Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Autism Answer: Just a Woman

 

My mom

Everyone is born equal and deserving of respect, celebration, and love. That is true. 
 
But, it is also true, some people stand out and are wholly uniquely worthy of particular attention. 
 
My mom is one of those people.
 
Her brain works differently and always has. As a little girl synesthesia caused her to say and do things that had an angering affect on many around her. Her innate ability to see unfairness - particularly where misfits and outliers were concerned - and to INSIST on change was not universally welcomed or recognized. And though she was different, she was also just a little girl.
 
My mom works hard, always has. Before most of us would consider her old enough she was babysitting consistently, a go-to for "problem" children and/or disabled ones. She left home at 15. She sewed her own clothes and worked as a car-hop for A&W. She worked in the mall as a gift wrapper and if she needed something she found a way to get it for herself. She went to auditions and wrote screenplays. As a single mom she ultimately raised eight kids, six adopted and four with autism. She was a hands on mom always there for us and insisting we could gain skills and be happy, meanwhile she was also an entrepreneur working constantly to feed and house us. To feed and house us well. She even found ways to work while sleeping, the small number of hours she was able to sleep. Though she worked hard, harder than many if not most, she was still just a young woman, a young mom. 
 
She is creative, always has been. From her youngest years she was writing poetry and songs. Attempting to use lyrical language to make sense of a world that didn't make sense. Everyone deserves love, yet that was not what she was seeing. She was seeing abuse that was often unintentional, but abuse non-the-less. She felt certain that if she could craft the right story, the right imagery, the right song, people would notice and the world would change. As she grew older she gained more perspective and more inspiration, and she continued to create with the intention of understanding and instigating positive change. And though she has always been creative, she has also always been just a girl. 
 
She is strong, always has been. She could impress people with her physical strength but even more impressive was her emotional strength and certainty. If mom saw injustice, if mom believed in possibilities and rights for people who were easier for society to set aside, to pat on the head and pity, or to simply hate, mom stood strong. I don't know where her confidence came from, I suppose her different brain played a starring role, but whatever it was she went to bat for so many others. Despite becoming continuously a target, she went to bat. It is impressive and so many are lucky because of her. But though mom is strong, she is also just a woman.
 
Just a woman. Not more or less than other women. Just a woman. 
 
my mom
This, I think, is part of what makes my mom, and people like her, so challenging to some. Because she is not an alien, she did not come from a world where her species can magically see what needs to be done to protect children who are abused, to accept people who are different, to create new beliefs and presumptions in order to build an environment meant for more of us to thrive. No, she's just a woman who is, yes, a little bit different, but also yes, from the same world as the rest of us. A confusing world that wants women to be everything and nothing all at once.
 
Today is my mom's birthday. Today, she is still being different, hard working, creative, and strong. When she wakes up most mornings it is alongside three of my five grandchildren, the three she is helping raise. It is not far from my brother, Dar, who is severely autistic and her right hand man. It is in a small loft, an apartment in the back of a house where a woman with DID (dissociative identity disorder) lives and relies on my mom for so much - neurofeedback, therapy, friendship and more. It is in a room with one dog, one fish, and one guinea pig. When she wakes up on her birthday today, it is surrounded by many things of her making, things she brought to herself via being different, hard working, creative, and strong. 
 
But it is also as a woman. 
 
Just a woman. 
 
More than anyone I know, my mom merits celebration. Not because she is more than anyone I know, but because she isn't. 
 
What she does, how she behaves, who she is, it is all impressive beyond measure. 
 
And she does it all despite the truth that she is just a woman. 
 
I love you mom. 
 
You are more than just a woman to me, but I also recognize that you are just a woman. (Which, you know, kinda sucks because I can't use the excuse that I am just a woman when I want to not be strong, hard working, different, or creative. 😃 )
 
Happy Birthday!!!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!
 
 
NOTE: If you want to celebrate my mom on her birthday, I recommend Living with Lynette! The show where many of us star as ourselves - though I play the role of a neighbor - and we all giggle at the barely fictionalized true story of our home! 
 


Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Autism Answer: And Then There Were Slippers

 

My slippers on the stairs at our front door.


Slowly I slip my naked foot into the soft comfort of these slippers. My skin is embraced and caressed, my sole cushioned. Sometimes I will start with my right foot, sometimes my left, but always I offer the pleasure of these slippers equally. 
 
I don't always choose the slow embrace of this soft home for my feet. Sometime I jump into them with speed and vigor. We hop our way into those cushion-y cuddles of a slipper. We bounce noisily throughout the house - up and down the stairs, dancing in my dance room (no more cold floor on my feet!), stepping out onto the front step to sip coffee outside.
 
But these are indoor slippers, purchased for me by my love and intended to last. So I do not step down the stairs in these sweet soled snuggly slippers, and instead stand only on the top step while avoiding the snow and ice. Avoiding the small rocks and dirt that live outside and migrate toward our front door. 
 
Avoiding. 
 
This is what I also notice about these slippers. That I am avoiding a few things for the sake of them. 
 
Most notably is outside. I am nurtured and brought home to myself by spending time outside. In all seasons, winter being one of my favourites. I love the acoustics of a snow covered world, and the feel of cold air on my skin. I feel myself become more ME when I close my eyes to feel the touch of nature. 
 
But these are indoor slippers, and I adore them, and I want them to last. 
 
So I notice myself making the choice to stay on the top step, to take the trash out later so I don't have to take them off, to wear them in the car when picking my son up from work and then avoid the fun of going into the grocery store with him to check out the reduced racks. 
 
Also, the pleasure of these slippers, my desire to continually slip my feet into their welcoming embrace, has kept me from noticing our floors need sweeping. Before these slippers, I was one for bare feet. Indoor and outdoor soles, that's what I feel I was born with. Even in winter when I loved to wear cozy socks I could feel the grit on the ground through the material. Before the slippers were introduced to my feet, I swept our kitchen floor at least once a day and other floors often, as needed. Why? Because I felt the bits of food and life that fall to the floor on my bare feet, or I felt them cling to my cozy socks, and I enjoyed the task of sweeping it up. It's a task you can easily do while thinking or singing to yourself. It's simple and helpful at the same time. 
 
But these slippers keep me from feeling the world at my feet. Instead, the joy of them keeps me feeling the fact of my feet. 
 
There is nothing bad or wrong about these slippers or my adoration of them. In fact, it is wonderful! What is especially wonderful is me noticing the changes in my behavior, the shifts in my choices, and reminding myself that these things are important. 
 
That the noticing should continue. 
 
Which of these changes in behavior, or shifts in myself, might I want to shift again? Back in my winter days of cozy socks, I could easily slip my socked feet into winter boots and walk in the snow, take my morning coffee across the street to the river, walk around the block or stomp in the snow under the trees in the park beside our house. But these slippers do not slip into winter boots, and hence I have to make a more purposeful decision to take them off in order to slide my feet into the winter boots. I have begun to do that a little more, now that I noticed how much I miss being outside. I have also taught myself to be comfortable in my winter boots without socks. This has made spontaneous outdoor moments easier and has given me a wider sensory comfort zone.
 
And sweeping the floor! How funny that I rarely do it anymore. I always enjoyed sweeping, but without feeling the grit on my feet it feels unnecessary. I admit, I don't see a need to change this. I still sweep once or twice a week, but I think it is totally fine that our floors are less clean than they used to be. And if someone living in our home that does not wear slippers finds themselves not liking the grit on the ground, they can have the pleasure of sweeping and singing to themselves. I was hogging all that fun and I'm not anymore. 
 
I think it is of GREAT importance to notice how our entire lives can be influenced by little things, like slippers. If I had not noticed, if I had instead simply stopped going outside or sweeping or walking into the store with my son, I possibly would have grown slowly less happy, perhaps more reclusive, perhaps less helpful. Oh, not much. But it only takes small shifts over time to invade a life. 
 
As parents and caregivers, it is also of great importance to notice. Did the introduction of a new food shift behaviors or bowel movements? Are those shifts mainly helpful? What shifts did those shifts cause? Are we moving away from a valuable pleasure by only following the movements of the new shift? How about a tool that helps your loved one communicate. That's great! But also, are you losing the connection you had when communication was based more on a special language between you and that loved one? Was that form of communication valuable to both of you? Or more for you alone? Notice. Find ways to move forward with new gifts. It's okay to lose some things, that is part of the evolution of living, but we want to notice and take care of the things that matter most. 
 
I will not be silly and stop wearing these wonderful slippers. I gained a pleasure when my love gave me this gift. But I am now more often taking off the slippers to step outside, putting on my boots to pick up my son, and being aware of the sweeping that may need to be done. 
 
I noticed the shifts and have made a few shifts in response. 
 
We are mostly responsible for ourselves and our lives. For who we are and who we choose to be. For how we live and for providing our own joy and purpose. 
 
I believe I have this one life and I enjoy the work of doing it well. 
 
I was living it without slippers.
 
Now I'm not. 
 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Autism Answer: Life Lessons and Leftovers

 

My boys (circa a lot of years ago)




My four boys are now men. 
 
I care so much about them.
 
When they were small every single choice I consciously made worked its way through the "how do I think this will affect them" filter. 
 
Back then it was intense. I did not see myself as separate from them. Instead, we were a unit. A unit of individuals with the right and necessity of discovering and becoming a healthy version of our natural selves. But, still - a unit. 
 
When my sons were small, I did not feel like we were poor. We had too much support, really, to feel poor. My mom and my sister (who were not wealthy) didn't hesitate to offer us vacations, homes, vehicles, gas money, dance classes, foods with fancy names, trips to museums and science centers. So we didn't feel poor, exactly. But I did not often make money and my husband at the time worked hard but made little.
 
Groceries were a weekly worry. Grocery store trips were emotionally and financially draining. I cared so much about feeding the hunger in our home nutritiously, while not losing site of the value in frivolity and fun. The ideas, the items, the foods: I wanted to offer nutrition, and example the vigor and joy of it. 
 
I didn't do too bad. I cared a lot, and that came through. 
 
But I also missed a few things, made missteps and mistakes, and that came through too. 
 
One of the things that comes to mind in this moment: 
 
All four of my sons remember me in their youth with slightly different perspectives. But one thing that is consistent in their memories is the habit I had of often giving them the food and waiting happily for leftovers before I would eat. Not at every meal, not every day, but when the food was either a treat or limited, this was my happy habit. I wasn't dramatic about it. It wasn't a sacrifice or anything, I tried to be sure they recognized that I was not growing and they were. That I was in less need than them. And that I was not actually hungry for anything more than seeing my children's bellies and bodies filled. 
 
As men, my sons now often bring up this version of me while insisting on seeing me eat. My oldest son is following a passion for feeding people and the satisfaction he expresses while watching me enjoy his food is powerful. 
 
Confession: I am warmed by a sense of gratification when any of my sons comments on my habit of eating mostly leftovers when they were little. 
 
I recognize, though, the possible pitfalls of this sort of pride. 
 
I recognize them, because I am a little bit guilty of them. 
 
For one thing, I am a little bit guilty of feeling GOOD about sacrificing my own meals in order to feed them. A little bit of proof that I CARED so much. Now, I did care and I did remember to put the focus on their growing bodies and needs, but I know that the deeper belief (that I was being a good mom and showing love by denying myself the treats) would have revealed itself somewhere. That in some quieter way I was also telling them that sacrificing my own needs was a sign of love. 
 
Another pitfall: I am a little bit guilty of feeling GOOD about not eating when I was hungry because it might finally make me THIN. Oh, I cared too much about teaching my sons to value women of every shape and size to say it. I asked them to applaud women who had passion and kindness and to know that meant they would likely have figures and curves and soft rolls as nature desires. Because of this I never would have said, to them or to myself, that I was excited at the idea that maybe sacrificing food for the sake of my children might have the side effect of making me thin. And thin, though not necessarily healthy, can borrow her sister's clothes without fear of embarrassing the people around her. Hence thin, particularly if you are a woman, is desirable. I tried exceptionally hard not to teach this, but I felt it. So, it likely surfaced. 
 
Yet another guilty pitfall of this little habit I had is how proud I was of being able to find joy in being too broke to feed myself. In my attempt to show them I was happy, I was comfortable not eating, they were the ones growing and I was not (nor did I want to grow) so no big deal, I consistently gave the impression that being broke was totally cool. That it might be a sign we were better than the moms who ate alongside their children for every meal. We were amazing at having a good attitude while being broke, which meant we were learning a skill the richer folks were not learning. Yikes! This is not a lesson I wanted to teach, but I admit to being a little bit guilty of THINKING it. Of maybe even BELIEVING it. 
 
So, from now on when my sons comment of this habit I had, and my inevitable feeling of a pride-like pleasure creeps in, I will focus on the part that I do not mind feeling gratitude for. The part where my sons, all four of them, saw me. Saw me care about them, saw me be with them, saw me try to nourish them. 
 
We were one unit. 
 
One unit made of of individuals. 
 
We still are. 
 
They are grown men and I still make choices with them at the helm. But I am aware, and satisfied with, the truth that my choices affect them less now. Appropriately so. 
 
Moving forward into new years I still think about what my choices might mean for them. But now those movements are more about me and my soul mate, and what we hope to build for a future that is consistently him and me, while inviting our children and grandchildren. 
 
Inviting them to visit but, more importantly, inviting them to see in my choices something healthy.
 
Interestingly, this includes me eating meals alongside my loved ones, and also eating - my favorite food - leftovers! 
 
It turns out that my distaste for waste has instilled in me a love of leftovers! 
 
Hence, when I am around my grandchildren, my nieces, my sons and my step-daughter, I love that everyone knows to share with me the leftovers. It is, funnily enough, often enough to sustain me.
 
I like to think my love of leftovers is finally on solid ground. Not a sacrifice, or secret desire to be thin, or a nod to the perks of poverty, but a good ol' distaste for waste. 
 
Wait, my distaste for waste grew naturally out of me noticing a dangerous lack of caring about waste in the society that surrounds me. 
 
Hence, I suspect it is not without pitfalls. 
 
You know what? That's an issue for another year! 
 
Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to nibble on this plate of leftover cheeses and crackers. Wouldn't want to allow for more waste! 
 
Happy New Year everyone!
 
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!!
 
RANDOM: In the photo above my sons are eating apples. I am certain, I ate the cores. 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Autism Answer: Growing Up Greedy

 

Family portrait

 
Parenting was my goal, ever since I can remember. I have learned more from teaching my children than I could have ever learned from chasing a dream with fewer people to care for. I am greedy. And so I filled my world with a lot of people to love.” ~Lynette Louise, aka "The Brain Broad"
 
aka my mom
 
She really did fill her world with a lot of people to love. 
 
I can confirm this statement of hers. 
 
As one of her children I was not only a witness to mom's active inclusion of people to love, I was not only one of the people she greedily loved, but I was also actively involved in learning to love.
 
When my mom was a little girl she planned her future with confidence: she would be the mother of many children - about twelve, she figured - and she would guide them with such love that her own upbringing would be washed away. There would be no trace of the abuse my mom lived through in the environment she would create for her children. At the time she didn't know anything about the cycle of abuse, but she did know it was not in any way okay to treat a child, a person, the way her mother treated her. And so, she would not. She would not treat anyone in such a way ever. Her love would be such a storm of goodness and fairness that any trace of the name calling and humiliation and beatings of her past would simply drown to death.
 
Mom was young when she had me. She was still young when my brother was born dead. By the time my sister was born my mom was almost twenty. She was twenty-three when she had to have a complete hysterectomy due to an infection. 
 
She had not reached her goal of twelve children, but she was crazy about the two of us she was raising. Always, mom put us first and cared so darn much about how we were treated. My sister and I were lucky little girls and were loved beyond measure. I wish our brother would have lived to be part of it. That love. 
 
But despite mom's best intentions, her own upbringing was insidious. Mom did not know how to love herself the way she so easily loved us. And whether you believe it or not, a certain kind of love for yourself is necessary for a healthy love of others to grow.

And here is the magic of my mom. She is, at her core, a genius who cares about children and outliers. Even as a little girl imagining her future she would see herself loving people who were having a hard time finding love. Not in a savior way, but in a "don't you see they are like me" way. She saw herself in the outliers, the unwanted, the unlovable. As she grew wiser, she saw all of us in everyone. 
 
Mom's biggest challenge was understanding how the rest of us could not see. It was so obvious to her that everyone was capable and everyone deserved to be seen for who they were, not what label they might be given. It was so obvious to her that she just couldn't see how so many of us were blind to it. 

So, the magic of my mom was this: help herself, learn to love herself, while gathering so many others to love.

My mom was fierce in her intention to create a healthy and loving environment. One that would guide us to independence and strength. She was always an example of that strength and always a seeker of her better self. What started as me, mom, and my sister became me, mom, my sister, two more sisters, and four brothers. And then there were a myriad of others who mom allowed into our lives for temporary help and guidance. There were also many she did not. Love means saying no, too. 

But we did have many. I remember a woman from... hmmm, I can't remember... Kenya? ... trying to raise money to bring her young son to Canada. I remember a teenager, a girl about the age of me and my sisters, with physical disabilities I can't quite recall but her body moved different from ours and one of her arms was misshapen. I don't remember her well but I do remember us girls sitting around chatting about the usual teenage girl stuff. And I admit to being surprised that her interests aligned precisely with ours. There was almost a boy from Columbia who we all wrote to and tried to learn a little Spanish for. After most of us kids had grown and only some of us were staying with her for different reasons at different times, there were more extreme cases. Mom was a renowned brain change and behavior expert by then so she helped an addict who no longer wanted to be an addict, she helped autistic people in extreme need.
 
These people willing to accept mom's help (not my siblings, the ones that came later) knew it was a temporary thing, something meant to fuel them with ideas and skills for the forward motion they were struggling to gain footing with. My mom is not the sort to help without a goal. In fact, she would likely see helping without a goal as the opposite of helping.
 
I don't always remember understanding mom's love for children who were unwanted or unloved, and admittedly I didn't always like being expected to learn to believe in everyone's potential and worth, but I did always learn. About others and about myself. 
 
I watched, also, as my mom learned about herself. As my mom grew healthier, stronger, happier, more balanced as a woman. As a mom. 
 
I do believe it is a wonderful idea to plan a certain amount of readiness before gathering people around you to take care of. I do. 
 
I just also believe that as we gather people to love and care for, we are going to realize that we are in need of more. We are going to discover new areas of unreadiness we will do well to examine, to change. 
 
 
“Parenting was my goal, ever since I can remember. I have learned more from teaching my children than I could have ever learned from chasing a dream with fewer people to care for. I am greedy. And so I filled my world with a lot of people to love.” ~Lynette Louise, "The Brain Broad"
 
 
Mom is greedy and fills her world with people to love.
In this way she encourages others to become people who love.
And this helps us become easier to love. 
 
We are not all like my mom. 
Be we are all capable and of value, we are all able to step up and over our own obstacles, and we are all responsible for doing so (this includes asking for help where it is required for forward motion).
I know this because my mom is like my mom. 
And she will not allow me not to know this. 
Not if I don't want to be grounded for a month. :D 
 
 
Hugs, smiles, and love!!! 

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Autism Answer: Being Seen

A camera sitting on the floor


Warning: This post is about me and how I feel and how I think and what I notice.... oh, what's that? You already knew that? You have been here before and recognize a pattern? Yes, I see. Well, thank you? tee hee!

Confession: I am kinda bothered by the amount of plastic surgery, laser hair removal, fancy serums and other similar things that have become fairly commonplace.

In part I am bothered simply because I'm inclined to advocate for less manipulation of what is natural. I recognize in these procedures and items a desire to sculpt and bend and shave who we are until we like it better. Maybe to fit in, maybe to stand out. (I am impressed by the availability of these things, by the way. I am only bothered by how common they seem to have become.)

However (and here's the confession part) I am also bothered when I notice how popular these measures of manipulating our appearance have become because I worry I will appear increasingly unhappy and haggard and, well, yucky to look at, in comparison to my peers.

I admit, I hardly think about it. What I look like compared to my contemporaries, I mean. Maybe because I live a fairly sheltered life. I mean, I work from home, I am not obligated to attend meetings or video conferences, and my soul mate works here with me too, so I'm less likely to wonder if he's comparing me to other lovely ladies. (Our co-workers are also ladies, but they are of the feline variety. And since I am in charge of making appointments for them and doing their shopping, I am confident they are not having work done or spending lots of money on fancy creams that make them look fresh faced and healthy.)

I love wrinkles, my own and the ones on others. I love grey hair, I love the look of age on people and am happy when I see it on me. It's not aging I'm talking about.

I worry about looking unhappy or haggard, less fresh faced, less healthy.

For some reason I want, have always wanted, my happiness and energy to show, to be noticeable outside of myself. I don't remember how young I was when I stopped looking in mirrors, but I was fairly young. And it was because I would FEEL so happy and full of life, but then I would SEE just some pale, plain, girl. Not the energy I thought should be reflected.

Silly, I know. I am happy and I have happy energy regardless of whether it can be seen. Why do I want it to be seen?

Why do I want the me I feel like I am to be seen?




Why am I less content when it is only me who knows how I feel?

I'm not entirely sure. But just now, as I was typing this, I had a thought. I realize one of the reasons I want my natural way, my comfort with choosing to blossom naturally (while caring about myself at the same time, I don't mean to infer that I don't try to manipulate to some degree by being careful of what I put in my brain and body) is that I want my beliefs to be valid to others. I want to be seen as having a point with potential.

Like, if I say I am comfortable with myself and find strength in feeding my body and mind nutritiously, that I try to make sure not to live too sedentary a life in order to stay healthy-ish, that I am happy in my choices, that I feel it is enough to be me naturally, I want to be believed. To be seen as making sense.


And, darn it, that means I want to be seen as happy and healthy. Not haggard and yucky.

But when so many people are taking advantage of the more extreme versions of looking that way, I worry I will seem less so by comparison.

Silly, right?

Wanting to be seen is not silly.

Parents of children with differences and disabilities work hard to ask for that on behalf of their children because it is not only not silly, but necessary and urgent.

But wanting to be seen as happy and healthy just to prove my point is valid?

That's silly.

Right?

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!!
 

 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Autism Answer: Parenting is a Journey, be a Good Traveler

 

My son walking with his cousin


"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu
 
Parenting is a journey you cannot fully plan, and if you try to stick religiously to a plan, you put yourself and your child(ren) in harms way. It is dangerous to watch the plan more than the people. 
 
Of course, goals and plans and places you are heading are a valuable part of the parenting journey. Without them we are at risk of simply wandering the path of least resistance regardless of how unhealthy it might be, or for people with an "it must be hard work to be worthy" personality, you might choose the path of most resistance, again, regardless of how unhealthy it might be. 
 
"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu
 
The journey of parenting has no *fixed* plans. But plans, dreams, ideas, goals, pictures imagined and heading toward, these are wonderful. These give us passion, purpose, and help us see our progress, recognize our arrivals. 
 
"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu
 
As a parent, there are many arrivals. There are many moments to celebrate and recognize. Don't miss those! 
 
But also, in the journey of parenting, there is no ultimate arriving. If our children are fairly regular, fairly irregular, dead or alive, close or far, the travel can last as long as it is right for it to last, so do not be intent on arriving. Notice the arrivals along the way, celebrate and remember them. But travel to wherever and however and for whatever time it takes.
 
“Remember, the timetable is arbitrary. There is no point at which a child must be done and done is an illusion.” ~Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad 
 
Happy Tuesday, friends!!!
Enjoy any and all travels you are in the midst of!
 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Book Review: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will To Survive by Stephanie Land

 

Book: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, And A Mother's Will To Survive
Genre: Memoir
Author: Stephanie Land
Pages:270 
Reviewed by : Me! (Tsara)

 

me reading the book my daughter-in-law lent me

She was using birth control but it didn’t work.

When Stephanie Land discovers she is pregnant not long after her 28th birthday, she finds herself in an all too familiar place. One where she has to make choices that will drastically decide the direction of her life. Hers, and if she chooses, her child’s.

Some of the choices she makes are thus: have the child, tell the father, become a mother.

Putting her plans to attend a writing program in Missoula, Montana – a place that calls to her like home - on hold, she tries to build a family in a trailer with her increasingly abusive boyfriend. When his abusiveness becomes clear, when he punches a hole in the plexiglass window on the door, meaning she can call the police with a type of proof, something to point at and say, “See that? He did that to us,” she does. She leaves him and begins her time as a single mother.

I admit to being impressed that she knows it is right to walk away. I have not always been so aware. Others, however, might have been unimpressed with how long it takes to leave. Others, still, would judge her for leaving at all at so “little” abuse. The point is relevant to this book where a recurring element is how easily we judge each other and ourselves.

Stephanie does not have much support from her family. Her mother is inaccessible, living in Europe and not interested in making changes, and her father – living with his second wife and their children - is unwilling to be inconvenienced for too long by his oldest daughter and his granddaughter.

So, Stephanie works. She works at finding work - landscaping and as a maid - she works at getting assistance for day care, food, housing, utility payments. She works at bartering her way to a better life for her daughter, offering to clean toilets and houses in order to get sparkly dresses, healthier housing, and safer day care. She works at stifling the shame she feels for being a single mom, for being poor, for not being better at doing better. She works at trying to keep her daughter safe from black mold and an abusive father. 

Everything she does is motivated by motherhood.

The struggles of getting assistance from the system, while working your butt off for very little pay as a landscaper or maid - tidying up for others - is portrayed so well in this memoir. So clearly and balanced. She isn’t overly bitter, she isn’t overly appreciative, she isn’t overly anything really. She simply invites us to join her in a life of hard work, poverty, navigation of grants and services, parental fears and primal needs, impossible choices and urgent decisions. By bringing us with her we are inclined to feel bitterness, helplessness, and, on occasion, appreciation, but only because they are appropriate.

Being a single parent while having to share every other weekend with an abusive one is an impossible sort of exhaustion. Watching your little love deal with tantrums related to a life hard to understand, feelings bigger than their bodies, homes with hidden health dangers, foods that are minimally healthy, and consistent illnesses due to it all. It depletes your physical, emotional, and financial health; often keeping you from the gift of dreaming which can, itself, cost too much emotionally.

But Stephanie describes well the moments that re-energize and reinvigorate parents; the moments with your child(ren) that infect every ounce of your body and vision with a love that is special largely because of the urgent responsibilities.

I have known a variety of single parents. I have been one myself. My mom, though, is the only one I know who had a similar lack of support from any family.

And though my mom found different ways to solve the same challenges Stephanie faced, she faced the same sort of discrimination regarding her creative solutions for feeding and housing all eight of us kids, as well as simply for being a single mom. 

An Aside: Stephanie Land navigated poverty and single parenting in the United States, my mom did it in both Canada and the United States. 

For so many of the reasons Stephanie shares in her book about the paperwork, the constant proving of your poverty, the all-day waiting for meetings that might end in merely more requests for gathering paperwork, all while also working and trying to get better work in order to do better while finding yourself losing necessary benefits when finally doing a little bit better, never able to get even a little bit ahead in order to become able to be properly ahead, for so many of these reasons my mom avoided the help of systems. This meant trying to find (and invent) other creative means of making enough money. (My mom painted houses, joined a bartering group, did comedy shows that incorporated us kids at fairs and similar events, performed as characters at birthday parties, and a variety of other interesting work that could either bring us along or have us older girls babysit the younger boys.) She also did do the paperwork for a few government and nonprofit organizations. She got help from a shelter for abused women, various disability groups, food banks, kind people she met with a desire to do good and some disposable income, and one wonderful Christmas a truckload of gifts from Canadian Tire. 

The point is, I recognized the exhaustion and hard work of trying to raise a child, or children, on your own while consistently being bombarded by the extra layers of unnoticed obstacles; the nasty looks and cruel comments at grocery store counters when using stamps or WIC coupons, the inability to host proper play-dates or bring foods to school functions, the inability to seek medical care for yourself when you make just a little too much to qualify and working through the pain and illness, the judgements of everyone when your child has a public outburst, the constant worry that you are doing everything wrong while working so hard at getting it right.

Something every reader can take away from this true story of one woman’s hard work, low pay, and love for her child, is the ways our judgements hinder and hurt us. The ways they are most often wrong.

She was using birth control but it didn’t work. She had been responsible. She had taken the steps required. Done the “right thing” for a young girl not planning for a family. She had been careful, responsible.

And throughout the entire story she shares with us readers, she remains impressively so.

Maid is an excellent read. For moms, for social workers, for people wondering about abuse, for people who want to better understand poverty – their own, or that of others.

Maid brings us into a variety of homes to tidy up while encouraging us to take notice, to wonder and imagine other lives, without being overly critical of the mess. 

 __________________

 

Maid by Stephanie Land, sitting beside a cloth and fairy wings

NOTE: My daughter-in-law recommended this book to me. Not only recommended, lended! She has mentioned several times in conversation that she adores this book and so much about it; that she wants someone to talk with about it. What I do not yet know is specifically what she loved or why. She is the young mother of two lovely little girls. She and her husband (my fantastic son!) are in that place financially where every dollar they make must be carefully allotted for and if they make a little more they lose a little of the medical financial help they could qualify for. They love their little family fiercely and will do anything to keep it healthy, strong, and happy. So it is easy to imagine pretty much every element in this book is meaningful, helpful, relatable, understandable, inspirational to her. But rather than merely imagine, I think I'll call her. We now both have someone to talk with about this book. :D