"Monday Mornings" aims to prove there is beauty in every mother's morning, even if we need an outsider to see it. Thanks to a partnership with Allstate, I am flying lifestyle photographer Raquel Bianca across the US to document the morning routines of twelve mothers in five different cities. This is our second stop.
Today's "Monday Morning" features Shaneka, a single mom who lives in a three-bedroom condo in West Garfield Park, a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. She's lived in Chicago her entire life "minus a brief stint in college" and chooses to raise her children there "because it's home".
In addition to being a birth doula, Shaneka works for the Federal Railroad Administration as an Administrative Specialist. She has three kids (Shekinah 17, Sterling 9, Spencer 3) and wakes up every morning at 5:30am to get herself and her kids out the door by 6:30am.
"I work 9-hour days so I can have one work day off every two weeks. So I’m at work by 7am, and I get off at 4:30pm. A small sacrifice to have that one day off, but it gives me the opportunity to visit the children’s school, chaperone field trips, grocery shop/run errands alone, or just have dinner and homework done by 7-7:30pm."
In our initial emails, Shaneka described her mornings as "quiet and fast-paced".
She showers at 5:30am and begins to get herself ready before waking the boys between 5:45am and 6am.
She keeps her kids' individual routines staggered so nobody gets in anyone's way.
"With three children, everyone can’t be in the bathroom at the same time. The boys tend to distract each other and one will rile up the other one. I wake up Sterling first and get him started, that way I can finish my morning routine. When Sterling is out of the bathroom, I wake up Spencer…and he gets dressed in my room."
On the morning Raquel came over, Spencer happened to wake up first and then wasn't interested in going back to sleep once he saw they had company. So Shaneka swapped the timing of her boys' routines.
"One of the photos I wished had a sound bite was when Spencer helped me wake up Sterling. Spencer loves being able to wake up his big brother."
Shaneka used to wake up her daughter Shekinah at 6am as well, but her oldest just graduated high school and has been sleeping later in the morning since she has the summer off before she goes to college in the fall.
"I thought I was going to have to sneak Raquel into Shekinah's room to capture photos of her. To my surprise, she just let herself fall asleep on the couch, so she wouldn’t be missed. That’s a testament to her character, she’ll take one for the team when it comes to her family."
Since they start their morning so early, one of Shaneka's biggest issues is making sure no one falls back asleep while they are supposed to be getting dressed.
"I'm a single mom, trying to get three people awake and out of the door looking somewhat presentable. I have to wake the children several times. None of them have a problem going back to sleep in whatever room I leave them in."
I asked Shaneka if it was easier now that Shekinah and Sterling were old enough to get ready on their own.
She said when the kids first start to assert their independence, "it’s so much faster and easier if they would just let you do it". Around 1st grade "they are more efficient in getting themselves dressed…and actually get the concept of brushing their teeth clean, not just for fun. Once they know what the routine is, you just have to check behind them, to make sure everything is done. It’s GLORIOUS!"
With so little time in the morning, sitting down for breakfast isn't usually an option, so most often Shaneka gives her kids breakfast to-go.
"I kind of shovel something in their hands as we walk past the kitchen on our way out of the door."
Having a single mom represented in "Monday Mornings" was very important to me because my own mom was single for most of my childhood. I asked Shaneka to talk a little more about raising kids on her own and how that effects her mornings.
"I’m only a single parent for Spencer, because Shekinah’s and Sterling’s dads are VERY active in their lives. Being single, I’ve had to realize; I can’t do it all by myself. I’ve had to become comfortable with asking for help from people who weren’t my mate. I didn’t have the luxury of taking turns to care for a sick child if they got sick overnight, asking my mate to come home because I was overwhelmed with being a mother, or just having an in-house partner that related to whatever was happening. Being a single parent is the most challenging in morning routines, it’s just you! Dad can’t make breakfast or lunches while mom gets the children ready. Heaven forbid something outside of the norm happens, that will throw your entire day off! Sometimes I don’t have time to style my hair, sometimes at the end of a workday, I see a reflection of myself and question if I looked that way all day. And I’ve never worn make-up to work. That was time I used for the kids. Being single forced me to have a routine. Not a strict one because children are unpredictable—one morning they may want breakfast before getting dressed, another morning they may want breakfast at school. But I knew every morning, I was tackling the routine on my own. I was married for a short while, but that didn’t change my parenting style. I welcomed and appreciated the in-house help, but my children still came to me for everything. I’m okay with that. I’ve always been okay with that. These are my little bundles of sunshine, and I’m all about making sacrifices for them. Being a parent that’s single is the hand I was dealt, and I’m going to play the hell out of it."
At 6:30am, Shaneka's father arrives to pick everyone up and take them where they need to go. He's been handling pick-ups and drop-offs since he retired, shortly after Sterling started pre-K. "Before then, the children were enrolled at the school’s before-school and after-school programs."
Shaneka's dad drops her off at work, Sterling at school, and then takes Spencer back to his house for the day. Or as Shaneka calls her dad's house— "their second home".
"My dad, both of my parents really, fill the gaps for me. Wherever I can’t be, one of them is there."
On the day of the shoot, after everyone was ready, there was a brief moment to chat as a family before Shaneka's dad picked them up. I thought that was interesting because most parents are rushing out the door the second they are ready, as opposed to having a moment at home to relax, while waiting for someone else to arrive.
I asked Shaneka if this was typical and what that time meant to her.
She said it didn't happen every day but "when we do have those few extra minutes, it is the part of the day I appreciate the most, closely followed by bedtime. Our conversations are random during this time, some days there isn’t any talking at all. When we get home in the evening, everyone has a different agenda; homework, making dinner, cleaning up, watching TV, and getting ready for the next day. Those few minutes in the morning…that time is just for the four of us, a little family time before tackling the day."
I asked Shaneka what compelled her to participate in the series.
"I am part of a Facebook group of moms that were all due July of 2010. I always thought my life would be so much easier if I were married or had a live-in partner. In sharing our experiences, I realized, yes there are some significant differences, but I wasn’t doing such a terrible job handling these responsibilities on my own. Two-parent homes sometimes have a schedule; I have a schedule. Two-parent homes want what’s best for their children; I want what’s best for my children. Some two-parent homes have one parent who has more responsibility in caring for the children than the other, just like I do. Our goal is the same, getting out of the house with the least amount of stress as possible."
When asked about her reaction to the photos, Shaneka said, "I was so nervous about the turnout, but I was pleasantly surprised. In my head the morning is completely fast-paced. The photos slowed things down for me. It did confirm that Spencer is always under foot and gave me a new 'morning appreciation' for the older kids. I will start incorporating more morning kisses."
Shaneka was also shocked that Raquel caught a photo of her 17-year-old daughter smiling.
"I can’t recall the conversation, but she made me laugh, in turn making her laugh. I really can’t wait until she sees that one, she hates being photographed!"
I asked her what adjectives she would use to describe her mornings now.
"Beautiful, idealistic, serene."
She added, "Initially when I looked at the photos, I scrutinized what was in the background. I’m a minimalist to a degree, so décor isn’t a big deal for me, until someone else has the opportunity to scrutinize it. I always felt like my family would give the house warmth. The photos confirmed that for me. Those morning smiles, even Spencer following me every step of the way, filled my heart."
In our emails back and forth, Shaneka prefaced her responses by saying, "I'm a terrible writer, so hopefully you can pull something together with my scattered thoughts."
I responded, "On the contrary, you are a beautiful writer. I hope I do your post justice."
This post is part of the "Monday Mornings" series sponsored by Allstate. Every family has a special morning routine, and as we continue this journey of documenting different mothers across the country, it's clear that there is beauty in all of our mornings. As the nation's largest publicly held insurance company, Allstate is dedicated not only to protecting what matters most—but to guiding families to live the Good Life, every day.