter. Well, guess what? Babysitter fees add up quickly, often doubling the amount spent on the evening's entertainment.

Can the SMC really afford to go out under these circumstances? Some can, and some cannot. I try to take a long-range view, so I put myself in the latter category. As such, I do my best to practice DSOT by saying no to a social life that costs me too much dough.

I remember going out once a year ago. I sent the boys to "Movie Night" at my health club for a cost of $10 each (no discount for members, which I was at the time). Then I went to a popular local establishment to hang out. I just wanted to get out of the house and check out The Scene. I had two beers and one appetizer, picked up the boys two and half hours after leaving them, and returned home nearly $50 poorer. Sure, I met a few people, whom I've not seen since, and had a good time. But that good a time? A $50-worth good time? No, I did not have that good a time. The price of the evening shocked me, disappointed me -- and knocked some sense into me. I realized I could not imbibe and nibble willy nilly again, at least not more than once in a blue moon.

Somewhere in my mind, I could see a marquee blinking "DSOT, DSOT" at me.  

As I am not part of a couple, I do not get invited to many parties in my conservative town. The much-smaller divorced contingent has also not embraced me as I am not one of them either. The type of social gathering I am most often invited to, aside from children's birthday parties, is incongruously the modern-day version of the Tupperware or Mary Kay party: the sell-your-gold-jewelry or buy-someone-else's-jewelry party, i.e. courtesy of Silpada and Stella + Dot designs. I remember the hostess of one such party saying to me, "It's been a long time since I've had a LADIES party," the implication being that she throws plenty of co-ed parties, though I wouldn't know from experience.  Yes, these genteel wine-and-cheese soirees are for women only -- a demographic I am, let's just say, a little too familiar with, being one myself obviously but also having attended girls' schools for four years and a girls' camp for part or all of six summers.

Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad! Can you say, "Very female-centric life?" And my mother also wanted me to go to Smith College!

This weekend, as a matter of fact, I was invited to one of the aforementioned gatherings. I really wanted to go because I'll take any adult party. As it is being held on a Sunday afternoon when I am normally with my boys, however, the child-care issue once again reared its ugly head. Not having received a response yet to her invitation, the hostess contacted me. I explained my predicament: no child care, house too messy to bring a babysitter in anyway and, oh, by the way, as money is tight, I probably wouldn't be buying any jewelry. (Got to stay strong with my DSOT.) I was hoping my sons could join her children doing whatever they would be doing so that I could go. Without saying so specifically, she implied that would create too noisy/chaotic a situation while the party was going on. After hearing her plan for her kids that afternoon, I would have to agree. She has her hands plenty full without bringing my sons into the mix! She suggested a playdate, instead.

Poof! went my adult-party opportunity. Just like that. Damn.

In a couple of weeks, I have yet another evening event I would like to attend. It's an annual reunion down in Boston for an outdoor school I went to in Wyoming in the mid-1980s. And while I do like my kind of jewelry (much better than plastic storage containers and cosmetics!), this party is really much more up my alley. I have actually consistently managed to get myself to it the past several years. A small miracle, really. This year? Hmm. Not clear. Thus far, I have made no moves toward cleaning up my house, calling a babysitter, or finding a place where my sons could go on that particular school night. Indeed, it will be very interesting to see if I can pull it off.

Regretfully, not having child care prevents the single mother by choice of young kids from attending ANY adult parties.

Perhaps surprisingly, I am not moaning about this situation. I accept it. It is part and parcel of being an SMC. Making the choice to raise a child on one's own means making some sacrifices and being stoic about them. I, like all my other SMC sisters, must suck up the parts of the lifestyle we don't like.

I feel that my social life, at this time, is an area I can curtail as it is a nonessential. It is not eating, clothing myself, or taking shelter; it is expendable. Desirable? Yes. Necessary? No. Others may disagree. Surely, I see that having a robust social life makes a person happier. However, I know myself pretty darn well by this point, and I know I am capable of a great deal of deprivation.

For now, I am satisfied to do (or not do) what I must.

Have you tried giving up a social life that costs too much money? How did it work out?

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