The moment I hated being a single mother

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Since separating from my husband early this year, I feel like I've embraced all that life has thrown at me. I haven't lived on my own for over 10 years, and being the only adult in the house can be confronting at times, but it's nothing I can't handle.

I've dealt with large insects, broken toilet seats, and even a child needing surgery – taking all within my stride. I've even felt liberated, and proud of myself for living the life that I want to live.

That was until I visited Ikea.

My six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter share a bedroom and when my husband moved out, he took the table that used to sit between their beds, for their bedroom at his place.

So lamps and books have sat on the floor in the bedroom, while I dragged my heels in replacing the table. It was one of those "one day" tasks. Until a few weeks ago, when I steeled myself, packed my three excited kids in the car and headed to Ikea.

Living deep in Denial Land, I thought the trip might be a fun adventure. We hit the café for lunch, which the kids thought was awesome, and then headed into the store to find a table. We only walked in three massive circles before we eventually found what we wanted, then headed to the warehouse to pick it up, and the checkout to pay for it. (We may have also called into the grocery section to buy some frozen meatballs to bring home.)

We don't need to go into the part of the story where the exit doors left us in a completely different carpark from the one we drove into (with a confusingly identical numbering system), and me accidentally whacking Miss 4 across the back of the head with the table when I turned to see where she'd gone. (Ah, there she is!)

But eventually we made it back to the car, and our home, with table (and daughter) intact.

And here's the bit where I start questioning my ability to be the sole responsible adult in the household. I emptied the contents of the box onto the floor. A simple bedside table can't have too many bits, right?


Wrong. 25 pieces, to be exact. And I needed both a phillips head screwdriver and a regular screwdriver. What ever happened to the famous Ikea allen keys? I thought I'd have a few bits to screw in and we'd be ready to rock and roll.

But no.

Frustrated, I sent my children next door to borrow their screwdrivers, and set to work following Ikea's wordless diagram instructions. Except the screws wouldn't go in as far as they needed to on the table, and the metal in the screw heads was so soft, any efforts to twist them with the phillips head screwdriver only served to shred and hollow out the screw heads, making them next to useless.

I tried a dozen different ways of getting these damn screws in over the course of the afternoon, but they weren't budging. (Did I mention I was nursing a mild hangover that day? That might be relevant information.)

Frustrated, and devastated at my inability to provide a simple bedside table for my children, I threw the bits in the corner of my dining room, where they stayed for a week and a half. I strategically avoided going into that room – we ate all our meals in the kitchen that week – and if I did need to pass through, I looked in the other direction. I couldn't even bring myself to ring Ikea because I was afraid I'd burst into tears. And I sure didn't want to be driving back there to exchange anything.

And then my mother came to visit – with the gift of my very own tool kit. My strong, independent, very clever mother, who raised my brother and me on her own, and who knows how to do absolutely anything around the house you could ask.

She can fix mowers, hot water systems, and bathroom floods. She has dealt with massive teenage jerks living in her house, and scared off home invaders.

Mum will turn 69 next month, but she is still as independent as ever.

I remember as a teenager I once asked Mum how she became so great at taking care of everything herself. She just shrugged and said, "I had no choice."

I swear, I left the woman alone with this table for five minutes and she'd fixed the screws I was having trouble with. And then we worked alongside one another and finished the table together. With Mum's help the whole thing took 20 minutes, and I couldn't wipe the smile from my face for the rest of the day.

Now the table sits proudly in its place in my kids' bedroom. They love it, and I still look in each time I walk down the hallway and think maybe I can do this single parenting gig after all.

I learned from the best.