Every summer I interview my friend and former colleague Sarah Feinberg about her life as a single mom. And each time she graciously and openly reflects on the past year, including the joys and challenges of life with her preschooler, 4-year-old Gali. They’ve experienced some big changes recently, namely adjusting to a new life in Washington, D.C., where they’re closer to family. The year also included a bad case of the flu, Sarah’s first vacation away from Gali, connecting with two new donor sibling families, a smattering of dates and the hilarious phrase, “My apple juice is my scotch.” Read on to hear all about it.
We haven’t talked in a whole year! Fill me in on what’s new in your life.
Thank you for continuing this JewishBoston.com tradition! I love checking in with you. This past year has been one of adjustment. Getting used to a new city, making new friends—both for me and for Gali—learning a new job, building a new community for ourselves. We have loved exploring Washington, D.C., and getting to experience all the different things that are fun to do here. Gali has grown from a toddler into a preschooler, which has been so much fun to watch and be a part of, and also to watch my family be a part of on a regular basis. And I became an aunt this year! Watching Gali with my nephew and him with her is one of the best reasons to live here. They both love each other so much, and Gali takes the role of big cousin very seriously.
You’ve been living in Washington, D.C., for over a year now. How has the adjustment for you and Gali been?
Overall, the adjustment has gone better than expected. We have found a wonderful community and are making friends. It’s really special living close to my parents and sister and her family. Gali really loves spending time with all of them. But, of course, there have been challenges over the course of the year getting used to a new city. I still can’t figure out the geography! There are two rivers, not one, and no ocean. It’s very confusing.
Give us the highlights reel of the parenting joys you’ve experienced this year.
This is my favorite question! I keep a journal by my bed where I occasionally jot down the funny things Gali has said or different experiences she or we have had. It was so fun reading through the past year and realizing how much Gali has grown. She now has “chores” around the house—clearing her plate, putting away her clothes, helping clean her room. It’s amazing to have an extra set of hands, even for little stuff. She has also figured out how to write and loves spelling. We love taking advantage of so much that Washington, D.C., has to offer. She loves museums, monuments—the Lincoln Memorial is her favorite—the zoo and has even been to the ballet. Plus I’ve watched Gali bond with my childhood friend and her children. As she grows and develops, we now have real, two-way conversations. She has so much to tell me and is so curious; she’s full of questions. Coming back to the journal, I’ll end with my favorite quote from the year: “My apple juice is my scotch.” This is how I know I’m raising her right!
Thinking back over the past year, was there a difficult experience that epitomizes how hard single mothering can be? What about a moment when you felt lucky that it’s just you?
I got the flu and was pretty sick for nearly a week—and yes, we both had flu shots this year. It was hard to explain to Gali why she couldn’t get too close to me and why my parents were taking her to school and picking her up. To have to outsource the care of my child, even if it was to my parents, was very difficult.
The moments I feel lucky that it’s just me are when she wants to snuggle with me, or when I come home after having been away for a couple of days, or even on the days my parents pick her up from school and I meet up with them later. She is so excited to see me that she often can’t say anything other than “Ima” for a couple of minutes!
According to the Journal of Family Psychology, the number of single parent by choice families has risen sharply since the millennium and is likely to grow given the demographic shift toward older first-time motherhood. What do you wish more people knew about the choice to become a mother on your own? What advice do you have for other women considering this option?
Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to choosing this path for creating a family. While I have to do the work of two parents, I also get all the love. Being a family of two is fantastic, and there is a very strong bond between us.
Over the years, different people have introduced me to other women and men who are thinking about this route to becoming a parent, and I share a few pieces of advice. First, having a strong community, whether it’s made up of friends or family, large or small, is critical. You need other people in your life who can also love your child, help take care of them and help take care of you, the parent. Second, write a story about your family and how it came to be, or be given one, so you can read it to your child. This story can help them feel that their family is special and normalizes their experiences. We’ve been reading “Gali’s Story” since before she could speak. Now, when someone asks, “Where’s your dad?” Gali very matter-of-factly says, “I don’t have one.” It also means there are no secrets in our family. Third, at the beginning, it’s super helpful to have someone else stay with you overnight as you adjust to a new person in your house. I was lucky to have different people rotating in for a month. It was just what I needed.
With a full-time job and a 4-year-old, how do you make time for yourself?
Ha, that’s funny. Actually, in the past year, I’ve gotten to travel for business and it was such a luxury to be away for a couple of days and only worry about myself. I also just took my first mini-vacation without Gali for my friends’ wedding. That was a treat, because for three days I didn’t have to cook, clean or make any major decisions, and I got to hang out with good friends. It was refreshing.
Let’s talk dating. Has that been part of your life this year?
I have actually been on a few dates this year. But I’m still figuring out how to fit this into my life—this past year as we were adjusting to our new life, I was too focused on settling in. Do you know anyone who wants to date someone whose main priority each night is making sure there’s lunch ready for the next day for an adorable 4-year-old?!
I imagine that Gali is more talkative now that she’s 4. Does she ask you about being a single mom?
She doesn’t ask me this question specifically because it’s just a natural part of our life. But she does ask me every now and then when I’m going to get married. She is noticing that other families have two parents. I keep telling her that I’m waiting for the right person and I haven’t met him yet.
How have your relationships with Gali’s donor siblings evolved this year?
We continue to be in touch with them and see the ones we’ve met occasionally. We have been in touch with two new families this year, which is great. Our private Facebook group is wonderful for keeping us connected and sharing news and information about our kids.
You work at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. How do you explain your job to Gali?
Gali knows that I work at a place called the Holocaust Museum, but she has never asked what that means, and I’m happy to keep it this way for as long as possible. This past year I took the docent training course, and now she thinks all I do is give people tours. It has actually become a lovely thing for her to know about, because when there have been new kids in her class, she always says they have to give the new child a tour to help them learn their way around!
Given that Judaism is important to you in raising Gali, how have you explained to her what it means to be Jewish? What are her favorite traditions so far?
Being Jewish is just who Gali is. She doesn’t ask questions about it, and maybe it’s because she goes to a Jewish preschool and our lives revolve around the Jewish calendar. She loves going to services every Shabbat, and I love how comfortable she feels in synagogue. This year, for the first time, she was aware that there is a holiday called Christmas that other people celebrate but that she doesn’t. To make it more confusing, I love Christmas lights and we go searching for them all over the area! I don’t know that she has favorite traditions—after every holiday she’s always sad that it’s over and is frequently asking me when a particular holiday is. She has a deep love for Israel and desperately wants to go visit!
Is there anything else you want to share?
As I thought about the answers to these questions, I read back over the past four years of interviews and was struck by how much of my parenting in the first years was focused on keeping Gali safe, which makes sense. This past year, my parenting shifted focus to enforcing values, helping shape the person she’s becoming and teaching her how to be within the world. I am loving this transition and am excited for the coming years.