I have my moments when I may buckle, trip or weaken, but I will never fall again or lose all of my strength. A tear may drop once from the corner of my eye but I smile and tell my son it’s the perspiration of life. I may tremble in the cold alone but I shake it off and call it a new movement to make him smile. My ribs may touch but he’ll never go without. Invigoration and inspiration come from his soul and breathe life into my limp body and exhausted mind. I become whole again… He is the little soul outside of me, he is the humanity I carried. To love him is to be selfless, to enjoy this selflessness is love…
There was a moment when she paused, when she witnessed her reflection, when she realized that her body spoke another language, her mind became beautiful and her heart held no secrets. When she saw her hands clenched in fists, her spine standing proud, her hips widened by life, her breasts curved with sustenance, her jaw hardened by punches, her knees weakened but never buckling. Her eyebrows hinted at stories she’d never tell, her cheeks glowed pink from life’s pleasures. That moment of clarity when she saw herself, full, brimming with femininity and strength, power and ferocious womanity, that moment the elements of herself united and all that was left for her to do was simply smile and thank her creator that she was made this way.
When will you ever learn, you say. When will I be exhausted from the burn? It’s what makes me feel alive, if I don’t love this hard I feel like I’m depriving myself of life’s greatest pleasure. I can never catch myself before I fall, I always fail to remind myself that I don’t have wings.
I soar above the clouds and forget the solid ground beneath me. Basking in the fresh air way up there where I’m finally free. But at what cost does freedom come? When you realize you’re blindfolded to shield your eyes from the sun. And you’re not built to withstand the pressure, and the intense burn. It is then that gravity reminds you that you are falling.
Faster. The air in your lungs is gone, you can’t survive in this atmosphere.
Girl, where are your wings?
You’re gonna fall and no one will be there to catch you. It’s not suicide if it wasn’t intentional. You didn’t know you couldn’t fly, but you still try every time.
Space bars separate and in our written language even the most obvious words need their own space to exist in. Despiteusbeingabletounderstandandreadsentenceswithnowordsapart…
The space has become necessary, giving words and things the power to stand alone. Allowing phrases and names to exist in the world on their own. Some space is so far, that it begs to remain unknown. As we ponder gravity’s existence to keep us bound to earth’s ground. Then there’s that space between you and I, that separation of hearts that belong welded together but forced apart by words that stand alone and gravity that keeps us grounded in reality. There would be no physical space had the language not invented the rule that dictates the form of this communication. If Earth were a different planet we’d float gracefully wherever the atmosphere would allow us to rise to, holding each other tightly because our hearts refuse to let go. But instead there is space… a void, emptiness where our souls belong entwined and reunited. The shadows of our hearts cling together under each sun rise and moon shine, but the space is too much to bear. Separated until the proper form disappears, until gravity clears the air.
For now we use the ellipses to have us be continued, for the moment our need for oxygen overwhelms our desire to ignore gravity. Separation. Grounding. Space…
There is no such thing as caught in the middle, it seems most humans are in between, in a constant state of transitioning. The life they lead doesn’t have endings or beginnings but rather a cyclical experience of comings and goings & returning again. People take the place of others and places take the people with them, all cities have the basic DNA you imprint your genetic traits as you go along. There is no escaping the past, this is not your yesterday. Gone from sight, your today is your yesterday and it will be your tomorrow as your tomorrow is your today and yesterday. The eternal return… each iteration and experience has a differentiation but continue continuing. Serving a purpose greater than breaking monotony, yet sometimes existing to promote that very thing. In between the blank spaces is the writing on the pages that fills every moment to break up the stasis. Concerned with all the labels that each chapter embraces will do nothing except remind you that each moment evades us. The character names may change but the purpose stays the same and the ending always remain to create tension, love and pain. The beginnings are similar, mapped out individuals with lives’ plans in their hand that is meant to bring prosperity. Yet what is with all the fear of the in between? Of starting something before the next end? Of facing a new truth without confronting old lies? It is this that kisses the joy of sweet livings’ spontaneity, when everything you’ve done and seen comes back around like a haunting dream, and though you refused the monotony, the basis of living is breathing in between.
I’d never pictured my life the way it is now. I never ever saw “single motherhood” as a lifestyle choice. I couldn’t equate the union of those two words for me, let alone the lack of a union between two people conceiving a child. At one point, I looked down on the women around me for allowing “it” to happen to them, as if it were a preventable disease. I thought if I did everything right, if I was a “good girl,” that I would have “something” to show for it. I believed I had put myself in the best position to take the traditional steps toward life and children. Love, degree, house and ring, then marriage and bab[ies].
But it didn’t happen that way.
A year ago I wanted a baby and at that point I had everything in the “all of the above” category. A year later, I found myself with the “baby” minus almost everything else (except the degree.) I would tell myself, “love your career the most, because at least it will never love you then leave you.” So my dedication the past eight years has been focusing on my ultimate goal of pursuing my PhD in English. After college and a few years at the Master’s level, I took a $10,000 pay cut in salary to continue my dream. I accepted a position teaching first-year English for a stipend at a university and started my PhD program. Nothing could’ve been more satisfying than finally being rewarded for my scholarly pursuits and being on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged academic. Then I discovered that I was pregnant after beginning my second semester of my first year of the program.
“Impeccable timing,” I said to myself sarcastically. However with my history of fertility concerns, I didn’t see the value of “putting my career first” (as some people would say in air quotes) by “taking care of it.” This seemed like a mysterious possibility, but when you say to life “I dare you,” life sometimes says “challenge accepted!”
I was anxious and confused and everyday attempted to reassure myself that I could handle a baby, that financially I could do it, that I had help, and that everything was going to be okay. Nothing caused me more heartburn than the day I received my first hospital bill as I perused my research for a paper I was writing on James Baldwin. I was a typical 25-year old whose income was dispensable prior to my pregnancy. I didn’t see the motivation behind planning so far in advance anymore since it usually ended in disappointment. Well, that all had to change fast and mostly, financially.
I was so worried about losing my position at the university—my only source of income—and also my only opportunity to be a representative from the Latina/o community in a doctorate program.
A 2012 Racialicious post, “Latina/os in academia: A look at numbers,” offers these overwhelming facts:
Americans (25 years or older and of any race) [who] earn a doctoral degree in the first place [are]: 1.5% of the US population as a whole in 2011. [Latinas] don’t even make up one half of one percentage point.
The rarity of this circumstance is intensified by the fact that I’m having a child coupled with a lack of financial means. Though I was teaching first year English at a prestigious university where my students call me “professor.” I was also cleaning toilets and taking out trash at a Barnes and Noble to earn extra money for my non-funded summer (where my appropriate title was “cleaning lady”).
Then came the difficulty of explaining to social workers that the paycheck I’m earning is not really a pay check; a stipend is contingent upon my completion of graduate school requirements one of which includes teaching. I was promptly told that “full-time college students are not eligible for food stamps,” and I was in awe that the social worker could not fathom the difference between college and graduate school, even as I politely explained it.
Education is directly tied to the politics and economics of women of color with children. Not only am I not even half of one percentage point in the field of academia, but I’m unmarried and having a baby. In one facet of life I’m a Latina breaking statistics, but in the same vein I’m reinforcing common stereotypes about Latinas in single motherhood.
However, these were both conscious choices and too many women are shunned for making the “wrong” decisions, according to society’s standards, or as I said earlier for “allowing it to happen to them.”
It happened to me, and I know now that it is something that happens sometimes, even while you’re undergoing one of the most rigorous careers. Ironically, as I scroll through websites, I’m already targeted as a pregnant mom and with that came endless ads and offers to “go back to school.” Apparently the stereotype still exists that women who are having children are sitting at home with nothing better to do, watching their lives go by as they make and raise children. One of the many myths of motherhood.
I’m doing everything possible to elevate my socioeconomic status through my educational pursuits. But these pursuits force women like me to take the long road to acquiring wealth, often while acquiring exponential debt.
My main concern about having a child in general was always whether I could afford to support myself and another human being. Luckily my university is family-oriented and understanding, because my story could be very different. Though I’m beginning this process alone in pregnancy, I’ve received advice and support from my university staff that makes my life easier and not having to answer questions about being unmarried keeps my anxiety at bay.
The nuclear family is another myth of motherhood scaring women into believing that they are doing something wrong if they are unmarried mothers. It’s what I believed for so long and even well into my pregnancy. Women of all different socioeconomic statuses struggle as mothers; married women become divorced, fathers become alienated and a two-income household dissipates into thin air. Other mothers are focused on getting through school (college and beyond) alone in order to attain a degree which would (or should, in our current economy) allow them to gain more wealth over the course of their lifetime.
But the welfare system is not conducive to women and minorities in pursuit of “something” more or even of women who never needed the help before but need it now. Therein lies the difficulty of asking for and receiving help when a woman needs it most, when she is the strongest yet most vulnerable. As a single mother bearing and raising a child, she still chooses to elevate herself and not give up on achieving her goals — and she’s judged for it.
And I’m just pregnant; I wonder what it’ll be like to be dissertating with a toddler…
Cynthia Estremera is a second year PhD student in English at Lehigh University, and is focusing on Africana Diasporic Literature and Hip Hop Culture. Cynthia is currently a single mom-to-be at 8 months pregnant with her first son MehkyCincere and will continue teaching first year English at Lehigh this fall and finishing up coursework. She has a creative blog you can follow athttps://4elementsofme.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Twitter at @futuredrcin.
A very special thanks to Stacia Brown and her amazing blog http://www.beyondbabymamas.com for featuring my piece today in the class and money matters section. Her blog is based on her creating a community of single parents of color who can look to each other as resources for support and inspiration and I’m happy to have been able to contribute my voice. She herself is a writer, educator and mother of a two-year-old and is certainly empowering parents to work together by creating this site for the greater good of the single parents of color community.
Here is the link to my article on her site, please check it out and feel free to leave a reply and show your support: http://beyondbabymamas.com/2013/08/01/phd-mama-a-pregnant-latina-academic-debunks-traditional-myths-of-motherhood/
This is my second love letter to you. Its been 6 months since we met and each day I am falling deeper in love. The first letter I wrote exactly 3 months ago and I begged you to stay, promised that anything I did wrong I would fix, that I never want you to go away. I told you that you were needed in my life and that I would deeply appreciate your presence and reciprocate your love. Though it was scary and I was petrified I tried to remain calm and allowed you to make your own decision as you did, and you chose to stay with me.
I am grateful that you think I am special enough to be a part of your life and I am happy to be lucky enough to have someone as special as you a part of mine. When I’m sad you make me happy, as you nudge me in my ribs to make me smile or giggle. When I’m happy you add to that as I dream about the endless possibilities of our life together. When I’m worried I simply imagine how everything I will do now, I will do it for you and it will bring my life the greatest purpose it will ever see. When I’m confident I have you to thank because you reassure me in my decisions, even when everyday causes me doubt about my capabilities to be the best I can be to you. I know now that I will never be alone, for you will always be by my side and as I protect you, you too will learn to protect me. Though I’ve had moments that didn’t last forever, you are forever mine and I know that no one will ever love me the way that you will.
Mehky Cincere, I can’t wait to have you in my arms, to stare in your eyes and to mark the day where the most unexpected yet greatest event happened. Your birth baby boy… you shall be great and brave.