Mothering In The Old Boys’ Club

May 10th, 2018

A few weeks ago my lecturer told the class off for sending her emails like “Hiya I’m not in a group?” She said she needs more information to be able to help, which seems obvious, really. Later she said: “How do you address me in an email? Do I look like the sort of person who defines myself by my marital status? Do I look like a Mrs, or a Ms? No. You can call me by my name, or Dr. I worked for that title, that is who I am.” I was a solid fan from that moment on. She is brilliant and amazing.

I took my son to the studio with me in the second week of university, as I’d already missed a couple of classes when he was off school with a cold. In the stress of trying to catch up I made a bad call and let him have a Stanley knife to join in the crafting. We do crafts quite often but this,  this, was the day he sliced his hand and we left class with him screaming and me holding his blood-gushing hand to try and avoid it dripping. The first-aider and technical manager were disapproving and I worried that the accident might mean more restrictions about children on campus in future. I questioned if I could belong at architecture school.

I met the same lecturer in the hallway and she said my tutorial was in a different room that day. My tutor needed to bring her toddler to work, and the big studio might be overwhelming for him. “This is the kind of thing we need to do to make architecture accessible for parents,” she said. “I have an eight-year-old,” I said. “I’m really happy to hear that.” She came back to our room a bit later to see if my tutor needed any help, and tidied some of the toys. I stopped questioning if I could belong in architecture; I saw women like me.

Exhaustion overtook, and I napped after I put my son to bed. I had to work on an assignment so I set my alarm for 9pm, then worked through the night until 6am. After another nap I worked at the university library until class at 2.30pm. I cried because my computer wasn’t good enough for the high graphics capabilities I need, and the 3D rendering programme was sluggish and crashed every 5 minutes. The university computers aren’t a viable solution for me as I do most of my study at home when my son is sleeping or watching TV, or at places like the swimming pool while he plays. I questioned if I could get through my degree – not for lack of aptitude but for lack of resources. I am jealous of my teenage classmates with their slim and powerful and expensive laptops, as I lug around a heavy $300 TradeMe laptop that has needed three replacement power adaptors in the last 2 months.

I listened to podcasts all through the night to keep me company while I was designing. One was about Paul Williams, an African-American architect in Los Angeles from the 1920s. He was an orphan at the age of four and grew up in foster homes. He had a talent for drawing and managed to study architecture. He knocked on doors again and again to ask for jobs but he was told that white people don’t want to hire a black architect, and black people can’t afford architects. Eventually he got a job after winning a design award, and out of respect for the delicate sensibilities of the white clients, he would sit opposite them, with the desk in between, rather than next to them like a white man could. He drew upside down, better than most could draw right way up.

He drew.

Upside down.

He’s now recognised as making a significant contribution to the diversity of architecture in LA. He designed thousands of buildings, including homes for celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. No one knows exactly how many as his ideas and skills were so varied that it’s not easy to identify his style. If a black orphan can learn to draw upside down, and triumph over horrific prejudice with grace, determination, and excellence, I think I can keep going a little longer. You legend, Paul.

May 28th, 2018

I am used to battling, and surviving. It is simply the way of things, when you’re a single mother. I make it through and I figure it out. I am unfamiliar with support. I write stories because I often don’t have anyone to talk to, at least not on a nourishing level. I share my stories because hearing other people’s stories is part of how I make it through, and perhaps someone might see something in mine that helps them survive.

I don’t have many expectations and I don’t ask for help, because it doesn’t occur to me that anyone would help. But people do, they show up, they step in. I am always surprised when goodness comes into my life, and I shouldn’t be, because I have often been lucky, but I am.

Poppy* is in my writing group but I have never met her. She was having a bad day and instead of trying to improve
her day, she improved mine instead. Not only did she deposit a large sum of money in my bank account, she shared a snippet of my story to her friends, on Mothers’ Day, and invited them to join her in supporting me. I know none of these people. I saw her gift in my account, and then more deposits started appearing. I didn’t recognise the names and I had no idea she had shared about me. I was sitting at the bus stop on my way to pick my son up and feed him – every day, children need feeding! – and it was raining and my shoulder was sore from carrying my heavy laptop and I was tired and overwhelmed, but determined. I saw my balance increasing, and money may not be noble, but generosity is. My heart glowed so brightly it must have been visible from a mile away, surely.

My Dad hasn’t always been around much, but he’s been around a lot more lately. He helped me research a new laptop that would meet my needs. I didn’t have to figure it out by myself. He gave me the rest of the money I needed to buy it, as a graduation present. I did my last degree by myself and I crumbled by the end. It felt like a miracle when I completed it. I am doing this degree with a village behind me. A village that even bought me a computer. It is powerful, and slim, and lightweight. I no longer need to envy my teenage classmates. I have a laptop and I have a son and I have support.

We don’t always know the differences we make in other people’s lives. Once I made a meal for a mother I knew who had broken her leg, and dropped it off to her. Her eldest daughter has selective mutism – but I didn’t know that. I talked to her daughter, and her daughter talked to me. I thought nothing of it. A few years later she told a mutual friend about me, how her daughter never talked to anyone except family, but she talked to me. It gave her hope. It meant more to her than the meal, and that’s significant, because cooking for 3 children when you have broken-bone pain and limited mobility is hard. So I thank my lecturer, and my tutor, for paving the way for mothers like me to follow, in case helping mothers like me to keep going helps them to keep going. I thank Poppy*, for her life-changing generosity, and my Dad.

I order my new laptop, and the next day my current one breaks. I fall further behind on coursework, I submit an
assignment a few hours late, but I have hope, and help.


*not her real name.

Kia ora, I’m Charlotte. I live in New Zealand, and I tell stories. The mostly-true kind. I like to write things and make things, once I even made a human. Now I draw comics about funny things my son says, write stories, and secretly imagine my life as a ’90s rom-com, even though I know better. Books, architecture, anthropology, and history are my jam. I tend to have more ideas than I can shake an hour at, in between studying for my second degree, working three jobs, solo parenting, and pub quiz every Thursday night.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.