As a working solo mom in Brazil, I learned to juggle my priorities: me, my two sons, and my job. When my sons were too young to stay home alone and go to school on their own, I needed reliable help. My next-door neighbor, Dona Maria – a widow in her sixties – helped me find an empregada. In addition to staying with my sons during the morning, the maid helped with the cleaning.
My sons attended the afternoon school session (1:20 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.). Returning home during my two-hour lunch break, I had lunch with them and then took them to school. (I woke early to cook lunch.) The bus-ride took about an hour both ways. Their school stood a brisk five-minute walk from my workplace.
When I changed jobs and could not go home during my lunch break, I made several short-lived arrangements for them to get safely to school. In those days, children disappeared from in front of their homes. With trepidation, I had to let them go to school on their own.
After eighteen months and three maids, I learned that young maids in Fortaleza were unreliable. The third quit after two weeks, without notice. Dona Maria told me that was not unusual. I concluded that they did not like working for a gringo. Taking Dona Maria’s advice, I desisted in hiring another maid. Dona Maria offered to keep an eye on my sons, then eight and ten years old. To my sons’ dislike, she remained true to her word.
Continually rising educational, health, and living expenses demanded that I earn more. Unbridled inflation showed no mercy to a working solo mom. Focused on our survival, I participated in 16-hour specialized courses for international trade professionals.
The climb up the unstable ladder had its pitfalls. In the 1990s, Brazil’s economic plans to curb hyperinflation took down many good companies. Two of the firms I worked for also became victims.
I also faced another challenge. I discovered that men in a similar job position earned twice my income. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I asked for a salary increase. My boss looked at me in the eyes and called me presumptuous. Although I did not get my desired increase, I did get a raise. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
At another firm, the Managing Director did not hide his displeasure at my audacity. “You people never have enough,” he told me, in the presence of the General Manager. “You always want more.” I interpreted you people as the working class. He approved the increase I asked for, but I had to swallow a lot more insults after that.
I endured. I had to. . .for my sons, for our survival.
Being the sole-provider for my sons did not earn me an equal salary as my male counterparts. They did not welcome me into the Men’s Club. Without the help of neighbors, close friends, and school teachers, I could not have raised my sons to become fine young men.