A Young Single Mother Finds A Future In MC Living
an article by our site
Number of families: 8
Total number of children: 12
Number of adults: 12
Total number of individuals: 24
a. 28m, 27f , 8f, 5f
b. 29f, 7m, 6m
c. 19f, 3m, 2f
d. 35m, 8f
e. 23f, 3m
f. 24m, 23f, 3m
g. 25m, 22f, 2f
h. 24m, 23f , 2f, 1f
Economic factors: lower class
My name is Maria. I am 19. I live in low-income housing in this big city with my two children: Lucas, who is three, and Danita, who is nearly two. I am not married, and I never have been. My children have two different fathers, and I see them once in a while—often when they need money. They never have any money to give me to help support the children, so I live mainly on welfare and food stamps, and whatever other assistance I can get.
I live in a small apartment and spend most of my time taking care of my kids and watching TV. I got pregnant the first time when I was 16. I was in high school then, and was living with my mother. My mom had me when she was 16, too, and I never had a father around when I was growing up. In fact, when I was born, my mom and I lived with my grandmother for about five years, I think. Anyway, I stayed in high school through most of my pregnancy, and dropped out when I had Lucas. I had wanted to go back to school after he was born, but we couldn't really afford to pay anyone to take care of him. My mom was out working most of the time, and we could barely live on what she made plus the food stamps and other welfare we could get. Since there wasn't really anyone to take care of him while I was in school, I didn't go back to school. When I got pregnant with Danita, things got really strained between me and Mom. We were always arguing about money, and her apartment was already crowded with three of us, so rather than fight it out all the time, I started making plans to move out. I figured I could get a pretty cheap place and, with welfare and other assistance programs, make it okay.
About a month after Danita was born I moved into my own place. It was just a few blocks from my mom's, and I was glad of that. But I really didn't see her too much. She'd stop by on the way home from work sometimes, or come by with some dinner for me. But we just didn't get together much anymore. I had my hands full. Having two babies was hard enough, and now I had no help at all from my mom, where before I had at least a little bit when she wasn't at work.
Some of my high school friends used to come over and visit when I was living with Mom and Lucas, and that was fun. I thought that when I moved into my own place they'd want to come over and spend even more time with me. But when they would visit one of the babies would cry or get hurt, or need to be fed or we'd have to be quiet because someone was napping, or something would be in the way, so I'd always be running around taking care of the kids and could hardly even talk to my friends. And they didn't know how to help. So they just kind of stopped coming around. (I guess when I was living with Mom and my friends were over, she'd take care of the kids. I hadn't really noticed that until I wasn't living with her.)
My days are pretty simple. After I get up, I feed the kids, give them baths, clean up the small apartment, put them down for a nap, take a break for myself and look at a magazine or something, then get lunch ready. I feed them again, clean them up, play with them a little or put them in front of the TV. If I feel lucky, we might go outside and take a walk or play. I'm pretty nervous about being outside here. This isn't a very safe area, and there are a lot of people selling and using drugs. I feel really nervous when I'm out, so I usually don't go out unless I have to. Sometimes I take the kids and go shopping or do errands. When we get home they take another nap—and sometimes I do, too. Then it's dinner, clean up, and to bed for them, and soon after, to bed for me.
I don't have many friends; and I feel lonely most of the time. There are lots of other people in the building here, but we're all so busy taking care of our own kids that we don't really have time to get to know each other. And when the kids are in bed at night, we're all so tired we just go to bed or watch TV. There are a lot of other single mothers and we all have a pretty tough time keeping it together—taking care of the kids, having enough money to feed them and pay the rent. Sometimes we get together and talk about how hard it is, and we can't do anything about it. None of us feels very safe here, but none of us has any way to leave either. We wish we could. But where would we go?
Sometimes I wish I could get a good paying job, get a nice apartment, and get my kids into child care. But I don't know how to do much of anything job-wise, except take care of kids. And I'm no expert at doing that. Besides, if I got a job, I wouldn't want it to be a job about taking care of kids. I get downright tired of little ones hanging on me all the time. There are times when I have to swat them to get them to mind me. I don't know what else to do. I just need them to understand me better, and listen to me, and do what I want them to do.
I'm a simple person. I don't ask for much. But I'd like things to be better for my kids. I'd like them to have a better chance than I've had - for a good education and a good job.
It has been one and a half years since I wrote about my life. Since that time I went to a movie, met a lot of new people and moved. But that isn't one tenth of what's really happened in my life. I'll tell you the whole story.
My mom came over one night and said she'd heard about a really different, unusual movie that everyone was going to see because it was important to their lives and not just some great entertainment. She hadn't seen it yet herself, so all she could tell me was what she'd heard. I said I couldn't really afford to go to a movie with baby-sitter costs and all. She said she would pay my way, and suggested that I find a neighbor who might be interested in the movie and have the neighbor sit my kids while I went to the movie, and offer to sit her kids when she went to the movie. From what she was saying, my mom seemed pretty confident that my neighbor would want to see the movie, too. I couldn't imagine why.
Well, it sounded like an interesting adventure, and something different from my usual routine, and a chance to get some time away from the kids, so I made the arrangements with my neighbor, and Mom and I saw the movie two days later.
The movie really depressed me. At first, I wished it had been some escapist entertainment because I felt so uncomfortable afterwards. All I could think was how much I wanted to be in an MC, and how impossible it would be for me to make it happen. I felt really angry for a while. The possibility seemed so hopeless.
Despite my anger, I went to the library and went to the website where I registered in the MC Database and filled in the questionnaire. Several people contacted me and I contacted some myself. And we started communicating through the MC email system. Then we did some video chatting and eventually group chats (via Google +). I had put on my questionnaire that I wanted to stay in the same metropolitan area, and since it's a big area, there were a lot of contacts here. When we started to meet in person I was so happy to bring the kids to these meetings. And I was glad I chatted and eventually met with many different groups.
The first face-to-face meetings were very subdued. Most people were shy and didn't quite know what to do. It was different than email and chatting. But everyone knew they wanted to somehow have an MC. So, there were more get-togethers: social events like picnics and pot-luck dinners, and more carefully organized events with actual meeting agendas where MC ideas, possibilities, problems and barriers were all discussed. People really started to get to know each other. (And, of course, the kids got to know each other right away.) And new people came every time because more and more people were seeing the movie and reading the novel on line, and getting connected via the Database.
Some people got into MC-sized groups and started seriously getting to know one another, both at the meetings and outside at their own smaller get-togethers. Several of these groups started making plans for long-distance MCs by using PSBs on their computers, tablets and smart phones. I didn’t have a tablet or computer or smart phone, but I could go to the library sometimes and get connected. I also was able to use my neighbors’ computers from time to time.
I'm kind of shy and not very outgoing, so I often felt like I was on the sidelines at the meetings, watching people do this MC thing. I would go from meeting to meeting, not actually talking seriously to anyone. But eventually I probably talked to 250 families during all the time I went to different gatherings. I guess someone could become an MC-meeting and database junkie and never join an MC. But that's what the chats, emails, & meetings are for. You just keep going until you find the right people. You can also modify your MC Database profile in case the people you get connected to don't seem like they fit. I heard about one group that was categorized for people who considered themselves outcasts and quite unusual or unique. There was a joke going around that all these people got together and determined that no one there was like them, so how could they be in an MC together!
So, I kept going connecting with various groups and going to some events. It added a new dimension to my life, and my kids had a great time. I could see how happy they were playing with other kids, and just being around lots of other people. Eventually, I got a little more outgoing. I would see someone whom I'd chatted or emailed with and we'd get talking. It became less difficult to make some friends. I just had to be willing to start a conversation. I met this woman, Ariane, and we would get together at these meetings. We started fantasizing about what our ideal MC would look like. (This was a suggestion that had been made several times.) We would look at other people and families (literally from a distance) and decide if they fit into our fantasy. Then we'd search the MC Database to find out if we were compatible with them. If someone fit, we would email them and start chatting and start get to know them. We'd invite them into our fantasy game and we'd all decide together whom to invite next, check the database, and so on, and that's how we built our MC.
Our MC consists of eight families. Four of us are single parents and four families have two parents each. I kind of wanted my mom to be in our MC, but she wanted to get into an MC with people closer to her own age and older.
After we had identified all of our MC families, we had a PSB-only MC for about six months. That means that each family had to have access to a tablet, computer or smart phone to connect to the group’s PSB. I managed to get a used smart phone and a bare bones data plan so I could participate. We didn't move near each other or anything, but used this time to get to know each other and to learn if we were compatible, work out issues we would run into. We got our personal ID numbers and started using the PSB just as if we were living right near each other. We set up custom codes that were helpful for our long-distance MC, and often used the telephone instead of getting together.
During this time what helped me the most was the shared child care we all set up. There are twelve kids in the MC and twelve adults. But only six kids need full-time care, four need after-school care, and the other two are pretty independent, but always come to our care area after school, even though they're not scheduled to have caregivers.
Without me having to care for my own kids all day every day, I suddenly had a lot of free time for myself. I felt very strange at first and didn't know what to do with myself. I spent a lot of time talking on the phone to others in the MC or getting together. Several of us were overwhelmed by our new-found freedom and didn't know exactly how to handle it. But MCs, being full of people who are your friends, are great sources of inspiration (as well as full of suggestions). I thought of going to work, but didn't feel qualified for much of anything. With encouragement from everyone, I decided to get my high school equivalency diploma.
During my time away from caregiving (I sure like that word), I'd go to the classes I needed to get my diploma or I'd do my studying. Because our MC was PSB-only, we all spent a fair amount of time moving our kids around for child care. But we all agreed that it was worth it. We actually were able to arrange a central location for most of the caregiving so that the kids would go to the same place most days and we'd all have as equal a burden as possible with regards to transporting them.
I even had time for a part-time, temporary job until I got my diploma. It was just 10 hours a week, but it really felt good to be out there earning some money. After I got my diploma I planned to do something with longer hours, but not full time, so I could keep going to school and improving my skills.
On weekends and on several evenings each week, anyone who possibly could would get together and have MC meetings. At these meetings we designated caregivers so no kids would be neglected. At first we used this time to get to know each other more, to help each other with new (or old) problems that we were facing, and essentially, to help the people in our MC to start doing whatever it was that we wanted to do in our lives.
For me, my first goal was to get a job. I was tired of being poor. And I was tired of being stuck at home all the time. "Stuck-at-home" was automatically taken care of; and to get a decent job, it was logical for me to get my diploma first. Some of the others just needed the encouragement to go out and start looking for work, and even sometimes to take jobs that didn't pay a lot or weren't their dream jobs, but were worth doing just to get some experience. One could always go to a new job if the opportunity came up.
The long-distance MC had its disadvantages, but it was SO much better than what I'd had before that I was pretty satisfied with how things were. But I noticed that the kids were a lot happier when they were with the other kids and had a lot of choices. That was one of the reasons we all got together a lot. For the kids and to get to know each other, and to help each other with practical matters.
After a while, though, our get-togethers were about finding a place where we could all move and have a real MC. It took about six months to get to that point. We had a few changes in the interim. One of our PSB families decided that they wanted to be in an MC with some other people that they had recently met. It was okay with us. We all were at the point that we could wish someone well as they went off in another direction. Since we did want another family to replace them, we went back to local MC meetings to find another family. And that was fun—watching MC aspirants at all the different stages of finding one another. We did find another family to join our group, and proceeded from there.
Actually, it might sound like we never went to another local MC meeting after we first met the families in our MC. The truth is we went quite often. The local meetings were especially helpful to us in getting started with our PSB-MC—handling the nuances of our new relationships, and other practical and personal matters. The local MC resources were invaluable to us at the time. Another reason was because none of us had ANY extra money. We couldn't make mistakes that might cost us while we set up our MC.
The first thing we decided was what part of town we would live in. We had to find a neighborhood we could all afford and one that wasn't too terribly far from where people needed to go to work or school. Once we figured this out, we'd look at newspaper ads to see if anything would work for us. By this time the MC movement had taken hold, so a lot of the advertising was geared to attract people who were forming MCs. You'd see ads like: "12-household MC, one floor of apartment complex; 3 2-bedrooms, 4 3-bedrooms, 3 4-bedrooms, 2 1-bedroom, plus 3-room care center," and they'd include a rental price for the whole thing. If the ad fit our needs, we'd break the price down by apartments, and see if we could each afford it.
Well, we finally found a place, and it took us all about three months to move in. As soon as the first family moved in, all the child care, meetings, and get-togethers happened there. It was just a matter of time before we were all in our new homes. So, about nine months after we'd decided we wanted to be in an MC together, we were in an MC. I had a 10-hour-per-week job and was taking classes so I could get my high school diploma. My kids were thriving. They could go between all the different apartments safely (we have a way to close off our floor to outsiders), and go over to the child-care space on their own. We all feel more secure having our floor under our own control.
Another thing that has been so important for my kids, besides caregiver choices and other kids to be with, is the advantage of additional resources. When you don't have any money, you can't buy all the neat educational toys for your kids. So with all of the households sharing the child-care responsibilities, we instituted group purchasing of toys and educational items for the caregiving center. I don't know how other MCs do it. I assume that if parents are not strapped financially, they just buy toys and stuff for their kids. Then perhaps they purchase additional toys for the care center. What we decided to do was to make decisions as a group to purchase items for the child-care center, in order to make the toys available to all the kids. This way we could afford to get better educational toys and each toy would get much more use because all the kids would have access to it.
I guess the other BIG thing has been P.E.T. communication. In some ways, this was the biggest change for all of us in the MC—especially the adults. We all had a tendency to be unclear about our feelings or what we wanted, especially at first. Forcing ourselves to practice P.E.T. communication rules from the outset helped all of us learn to express ourselves. You should have seen us at first, trying to get to the feelings behind the communication we were hearing. Someone would say: "That was really frustrating for you, then." And the person who talked would look at them strangely and say, "No, I was really sad." And we'd go back and forth trying to understand how someone was feeling, AND at the same time that person would have to look hard and long at what they said they were feeling and what else they may have been feeling that they hadn't realized. We had a lot of laughs over these discussions, and sometimes we cried. And all of those times we felt very close to one another.
I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. I can honestly say that I'm going to be someone. All I had hopes for in the past was that my children would have a better lot in life than I had. I've read that that's what a lot of poor or uneducated parents hope, too. That isn't how anyone should live or think, not here or in any other country in the world. Life should never have to be so dismal, for any person, that s/he gives up completely and simply hopes that the kids will be better off. That makes life a living death. And that's not what life was meant to be. I had never before dared hope for anything for myself. My life used to be completely empty. But not any more. I have hope. I have confidence, and I still have a lot to do, to get more education and training. But I have no doubt that I will do it. And I've got my whole life ahead of me now. I'm only 21.