The creative grit of single parenthood: a convo with my mom

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I've experienced the love and devotion of a single mother, and have witnessed the creative grit they must possess to help their families survive.

I can credit my sense of doing the impossible from my mom, a woman who has faced a fair amount of adversity and succeeded in raising three young, intelligent, quirky, and hilarious black women in Utah on her own. 

Single moms are typically villainized and misunderstood, but represent some of the greatest problem solvers across the globe. They face enormous barriers financially, physically, and emotionally, and it's estimated that over half of U.S. children will live with a single mother at some point before they turn 18. Although the statistics are daunting, their stories are much more complex than meets the eye.

My mom left a toxic marriage with my dad behind. She knew raising us on her own would be challenging but better overall than being in an unstable and emotionally abusive household. 

I recently sat down with my mom to chat about her journey as a single parent, and gained some insights (and a lot of laughs) along the way: 

How many generations of single mothers do you think we have in our family?

Well your Grandma wasn't technically a single parent because my dad passed away in a boating accident when I was 17, and we [siblings] were all pretty much grown up when he passed. Your great grandma was a single parent, but your great great grandparents were together. And my Dad came from a two parent household as well. So generationally we didn't really have that.

Ah I see. What would you say were the biggest problems you came up against as a single parent when my sisters and I were younger?

Coming up with enough financial resources to do everything I wanted to do for you guys, that was challenging, but I was always able to figure it out and get it done. I always wanted you guys to be exposed to different things all throughout your childhood. So I would just make it happen. Either through working overtime, bartering with the [sales] person to see if I can make a payment plan when they didn't accept payment plans. I got lot of special payment plan arrangements that normally wouldn't be accepted at gymnastic schools, or summer camp type things [etc].

What's an example of that?

When we first came back to Utah, I had separated [from your dad] and I didn't have any money. I left the house, all the household goods, my car, everything. I had $200, kids clothes, blankets, toys, and my books. That's it. Very humbling situation, living at home with Mom. I knew that I needed to buy everything before we left her house to get our own house, to our apartment. I was working, going to school during the day, and running you guys back and forth.

One day at R.C. Wiley I was looking at all the furniture sets on sale. I was like, “Oh this set is $700!” The salesman came over and I said, “Wow that's really cheap for this high grade furniture!” And he said, "No ma'am this isn't $700. This is uhh, $2,300. Just the end tables and everything are $700."

Hahaha and I was like, "Aww but this set had a sign that said $700..." he goes, "You know what, this sign is on the wrong thing. The furniture sets for $700 are over there." And I go, "Ohh...but I don't like those. I was really set on this set."

And I was looking all sad, and he goes "Well I'll tell you what. I can't give it to you for $700, I'll get fired. But I can give you the couch and the loveseat for $900. I'll have to charge you another $500 for the table and end tables. That's only $1,400. I'm going to make a deal for you because you're so nice." And I was like, "Ok I'll take it!" And he's like, "Ok great!" I said, "Well, um I need you to do that for me, and I don't have any money to put down on it." And he goes, "Whaatt?!" hahaha

Haha you looked him deep in the eyes and said, "Listen Linda...I don't have this cash right now.."

Yup! He goes, "You're gonna get me fired, we don't do deals like that!" I go, "Well can't you do a deal for me? I need the help. My credit is ruined right now, I'm going through a divorce.” I explained everything to him. And he was like, "Ok what are you going to put down on this?" I said, "Nothin."

That is so bold lol.

I said, "But when I get paid I will come in and put $500 on it, and I'll pay $500 on it until I get it paid off." He said again,  "I can't do that, we don't have a layaway plan." I said, "Just make a layaway plan for me. I'm your friend." haha. He said, "Ok I'm gonna make something happen. I'm gonna go talk to accounting. But please don't miss a payment, cause I'm gonna put all this stuff on hold, and if you don't follow through, I'm going to get in trouble." I said, "I will follow through, you can count on me. I will not stick you, I will pay it." And that's how I got it. I paid it all off.

Do you feel like, those sort of creative hustling things you had to do, did it extend outside of childcare stuff as well? Do you feel like you had to do that in your work as well?

It's just everywhere. You have to be creative to survive. Or you don't survive. I remember my ex-boyfriend Chad [at the time], I told him, "Hey, I'm horrible with money." He goes, "Are you kidding me? You're a financial genius. You're balancing all these things, with this little money. That's genius." hahaha. So yeah when you have a car payment, health insurance, life insurance, food expenses, clothing expenditures, you're always trying to keep the ball rolling. I had to plan, plan, plan.

Because things need to be done and you have to do it, and you're the only person that does it all. You have to go to after school activities + work your 10 hours + come home and cook + do laundry + do homework. So you're done at midnight. It's everyday. You just have to get it done.

It's the ultimate problem solving isn't it? Having to constantly move all those pieces at once.

You're continually figuring out what you need to do next. You're looking for the next activity. You also have a list of things you have to take care of.

On the job you have to do the same thing. I worked in a non-traditional field, in the aerospace industry. In a machine shop, with traditionally all males. It was a good ol' boy network. They did not like females in that arena and they certainly didn't appreciate a black female.

I imagine you being black AND female was like two sores in their eyes, like, ‘Ouch! she's a woman! Oh damn she's also black!!’

Ha yeah. I went into machining because of the money and not because I liked it. I went to school and got a certificate in it and did all that high math which I don't really like. Memorized it and did the job because I needed the money. Cause it made a decent living. Not because it was some passion of mine. I had the intellect to do it.

They did not appreciate my presence [in that industry]. But they had to respect me. I was so dogmatic and so systematic in the way I worked, that even though sometimes they would try to sabotage my sets ups or whatever, I checked everything. I checked the blueprints. I would check my machine set up no matter what they said. And I never scrapped a part. I am one of the few machinists that worked there that can say I never scrapped a part.

Do you feel like single mothers get enough credit for creative problem solving they do for their families? Do you feel like there's conversation around that?

I think they band together. Women just have to problem solve because they have to keep their families going, so they share information and resources. A lot of the resources that are out there for single parents, single parent households, we didn't quality for any of it. I didn't qualify for free shit. I didn't quality for food stamps, I didn't quality for insurance, I didn't quality for medicaid, none of that stuff. We didn't qualify for any programs because the money I made, which wasn't a lot, was more than those programs would allow for you to get any subsidy or help.

So the stereotype that all single parents are on welfare --- that is complete crap. And, you know whatever we needed, I worked and I got it. Overtime, second jobs whatever. But, I think the stereotype of single parents is unwarranted in a lot of ways. There are single parents out there who definitely are horrible. But then there's two parent families that are horrible. You know parenting is a skill, that requires a lot of energy and a lot of effort, a lot of adjusting and adapting all the time to circumstances and situations.

I agree. I think single parents are definitely stereotyped unfairly and work extremely hard to keep their families afloat. 

How do you think problem solving and creativity trickled down from you to us kids? What were some ways we showed we were creative as kids?

Anything that anybody showed you guys creatively you guys would just pick it up straight away. You were writing poetry, at a very young age.

Haha that's so funny. How old was I?

You were like 6.

Ah yeah I remember I had a poem that started out, "Why is it tune? Because it is, that's why!"

Yes, why is it tune!? Because IT IS that's why!! I think you meant, 'why is it time?'

Nah I think I was trying to write why is it true.

And so you were writing poetry. Raquel was making paper dolls and fashion, drawing whole fashion books. Camielle has always been very sports oriented and athletic, she'd be outside riding bikes and doing flips and climbing trees, and being on the handlebars of a bike with no hands down the street. When she was in gymnastics she could flip like a fool.

And when you guys were cheerleaders, they always put Camielle on the pyramid because they could throw her around like a little ninja. She was so flexible. And she was really street savvy and very creative as far as putting dance moves and all that together.

You were always creative musically with the flute and putting things together and singing, and style and fashion, and orchestrating and organizing groups of people. You always had that skill. That stems from reading, and doing stuff and drawing and writing, and not being in the TV zone. Being outside, fishing, hiking.

I remember you saying that when you were pregnant with me, you would play music on your belly. Cause you knew it would affect the brain?

When I was pregnant with you, I used to play classical music all the time, as a matter of fact I played classical music for all of you guys, until Cory [my brother] took all his music back haha, that I had for years. I had all the greats, a lot of really good classical music. Not just for you guys but also for myself because it would relax my mind. Because I have a really active brain and I have to quiet it, and so listening to classical music would sometimes do that. And your dad would say, "Why are you torturing that baby with this music?"

I'm like, “It's good for her brain! It makes both sides of your brain communicate." So I did that with all you guys. And I would read to you all when you guys were each in my stomach, and you guys were reading really quite early. I didn't push you towards it. I would read to you when you were a little baby and you would recognize things, you would say words early. I remember you writing at a very young age, walking at a very young age, and you didn't know how to crawl you just learned how to walk.

Haha I was just like, "Nah playa" and started walking like a G as an infant?

Haha it looked so funny. Because you would roll around and you would scoot but you would never get on your knees. I would get on the floor and try to show you, and your dad would try to show you how to get on your knees. So you would walk on your hands and feet because you did not want to touch your knees on the floor.

So I would walk like a little platypus?

Sort of. When you learned how to pull yourself up it was a wrap, you were like I ain't crawlin! So you'd be walking around the table. You were like 9 months old, it was the funniest thing to see.

I was walking at 9 months old??

You was trying!

I was a beast!

You WERE a beast. Grandma was like that little baby's gonna hurt herself hahaha. I say you were fully walking by the time you were 1.

I remember your Uncle Chris, my little brother who has down syndrome, I would get him to visit when we were staying in our apartment before I bought this house. He doesn't [verbally] communicate but he would watch you guys play and he would be laughing. He thought you guys were the funniest things.

I think he still thinks we're pretty funny.

Mhmm he just enjoyed watching you guys and would laugh, laugh, laugh.

Even though it’s obviously very challenging to be a single parent because there's so many things that you need to do, and it's easier when you have more people involved, I think there is something to be said about people who do balance all of that. There's lessons to be learned, and there's things to be celebrated.

Let me tell you something. You learn to be resilient. It is very hard. It is not an easy task. It is physically, mentally, emotionally daunting. I had a fairly positive attitude through all of it. I was generally a happy person. You really have to have some kind of source, whatever your belief system is, that is beyond yourself. You cannot do it by yourself. I'm a very faithful person, I'm not necessarily an ‘organized religion’ person even though that's what I was raised with. I am very spiritual and I am connected to that higher energy. I'm connected to God. And that's who pulled me through all of that. I look back and I'm like how the heck did I DO all that stuff? I was a machine! It was by the grace of God.