This article is one of a two-part series.
Our first refuge was a condo near the Pasadena Laemmle. I imagined it would be like co-op camp: everyone sitting around the patio, sharing drinks and singing “Kumbiyah.” As it turned out, our nearest neighbor only longed to live as if she had no neighbor. She found the sight of eight dark-skinned adolescent boys (most not even with hair under their arms yet) terrifying and called the police the night of my son’s birthday party.
What did they find? Me, the boys and their school counselor playing spoons and telling scary stories. This was not to be our village; it was only a first stop. Moving south from Northwest Pasadena only illustrated that my son—a young “Afro-Jew”—was starting to be viewed as a potential menace.
A year later, as I was trying to decide where to send my son to high school, an old friend from “Single Mothers by Choice“ got back in touch and urged me to look at her apartment building near Garfield Park.
So I moved to South Pasadena and became a renter. I was afraid of being seen as the “riff-raff,” but I was comforted by the fact that the majority of South Pas residents rent. According to the AOL Real Estate site: 55 percent.
In South Pasadena, the African-American population sits at about 3 percent. I considered introducing my son to the in an effort to prevent his becoming the victim of racial profiling or police misconduct. I found that the police seem determined to connect with the youth of South Pasadena in a positive way. One officer encouraged my son to “man-up” and help out his hard-working single mom.
Fortunately and unexpectedly, in an apartment building down the road from “Divorce Hill,” I have found my “village:”
- A landlady worthy of Mrs. Madrigal. (Go see the new musical in SF “Tales of the City”—different generation—bringing not a tray of pot brownies but a plate of freshly baked turnovers.)
- Neighbors at the ready to check if my son made it home. They let him into the house, feed him and let me feed their children.
- A communal area used for parties and open to family, friends and neighbors.
- A solve-it-all mother-of-all-managers, who fixes faucets and tends to private tears.
- A community of other women finding their ways—all with different situations, support systems and paths—but all ready with a glass of wine, leftover foodand plenty of advice to share.
- Walking distance. Everywhere in South Pasadena (grocery stores, parks, outdoor market) gives my son the freedom to take walks. Although the allure of “drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll” exists well into “Mayberry,” I don’t worry as much about him being accidently shot in gangfire. (Spit over my shoulder; knock on wood.)
- Community garden space available to anyone who wants to plant. In all that time living in my own house, I never planted like I do here. The building’s “Korean Grandmother,” aka queen of gardeners, came over to look at my bougainvillea, jasmine and other vines growing around the balcony of the complex. I couldn’t understand what she said, but, judging from her smiles and nods, I believe she likes what I am doing.
My village includes family, friends, my son’s “godmother de los cumpleaños,” and many people who make their living in the “service” industry yet on a daily basis find time to perform what my people call “mitzvahs.”
For many of us working single parents, just being able to lie down for a few minutes is a treat. The feeling of aloneness that each single mom feels at some crucial juncture can be exhausting: working on a deadline and not making it home in time to let your child in, or to kiss your baby good night, or let alone to cook him dinner.
Herein lies the need for the village—sooner or later we each need other folks to step in and say, “Hey, I’ll take care of it for now. Put up your feet for awhile.”