In my late 20s, I worked in Los Angeles on films as a production assistant. I loved show business, but hated the hours, so I moved back to Chicago and became a teacher. I liked the job and loved the schedule, but missed the excitement of Hollywood, so I combined education and entertainment to become a studio teacher. While I still work full-time at a school, I am now licensed to teach child actors on-set. In order to work in Chicago on productions, I had to join the union, and it was through the union that I met David.
David was playing in the union’s annual golf outing, and I was there to take pictures, but really I wanted to meet guys. He was funny, cute, and single, and so we began dating. Three years into our relationship, we celebrated my 40th birthday with him cooking dinner at his house for my parents and siblings, and six months later, he drove two hours with me to pick up my new puppy, a goldendoodle named Tod.
Tod’s first night at my highrise in the city, David slept on the floor with me as my new ‘baby’ cried from homesickness. He had a dog of his own and taught me how to soothe, bathe, and train him. We were one happy little family.
Until I decided I wanted a human baby.
When I met David, he had been married for 16 years, divorced for five, with two kids in their late teens. He was upfront about not wanting more children, and I was okay with that, until I turned 40 and wasn’t. When I decided to have Autumn as a single mom, I realized having an adult male around who was dating her mommy, but didn’t act like a daddy could become complicated for her in the early years. So David and I broke up, but remained good friends.
Fast forward a few years to just before I was scheduled to be induced. When your baby is conceived via sperm donor and you don’t have a significant other, an awesome mom is the greatest gift, and I was excited to have her as my birthing partner. But it was only a month after COVID hit, and it was scary -- especially for older people -- to go anywhere. With the advice of my siblings, I decided to bring David instead of my mother. It was bittersweet. But while I was disappointed that COVID made it unsafe for Mom, I was also grateful to have David for support.
And so, in an unexpected twist, my once boyfriend became the guy who was there when I got my dog and when I had my baby.
After we brought the baby home to my parents’ house where Tod, Autumn and I are now living, David left and we didn’t see much of each other for the next year and a half. He lives nearby, but he got busy with work and a girlfriend while I got busy with motherhood and a baby.
It was sort of a tough lesson in good people simply wanting different things at different stages of life. And in the odd moments when I would think about what might have been, I would usually just change the subject to something I actually had control over. Like our yard, for instance.
Where we are now, in my childhood home in the suburbs, we have a yard. This is something I wanted as a single mom to avoid bundling Autumn up whenever Tod needed walking. Having access to my parents’ yard made me realize how much I want an outdoor playspace for my dog and for my daughter. And even more than a playspace, I want my daughter to have what I had growing up in my backyard.
In this yard, my brother threw the bully’s bike into the bushes, and we played wiffle ball with Tommy Fitzgerald from down the block. We splashed on our Slip ‘n Slide and ran through our Fun Fountain clown sprinkler by Wham-O during the day, then played Ghosts in the Graveyard on summer nights. It’s also the site of the famous picture of my brother on the day he helped me down the slide.
Before there were video games and cell phones, there were yards and real-life interactions. I want all of that for Autumn -- playing bombardment on the front lawn, swinging in the back, and stopping only when hearing the melody of the ice cream truck.
Those are my memories from my era, but I already know her upbringing will look different. Technology and social media are here to stay. And unlike me, she’ll grow up without a father figure -- unless I meet someone, in which case, also unlike me, she’ll have some kind of dad who is not her biological dad. I can’t provide everything, but I can probably provide a yard when we get a place of our own.
David stopped by a few days ago, and we were alone in the backyard. He had taken Tod to play -- something he does every few weeks -- and I invited him to stay a little longer. And so he did, for about ten minutes. I watched as he played with Autumn in the sandbox. And I thought about how he had been around when she was just an idea, and all the way through IVF, and when I was in labor, and how he even held my daughter before I did. And for a few minutes, there was no COVID, no single mom, no sperm donor dad. There was just a mommy, a baby, a doggy and a David. And everything felt right.
And while we could’ve been anywhere, we were in the yard.