Trench Coat Single Mama—Ready for Whatever Life Throws at Her

By Jessica Pegis

Madonna will be turning 50 on August 16th, and we’ve got two things to say: Fabulous at 50 and Sometimes wish you were still a single mom.
Madonna had Lourdes in 1996, about seven months before my daughter was born in China. By the time my adoption was official in June 1998 Madonna had been the most famous single mother in the world for more than a year.
Her decision to raise her child alone not only had the tabloids twitching, it got ordinary people talking about single motherhood in a brand new way. Not since Dan Quayle’s remark about Murphy Brown (which he recently followed up with this blazing non-sequitur: “the issue was not single motherhood; it was the absence of fathers”) has anyone stirred the pot quite so effectively.
Asked to comment on her situation in interviews, Madonna offered the same stubborn refrain: “If a woman wants to have a child on her own, and she’s not married, and she’s not in love with anybody, she shouldn’t have anything held against her for that. I think that families come in all shapes and sizes and we have to be tolerant.”

Now. . .Madonna and I go back a long way. Seriously. It all started on a train to Chicago for Thanksgiving with my sister and niece and a beat-up Walkman blasting Holiday and Crazy for You. I saw Desperately Seeking Susan too many times to mention, wore a lot of bracelets, and owned at least one pair of torn black-lace leggings, an historical tidbit that makes my daughter jump up and down and say eeuw.

As I drifted past 35, so did the material girl, and I could always count on her soundtrack to punctuate my life. In the 1990s I made friends with a young woman from Poland who asked me to write down all the Madonna lyrics I knew. In Canada for only a few years, Margaret had been through a bad divorce but was surviving in Toronto on her own. She could belt out Express Yourself at the drop of a hat: You deserve the best in life/So if the time isn’t right then move on. (I dutifully transcribed pages of lyrics but was less successful at explaining why Madonna grabbed her crotch so often.) When we saw Truth or Dare together, Margaret declared it the best movie ever made for all time.
A few years later, I left Canada to journey around the world and Margaret made me a box decorated with torn pictures of people and things she associated with her new life in Canada: Wendy’s, Guess, the CN Tower, a Canadian quarter, Lenny Kravitz, Absolut Vodka, Donna Karan, and who else–Madonna. Across the chest of Boris Yeltsin, she inscribed her address so we could exchange letters. I still own that box. And on that journey, I spent some wonderful time in Thailand and China, and hatched the plan to return one day to Asia to adopt.
And that is where this story started.
I know that Madonna’s gotten a lot of flak over the years over the choices she’s made. Lots of people feel comfortable declaring themselves “sorry for her kids” without ever having met her or them. Her Malawi adoption was controversial to be sure, but the courts did ultimately recognize it. One day, those kids will step out into the spotlight and disprove most of the critics. I just have that gut feeling.
Recently, there has been speculation that Madonna will once again be a single mother, something that makes me nostalgic and sad. No one wants to see a family break up. On the other hand, I long for the days when Madonna ruled as a single mom. We need more folks helping us break out of the textbook ideal of family. We need to meet their kids and see how great they are. We need to stop thinking of marriage as the solution for everything. Most of the time, when people criticize single motherhood, they’re criticizing the effects of poverty and lack of opportunity–not being single.

So Happy  Birthday, Madonna. Ya did good. And I thank you for that.


Other SMW Articles for Single Moms

How Can a Single Mom Help Her Kids Get Along With Her Boyfriend

What Happens When Single Moms Get Sick


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Single Minded Women’s newest columnist,  Trench Coat Single Mama. . . Ready for Whatever Life Throws at her, Jessica Pegis,  aka O Solo Mama  is solo mom to 11-year-old Simone, born in Jiangxi Province, China,  and adopted in