I’m Mika Yamamoto, ESME’s Public Assistance Resource Guide. I have been a writer for ESME since its very beginning and feel as passionate about ESME as I do about Aldi. (Just as everyone should shop at Aldi, every Solo Mom should be an ESME Sister!) Solo motherhood is so stigmatized and punished in our society, we often feel forced to hide our Solo Mom status. We’ve become so successful at this, we haven’t been able to find one another—or even see ourselves.
ESME is the antidote, creating a community for Solo Moms that didn’t exist before and, in enabling us to see one another, showcases our diversity. Women of all walks of life are Solo Moms. Economically, we are all very different, too.
I got pregnant at 21 by my first boyfriend. I didn’t want to be a Solo Mom, so I married him, even though I had left him when I learned I was pregnant. Two years later, I was pregnant again. He wanted me to get an abortion, but I couldn’t. One day I just said, “I’m done.” I had a successful teaching job, drove a gold BMW, and owned a house in a beach community; I thought I could waltz out of my abusive marriage amicably and painlessly. Instead, I had to sell the house we just bought, inherited a debt of $30,000, took a four-month unpaid leave from work, went back to work for a year and quit, and moved across the country for family support—to a town where I had no friends or job—but didn’t get any support. Within two months, I was estranged from my parents. I had no money, no job, no help from family; I was completely alone, an emotional wreck, homeless with poor credit—and I had no life skills. As a good little Japanese-American girl, I had learned how to play violin, ice-skate, please people, and take tests. Turns out, those are not survival tools.
Public assistance and generous nonprofit agencies came to my rescue. I have been a beneficiary of a domestic violence shelter, subsidized mental-health care, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, a day-care subsidy, scholarships for children’s programs, an energy subsidy, and food pantries—to name a few. Eventually, I found a job as an ER technician at the local hospital. It paid less than half my teaching salary but gave me flexible Solo Mom hours, an unparalleled community, and great health insurance. I found an apartment I could afford in a school district in which my children were happy and felt well taken care of. We had precious little, but we had enough—with the help of public assistance.
That is why I am excited about being ESME’s Public Assistance Resource Guide. Public assistance sustained me during a time of crisis and while I was healing. I know it can be the difference between surviving and being destitute: between having children who live in insecurity and having children who thrive. I look forward to being of assistance to you.