To my son:
Today is a big day my boy and I don’t think you understand just how big of a role you had in making today possible. When you see Mom walk across that stage and receive her Bachelor’s Degree, know that each step that I take had been fueled by the desire to give you more. You are 6 years old now and I am unsure if you will remember this moment, unsure if you will remember the struggle that it took to get here. I want you to remember it, so that you may believe that anything is possible.
Before I knew that you were coming into this world your Mother had given up on making anything but an empire of dirt for herself. I was young still, 19 years old, and had dropped out of high school in the 11th grade despite being intelligent. There were larger, unseen monsters at play. I was given over to my addiction, not because it was fun and I was a wild teenager entering into adulthood, but because I felt I had no other choice but to give in.
After I found out you were on your way I would lay in my bed at nights with my hand over my belly and think of you. A panic would rise in my throat as I began to worry about how I could ever provide for you on my own. I never wanted to disappoint you or make you want for anything.
During your first year of life I was able to spend every single day with you and I have come to treasure those moments that we spent in your Grandparents house. We lived on just over $300 dollars a month and every dollar that I had went to buy something for you. If I wanted to go to a movie, or you needed a snowsuit, your Grandparents would step in and provide for us. I was so grateful for the small things then my boy, you being the smallest thing yet the greatest to be grateful for. I remember that because we only had $300 dollars a month I was told to go and apply for welfare. Your mother, although humble, is proud. I struggled constantly with this and did not want to go and start our lives off in this way. Not that there is anything wrong with having to do so, I see this now as an adult, but then I couldn’t and wouldn’t. Your grandpa sat me down and told me a story that relayed that he understood why I struggled so deeply and he said to me, “My girl, if you don’t want to go and collect welfare. I get it. We can try our best to help you but times are hard. We can do it, but it won’t be much.”
We got by on, “won’t be much”.
Just after your first year of life I prepared to re-enter school at the local college and had begun working nights as a janitor. I was never sad at this point but I was full of promise. I was driven my son, and you did that for me. You gave me a second chance at life and the desire to do something with it. The desire was also a necessity. I would clean the desks of large offices and empty trashcans and envision our future. I always did this with a smile, unless it was time to clean the urinals.
After I completed my dogwood I went into the Social Service Worker Diploma program as a full time student. In my Sociology class I came across a statistic that said “69% of single mothers live below the poverty line”, and I copied that statistic on post-it’s and stuck it at the front of every single one of my notebooks. We were not going to be one of those 69% my son.
During my second year, I became busier and focus on developing my career. Too focused, I think. We moved out of your Grandmother’s house and I had extra bills to pay so I took a part time job. You went into daycare. I worked, went to school full time, volunteered, and my free time was spent cooking, cleaning or doing homework. There is so much of that year of your life that I don’t remember. I feel that is one of my only real regrets on my educational journey, is the time that it has taken away from my ability to witness and be a real part of your life. I would always tell myself, I am doing this now so I can be a larger part of your life in the future. Education for a young single mother is liberation my son. Freedom on the horizon. Even more so when that mother is Indigenous and had her fair share of struggles with addiction. But the story of addiction in our lives is another story my boy.
A few weeks before your second birthday I remember breaking down. You were born so close to Christmas, 5 days after which meant I needed to pull miracles to have something for you for both occasions. I checked my bank account and I had $29 dollars left to cover both holidays. I cried, but that night when I cried, I turned that into resolve to change our situation. This would never be our case, never again.
At one point when I was close to giving up on my diploma, never mind my Bachelor’s degree, I spoke to one of my Auntie’s teary eyed and weary from the constant struggle. Your auntie looked at me, knowing this struggle as a single mother and said, “Helen, you will get by and you will do this… because you have to.”
It was a simple incantation that allowed me to grit and bear it. There was no other option, and these years of struggle we have went through are nothing in comparison to what it would be like in a lifetime of poverty.
This morning when I awoke to you next to me, I had to stop and stare at your small handsome face and silently gave you thanks. Today is for you my son. We are well on our way and this path that I carve, as the first one from my Mother’s side to graduate with a degree, has not only been for you but for your cousins and for our family. You helped inspire that change for a generation and generations to come my love.