As a single mother, I’ve always worked hard. Like most single mums, my life has been a juggling act. Go to work, try to fit in time with the kids, pay bills, have enough money left over to eat and live. I was in a constant state of scarcity, counting every penny and living with the never-ending oppression of mum guilt.
We, as a society, hold up a mother’s sacrifice as something to aspire to. A real woman sacrifices. Mothers give up on their dreams for their kids. It’s the narrative we’re sold, and we wear our sacrifices like a badge of honor. We stand as martyrs for our children’s needs. Why wouldn’t we? We love them so much there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Then in rolls 2020 and the great pandemic, and suddenly, everything that we do in our daily lives was magnified. It’s condensed because instead of going out to work, we are doing everything in the microcosm of our own homes. There’s no daycare or breaks. Everything has to happen all at once.
The most significant change for most people was working from home. Around the world, people had to adapt to waking up and finding the discipline to show up. Two-parent households had to work the same hours as each other while caring for their children. Keyworkers who had no childcare still had to find a way to make it out the door to work.
Now imagine doing all of that as a single parent. You have no one else to allow you to take a break while you have to work a full-time job in a confined space with a toddler. To add to that, you are cut off from family and friends and any support.
This was my situation. In March 2020, I was working as a college lecturer full-time. When we went into lockdown, I had to continue to work full-time from home. I had a toddler and a teenager, and I was on my own. I felt stress and pressure every day, and the longer I went on working like that, the more constricted my chest felt.
I started having sporadic heart palpitations and went down the avoidance route when it came to my work. I couldn’t prioritize both my kids and my work. I had to choose my kids. Here’s the thing though, the more I avoided my work, the more I felt like a failure, and the harder my professional self-esteem took a hit.
This feeling grew for around two months until one morning, I woke up with severe pains in my chest, my daughter called an ambulance, and after running an ECG, the paramedics decided to admit me to the hospital. They carried out a series of tests, and I was diagnosed with stress and anxiety and signed off sick by my doctor. I knew I had to make a serious change in my life. I didn’t know then what that change would be, but I knew that I couldn’t go on the way I had been.
I decided somewhere along the line in 2020 that since the world had ground to a stop and was undergoing a great reset, it was time for me to reset my life and follow my dreams. I had no idea what those dreams were but here’s the thing, once I made the decision that I wanted change, It all just seemed to flow.
The last time I dared to dream, I was in my twenties, when I was still relatively fresh-faced and innocent. Here I was now at thirty-nine, and life had kicked the crap out of me somewhat. I had no idea how hard it would be to hack my mind out of my own limiting beliefs.
The thought of working somewhere beautiful and hot and escaping the UK became ingrained in me until I finally realized this was what I wanted to do more than anything. I researched all of the remote working visas in all of the countries I could find. In the end, I chose Barbados.
My business had taken off by October 2020. I had signed my first high ticket clients and finally found the courage to believe in my business and leave my teaching job. My visa application was accepted in December 2020. It felt like a dream the day it popped up in my inbox. My hand was shaking as I pressed the accept button, and I couldn’t believe it was real. I cried. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe I’d just done it.
I kept waiting for someone to tell me it wasn’t real, I barely let myself enjoy it for fear that a huge disaster would intervene and stop me from going, but nothing happened. The opposite was true. Everything ran smoothly from the day I pushed the button accepting my visa.
We left the UK on the 9th of February and landed in Barbados eight hours later. The flight mainly had been empty, and we had our choice of seats. The staff at the airport were all helpful, and getting everyone into their quarantine wristbands went like clockwork. I was moved through efficiently in a conveyer belt style. After my last window visit, we got to exit the airport.
I was then escorted out with my bags by a very helpful man and had thought it was part of the airport quarantine process. I felt pretty dumb when he asked for his money, and I can’t help but laugh at that now. This was the first of many faux pas I would make while living in a new culture.
When we got our PCR test results back, we left our quarantine hotel and headed home to our apartment. We wouldn’t quite get to grips with living in Barbados straight away. The island was in the midst of a national pause to control covid. Movement was limited, but we did have a pool in our complex and a beach on our doorstep.
A few weeks after we arrived, the island was set to fully open, and I could barely contain my excitement at the thought of it. Leo had started school, and I was beginning to feel at home. Then it happened. La Soufriere erupted and spewed a mountain of ash on Barbados. Back into lockdown, we went. This time it was different. We had to shut all windows and doors, we couldn’t use the air-con, and we sure couldn’t go in the pool. This was a week of complete lock-in with added oppressive heat. Through all of this, I never once thought of returning to the UK. It feels a little crazy to know we’re now part of Barbados’ history. It wasn’t pleasant in lockdown with the ash fall, but it is another experience for Leo and me to add to our list. I know my three-year-old will be telling this story for years to come. Although the way he tells it, he was in a volcano.
The friendliness I found when I moved here was unreal. I met a great friend who visited me my first week in my new place. She stopped by to drop off mosquito nets and repellent as I had been eaten alive with mozzies. She was worried about Leo or I getting Dengue and told me to call her if I needed anything as her stepmom is a GP on the island. Despite this being my first visit to Barbados, I never once felt alone or cut off. My landlord phoned us a few times to make sure we were okay, and even my real estate agent hit me up on Facebook to ask how I was settling in and if I needed anything.
People knew me by name quickly, and I soon started to feel at home, even through lockdowns and volcanic ash. The most surprising thing was how much I felt a part of the community. That is something I never felt in the UK. The staff at the local gas station ask for Leo whenever I go in alone. They say, where is my boy today and I love it.
The most significant difference I found here was how welcoming the people of Barbados are compared to back home. Now I’m not saying people in the UK aren’t friendly, but here it’s cultural. Even during the ashfall, and with water shortages of their own, the people of Barbados were pulling together to get one thousand cases of water to neighboring St Vincent.
When the ash cleared, I started to appreciate how lucky I was to be here. The beach and the water need no explanation, but they aren’t all the island offers. When you get away from the coast, the island is lush and green. I love the country roads lined with palm trees and cows and goats grazing. I like getting lost here and finding new places.
When it rains, it reminds me of Scotland in summer. I love how inspired I am to write on the island; I love that Leo and I are so active now, and I love that at night, I still feel able to go out with a toddler. In the UK, I felt trapped in the house in the evenings because there wasn’t much to do. I’ve found meeting people in Barbados has been easy, and the experiences I’m giving my son will broaden his mind.
The thing I love most of all is that through this experience, I found a strength I never knew I had in me, and I see how other people have responded to the change I’ve made. I leaped without really thinking through how big it was, maybe I was lost in the excitement, or perhaps the past year had made me desperate for something new.
It’s the pride I see in my family and friends when I speak to them. They have this look about them like, wow, she did that. It’s the fact my cousin saw it and followed me out and the fact that I seem to have inspired people, and that’s a pretty fantastic feeling. I never knew I could inspire anyone before.
I only know of one other single-parent Stamper on the island. I think we are pretty courageous. The first thing my cousin said to me when she got here was, “you are amazing, I have Stephen to fall back on if it goes tits up, and I’m still having a meltdown. You’re just here and owning it.”
There have been times I’ve felt I didn’t own it very well. The days I can’t pull myself out of holiday mode to get my work done. Or the days where I forget to invoice clients and realize I’ve just caused myself a cash flow problem. The day the Volcano erupted, I had a call to tell me my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. This was almost my final straw, I knew I couldn’t get a flight out because of the ash, and I felt pretty helpless.
The move has been enormous and overwhelming and scary and exciting and wonderful. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m living my life true to myself. I’m doing it for my kids too. We’re creating memories, and I’m showing them by example that they can do anything they put their minds to.
Political outreach Correspondent
About Lesley Dodo
Lesley is a single mother and journalist from the UK. In 2020 she quit her job as a lecturer and decided to follow her passion for writing, journalism, and travel. She currently works for immigrationnews.co.uk and lives in Barbados with her three-year-old son.