I tutored a woman at the college last week who’s 25, like me, and she’s got a four-year-old son. She’s also got a full-time job and a load of five classes. Fulltime worker, single mom, and fulltime student. She attends a boxing class every other day and competes in an amateur league where they fight with padded helmets. Says she got a disciplinary lecture at work the other day after showing up with two black eyes. During the week she’s up for about twenty hours each day. She wakes up at 4:30 and she’s happy if she can get to bed between eleven and midnight. The key to this is her daily planner. It’s amazing. A crazy palimpsest of impeccably neat handwriting. Cancelled appointments are crossed out not with a scribble but with one precise scratch. At the end of the week there’s virtually no whitespace on the page. She says she was always organized and regimented but that having a kid amplified it. “It turned me into, like, type A++.” There’s hardly an hour of her week that isn’t accounted for by Wednesday, planned for, utilized. Even the bonding is scheduled. She says her son spends every weekend with grandma and that this is when she (i.e. mom) sleeps late and studies. Goes out, I hope. Sees movies.
The single mother in The Goddess, played by Ruan Lingyu, seems pretty downtrodden, defeated, but also seems more dutiful than depressed. Her life looks unconscionably rough, but in a masterful performance by Lingyu we see her buoyed above that struggle by the love she has for her son. She works as a prostitute to pay for his education. It’s clear that she hates being a prostitute, but she’s stoic about it, dignified, and while you could argue that the reason she never complains is because she has nobody to complain to, or because her continued work is predicated on discretion and she therefore can’t go around gabbing, I get the impression that she would keep mum about her struggles even if she did have somebody’s ear to bend, even if it were legal, because the only thing in life she seems to care about is her kid. A man comes into her life and starts harassing her and pimping her out (that part’s really vague, actually, but I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on here) but she doesn’t fight back, doesn’t lose her cool, because she won’t do anything to disrupt her son’s life. Doesn’t want him sullied by any of her trouble.
I just got coffee with a woman who lives a couple doors over from my childhood home, I’ve known her since I was little (she’s got a son my brother’s age). She said that she feels, in retrospect, that, whenever something was upsetting her, she was maybe too open about it with her kids. That if something at work had bothered her, or she had a spat with a relative, she’d tell her kids the whole story and make it clear that she was upset. Never anything scandalous, she says, but she feels now like she was burdening them with stuff, with drama, that shouldn’t have been on their radars (all of her kids, incidentally, have degrees from phenomenal schools, are gainfully employed, and on perfectly good terms with their parents). I don’t have kids and so of course I’ve got no solid insight as to whether or not she did something ill-advised by confiding in her kids like that, letting them now when she was vulnerable and hurt, but I do know that, when my own parents got divorced, they’d done such a great job of hiding their emotions while me and my brother were growing up that it made their sudden and cataclysmic displays of sadness way harder to deal with. My brother was more embracing of it but I was jarred and baffled and silenced at the sight of their tears, professions of loneliness and regret, the spite and the he-said-she-said. Having been raised in a house where drama and histrionics were denounced, I became apoplectic once my family life became completely characterized by exactly that sort of drama. So maybe it’s good to give your kids a window, now and again, into who you are, your weaknesses, etc.
Although not for the Goddess. She’s got a son who’s like five years old and her private concerns are about domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Her struggle is complicated and rendered here with a tenderness and respect that seems strange for an era that I’d have thought would be more puritanical with material like this.