Academic Dissonance and the Lived Experience of Single Motherhood
Am I shrouded in mystery, or am I running from broken parts shaking beneath my skin, right under the surface? Soothing them out with a rub, hoping the jagged edges don’t burst through, or at least contorting in ways to create the illusion of smooth.
Sitting in a graduate seminar discussing the demographics of single motherhood reeks of fucking pathology, as if the lived experience isn’t all around. As if single mothers live in some far-off distant land. Like they aren’t your DoorDash delivery driver or retail clerk. Like they aren’t sitting next to you. I spout the words of Foucault, but this isn’t theoretical.
Staring deep into a figure made from a data table, I can smell the expected failure. The system was built with broken ladders and we are still expected to climb and climb and climb. I am here and yet I still don’t feel like I have arrived anywhere. I am not talking about the philosophical apex, I am talking about the narrative of higher education and the “progress” handed to me by the institution and all the domestic labor left to complete at the end of the day and that extra side hustle I work.
Instead, there is this judgment of gratitude. The surface level is scanned for the duration of seconds. I am quickly tabulated. Mental bullet points are produced of the things they think they know. But I don’t correct them, because I am shrouded in mystery. I am expected to fall to my knees and thank the new gods. I am expected to do and this doing is constant.
I realize these feelings about pandemic worries are so close to the worries spun around in the heads of single mothers all the time. Will I have enough money? Will I have enough time? I am an essential worker or have to be to make enough money. How do I juggle all these hats at once? How. How. How.
The fucking world is on fire and there is no one sending water. This is the lived experience of so many people in the US, always. These neurotic worries are always boiling in the backs of our brains, but instead of being worried about a virus, we may feel the health effects of stress and fear, something more like a heart attack or the ever-looming will I lose my job scenario? The system was built broken.
Was it my choice? Sure. Absolutely. Well, just as a side caveat, not one hundred percent, but for the sake of brevity, we will pretend I plunged my fist into my chest, ripped out a rib, and spawned myself. But at what point during the attempted corroded ladder climb are we allowed to fucking breathe. At what point do people look at us and see.
The statistics keep me up at night. I am trying to show my son to be resilient and to find his passion. I worry I take too much time away from him to show him to be resilient, thus making things more unstable. Then I think of the quote a therapist once said to me, what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. But I am no bird.
And I spin around again and wonder, am I the rugged individual? Am I playing a part in the charade by not speaking? Am I playing a part by overworking myself but the words that come out of my mouth are, “Nah, I’m good.” Meanwhile, inside the pressure burns the flesh away from the skin walls. The loneliness is at times unbearable, the secrets I keep, heavy.
I still fear being judged because it happens and yet I have done all that is asked of me from this fucking American cultural model. But the bar keeps moving. Click- click, up another notch as I stare at it from below. It will never stop moving.
All the woke eyes need to blink and look around at the lived experience shrouded in academic bliss and theory. Really look. We are everywhere, we aren’t just fucking theories. We are sweat and tears. We are warriors.