Friday December 1st, 2023
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Single But Not Quite

In her CairoScene debut, newly single mother Asmaa Abdallah explains the frustrations of breaking up, but not really, as The Ex and her attempt to co-raise a three-year-old son.

Staff Writer

The best thing about marriage is having kids, it’s been said. The argument is basically that this is the only thing men are good for, really. So once you’ve had enough offspring, you can throw the men away. But no matter how many times I’d heard this, I vehemently disagreed with it every time. Not only because I had never wanted to have a child for the sake of merely having a child, but also because, in the throngs of my hopelessly romantic youth, I valued having a man in my life. Someone to share my dreams and plans with. Someone to come home to. Someone to count on.

Sadly, this was as delusional as thinking that the Muslim Brotherhood would bring democracy to Egypt. And much like the Islamists’ ridiculous rule, my marriage (along with whatever blissful notions I had about the institution) was soon forcefully crushed and replaced with a much more rational, autocratic system. Following a unilateral and oppressive decision to end the dysfunction that had become my marriage, my life was reversed to a painful semblance of the way it was prior to the revolution my marriage; as if neither had taken place.

I am still looking for a clear answer as to why my marriage failed, and trying to find out how my son figures into the equation has proven equally elusive. Was it the shared joy of watching him grow that made it last as long as it did? Or was the stress of post-partum depression, disagreements over child-rearing strategies and shuffling of priorities that ultimately killed it?

What I do know is that this little boy will forever be impacted by what has already happened to his family before he even turned three. It was now my responsibility – along with his father’s – to minimise the damage and make life as close to normal as possible. But, clearly, this is not as easy as it sounds. For starters, if his father and I had our act together, we wouldn’t have reached this dead end to begin with, so what is there to say that we will do this right?

The other thing is that the role of a mother becomes even more complicated once the adjective ‘single’ is attached to it. Particularly in the case of a newly separated single mother who is not allowed the luxury of licking her wounds without the 24/7 job of tending to a toddler. I’d like to wallow in my sense of failure and dejection for days on end, but how can I do this with a three-year-old tugging at my pyjamas and asking to be fed? Instead of hearing my own thoughts about the pointlessness and injustice of life, I hear my son belt out a distorted rendition of the alphabet of what must be a new Anglo-Franco-Arabo-language I have never heard of (this is in fact so disturbing I have to interrupt my suicidal thoughts long enough to try to correct his pronunciation, and then try to answer the ultimate question of why it is pronounced like this and not like that). Instead of getting depressed to the point of not leaving my bed, I have to make futile runs to the bathroom in the fiasco that is toilet training. Instead of stalking The Ex on Facebook, I have to give up my computer to my son to watch The Wheels on the Bus on YouTube for the thirtieth time of the day.

Even more difficult: instead of erasing The Ex out of my life, I have to be in constant touch to coordinate son-related issues. I have been denied the first rule in my book of getting over someone: pretending they don’t exist. Let me, again, explain it in MB terms: whilst more than half of the country would like to pretend that they will magically disappear overnight, the truth of the matter is that they will not, no matter how much we don’t want them around. The Ex functions in the same way, but (so far) without the Molotov cocktails and terrorist attacks. And with three less fingers raised at me, rather than the #R4BIA icon.  Not only does he remain in  phone calls, emails and text messages but he also remains in the very face and behaviour of the little person following me around everywhere, even to the bathroom.

And for five days a week, I am also denied the second rule of getting over someone: bashing them to your friends and family and anyone who happens to say good morning to you that day. This is not only to preserve the image of the father, but rather, more importantly, to prevent the innocent little boy from seeing the angry, hateful woman that his mother could become.

Now, several months after the separation, I realise that I’m compiling some new rules for getting over someone: busying yourself with something that won’t leave you any time to give way to non-productive thoughts. Ideally, it would be something rewarding too – and what could be more rewarding than a three year-old taking the time from his busy play schedule to ask me to smile, then make sure I am indeed smiling before he proceeds to destroy what is left of the living room furniture?

I have also found that when you're a single mother, you need not stoop so low as to bash The Ex since people will happily do that for you. All you have to do is tell them what happened, the way it happened, and they will dish out unsolicited words of disapproval, upon which you may or may not say “Maalesh. Mafish naseeb.” It also helps if said toddler is somewhere in the vicinity being either very cute or very mischievous, upon which you are commended for either making such cuteness possible, or for handling the mischievousness all on your own.

So I suspect there might be some truth to the statement declaring that the best thing about marriage is having kids – which I am now hearing more than ever –  by way of reassurance that I am not missing out on anything by not being married anymore. But I still cannot help but disagree; I mean, seriously, if it’s kids you want, just get artificially inseminated and save yourself the hassle, at least then you won’t have to pretend the father never existed.