In We Got This, editors Marika Lindholm, Cheryl Dumesnil, Domenica Ruta, and Katherine Shonk share the quotes, poems, and short stories of more than 75 individuals impacted by solo parenting. Like most anthologies, the result is both hit and miss. That said, there’s quite a bit of hit.
The book is packed with relatable moments and contains some truly evocative prose. “His presence was like an imaginary door that he swung open and closed,” writes Terri Linton. Along similar lines, Melissa Stephenson lists rarely shared details of parenting in the shadow of an absentee: “How there is no one to help them buy me presents on holidays, so they make them in secret after bedtime. How we spend those holidays alone, all the friends we call family busy spending time with their real families. How when their father last visited, my son smiled and said, ‘Now everyone at school will know my dad is real.’”
The editors include work of their own. Dr. Lindholm, who founded ESME.com, the solo parenting website on which several of the book’s essays originally appeared, writes: “[M]y daughter’s walls, sheets, blankets, and pillows were festooned with purple and pink butterflies. The tiny blue parakeet, which I purchased at PetSmart after a particularly devastating mediation session during which her father accused me of destroying his life, was my latest nod to Ella’s obsession and my bottomless guilt.” Co-editor Cheryl Dumesnil also speaks to the experience of a dissolved union: “My marriage broke, irreparably, years before it ended. I had done my level best to create a healthy life for myself and the kids, despite the brokenness, hoping someday, eventually, maybe my ex and I could fix it. This was a lot like trying to live a fulfilling life while a shark is eating your leg.”
Short quotations break things up along the way, quotes such as Nina Simone’s “You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served” and Katie Couric’s “You don’t have the bad cop when you’re the good cop and when you’re the good cop you don’t have the bad cop; you’re like the whole police force in your family.” Also lending the compendium a carefully punctuated flow is its intersectionality: the reader hears disparate voices, including many from backgrounds that rarely receive representation in the mainstream media.
All of these bits contribute to make We Got This a generally worthwhile endeavor to produce, but its highest value to readers lies in a handful of truly stunning works. “Tahlequah” by Isa Down, “When He Died” by Robin Rogers, “It Will Look Like a Sunset” by Kelly Sundberg, “All Manner of Obscene Things” by Kim Addonizio, and “Deconstructing Kanji” by Mika Yamamoto each left me unable to pull out one or two glistening lines, the whole lot skillfully crafted and heartbreakingly relatable.
“Grey Street” by Angela Ricketts falls in this category too, but the imagery of “[o]ne ugly green Croc lying by the door” as she heads to the hospital with a bare foot and a myocardial infarction bears repeating. So too does the following: “My left shoulder pangs and I grip the wall without a sound. Just my palm on the ugly wall. For years the army painted the inside of our homes chalky white; then they decided to get all snazzy with the neutral tones.” The same thing goes for “Size Queen” by Evie Peck, hands down the funniest part of We Got This (sorry, Amy Poehler). “I went through the stages of rejection: anger, denial, disgust, hunger, Botox brochures,” Peck writes, later confessing, “It was weird sexting at my son’s game, but I was snack mom today, so I’d redeem myself later.” Several other zingers can’t be appreciated out of context.
And I can’t not mention the excerpt from Anne Lamott’s bestseller Operating Instructions and Ylonda Gault’s wildly popular New York Times essay “Why I Don’t Grieve for My Daughter at College” (“Privilege takes many forms. I can only assume that the legions of parents who spent this fall up in their feelings over their babies’ departures have led lives very different from my own.”).
Again, not all the material landed for me. Nor will it for you. But We Got This offers the promise that some combination of its many words will deeply insinuate itself, making you think and feel about what it means to be a solo parent, regardless of whether you are one yourself.