I remember that I simply could not wait until I had a shiny diamond ring on my finger. I already had a baby in my belly and the admonishment of several family members and friends. Slapping a ring on my hand would legitimize our situation. It would legitimize the child growing within me. It would take some of the sting out of being an unwed mother.
For six months I pestered my now husband, Joseph, for a ring. He was committed. And we were in love. And we knew we would marry. But it wasn't enough. I couldn't wear a sign on my chest telling strangers that I wasn't one of "those" unwed mothers who were irresponsible, or slutty, or stupid and didn't know their baby-daddy. I wasn't one of those. We just made a mistake is all. But we wanted to get married and we were going to. Just couldn't yet. But we were going to and people needed to know that. And wearing a ring would say all that. They didn't even have to know that we weren't officially married yet. It would be implied. No more dirty looks at the grocery store. No more shame for my parents. No more pitying sighs from my more responsible friends. A ring would make it all go away. A ring would make it better.
I finally got my ring, and one helluva proposal from Joseph. It was a little snug but that was just because I was 6 months pregnant. I wore it even though it strangled my finger and require soap to pull off. It was worth it. But after my daughter came I put on a lot of weight. It got to a point where I couldn't even wear my ring on my pinkie finger. So I had him buy me another ring. Nothing fancy, sterling silver, but even that was too tight. I couldn't very well expect him to buy me a third, so I wore the larger one on my pinkie and my wedding ring on a chain around my neck.
Then I stopped wearing it on a chain. I kept snagging it on things. It hung down and got in the way and my daughter kept grabbing it with her grubby baby fingers and it seemed kind of pointless. I mean, I was married. Who cares if I wear a ring? I got a piece of paper. I'm in.
Joseph couldn't wear his ring either. He'd never worn jewelry before and discovered that he's highly allergic to most metals. So here we were married with a toddler and without rings. It didn't bother us anymore really. Especially if we were together. But when I was alone I had to contend with that same judgment and sideways glances I got those first six months of my pregnancy.
Today I took my daughter to a Target in a neighboring city with an average income of 175k. It's the closest Target to us, and brand new, so I thought we'd make a day of it and "go into town." We pulled into a parking lot filled with BMWs, and Mercedes, and Lincolns, and Range Rovers. The store was pristine and elegant, despite being just a Target. We picked out some adorable sun dresses, some new curtains, a few kitschy gardening supplies, and other odds and ends, and made our way to check out. To my knowledge, we had $400 in the bank for "play" money for the next few days. Today was Wednesday and Friday is payday and all the bills are paid. We'd saved this money to spend on our daughter for her birthday party. So when the cashier told me our card was rejected, I nearly threw up. I stammered, sweated, and asked her to run it again. No dice. Something wasn't right.
We loped away, my daughter and I, leaving her party supplies behind. I pulled up our bank account on my phone and saw that our TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD insurance company had ONCE AGAIN taken their payment out a week ahead of its scheduled withdrawal. And, once again, they company had pulled out over $100 more than they were supposed to. $300 disappeared and I couldn't do anything about it.
But the money disappearing isn't a big deal. Joseph and I are very careful with our finances and we'd be fine until Friday. It was the looks. The familiar looks from complete strangers observing my card rejection and the lack of wedding ring. It all comes back to that stupid ring.
These men and women with their platinum diamond rings, and big perfect weddings, and 2.5 kids after their college degrees, and impeccable church attendance don't know me. But they think they do. They don't see me for who I am. They don't see that I'm an epic Mom. They don't see that I'm a coupon clipping, bargain hunting diva. They see a sad, pathetic single mom with an empty bank account shopping at THEIR Target. And unfortunately, they aren't an exception. For the most part, they are the rule.
It amazes me that despite how progressive our society fancies itself we still judge so harshly a mother without a wedding ring. What if her husband had just passed away and wearing the ring hurt too much? Doesn't matter. What if her religion views jewelry as unnecessary vanity and she is very much married? Not good enough. Or what if she's divorced? Or what if she was never married? Or what if she's just like me and simply can't fit into her ring? Doesn't matter, not good enough, try again.
A wedding ring is just a symbol. A symbol of love. But it isn't the only symbol of love out there. The love a single mom has for her kid? There's no symbol good enough for that. The love a widow has for her deceased husband? There's no symbol good enough for that either.
But there is a symbol for people too quick to judge a woman with a child and no wedding ring. And it's a raised middle finger. Because if you really have nothing better to do than make believe the life stories of people you don't know, you should probably take our advice and go jump off a cliff.
Photo Credit: stevendepolo.
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