|Painting by Arna Baartz|
IT IS LATE. I have just finished writing for the evening although my mind is still restless and full of questions. I am always full of questions and feelings, and dreams.
‘In the night I dreamed. It was my wedding day and I wore a white gown, but as I walked into the ceremonial field the light changed and a threshold darkness seemed to collect at the edges of vision. It reminded me of the sky in a dream I’d had some months ago, a dream of the Antlered One that had come to tell me that my life was about to change. Yes, and many things had changed since that dream had shaken through my soul. Where was the Antlered One, now, where was the One, in me? For if I understood anything about wedding symbolism it was that there was union, that the parts knew and understood themselves to be as one. In that dream the Antlered One had transformed into a shape for such union, and the deep sense of being totally known, totally naked, and totally supported had carried me through and into a new life, a new being.’
I wrote this for the novel I’m currently working on, but I dreamed it a few nights ago, finding answers to my questions in those strange fields of vision. This morning I wake thinking of my day. What new life? What new being? Art History & Theory homework awaits, which interests me but is the new necessity I must do in order to be paid an income. I remind myself how fortunate I am to be studying Art History, to have bed, house, food, car, shoes. I am a single mother. Two of my four children are young, nine and twelve, and one is on the Autism Spectrum. There are issues. The three of us are all seeing a psychologist and I am, at the moment, just able to financially prioritise this for two of us. My autistic son’s support is currently from the government.
I get up, I begin. Everything is slow. I am slow, worn out, struggling with depression, and frustrated with myself. I shower, I prepare my medication to prevent further stroke. The necessity of slow action makes me think of my grandmother, who was very slow, and very sensitive, like me. I think of her outwardly simple life, her long passionless marriage, of our conversations about her life and the dream I have of writing a book about my female ancestors. I remember that my grandmother had a nervous breakdown at the age of 21. I remember that my great grandmother was a single mother with nine children, and in a far worse economic situation than I.
I am a single mother and I am very fortunate. I am educated and educate myself. I have time to think and reflect. To write stories. I am paid a basic income dependent on the fact that I fulfill requirements, although none of these requirements involve caring for my children. I must either look for and find a job, or study at least 15 hours a week. I am studying for a Bachelor of Visual Art, and must fulfill 18 hours a week. It is overwhelming for me. I must visit the employment agency. I am on the wrong stream. I have fatigue. Paper work must be provided on the correct days or there are consequences. On my low income I must provide housing and pay for everything required to function in the society in which I live, for my children to attend school and also function in society. I also receive regular financial support from the father of my children, so I am very fortunate indeed.
I do not need to prostitute myself. I am so very fortunate. But I wrestle with anxiety. I believe that no-one cares.
Having gratitude does not negate experience, nor does it negate consciousness. Social justice, the core patterning that makes a human society functional and purposeful to the benefit of all in that society, is the action of living well. When I know that I may lose everything on any given day, I find myself agitated. I think of refugees, of children caught in other people’s wars, and my heart aches for them. So much distress. I am told by well-meaning people not to think about the things over which I have no control, but I know that there, but for the grace of Goddess, go I. I am told to trust the future, to trust that everything will be okay, but all my actions and energies are directed at ensuring the future can be trusted to exist, for myself and for my children. I ask, what do I trust? My honesty? My integrity? My compassion? Will that put food in my children’s mouths?
I am a single mother because I choose to be. I have chosen twice now, because I was no longer prepared to experience emotional abuse, or endure a practical relationship. The wife as prostitute. The silencing. The stealing of my self-worth. I was the stay-at-home parent in both my relationships at the time when they ended. My last job was in the UK when I was 25 years old, and since I’ve just turned 50, this means that I have not engaged in paid employment for 25 years. I am a writer, I practise art and very occasionally make a little money from those things. I am very fortunate and have gratitude for the abundance of my life, for the fact that I am a single mother.
The first time that I became a single mother was after the birth of my daughter. I remained so for six years. The second time I became a single mother was when my daughter became sexually active, over four years ago. I read that in Victorian England a man could easily purchase a 13 year old girl’s virginity for £5.00. That prostitution was a way for women to earn 'good money.' That prostitutes were divided into three categories, the poor, the independent and the high class. That they were all commodities to be purchased and sold, discarded at whim.
I wonder about this as I cook my breakfast. My heart rate goes up. I do not know how this world can be this world in which I live. Because I am very fortunate. How can people use each other so?
I made a fundamental choice on both occasions of becoming a single mother, and that was to ally myself with my daughter against my partner. In a patriarchy this constitutes a betrayal. So be it. Of course my other children were included in that decision. They, as I perceive, are an extension of me, of mother. We all come from mother. But it was the growth of my female child into the world that taught me most about my own experience. Of course.
Today the sunlight stings. The world in still radiance probes relentlessly into dark rooms bolted against knowledge and my body, weighed down with the mechanisms of life, feels bound. My heart, so loud against my pillow, could be a line of youths pounding a hard road to war. It is the time signature of my mortality. What strength have I left to hold to the cliff face, when below the ocean is a maw and I have no wings? That still radiance in those glossy leaves, the little swallow on the post, my hair tangled on a pillow in a cold bed (where my dreams, nonetheless, are warm) are like paintings, the still life to give glimpse of the particular. I close my eyes against the sun and see the brilliant shape of my blindness. It is a key and the dark rooms are broken open, that still radiance explodes and floods like the ocean, in, irrevocably in, and that oceanic gush carries me into the world below the world.I want to write that a beautiful flower grows there, but I can’t quite, not just yet.
The experience of being a single mother for the second time around reached an all-time low during the debilitating process of separating from a ten year relationship. This was also a process of learning to believe what the law said was my right to receive a proportion of the assets, including superannuation, of the economic aspect of the partnership of which I had been a part. I remember weeping when the lawyer told me that in such legal matters, full time motherhood was considered equal to full time paid employment. I felt relief amidst my distress. How fortunate I was, me, a single mother in patriarchy, acknowledged in this way. And yet the damage had been done. I was confused, afraid and ashamed.
As a single mother in patriarchy I have learned that I must not trust, I must consider my future. And as a single mother in patriarchy, I must live with the experience of being an inconvenience. An irritation.
In this way I learned the complications of patriarchal relationships, of ownership and entitlement. I learned about certain ideas of power. Food, shelter, money and sex. The mother impulse to give, share and provide, to teach, did not extend beyond the circle of my arms. How is mother to care for her children, engage in meaningful social activities as a mature adult, and even improve her circumstances when she is unsupported? She may even be seen as a threat to other women, because patriarchy’s favourite means of oppression is to divide and conquer, through violence and misogyny, usually both. Internalise misogyny in women, make them hate themselves and each other. It makes female relationships difficult, it makes male-female relations difficult, but in a patriarchy there will always be prostitutes to fill the void, prostitutes who are often single mothers, too. In a patriarchy, a single mother must at least be useful beyond what she does to ensure that her children grow as whole and functional members of society, which in a patriarchy means that she must ensure that her children are sufficiently anaesthetised to be able to conform and take their place in the appropriate hierarchies, that they are not whole, not functional.
My thoughts sound wretched and bitter to myself. I am a loving person. I am creative, a wild fire and a sweet bloom. I am rage and grief. I am replete with compassion. I look on social media and read a brief account of a glossy erotic bondage performance that has evolved from an ancient Samurai practise of humiliating captives. People applaud it for being so elegant, so tidy, so beautiful. I have a panic attack. It reminds me again that I live in a world where violence is being systematically eroticised. Where what is normalised is made moral, and that false morality has nothing to do with kindness or compassion or service to others, but is abstraction. Convenience. And abstraction dulls perception. I live in a patriarchal world which is a pornographic world. I am a single mother in a pornographic, patriarchal world. I refuse to be a prostitute or a wife, because that is what I choose, and I have gratitude for the capacity to make that choice. I am so very fortunate, unlike many who must choose only to survive. There but for the grace of Goddess, go I. For the veils between are thin, and no-one wishes to care for my children without expecting something in return.
The day unfolds. I read. I compose my Art History essay about the concept of beauty and how it has changed, or has not changed. I will not feel guilty for having intelligence. I will not be ashamed of my vision for a better world. I will not be reduced to passive gratitude. My gratitude will be a wild fire. I will do what I am able, and grieve, and grow as I must. For my great grandmother who could not choose, and for my daughter who now walks before me, I will choose.
‘You are weary,’ she said, as she gazed at me,
‘and the journey for you not done.
You must go on still, and weep your tears,
’til the thread of your life is spun.’
She held my thread by the light of the dawn
and it gleamed so fair and thin;
and the sea came in to wash the hem
of the gown that I travelled in.’
All poetry and prose by Louise M. Hewett - an excerpt from Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.