I frequently refer to memoirs as their own subsection of the ‘self-help’ genre, because I believe that learning about someone else’s life circumstances is a wonderful way of gaining a new perspective on your own. This theory is once again being proven with Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.
As soon as I saw this book in the publisher’s catalogue I jumped at the chance to read it. Land is a young white woman with a high school education, but she gets pregnant with a man she’s just started seeing, and with only a few months of waitressing under her belt and an extended family who also live in poverty, she’s got no safety net to catch her when she decides to keep her baby. Shortly after her daughter Mia is born, Stephanie flees the trailer of her boyfriend who has begun to demonstrate violent tendencies, and the book begins with the following gut-punch of a line:
“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter” (p. 3 of ARC)
From there, Land begins to make a bit of money cleaning houses, and takes on as many clients as possible while trying to balance affordable childcare with working, a struggle for any parent, but obviously much more difficult for someone in her position. What we learn in reading her story is the ways in which the American welfare system keeps people below the poverty line. Everytime she would begin to make a bit more money, she’d lose certain financial grants because her income wasn’t low enough to qualify for them, so in many cases, having a higher income from working meant she actually lost money, leaving her and her daughter in a terribly difficult position.
Land also fights against many stereotypes that the population typically assign to other people on social assistance. For instance, when in line at the grocery store, people would loudly proclaim “you’re welcome!” at her when using food stamps to pay for her food. This was typically after they would criticize what she had in her basket to begin with or call her lazy right to her face. In reality, Land was working extremely hard, in a physical job scrubbing people’s floors and toilets, without the benefits of massage or physio to help with the toll it was taking on her body. Far from lazy, Land would then stay up late studying to get through a degree she was working on, spending enormous amounts of time applying for financial assistance to get her tuition partially covered, all in an attempt to lift herself and Mia out of poverty. Reading about her day-to-day life made me feel ashamed of the complaining about my life, which compared to hers, is an absolute cake-walk! See? Self-help at work here.
Something that really made an impression on me however, was Land’s ability to work her way through difficult and emotional situations-she came across as an emotional genius in some ways. When things were going really badly and she was on the verge of a panic attack, she would recite the words “I love you, I’m here for you” to herself, because she had no one else to say those things to her PLUS she knew that self-love was all she had to offer herself at the time. She couldn’t pick herself up with a latte or new tube of lipstick so these positive mantras kept her going, and I was so impressed with this. The resilience on display here is absolutely inspiring, and I’m happy to say there is a positive ending for Land and her young daughter, so that should be enough encouragement for y’all to pick up this book as well.
Oh my, that sounds wonderful. I’m putting it on my TBR list right now. I swear, if I was ever in a grocery line and someone made those kinds of comments, I’d be sorely tempted to defend the person being attacked. I know that most people getting financial assistance are working hard – there was a point in time after my parents’s divorce that my mom and I were getting food stamp and she worked full time. Gotta read this! Great review.
I think you’d like it Laila. And like you, I would find a hard time NOT saying something to the person attacking someone else for using food stamps, although we don’t really have that system in Canada…
I’d put money on the idea that the people yelling at her have at some point in time taken some sort of public assistance or help themselves. I don’t know why stuff like that surprises me considering how long I worked in customer service but I’m always amazed how rude people can manage to be to each other. Sounds like a good book though!
Sigh, yes, people can literally be the worst 🙁
Hello there! Thank you so much for liking my review of this book and dropping by my blog. I’m here to check yours out and do the same. It’s so much more evolved than mine 🙂 I aspire to have one as nice one day, if/when I move up to one that’s not free lol. Having to manage on just what I get from Disability makes it difficult, but I’m hopeful. I loved that I landed on the pic of your little son, so beautiful! Have a great reading year and good times with your little ones. Val
Thanks so much Val! I’ve been doing this for 5 years now so I’ve gotten lots of practice 🙂
Your experience shine through 🙂
thank you so much for your kind words 🙂
I’m really impressed by this story – resiliency is so important, but Land’s struggles are harder than what most of us have to face. It’s great that she was able to hold herself up. Glad there is a happy ending, too.
yes knowing there is a happy ending makes it much easier/enjoyable to read! 🙂
This sounds great. People often forget the importance of a safety net in their own success. Even when I was a broke student (which in and of itself is a position of privilege), I was never in risk of homelessness because I always had family to fall back on. When you don’t have that, it’s so hard to move out of poverty.
yes, it really seems like family money (in any amount) is key to success. It’s that extra little net in case something goes awry…
You’ve definitely sold me on this book. While I really enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed, I felt like she was an outsider who had money trying to look in. That gave her lots of space to complain and use sarcasm. I know that she’s a journalist who was doing research, but I really wanted to know the stories of the people she talked to from their own perspective. They could have given her research nuance. This book sounds like what I’m looking for.
Yes it was really interesting for me to read, especially being from Canada!
This is so inspiring
It truly is! It’s an energizing read for sure.
I stumbled across the author’s site today, then found your review. As a minister and an active volunteer in a local shelter for women and children, I feel this is a must-read for me. I look forward to getting a copy.
Thanks for your comment! I do hope this book gets a wide readership, it would interest and help alot of people.
Yay for a happy ending! It sounds like she deserves it.
This kind of story really makes me feel lazy and ungrateful for everything I have and have had.
It’s so great to see you’ve sold it to so many people. I hope it does well!
haha I know what you mean-sometimes these books make me feel ungrateful too, but in a good way-it’s a lovely reminder of how lucky we are!
I’m reading this book right now, almost finished. I agree so much with your review. One thing that has shocked me in other reviews is how she is chastised for buying the diamond ring… literally one of the only things she has done to feel “good” in quite a few years of working HARD. No vacations, do paid days off, just one ring. I can’t even imagine and it has sparked some hope that maybe I can volunteer more and be a better source of hope and aid to someone who needs it.
Yes, I’m shocked people can read this book and still find ways of accusing her of not spending her money right! What a life she’s been through…