I can’t afford to be honest

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Truth is, I am actually Geena Davis, playing the role of Barbara Maitland.

There are aspects of my life that are considered to be morally wrong under dominant narratives. I am living off my student loans and am unmarried. I have an invisible disability and a past that many people seem to file under ‘white trash.’ My daughter has ADHD, but since there is such a crusade to discredit this diagnoses a lot of the time I hear whispers, if not to my face, comments about how I am a bad mother. There are things that I shouldn’t hide, and since I go back and forth between ‘playing the game’ and using my stories to bring light to social issues, I find that I sometimes police myself.

A big thing I go back and forth on is how upfront I am about the abuse I lived through with my daughter’s father. On one hand, I want to speak up because a huge reason domestic violence is so prevalent is because people are forced to stay silent. I am in a position now where I am safe to speak about it. I am white and in university so people seem to listen to me more now than when I was Oshawa ‘white trash.’* I am aware that my privileges afford me credibility, as sickeningly problematic as that is. I am also in a position where I feel I am able to discuss this abuse with an articulation I previously did not have as I was still on the mend emotionally. My support system is also stronger these days. On the other hand, things are not finalized legally and the stronger a hold my ex has on my family, the more danger this imposes.

Everything is a different kind of risk when a little one is involved, where do I draw the line between what is right and what is dangerous to her? When she is late for school because of my own illness, I don’t feel comfortable disclosing this reason with the office while getting a late slip. If I am mentally ‘unwell’ how can I possibly parent? This is the same reason why I referred to the food bank as the ‘free store’ while using it. I was terrified that if her school found out we were using a food bank, or if her dad found out, children’s aid would be called. That is wrong, and ridiculous, but it is true. In an article I have cited before, ‘Free-Range Parenting is a Privilege for the White and Affluent‘ writer and mother Stephanie Land says, “I am white, but because I am poor, the thought of police entering my life for any reason makes me fearful.” This quote speaks to me. I have been failed by police and children’s aid so often in the past, and though things have been easier lately in this regard, it is because of the effort I put into performing middle class in certain situations. For example, we’re white, so ill fitting clothing is alternative and eccentric, not necessarily poor – again, so fucked up and indisputably racist. It is all about survival.

My daughter is eight now and we haven’t used the food bank in a couple of years. We are more comfortable now in a as-long-as-nothing-goes-wrong kind of way; and in a, let’s face it, while I am living primarily off student loans and grants kind of way. I have since told her what it is and I get sad I ever called it a store in the first place. Having had to use the food bank ourselves, she understands poverty and the need to engage in fighting against it for others. She is good about donating what we don’t use or need. This all sounds really nice on paper, and we could be Liberal poster children, but in life, this is frowned upon. Poverty is still equated to deviance. And though I can try to perform ‘appropriately’ when forced to, there are still times when she will talk in public about how daddy’s roommate stole bedding from a hotel. And though I am not ‘daddy’s roommate’ I am still the woman who had a child with a guy whose roommate will do that kind of thing, and mother blaming is a national pastime.

I police myself, and I hate it. I regret doing so at times and I regret when I don’t at others.

I am sure I have fucked up and will continue to do so. So will all of you in life, but I, for whatever reason, have dedicated a blog to my art of mothering fuck ups so it is all very public. It looks like I’m not all that good at policing myself as I hit ‘Publish’ after every confession.

*I do not use white trash as an insult but am using the term as I was called this so many times from co-workers, community members, and various authority figures in order to dismiss my experiences of violence.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

 

What am I doing with my life?

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Image from Tattered Cover Book Store

A lot of people use the New Year as a reason to evaluate their lives. We look at the things we would like to change, the successes we have had, and where we would like to be. I live in a constant state of incompleteness; I convince myself that everything will come together after I lose ten pounds, write the perfect article, ace my next assignment, and have sparkling floors. In my mind, as soon as I get my shit together, I can start going out without having to worry about whether or not people actually enjoy my company. It will all be OK, once I finish this one last thing. I worry about a lot of things, but my mothering isn’t one of them. Of course I think about my role as Mother. I have made mistakes, and there are certain values I try to instill in my daughter. I evaluate but do not worry, I am really comfortable being my daughter’s mother, so comfortable I forget how much of a job it is.

I am a mature student, and like many post-secondary students I am often asked what I am doing with my life. The work that a university degree involves is ignored as is the fact that it is helping me as a writer, helping me heal from past trauma, and teaching me how to help others do the same. I am learning more about what is, and is not, important to me. I am succeeding in school and this has done wonders for my self esteem, as a kid I was told I should be held back, and in high school I was told that people “like [me]” do not graduate. I never had high standards for myself, and now I have a system where I do and am accountable to maintain them. Universities are indisputably problematic, they are unaffordable for most and products of neoliberalism. But, this is what I am good at and I think this degree is a tool I personally need in order to help others, this is my currency to use as nepotism and family money is for others.

“So, what have you been doing?”

“I’m a published writer, am invited to speak at academic conferences, and am organizing and volunteering all over the place. I am getting top marks in my school and my child is happy and active! I am really busy but also very happy!”

“When are you going to do something. The neighbour girl married a rich guy so we are going to attend five parties in her honour and buy her various objects made of crystal.”

Why didn’t I get this education earlier? Well, in addition to dealing with the fallout of a tumultuous childhood and teen years, my twenties were spent escaping not only an abusive relationship but the shadow it cast. These experiences are what they are and they have shaped the path I am now on. I am finally comfortable and happy. Yes, I could have earned this degree in my 20s, but what many – including myself- tend to forget is I was working hard in raising an amazing child and am continuing to do so. Additionally, the reason I am doing so well is because of the time management motherhood forces and the drive to inspire my little one. It is discouraging how little this labour is valued, but again, it is what it is. I will use this blog to inspire different thought patterns from those that all-too commonly mother shame, and that is all I know to do for now.

I am happy and comfortable with where I am and how I am raising my daughter. Since working on my self-perception, and my degree, I have met inspiring women and femmes who make me set my goals higher. I am so grateful to have these friends in my daughter’s life. My kidlet is watching me grow and will learn from both my mistakes and triumphs. I am confident that wherever we end up, I will continue to do my best for us. If others can get on board, that would be ideal, if they can’t, that’s OK too.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

Grown man versus children everywhere

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It takes about two hours for me to get to school because Toronto’s public transit system is underfunded and embarrassing for a major city. It was nice to have my commute’s monotony broken by the mischievous smile of a six-year-old. He took a seat beside me at the back of the bus, while his mother sat down near the front, holding onto a stroller with another lil one resting inside. The mother and I exchanged smiles and I let her know it was OK for her son to sit with me. She looked as grateful for the break as I was for the entertainment. The kidlet and I told each other jokes and chatted about our lives, I told him about my daughter and he told me about how he was dressed like a Ninja Turtle. It was a lovely time save for the grown man sitting parallel to us. The adult kept passive aggressively mumbling for my little buddy to shut up. The first two times this GROWN ASS MAN did this, I ignored him. But his loud groans were becoming unbearable and I told him to calm the fuck down. My buddy was unfazed and continued merrily chatting with me until the bus reached his stop and he skipped off with his mother.

The adult then proclaimed loudly, gesturing with his arms all about, that kids “that age” should not be allowed out of the house. This grown up went as far as to say his mother should not leave the house either. I asked how they were expected to get food, go to the bank, and do all the things that a lot of us generally go outside for. He suggested that, “She should have thought of that.” I laughed, as people watched us, containing their own laughter, and shrugged. With a defiant face he told me that the only reason I seemed to love kids is that I have one. He looked really smug, like he unearthed a secret that I was a mother, and that it wasn’t obvious all along that he had been listening to the lil one chatting and me. I responded that I am a mother because I love kids. We got to our stop, I wished him better days, and we never saw each other again.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

Please call me a single mother

Raising my daughter as a single mother has been, at times, a political act. Maybe it always has been. I didn’t realize this at first, I was too busy putting my life back together after escaping a violent relationship. Julia Kohler’s article ‘Please don’t call me a ‘single mother’’ was recently published. The article’s parting message is, “It’s time to dismantle the single-mother hierarchy – to stop calling out my family’s supposed difference from that of other single moms, as well as from two-parent families.” I agree with this sentiment, I disagree with how we can get to that place. I don’t want to become a part of a system, I want to change it. Family structures are amalgamations of other social structures and ignoring this erases the experiences of these families.

This response is in no way meant to attack Kohler. She acknowledges her privileges throughout her article and she is of course allowed to state her preference and share her experiences. When she asks, “What is there to like about being labeled a single mother?” I get it. She’s right when she says responses vary from “You are so valiant” to “What a shame that your kid is going to be messed up.” When people view single-mothers as scum of the earth, out for taxpayers’ hard earned money, the resulting social treatment of that sentiment hurts a whole lot, on many levels. But, that’s their shit they are placing on my family situation. That hostility is based in other factors such as racism and classism. I can’t speak to living in a white supremacist society, as I am on the end of things that benefits from it. I can say it is wrong, I can say white folks as a whole – myself included- need to check themselves, but I have no place speaking to it. I can speak to the classism of this neoliberal hatred, though.

When I was pregnant I heard one too many comments about how “Oshawa doesn’t need another teenage mother.”* Wasn’t everyone supposed to be telling me I was glowing or some shit?

When I called the police for help when I was abused, I was told I was lying and I was interrogated under the assumption that I was an alcoholic.

When I went into labour I was scolded by hospital staff that I did not attend pre-natal classes. The classes that ran when I was at work. The classes I could not get to as I did not drive. The classes that if I went, there would be hell to pay when I got home to my jealous (now ex) fiancé.

Today I jump through hoops to receive subsidized daycare, I get insulted at parent-teacher meetings, and I spend a lot of time filling out grant paperwork so that my daughter can attend extra curricular activities.

I find more support in feminist spaces than in parenting groups. The last time I participated in an online parenting group, designed for single parents, I saw someone complain that when they are around single parents who are not single parents ‘by choice’ (affluent, older) too much space is given to talk about abusive exes and financial woes.

In the end, I love being a single-mom, I don’t have anyone bossing me around while I boss her around :p The label hurts me only because the world I live in makes it so. The label itself is one I am proud of. My experiences shape who I am and how I run my family. Don’t erase them. If my single-mother status makes anyone uncomfortable, these people need to be asking themselves why. These obstacles are not inherent to single-motherhood. They are products of a class hierarchy under capitalism.

*I was 21 the majority of my pregnancy and turned 22 just a month before my daughter was born. I do not mention this because I think this makes me better than teenage mothers, I mention this because, again, I don’t want to speak for a group I am not a part of. Really, I don’t want to speak for anybody but myself, because everyone’s experiences are so different from one another, our identities intersect in so many ways.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

Women, girls, and ADHD

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For some September marks returning to school, whether it is to post-secondary or elementary classrooms. This return may include gathering accommodation letters from school disability centers and organizing Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

When my eight-year-old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD the three most common comments I received were: “But she is so smart”, “Are you putting her on medication?” and “But she’s a girl.” The ladder is why I strongly suspect her school has been so reluctant to help with the diagnoses and IEP process. Instead most feedback from educators and some of her family has been that she ‘acts like a boy’ and that I ‘let her’ behave as such; I did paint her first room blue after all. This resistance can be attributed to what a Bitch article titled ‘Five Media Myths About ADHD’ refers to as “a combination of stigma and sexism.”

A huge support in our lives has been a family friend who has dealt with her own frustrations in getting diagnoses with ADHD as an adult. While diagnoses have risen in general in school aged children, and even more so for girls, it is still remaining almost completely not talked about in regards to adult women. Unless a person is behaving like how a hyperactive young boy would (like my daughter), they may be overlooked. And though many may be critical of the rise of diagnoses, and in turn drug prescriptions, and the potential harm in this relationship between capitalism and health writer Maria Yagoda writes in her The Atlantic article ‘ADHD is Different for Women’, “also harmful are the consequences of ADHD untreated.”

ADHD is known to become less intense post-puberty, for boys. In women and girls it can intensify after puberty. In many of these cases instead of hyperactivity symptoms involve forgetfulness and disorganization. Since these symptoms are less obvious than what we have been told are ADHD symptoms, undiagnosed women are left to remain confused, frustrated, and depressed; all because ADHD has up until recently been studied without women and girls in mind.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

Mortality

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Nothing has made me aware of mortality as much as my daughter has. Nothing has made me care about life as much as my daughter has. I didn’t care all too much about life before my daughter was born. My mom died, my dad kept finding family and friends to leave me with, and by the time I was a senior at high school my vice principal told me people “like me” should drop out.

My childhood years spent with my mom were great, and I used a lot of what I remember of those six years to raise my little one. Now that she is eight, I sometimes feel lost. Now that I’m five years away from the year my mom died, I feel really lost. I am seeing specialists and getting screenings done more and more often, making sure I don’t get cancer like the women before me on my mom’s side.I know these tests are the right thing to do, and a 50% chance of having cancer means there is a 50% chance that I will not. But I’m still scared, and it is because of my baby.

My kidlet is an obvious indicator of time past. A couple of years in an adult’s life can go by unnoticed. A couple of years in a little kid’s life mean a big kid will take their place. Two years is a whole lot of time, a whole lot of time that flies by. That doesn’t make five years seem that much farther.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com