Through My Mother’s Eyes

Through trials and tribulations Paula overcomes and grows through the experience of her divorce while raising a daughter, getting a degree and holding a career. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Thursday, March 19th, 1998, 12:35 am. Solange was born. Nothing could ever take away how happy Paula and her husband, Jack, were when they met their first newborn. When Paula finally got to take her daughter home, it was the happiest day of her life. Four years later, however, things began to slowly go downhill.

It was dark that night in Mountainside, New Jersey. Paula held her four-year-old daughter tightly against the front door, protecting her from her own dad. Jack was screaming, running around, yelling unrepeatable things. Paula was scared, not only for herself, but for her daughter as well. Paula called her sister-in-law, Anabela, who immediately came over to help calm Jack down. Paula began packing a suitcase in the living room as Jack lay in his bed, crying. She and Anabela were discussing the argument as Solange sat there watching and listening. Mommy, where are we going?” Paula picked up their things and they left for her parents’ house. These memories will remain inside of Solange’s head forever, unlike her parents’ marriage which would not last.

One of the first photos of Paula at her new home / SOLANGE REIS

The separation began when Paula was 34 years old, and when Solange was just 4. She and her daughter had moved into her parent’s house for the time being. “We lived with your grandparents for, over a year. So, being a single mom, trying to manage all that, and living with your parents was challenging, but, I was very grateful that I could stay with them,” she says.

Everything was working out between Paula and Jack; they both were agreeing with everything; how to handle the situation, the money, and their child. “In the very beginning we were able to come to some agreement and he was helping with some things like daycare. When we still owned the house together, we had to divide that. So, in that very beginning it was okay, but then it just all went down the tubes. I don’t know what happened. He had kind of disappeared for a little bit. I had no idea what was going on and, at that time, I knew I couldn’t depend on him and I had to figure things out.” Paula paid for everything, with some help from her parents. Child support was necessary in their divorce contract, but Jack failed for multiple years to pay his dues. Once he “reappeared” he continued to ignore Paula’s messages and calls regarding financial issues. Solange will never forget the time where she really wanted to go to Spain with her best friend. Paula couldn’t afford it, so she told Solange to ask her father. Jack said he would pay for her flight, so Paula booked it and asked him multiple times for the money but, no response. To this day Jack has not paid for Solange’s flight to Spain, which was six years ago. Another promise unkept.

Paula enjoying Thanksgiving with her family / BRITTANY BRANCO

Solange attends Indiana University, which, at average, costs $50,000 a year. Paula has taken out multiple loans to make her daughter happy. When Solange was deciding between schools, Paula told her she couldn’t go to Indiana because it was too expensive. But, once they visited the campus, she saw how happy it made Solange, so she approved and said she would figure out how to pay for it. All Paula wanted to do was make Solange happy, and if that meant taking out various loans for the university she fell in love with, then it was something Paula had to do. “It was very hard in the beginning because I didn’t know. I was a single parent and I wasn’t getting help from your dad and so that made it very difficult financially; to juggle between different things. I think at some point, it took a few years, but I figured, you know what he’s not going to come through for much and I just have to carry this on my own and I did it for you and for me. It gave me sanity and it made you do what you do and I was able to provide for you and take care of you. And actually rather than stressing over whether he was going to be able to help or not help, I just kind of set my mind like he’s not going to help. I’m going to have to figure this out and I think I did.”

Her junior year of high school, Solange turned 17 years old and needed a car for school and work. Paula wasn’t available to take her and it became a hassle for Solange to rely on people for rides. Now, a junior in college, Solange is still left with no car. Every time Solange would ask her father for a car, he would come up with new excuses. The summer before she went abroad, she was convinced he was finally going to buy her one. However, as time got closer going abroad, he told her that it would be pointless to get a car since she wouldn’t be using it for four months. Solange was devastated; yet again she had gotten her hopes up and was left without a car. Now she is trying to get it for Christmas, as there should no longer be excuses since she will be home. But then again, Jack continues to ignore her texts. Paula pays for everything for Solange: tuition, food, random expenses, extracurriculars, etc. The least Jack could do is buy her a car, especially since he says that money is not the issue. At this point, Paula is fed up with these financial issues and always tells Solange that she’s sorry her father is this way and that if she could afford to buy her a car she would. Solange gets upset because she doesn’t understand why her father doesn’t just say no. She has told him multiple times that if he can’t afford it, then just admit it.

Paula and Solange attended family therapy to discuss their feelings about the divorce and help them get through it. “The hardest thing about being a single mom—Paula tells her– was really making sure that you were happy, and trying to make you understand the best I could. Also, making sure you lived a life of a happy child, and that you had positive impacts, and were not traumatized by any of it.” Solange will never forget the story, It’s Not Your Fault KoKo Bear, one of the books her mom read to her that discussed the divorce between two bears and the bears making sure their child understood it wasn’t the child’s fault they split up. Paula made it her job to make sure Solange was happy and not traumatized by the situation.

“The hardest thing is that you feel like you don’t have someone to help you. When you were a teenager or preteen, and we had disagreements or things were not working well, it was really hard because I carried that all by myself and usually when you have a partner, you can kind of bounce it off each other, so everything was on me. I was the mother, the father, the teacher, the friend, the disciplinary, the everything. It would be nice to have another person to bounce things off of or to help but, sometimes it just felt like everything was on my shoulders.” Although Solange still wishes her parents were together, she realizes that it is for the best. Paula continues to do anything for her daughter even through all the hardships she has overcome, and that is why she is Solange’s superhero.

Solange and her superhero / MRS. RAY