I met tall Eric at the park. My son, Jack, 6, was playing with his 4-year-old, Gabe. Tall Eric and another guy were occupying the nearest bench, so I rested my arms on the fence, watching the kids.
Minutes later, Jack came speeding into me, declaring that he was “dying of thirst.” I unzipped his snack tote and handed him a juice box. He took one giant gulp, handed the pouch back to me, and said, “Gotta go, Mom!”
“Giving Dad the morning off?” one of the guys on the bench asked.
“I gave him the past seven years off. Giving Mom time off?” I asked. I didn’t tell them Jack’s dad left when I was 11 weeks pregnant.
“That’s rough,” Tall Eric said. “I’m a single parent, too.”
Over the next hour, I tied Jack’s shoelaces, dished out handfuls of rainbow Goldfish crackers, and talked to Tall Eric about single parenthood and his work as a filmmaker and mine as a writer. He was cute, laid-back, and about 10 years older than me. We said our good-byes and the whole maybe we’ll see you guys here again line. But then Tall Eric gave me his card and asked me to be in touch.
Dating as a single parent is hard. You rely on costly babysitters because there’s no father to step in every other weekend. Meeting new people can seem impossible and exhausting. I didn’t expect the situation with Tall Eric to be any different — and it wasn’t.
A few days later, I dropped him an e-mail; we made a plan to meet, but I had to bow out when my babysitter canceled on me. Then we scheduled a lunch date for a time when our kids were in school, but a freelance gig came up, and I had to take it. We decided to try for drinks instead; Jack got sick.
Frustrated, I put Tall Eric on the back burner. After a failed eight-month relationship, part of me didn’t have it in me to start again. Mr. Suit had liked his life the way it was: powerful career, nice meals, expensive wine, late snuggly Sunday mornings — all while my son was safe at his grandparents’ house. I tried to fuse our worlds (Join us for the magic show! Just come over and play Legos!), but he always canceled on us.
Eventually it ended, as it had to. I started waking up again at 6 a.m. to Jack jumping on my bed and waffle picnics on the carpet. I loved it.
I dig relationships (and their attendant perks), but I have no problem being a single mom. Seven years into this life, I know how to be alone — and to be okay.
That doesn’t mean I don’t yearn for connection, though — which is why I texted Tall Eric one Saturday morning to hang out with us. Finally, a date (a date?) worked out — because our kids were worked in.
I packed two of everything: juice boxes, cracker bags, and organic fruit gummies. Tall Eric arrived at the baseball museum in a newsboy hat, shorts, a T-shirt, and a braided hemp bracelet (so not Mr. Suit). I noticed that he had dimples. Gabe reminded me of Jack when he was 3 or 4 — skinny and tiny with long blond hair and always carrying something. Gabe clutched a Tinkertoy with wheels on all ends.
We entered the building, and the kids dashed toward a cow statue dressed in baseball memorabilia. “A penis!” Gabe shouted when he saw the udders. Jack’s laughter echoed in the hall. It soon became clear that the boys were more interested in playing hide-and-seek than in taking in baseball history, so we headed to the park where we’d all met.
While the kids played, Tall Eric told me about his son’s mother. They were engaged but never married, and he wouldn’t stand for visitation, so he’d sought joint custody. “I can’t just visit my kid, ya know?”
He had moved out of the house he and his ex shared and rented a place of his own blocks away in order to be close to Gabe and make the co-parenting situation more fluid and natural for his child. It all seemed so foreign to me — not only was my ex not involved in our lives, there were four states between us.
As Eric spoke, I began imagining what my life would be like if Jack’s dad were a part of his life — and mine. I would have weekends off to go running, to sleep in — and to go on a kid-free date. I wouldn’t feel guilty about having a sleepover at a boyfriend’s house because Jack would be on his father’s time and that distinction
would make me feel better about going out. I —
“Push me on the swing, Daddy!” Gabe called.
“Come on,” Tall Eric said to me. “We’ll sing you the swing song.”
We swing, we swing
It’s a wonderful thing
We fly, so high
Like a rocket ship in my eye
“When he was 2 1/2, I wrote the first three lines and he wrote the last one,” Tall Eric said. I smiled, thinking of Jack on my lap at my desk — and how we write stories about ice cream–eating dinosaurs that play football for the Giants.
At the diner where the last episode of The Sopranos was filmed, we ordered sodas and greasy onion rings — choices I would never otherwise think of making on a first date. When the children had taken enough bites, we let them wander to the homemade candy counter.
Tall Eric slid into my side of the booth and put his arm around me. “People are supposed to cuddle at diners,” he said.
I sat quietly, watching the boys with their hands pressed against the glass of the candy display case. When the bill came, we split it, not thinking twice. Then it hit me:
This is my life. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.