There’s Hope in the Chicken

Stephanie Land essays

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My mom’s visiting America on Thanksgiving for the first time in 13 years. I haven’t seen her in five or six, and stopped talking to her for the last time a few years ago. The reasons are varied, but I’ve had minimal to no contact with most of my family for the last several years. Some I just stopped calling, stopped making an effort, and then a couple of years would go by without me hearing from them. Others I gratefully wrote off. A few I decided to bear the pain of not having them in my life.

In the last year, I went through an entire pregnancy alone. I finished a fully loaded last year of college and graduated at eight months pregnant. I hit a financial black hole for a few months, eating a few inexpensive staples, crying while I tried to convince myself to visit the food bank. I asked churches for help with rent money. I found work, really awesome writing and editing work. I got an apartment we could afford on our own. I made it. We are almost making it.

We’d just finished moving last month when I declared a movie night, by way of the local store that rents out kids’ movies on Mondays for free. When we walked into the store, my 7-year-old in front of me and my 4-month-old in my left arm, a woman and an angry-looking young man came out. I moved to the side to give them room and my daughter rushed around him. He looked at me, and with his right arm, grabbed my upper right arm hard enough to leave bruises for a week. The woman didn’t see it. I didn’t react, or couldn’t. I walked in the store and saw him kick a dog tied up to the bike rack. After a few minutes the woman came back to find the dog’s owner and I told her he’d grabbed me. She explained that he’s disabled, and gave me the name of the company she works for as his aide.

It shook me up, of course. What if he’d grabbed the baby’s head? What if he’d kicked my older daughter? After a few days a thought crept in that’d haunt me enough to bring me down to an almost postpartum depression depth: What if something happened to me?

Deciding to go through with a pregnancy completely on my own required a bit of self-imposed invincibility. I can honestly say that up until that point, the possibility of me dying didn’t give me any serious pause. Those bruises proved my fragility. For a couple of weeks, every time I looked at my infant daughter, I pictured her screaming and alone, and I wasn’t coming back. I cried and told her I loved her. I watched her sleep. My eyes got wet when she smiled.

Not to say I loved my firstborn’s infancy any less, but I love my second without a constant anxiety about not doing anything right. I love her knowing how short of time she’ll be a baby. I love her without having to adjust every part of who I am to be her mother. The imagined flash of her screaming in the middle of a street after I’d been hit by a car, in the backseat after a truck hit us, or even in her bouncy seat with me collapsed on the floor, made me cling to her harder.

Mia, my older daughter, she has a dad in her life, with a mom who would help him if I couldn’t be around anymore. Coraline, the baby, she only has me. I asked a few friends if they could be her godparent, but they politely deflected the question. I considered buying a life insurance policy, but that still wouldn’t help keep her out of “The System” if I died. I could write a Living Will, but it’s not enough. I want some sort of document, a signature, an on-call back up, so if Cora’s screaming and alone someone will rush in and take over where I left off. But that’s the thing. There really aren’t any certainties.

Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. My mom always made those candied yams with the marshmallows and our fridge would be stuffed with tin-foiled goodies for a week. I’d make sandwiches of turkey mashed together with whatever sides I could find.

It’s just going to be the three of us this year, and I want to start some little memories for us. We’re in a new apartment that we love with real heat and carpets and a kitchen I like to clean before bed. I want us to celebrate the day on our own without me trying my best to pretend it isn’t happening. Mia wants to roast a chicken and even though she hates pretty much all food except pasta and pancakes, I think I can get her to eat some pie if she makes it with me. I used to make a mean blueberry and apple. 

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Hear Stephanie Land in The Mamalode Podcast, Episode 1, from March 2016

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About the Author

Stephanie Land

Stephanie Land's work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through the Center for Community Change, and through the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her memoir, MAID: A Single Mother's Journey from Cleaning House to Finding Home, is forthcoming through Hachette Books. She writes from Missoula, Montana, where she lives with her two daughters.

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