I know being grateful that my six-year-old son received his own Medicaid card is the highest calling for my heart. But the only thing I am praying for at this moment is to not get a paper cut as I drop my head to my chin and trace the address on the envelope it came in with my fingers.
“Mom, are you crying?” he asks me. My response of Sometimes Mommies cry to my son suffices, yet his demands of wanting to go to the skate park at this very moment continue, floating up to the front seat of our car where I sit and stealing attention from my tears. Then the orange light on the dashboard flashes indicating the car needs more gas.
As I drive on empty toward the skate park, my inner critic jumps into the passenger seat, shouting her Bronx cheers of how life is supposed to be. Can't you provide for him? What if you run out of food? How are you going to fill your gas tank?
Working on it. I won't. Siphon it from parked cars at midnight if I have to.
But she really knows how to try to get me, my inner critic. I imagine her like a doll I once had. You could make her hair blonde one moment, and then turn her scalp to make her a brunette. Tuesday Taylor was her name. One twist of her head and you never knew who she was going to be.
She tries to push my buttons one last time. And what if people know that your son is on Medicaid?
I catch my son's eyes when he smiles at me as I look at him in the rear view mirror. My tears stop. I exhale. We get out of the car, and I reflect on my adolescent education as the eldest daughter of a single mom with four children.
When I was 12 years old my youngest brother who was two years old stole a pack of Bubble Yum at the grocery store. Chewing all five pieces, half of which hung from his mouth, he didn't care that people stared at him while my other brother, sister, Mom and I were unloading groceries at the store check out line. When our mother paid for the groceries with food stamps, she had a chagrined look on her face because the clerk didn't know what food stamps were. She looked as if she wanted to crawl into a foxhole laced with warm blankets and drink a cup of tea. More people stared at all of us.
As I take my son's scooter out of the trunk and hand him his Sponge Bob helmet, I remind myself being a single mom is not a dishonorable position in spite of the research.
Earlier this year newspaper headlines reported research studies show 7 out of 10 Americans say single motherhood is bad for society. The Pew Research Study explains that people doubt any success of a child's future who is raised in a single mom household. Yet, I wonder, does not skepticism by others toward the 11 million single mom households in the United States pinch her feelings of hope and allow tendrils of shame to fester within the minds of these children? What are the messages she needs to receive to download to her children so they know they won't grow up as hood rats, as research says, or that she is an uneducated fool?
Courage, I tell myself. And guts. Yes, a lot of guts. And the proverbial village. Faith. Society wants a life for its young based on a heartfelt pro-two parent household. For me and my son, I chose to wear the t-shirt that says Not Marriage @ All Costs.
My single mom mission statement is in line with what social workers say, in how everybody needs to be evaluated according to who they are in order to be good parents and keeping children safe. What are the ego strengths? How do they cope in certain situations? What is their outlook about children?
My son takes off for the nearest ramp. I hear middle school boys nearby who belch and laugh. Happy.
“Mommy, look at my new trick!”
My hands grip the thin green metal fence that separates me and him. The course he rides has two hills about four feet high with a medium grade that once intimidated him. I remember watching him plunk his body down at the top of the concrete hill and scoot himself one foot at a time until he felt safe at the bottom. He wore a hole in his shorts that day. But it got him to flat ground where he could go back and forth on an easier surface with confidence. Today he glides up and down hills with ease. I'm told by my village that the curves and hills he rides up and down on – and fall from – are the easy ones to watch him take in his life.
And then he falls down. I run around the fence to his side and see blood oozing from a new cut on his leg. Through tears he asks me if I saw him and when we go home can we get a band-aid. I tell him yes, and kiss him.
He stands up, shakes off my affection for fear the other boys will see him, and tackles the hills again. Helmet on his head, his Medicaid card in my wallet. I watch him ride some more and plan on getting gasoline on the way home before I make dinner for us.
* * *
Christy Heady is currently writing Parenting with Grace: How Single Moms Rely on Spirituality to Nurture Their Children and is represented by John Silbersack of Trident Media Group.
A devoted published author of several popular books and an international writing coach and consultant, Christy has had a love affair with words since learning how to read at age five. Her most recent published book is Buzz: How to Create it and Win With It, which she co-authored with former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch. Her other published books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money on Wall Street, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Money, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money in the New Millennium. Nearly half a million copies of all her books have been sold.
Heady's graceful and intuitive style supports and champions authors with their writing craft and publishing strategies. She is a member of the Authors Guild and is an Amherst Writers & Artists Affiliate, certified to lead workshops in the AWA method as described in Writing Alone & With Others by Pat Schneider, Oxford University Press.