Math for Mothers, Part 2
blood and state
You might want to play this song while you’re reading this post. It’s a favorite of mine and reminds me of my past lives, the people I knew, the feelings I felt, the places I’d go in my mind and, sometimes, in real life.
I took the picture this past weekend, when I drove up to gorgeous Mammoth Lakes, California with Carl for a few nights, chasing color and restoration at high altitudes. I feel, immediately, that I have to defend this trip. I was going to type I haven’t been away for any more than a night or two other than visiting my dying mother, going to her funeral and burial and then, a brief family visit again in Hilton Hell in nearly three years. Why do I do that? After all, getting away for more than a night or two is a luxury for even the most privileged caregivers, and given the caliber of my caregivers and the fact that my mother and father (and now, only my father), help me to pay for caregiving, I am able to take the two to three day jaunts periodically. I guess I don’t need to justify these getaways, but again, I feel compelled.
Do you see the heart in the picture, how the yellowing aspen gently frame it in the blue blue sky?
In my last post, I posed some word problems about caregiving and the price paid by single mothers, in particular, especially if the ex (your ex, my ex, any ex!) makes the bigger salary, is required to pay child support, spousal support and worked for said salary throughout the marriage while the spouse (you, me, any spouse) didn’t work but, rather, stayed home as a mother and homemaker. You, I, Any of Us might have actually had paying work — writing contracts, consultancies, baking businesses, literary salons, etc., but you, we, she didn’t have a career, and in the case of a mother of a child with special needs or disabilities, had to give up any notion of real work as the duties you, we, she performed were all-consuming in addition to the regular housework and raising of typical children. I was making roundabout points about unpaid work in general, about how nearly thirty years can go by and that work can be unacknowledged by exes, by attorneys (the law is the law), by family courts, by the culture at large, even as “programs” are designed to “help” said mothers and caregivers “get by.”
That was my intention in posing math logic problems because the system — a patriarchal, capitalistic one — allows and excuses the abuse and denigration of persons (mainly women) who work in the home raising children and keeping house. The abuse and denigration is supported by the court system and the law itself, by the ignorance of the population and the weight of religion and tradition. It’s a system of meanness and smallness, of profound lack of imagination and, ultimately of destruction, the soul-crushing kind of devastation.
I’d like to make clear that I am, actually, paid to take care of Sophie, at least right now and since she turned 22 and left the school system. I am “getting by.” I am fortunate, dear Readers, as my mother and father have helped me with generous financial contributions to Sophie’s childcare and medical needs. I also get help from the great state of California who provides me with what is called In-Home-Supportive-Services. I am basically paid by the hour to care for Sophie at home. This program is an “entitlement” and is based on Sophie being deemed “institutional” — basically, taxpayer money enables her to “stay at home” with a paid family caregiver. I am the paid family caregiver. It’s cheaper to pay for me (a couple of dollars above minimum wage, I believe, currently) to take care of her than for her to be institutionalized by the state. Let me type that again. It’s cheaper to pay for me to take care of her than for her to be institutionalized by the state. This is the way politicians sell higher taxes to constituents. Look how your tax dollars are working, Californians! I might cringe at the notion of reducing Sophie’s care to a dollar number, to the implicit placement of her value ($0 output), but I am truthful when I say that I am profoundly grateful for this funding from the state of California. I believe that the measure of a great state is how it treats the most vulnerable of us. Sophie is vulnerable, and our family is vulnerable because of Sophie. I know that such programs do not exist in many states, that many of my comrades have no access to funding or must wait for years on waiting lists. I’m not educated about caregiving for the elderly, but I surmise it’s a similar story whose shorter and eventual limited time allotment wreaks much disruption and even devastation.
What kind of world or country is it where persons with disabilities and the elderly are warehoused if their families can’t afford or aren’t willing to take care of them?
What kind of world is it when caring for someone who is ill or disabled or just plain old is considered more burden than honor? When being ill or disabled means losing one’s dignity or becoming a burden?
I don’t have any answers and can only write about my own experience as a caregiver and a woman who “gave up” a career and life dreams for the honor and burden of ongoing care of a beautiful young woman. I never could do it all. That my ex, the court system, the law, the workplace and the patriarchal culture itself don’t acknowledge either the burdens or the honor is at times maddening, but mostly, it’s disappointing and even soul-crushing.
I breathed deeply the thin air and looked upward at the gray lines of the mountains, the tips of the evergreen pines, the eyed trunks of the aspens with their golden coin leaves reaching outward toward the implacable sun. I’d like to punch a heart through the blue blue sky.