|My son walking with his cousin
|My son walking with his cousin
|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