Operation Rescue is underway: 70% OFF on 12Min Premium!
A truly unprecedented opportunity to reach your goals in the second half of 2023!
Before gaining success as a writer, Stephanie Land underwent years-long hardships as a single mother trying to provide a safe home and food for her daughter Mia while living on government assistance and pitiful wages earned as a maid. However, this memoir does not only report on Land’s struggles and prejudice the society has towards the poor - it is also a testimony that Land succeeded, despite all scarcities, in fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer and building a better life for her and Mia. Get ready to hear what her journey was!
If you asked Land when she realized she wanted to become a writer, she would answer that it was for as long as she could remember. As reading books and writing stories were her favorite activities since she was a child, she could easily imagine attending the creative writing program at the University of Montana in Missoula. And even though it was during the summer of her late twenties that she wanted to apply for this program, it wasn’t until years later that she actually did it.
The same summer when Land wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a writer was the one when she met Mia’s father, Jamie. Land was walking home from a bar when the sound of a guitar coming from a park bench attracted her. She approached the guy playing, and they sat together for a while, talking and listening to his favorite songs, and ‘’breathing in the night air on the banks of Port Townsend’s downtown strip.’’ It wasn’t long after that night they started living together in Jamie’s camper. However, they did not intend to stay together for long - they both wanted to get out of town, and sharing expenses was supposed to help them in saving money to do so.
Despite all their hopes, their path was different that summer - on her 28th birthday, Land stayed pregnant and decided to keep the baby and stay in Port Townsend, although that meant ‘’delaying the person I expected myself to be.” Although Land wasn’t sure if she was ready to give up on the possibility of ‘’becoming someone great,’’ she also couldn’t stop thinking about her mother, ‘’who’d possibly stared at her belly, debating her options for my life in the same way.’’ So, she decided to embrace motherhood and give herself and Jamie a chance to be parents. One thing happened according to the initial plan, though - a couple of months after their daughter was born, Jamie and Land parted their ways.
When Land told Jamie she would keep the baby, she got to know his dark side. ‘’I had known Jamie only four months, and his rage, his hatred toward me, was frightening,’’ Land remembers. He had frequent episodes of yelling and throwing things, and these angry outbursts continued when the baby came. At first, luckily, his rage ‘’did not leave bruises or red marks’’ - this, however, meant Land couldn’t do anything about it - there was no way she could prove it existed.
Land first dialed the domestic violence hotline when Jamie punched a hole through the Plexiglas window on the camper’s door. It was when she told him she wanted to take Mia and go live with her dad and stepmother. “You’re not going anywhere,” he screamed, “I’ll take her so fast it’ll make your head spin,” he said while pointing at Mia. When the police officer came and took notes, Land felt relief for the first time in months. There was finally proof she did not exaggerate - the broken door stood as a testimony of Jamie’s destruction, as well as the trauma Land and Mia carried around for too long.
By the time Mia turned one, the two of them were living in a homeless shelter. Land worked part-time as a landscaper and cleaner at homes whose owners she knew. Some of them were her friends who knew Land desperately needed the money. They weren’t rich like her future clients would be, but they had something she didn’t - small savings, parents, or other family members who could help them out with money and save them from living in a homeless shelter. Land’s father did, however, offer her a place to stay for a short time before he was violent to his wife for telling him Land should live with them as long as she needed. Her mother and her husband did help her move from the shelter to the transitional housing. They also did expect Land to buy them lunch afterward and were offended when Land had only 10 dollars to contribute. ‘’No one was swooping in for us. It was just Mia and me,’’ Land concludes.
‘’Guest understands that this is an emergency shelter; it is NOT your home. RANDOM URINALYSIS may be requested at any time. Visitors are NOT allowed at the shelter. NO EXCEPTIONS.’’ These were only some of the rules Land had to agree to in order to stay in transitional housing. When she moved there, Julie, Land’s caseworker, told her she was fortunate there was an empty slot for her and Mia. Although she did feel grateful, Land did not feel that lucky since the rules of the place she was moving into suggested she was a dirty addict who needed an enforced curfew and pee tests. ‘’Being poor, living in poverty, seemed a lot like probation,’’ she writes, ‘’the crime being a lack of means to survive.’’
Even though transitional housing was supposed to be an improvement compared to the shelter, Land did not feel comfortable there. The walls and floors were so thin that it seemed someone could easily break through at any moment. She could hear her neighbors walking, yelling at each other, and she certainly knew they could hear her and Mia by the sound of a broom hitting whenever Mia ran across the floor. Above all, Land felt lonely and guilty she had surrounded her daughter with people who coped with poverty ‘’in sometimes tragic ways.’’
Although she did not think the change of place would heal the trauma she and her daughter experienced while being homeless and dealing with Jamie’s anger, Land applied for TBRA, which stands for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance. TBRA was similar to Section 8, which Land describes as ‘’the unicorn of government assistance.’’ Basically, it’s a rent voucher that pays for any housing costs beyond 30 to 40 % of the tenant’s income. Of course, not everyone is lucky to get into this program, mostly because landlords hesitate to rent to people from Section 8 as they associate them with trouble, dirt, and even laziness. Land writes, ‘’We were expected to live off minimum wage, to work several jobs at varying hours, to afford basic needs while fighting for safe places to leave our children. Somehow nobody saw the work; they saw only the results of living a life that constantly crushed you with its impossibility.’’
Although they paid lower than she earned at another cleaning company at the time, Land accepted the job at Classic Clean. What attracted her the most was the regular schedule and stability the company offered. They paid Washington State’s minimum wage and expected her to appear at 9 a.m. or before 1 p.m., depending on the client’s schedule. She was supposed to keep everything spotless and in place; to clean houses in a specific way and in the same manner and amount of time as the person before her so clients would not notice any differences between cleaners. Essentially, her job was to scrub and be cautious not to attract any attention to her existence, although she was immersed in the lives of her clients - for this reason, she thought of herself as a ‘’nameless ghost.’’
The salary earned at Classic Clean was barely enough to cover her monthly expenses. When she and Mia needed new shoes or toothpaste, they had only 20$ at their disposal. Paradoxically, when she earned more, she received fewer food stamps. Luckily, the government contributed to childcare expenses - if it hadn't, she wouldn’t have been able to work in any way.
Besides exhaustion, depression, loneliness, and physical pain, Land found the strength to attend classes online to earn a college degree. ‘’My only real hope was school: an education would be my token to freedom. It had to be, otherwise it was a waste to invest so much precious time,’’ she writes. Sometimes, she needed to escape and be a person outside of being a mother, a student, a maid. So, she went on dates with old boyfriends, men from dating sites, or a person a friend introduced her to. Nevertheless, this wasn’t enough to make her feel lovable or to erase her sense of isolation from the people who had normal lives and could afford things such as going to concerts, movies, or trips. Eventually, she stopped trying to have a social life and filled her free time with work instead.
When Land decided she would have the baby, she ripped the college application for the creative writing program at the University in Missoula. However, she never completely let go of the possibility of going there to pursue her initial goals. As she writes, ‘’Missoula did not let up. It came up in conversations with anyone I felt even an ounce of kismet with. It had been doing that for years, but now I started paying attention. I allowed myself to feel its nudges and pulls.’’
Christy, Land’s domestic violence advocate, encouraged her to consider moving to Missoula. When Land told her she was afraid Jamie would not let her relocate, Christy told her it was not his decision to make. “It’s not asking for permission. You give notice of relocation, and he has a chance to object,” she said, making it sound so simple. “If he does, you both present your case, and a judge has the final word.” Christy also helped her complete the application for the Women's Independence Scholarship Program (WISP), intended for survivors of domestic violence. If Land got this scholarship, she could enroll in the creative writing program and afford the apartment in Missoula.
One day, after checking her mail for who knows how many times, Land found an envelope from WISP. They’d accepted her for the scholarship program! And not only that, the scholarship committee had given her an extra 1,000 $. With that money, she could visit Missoula that summer. And she did go, by herself, to check if it was her and Mia’s next home. As she expected, she immediately fell in love with it - she could definitely imagine her and Mia being happy there. It was a place where she would find friends, forget the toxicity of her relationships with Jamie and her family, obtain a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing, and see her story in print for the first time. And it turned out Missoula was all she imagined - a place where they lived a better life.
Although at moments sad and disturbing, ‘’Maid’’ is a piece that instills hope and optimism in readers that change is always possible if there is a will, hard work, and determination. Its value also lies in the fact that it sheds light on those often overlooked not only by government politics and policies but also by everyone else fortunate to live far above the poverty line.
If you haven’t already, we recommend you to watch the highly-rated Netflix miniseries ‘’Maid’’ based on Land’s memoir!
Stephanie Land (born September 1978) is an American author and public speaker. She is best known for writing Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's Will to Survive (2019), which was adapted... (Read more)
on Apple Store and Google Play
of 12min users improve their reading habits
Grow exponentially with the access to powerful insights from over 2,500 nonfiction microbooks.
Start enjoying 12min's extensive library
Don't worry, we'll send you a reminder that your free trial expires soon
Free Trial ends here
Get 7-day unlimited access. With 12min, start learning today and invest in yourself for just USD $4.14 per month. Cancel before the trial ends and you won't be charged.Start your free trial
Now you can! Start a free trial and gain access to the knowledge of the biggest non-fiction bestsellers.