I actually had a pretty awesome run as a single mother.
When my son was six and his sister was still a newborn, I ended the abusive marriage that I had fought ten years to save. The afternoon he pinned me against the kitchen counter and threatened me for the last time, what I hadn’t been able to do before suddenly became easy. My baby daughter was asleep in the next room. In that instant, feeling the countertop cut into my back and seeing the knives an arm’s length away, I became my daughter. Someone was doing this to her. That can never happen. I would leave. For real this time.
My heart breaks a little knowing that I never drew that line for my son. Something shifted though when I had a daughter.
The next day I got a restraining order (not the first one I’d ever had) and a divorce lawyer (also not the first). He is in the military so I called his command to report the incident. That was a hard thing to do because it could have jeopardized his career, which would have put me and the kids in an even more precarious position. The military keeps him in line, more or less, and affords him a steady income.
We were living overseas at the time. It took many weeks for the military to permit me and the kids to return to the USA. My daughter didn’t have proof of American citizenship yet so we couldn’t board a plane. No longer trapped at home, but still trapped in a foreign country.
It was one of those European countries with broad social safety nets. It might have been a pretty great place to be a single mother, but my visa did not entitle me to those benefits. Waiting for travel authorization gave me plenty of time to journal about all the ways we would be fucked when we got back to the USA: Childcare. Housing. Health insurance. Ticking through the list during a counseling session, my gracious local therapist attempted to soothe me, “surely there are government programmes available to help single mums.” I laughed.
The plane touched down in California. We didn’t move back into our house, which would be sold in the divorce. We didn’t live with my parents. We didn’t go to a women’s shelter. We stepped across the threshold of our new home and collapsed into the very bosom of the Goddess.
Through a series of miraculous connections, I rented us a cottage at Shakti Rising. You need to understand that Shakti Rising is two things. It is a social change organization that cultivates the health and emerging leadership of women and girls through a network of affiliated communities originating with its hub, “Sunshine House”, in downtown San Diego. The expanded, witchier explanation is that it is also an alchemical journey wherein one’s own inner healing and service to the world join together, ultimately empowering women to utilize their personal transformation as a catalyst for positive change in their families and communities. This actively promotes community well-being and creates woman- and child-friendly societies that are safe, healthy, vibrant, diverse, sustainable and culturally alive. Years earlier (ironically, when my marriage first showed signs of abuse), I became part of the Shakti Rising sisterhood and invoked the power of transformation to uncover, rediscover and reclaim my whole self. It was time to go back and peel away the next layer.
For the next two and a half years, I would mend my heart and raise my kids there.
We were a dozen women in three houses, all in various stages of glorious disrepair, the women and the houses both, linked by a shared yard and a call to live life better. There were Solstice celebrations with flower-filled piñatas. Sunday night dinners of produce from the garden. Ecstatic dance parties. Late nights spent laughing/crying on the kitchen floor. Rituals of grief and release. Heads were shaved. Murals painted. Divorces finalized. There were no men. It took my son a while to notice it was just him and the cat anchoring the masculine.
Each week, those of us who were elders in the community gathered for a Goddess Circle. We called on Hecate, Baba Yaga, Quan Yin, Yemaya, Mary, the Fairie Queen. She answered to so many names. Pieces of my soul returned to me: found in the attic, at the ocean’s edge, along the labyrinth, around the fire. I had been scattered, yet She knew where each fragment lay and whispered clues to me. Bit by bit, I became myself again. One night, surrounded by my sisters on the journey, Her message was very clear: “LIVE THE LIFE THAT’S MEANT TO BE YOURS! You’ll need to get some chickens.”
I was getting good at making safe places for soft creatures to live, so I built a coop in that big shared yard and got three urban chickens.
Today I have 79 chickens…and also turkeys, ducks, pigs and sheep.
Perhaps it’s obvious we don’t live in downtown San Diego anymore. We live on a farm. In the northwest. A place I’ve dreamed of returning to since I lived here as a girl.
Living the life that was meant to be mine.
Yes, partly that’s because I followed a divine call back to who I am. It’s also partly because I couldn’t afford to be a single mother in the big city. There came a point where I could no longer float some $20,000 in unpaid child support. In a beautiful collision of the sacred and the mundane, my dream of homesteading unfolded because I was too broke to stick with the path I was already on. I applied for jobs in rural areas, places with a lower cost of living. They made me offers. I had to turn some down. Why? Because offers have start dates and I couldn’t get there on time. Legally I could not move my children out of the State of California without the written approval of their father (who had a history of abusive behavior, and who hadn’t seen them in almost a year, and who’s failure to pay court-ordered child support necessitated the move). The alternative was to go to court to request permission from a judge. That would take an unknown amount of time, maybe months, and would cost several thousand dollars. But I did it. I got the judge’s signature, landed a job, moved away, and leased some land.
Raising my kids in community during our time at Shakti Rising, surrounded by loving surrogate-aunties and their children, was an incredible experience. It doesn’t really seem accurate to call that chapter of my life “single motherhood” because I was not doing it alone, not hardly. We jokingly called each other “sister wives of the divine feminine”. Really though, that was exactly what we were to each other and to Her. I miss those women fiercely. When I moved away from Sunshine House, Spirit sent me off with the message, “I know you’re scared to leave the community you have here, but go! Your tribe will meet you there.”
It’s very quiet by comparison to now live with just one other adult, an incredible life partner. We’re raising kids together, growing food and dreaming about that village. I trust it is already taking shape. We’re just the first residents is all.
By Michelle Plata, an excerpt from the upcoming girl god anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.
Michelle is living the life that’s meant to be hers in Oregon, where she works in food security and community health. The original San Diego chickens – Calm, Brave and Twinkle-Twinkle – are doing well and enjoyed their stay at Motel 6 when the family moved. Visit shaktirising.org to learn more.