Give Me Just One Good Reason
By Mary DuChene
Many days I get home from work and class at 3 p.m. and realize I haven’t had a chance to eat or pee since 7:30 in the morning. I pick up the mail and sometimes, if I am lucky, there’s a child support check. The last one was for $184.63. The check stub helpfully informs me that the non-custodial parent now owes me $8,807.29. Every time I open one, I fight the urge to send it back. Pride is nice, but we need the money. My family is in the home stretch, we’re almost there, but still. Right now we need the money.
Sometimes I look at the years ahead of me before I graduate and I just quake. How will I do it? Why am I doing it?
Getting to the point where, no matter what happens, we never have to depend on sporadic child support checks is one good reason I don’t quit.
After school, the teenage girls start appearing on my doorstep. Sometimes we bake zucchini bread and listen to music. They tell me all their secrets. Their home lives are pretty bleak. Parents who work long hours and still can’t pay the bills, parents whose addictions are more important than their children, parents who are too tired at the end of the day to spend time with the girls. They get most of their clothes from the free box at the center. Their parents party with the neighborhood kids. Oh yeah, plus all the usual teen-age self-doubt, feelings of un-prettyness, and pressure to be like the girls in the magazines.
It all makes for a pretty hard adolescence.
In my neighborhood, many girls survive abuse and neglect, sexual assault, poverty and violence during their teen years. A lot of them end their teen years with a baby on their hip. When I was a pregnant 19 year old, the older women in this neighborhood told me I could still be anything I wanted. They told me never to let society’s opinion of me as a young mama change my plans and goals. They knew how hard it was to resist, because their lives were narrowed by what was expected of them. But now a woman can resist, and they support me and my family as we do what needs to be done.
How dare I work the system? Why should I get so much financial aid? Why should we encourage women who get pregnant early by giving them scholarships, welfare and health benefits? Just who do I think I am?
Showing the next crop of girls from my neighborhood that we are not defined by where we come from, by our sexual choices or by the fact that we are female is one good reason I don’t quit.
Working in the free law clinic at the law school means talking with people who are at the crossroads of poverty and crisis everyday, people who have nowhere else to turn. We have to deny most people help. Turning them away is largely my job. I hate that part. But when I give a terrified, crying woman the phone numbers for the domestic violence program, and I know that the program could save her life – actually save her life – that’s when I love my job. And I want to do more.
Why do I think I can save the world? What makes me so special? How can someone like me help these people? Isn’t it all just the way the world works?
Knowing I will someday be one of those lawyers who has the privilege of helping that woman is one good reason I don’t quit.
At school I have a knack for connecting with the other mothers. We look like the rest of the students here, but we’re not. We’ve got kids. Somehow we find each other.
Once a social worker told me that instead of getting my bachelor’s degree and going on to law school, I should enroll in a nine-month vocational program and become an assistant social worker. Welfare doesn’t pay for mamas to get bachelor’s degrees. I am privileged not to need welfare anymore, but I wouldn’t be here without it.
When one of my mama friends tells me her social worker is trying to get her to drop out of her four-year program and enroll in a vocational program to become a legal assistant, I can tell her not to listen to him, she can do this. When another tells me she feels like she may be too stupid to succeed I can tell her that she’s fine, it’s just the jitters we all get when we transfer from a community college to a university.
I shouldn’t be here. I’m nothing like these people. I’m not educated enough. Why do I put myself through this?
I now know I am not a statistic. I know no one is defined by their class, their race, their gender, their reproductive status. The joy I will feel thinking of that idiot social worker, how convinced he was I could not succeed in college, and how he almost convinced me as I fill out my law school applications is one good reason I don’t quit.
In a women’s studies class, a student tells me that women should have to play the game, become one of the good old boys, make all those silly career moves like learning to play golf. We should become one of the boys if we want to succeed.
Screw golf. I hate golf. Even if I were a ‘boy’ I’d never be one of the boys. I refuse. Having been a part of many groups of strong, smart, amazing women, I know something he doesn’t. Women can change the world for each other. We can support and love each other and create a way for us to be who we are, without compromise.
Why can’t I just make things easy on myself? You have to go along to get along. Compromise is the only way to get what you want. It’s a man’s world and women just live in it.
Being able to imagine living in a world that is a more just and safe place for all women is one very good reason I won’t ever quit.