It’s a sunny, 65-degree day in Atlanta, and on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Centennial Park is alive. The kick-push rhythm of skateboards make room for the harmonious laughter of couples walking by as they weave in and out of pedestrians, seamlessly riding the pavement. Dogs lounge or play fetch with their owners and as a stroller comes my way, I absently ignore my friend and rush to greet the toddler inside of it.
Big brown eyes peek from underneath a Washington Redskins fitted cap turned backwards, and his binky partially hangs from his mouth as he smiles at me. He’s wearing a white, long-sleeved t-shirt that says “#BroCode” in black letters, black sweatpants and checkered Van’s. He happily swings his feet as he waves at me; this kid is cute and he knows it. Wendi and I exchange hugs, and I jump at the chance to take Kai out of his stroller. He looks at his mom first, as if asking “Is she cool?” and then raises his arms after it’s been proven that I’m not a stranger. We sit down on a nearby bench and after a few minutes, it’s as if we haven’t missed a beat in our friendship.
She laughs as I pretend to know what Kai is saying to me even though at 15 months, he can’t exactly hold a conversation, but he giggles intermittently so I must be doing something right. I admire the naiveté of children and often wish we could bottle up their innocence and protect it from the harsh realities they will soon face. Being a parent is scary and although birthing a child is magical in and of itself, society seems to think that women are unable to raise boys on their own. I can’t attest to either, so I ask Wendi if she has faced any challenges in regards to parenting Kai.
Kai is standing between us on the bench listening to a melody that we can’t hear as he bounces playfully. Wendi clears her throat and smiles, “My biggest challenge is that Kai’s father lives in another state, so it’s extremely difficult for them to see each other as often as we’d like. But thankfully, we are able to coordinate FaceTime dates, so he can at least see his face and talk to him. I don’t have his father around to balance out my strengths and weaknesses on a daily basis when it comes to Kai, so that can be a little trying at times, but it’s a learning curve.”
I place my hand on the small of Kai’s back as he turns around and teeters towards me. “He really looks just like you.” He smiles as if he’s familiar with the compliment.
“Do you think it’s more difficult raising a son?” I ask.
Wendi responds, “No I don’t. I think as parents, we all have to learn our children. Doing it alone, whether it’s a boy or girl, is going to be equally difficult in my opinion. I just think there’s more of a magnifying glass on single females who have boys because for whatever reason, we are thought to be incapable of raising a man when women have been doing it since the beginning of time. I think we just have to focus on our children and keep the co-parenting positive.”
“You mention co-parenting, what do you suggest or what advice do you have when that isn’t an option?” I inquire.
“Utilize your village,” she says, “Lean on the people you trust to help you raise your child. Every mother needs to develop a self-care regimen so she doesn’t get burnt out. Take time to rejuvenate yourself. Detox your mind. Take yourself out on a date or a spa day. Having people around you who encourage that and can babysit while you have time to yourself is imperative. At the same time, my relationship with my father is amazing, and he and my mom shower so much love on Kai. I’m saying that because it’s also important to have positive male role models around your son that he can look up to whether the father is a part of his life or not. I can teach him manners, how to be respectful, to not be afraid to express his emotions, how to be strong and other things like that, but all the things that I can’t do, he’s surrounded by loving men who can, and that’s all because I have a strong, capable village behind me.”
I continue to press, “Do you have any advice for other women?”
“Make sure you have life insurance and a savings account for your child. It may sound silly, but it’s often overlooked, yet it’s so important. Kai is only 15 months old and doesn’t fully understand, but I have conversations with him about his dad, and they’re all positive. I tell him how much his dad loves him and I show him pictures. I think it’s important that Kai knows that although he sees Mommy all the time, that doesn’t mean his father loves him any less. I would encourage other women to do the same. Whatever the circumstances, create a positive environment for your child. Don’t taint their image of their father because your feelings are hurt or you’re upset. Children are sponges, and it’s the time that we don’t think they’re listening or that they’re too young to understand that they are paying attention the most.”
“Okay, last question, and then we need to go get food because I’m starving,” I joke, “If you could give Kai anything in the world what would it be?”
Wendi ponders. “That’s a great question. I would give my son all the wisdom I have gained over my years. As a parent, I know I won’t always be here, so I want to die knowing my son has the wisdom to make proper decisions to keep himself happy and out of trouble.”
Between asking Wendi questions, Kai has found his way into his mother’s lap and wiggled his way down between her legs. She asks him if he wants to get back into the stroller and I try to hide my amusement as he shakes his head and tells her “no.” Instead, she reaches for his hand, and as she begins to walk off, I follow behind them with the stroller. Parenting, whether together or single, is a challenge, and I think it all comes down to your support system and what your parents instilled in you as a child. You mirror what you learned and the lessons you remember, and you pass them on to your child. No, we can’t protect our children from heartbreak or scratches and scrapes at the playground, but we can teach them to love without seeing color, to be respectful and kind to other people, and we can make sure they see us smile regardless of what life is throwing our way.
This time, I don’t contain my laughter as Wendi swoops Kai into the air and carries him the rest of the way. I’m proud to be able to call her my friend, and I have no doubt that Kai is going to grow up to be an amazing man.
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