In 1976, it's my job to stand guard at the edge of the railroad tracks as my mom lines pennies up to be smashed by oncoming trains.
"Who am I watching for?" I wonder,
"The police!" My mom answers.
"What happens if they catch us?" I ask.
"They'll send us to jail."
"What about me?!"
"They'll send you to kids jail."
She's smashing pennies to sew onto a belly dancing belt that never gets finished. It's hard to convince my friends that I am indeed normal just like them when my mother is the only single parent they know, and regularly lines us up to dance around the living room adorned in scarves with the cat draped around her neck, clinking finger cymbals and ululating. We try our best to click our tongues in unison, trilling "la-la-la-la-lie."
Then there are the conversations I overhear that leave me fearing for her safety.
"If you ever need an assistant to saw in half, I'm your gal!" She says, flirting with the amateur magician, who then tells us that he's still mastering his tricks. Although he never actually calls, for years I lay awake worrying that he may take her up on the offer, and realize, only too late, that he's incapable of piecing her back together.
Life's not boring with my mother, but I frequently lose sleep trying to discern the murky boundaries between truth and fiction, while mulling over her quirky responses to my serious questions.
I ask what will happen if we can't pay the bills she frets about. She tells me that they'll send us to the poor house, which I envision as being inhabited by creaky olde English men in top hats. We don't ever get sent to the poor house, and we never go hungry or even have the power turned off, but I understand a lot better these days how tenuous it must feel to be the sole provider for a small child, not knowing for sure where your next paycheck will come from.
Her father's unhelpful, reprimanding her for raising a child without a man. Upon seeing the bedroom that, for weeks, she's begged me to pick up, he confronts her with: "What are you going to do when she comes to you at sixteen and says 'Mommy, I'm pregnant, fix it!'"
Even I can see how ridiculous this is. Nobody's ever gotten pregnant from a messy bedroom!
One evening, worn and weary from the stresses of daily life, my mom loads me into the car and takes me to a cafe, where she buys us hot chocolate and shares a story that she's written about a girl living on a space station who's just had her first taste of real strawberry preserves.
My mother is a talented writer, yet she supports us as a secretary because the work is steady. When school's out or daycare's unavailable, she takes me to work with her and puts me to work filing, a skill I later use to my advantage when trying to make my own ends meet.
She's creative in her attempts to keep me from feeling disadvantaged. She rents houses for us in good school districts, converts living rooms into her own bedroom, and rents out the master bedroom to create an affordable arrangement for herself. One year, she finds a used doll bed and spends many a late night refinishing it so I can have a beautiful gift to wake up to on Christmas morning. When I complain that we never go out to eat, she wraps my dinner in waxed paper and serves it to me from a paper bag, then lets me eat in front of the TV, pretending we've gotten take out from a drive-thru.
Parenting is hard, in and of itself, without having to go it poor and alone. I've learned so much about strength from my mom, and I know now why she writes, why we all write. So we can make sense of this life, find peace with ourselves, and leave a trail behind us so we can remember how got here.
On Wednesday, Crystal at Boobs, Injuries, & Dr. Pepper brought us up to speed in The Crazy Chronicles, where she uses her raw wit to detail the fight for her sanity as well as the fight for custody of her child. She’s kept me awake at night reading and thinking about her blog. In sharing her unique experiences, she captures the thread that threatens all women in our misogynistic and violent world.
Yesterday, J.K. Rowling, once a struggling single mom herself, spoke to Harvard graduates at their commencement ceremony about poverty and imagination, and our ability as humans to empathize and use our creativity to free ourselves, as well as others, from the suffering that unites us.
This morning, Jenn at Breed 'em and Weep uses beautiful prose to entertain us, and invites us to reserve adjacent suites in Hell if, we too, find ourselves exhausted and unable to embrace attachment parenting. While bravely sharing the pain of loss, grief, and debt, she chronicles her divorce, growth, and parenting as she experiences them in real-time.