The countless sacrifices that many employed mothers make can, at times, go untold.
With a workforce of roughly 23.5 million employed women in the United States, each story is different.
Some mothers left careers to work jobs they never imagined they would do.
Others crossed international borders to give their children a fighting chance.
Four Orange County mothers peeled back the curtain to their lives, sitting down and sharing what it’s like to be a working mom.
Here are their stories of resilience, compassion, and the reality of the choices they have had to make to move their families forward.
Paige Patterson, 30, They/Them, a non-binary stepmother to two teenage twins who have cerebral palsy.
Patterson sleeps with one eye open.
“You never know, sometimes in the middle of the night, you hear our sons go, “Dad! Paige, my blanket fell to the ground, and you have to go pick it up,” says Patterson.
Paige is a barista and Unite Here Local 11 Rep at the Starbucks located in the Anaheim Hilton Hotel. This particular Starbucks is located by the Anaheim Convention Center, where large gatherings are a norm.
Patterson typically deals with large crowds, sometimes, the convention can have up to 10,000’s people in one day. Standing on their feet for hours, some days 10 hours, then going back home to help their stepsons.
“My partner works in Seal Beach, five to nine,” says Patterson. “Sometimes we have my partner’s mom there, but you know, she’s in her early 70s – there’s only so much she can do.”
“So oftentimes, I’d come home just physically and emotionally drained. And then have to go immediately sort of into caretaker mode. Change diapers, get dinner ready, things like that, like transferring him in and out of his seat after I’d been lifting buckets of ice and gallons of milk all day,” said Patterson. “So it’s definitely very taxing.”
But even if it was taxing, there is nothing Patterson wishes they could change.
Their maternal instinct has always been strong.
“I mean, there are definitely times where you have to think like, I have to set my wants and needs way over there. But I think that’s true for pretty much all relationships, whether it’s a maternal one or not, but I would say that I’ve always kind of been a maternal person.”
Patterson’s maternal instincts go as far as to feed all the cats that come through their backyard.
Paige is no stranger to lending a hand when needed, or turning their first car, a 2010 Dodge Caliber, into a car that is fitted for one of the twins’ wheelchairs.
Patterson had a life-changing hip replacement in 2020, which left Patterson with a load of experience on what it felt like to need extra help to do everyday things.
As the twins approach teenagehood, Patterson gets ready for a new step in the boys’ lives, bigger wheelchairs, and bigger questions.
“One of the boys asked me the other day, ‘Is it hard having to help me?’
“No matter who you are, everybody needs help. Some people just need a little bit more help than others–but it’s not about being a burden. Because when you have love for somebody, you care for them,” responded Patterson.
Olga Lydia Calderon
Olga Lydia Calderon, 51, a single mother of three, sold flowers in bars, and worked in factories that impacted her health early on in her life.
Calderon knew she had to make a change to her working environment, and worked towards opening her own brick-and-mortar shop, along the South Main Street Corridor, Angels Flowers, which is going on four years.
The flower shop not only brought relief to her knees that have arthritis but brought a sense of purpose, healing, and independence.
“Flowers remind me of my childhood,” said Calderon. “I was always in between mountains, working with my parents.”
Olga worked in the fields of Guerrero, Mexico.
There she learned the true meaning of work.
“I always tell my children, I want you to be better than me, get an education,” said Calderon as she ripped stems off a flower.
“My oldest is now a teacher, when she graduated, I felt like I was the one graduating, the push and sacrifices are worth it when your children see your sacrifices, the work doesn’t seem that hard if your children are realizing their dreams,” added Calderon.
Calderon is currently taking a City of Santa Ana-sponsored business class, Emprendedoras, where she is learning the administrative side of running her business.
“It has been really helpful, it is in Spanish and helps me know how to do more with my business.”
Zulma Arzate and Jenny Acosta, Calderon’s two oldest children, help in the shop daily and make drives to the Los Angeles flower district weekly.
Calderon is constantly learning and when difficult orders come in she does not deny requests but rather studies techniques on YouTube.
“ With every order that comes in, I know the order was meant for me, even the complicated ones,” she said.
Olga’s business is open 7 days a week, and sometimes she stays longer to finish bigger orders for events, to support her family.
The work doesn’t stop just at flowers, sometimes her 13-year-old son, the youngest, calls her on the phone, asking her questions while she’s arranging flowers or helping clients.
The calls normally come in after he is out of school.
“What time are you coming home?’ Can I go over and help? I love you,” says Calderon.
“As a single mother, I have learned how to be a strong woman, for my three children. I have to be the father and mother; this has made me who I am today. I am very proud.”
Guadalupe Hernandez, 56, has always been a woman with engineering on her mind.
Starting her career in Michoacan, Mexico, she came to the United States at the age of 23, and her degree was something of a bygone era.
In Mexico, she was a wood technology engineer but was sexually assaulted daily.
“I left Mexico. I was part of a big firm, earning very little,” said Hernandez. “But I was sexually harassed daily. ”
In a recent study by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico, findings found that 41.3 percent of women have experienced sexual violence.
“My sister was in the United States, and told me it was illegal to do that [sexually harass] here in the United States, so I said, ‘I want to go over there.’”
“I knew my life was not in Mexico,” said Hernandez in an interview with Voice of OC.
But reality set in for Hernandez when she crossed the border as an undocumented immigrant, jobs were limited, and the degree she had didn’t mean much in the States.
Hernandez’s first job was working in loncheras (food trucks), and cried for weeks because she had no idea how to cook.
At the age of 34, she got married and then began working towards a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Engineering at Cal State Fullerton.
In 2011, Hernandez graduated with an engineering bachelor’s degree.
In 2013, she received her masters in civil engineering with a focus on construction management and also became a resident of the United States.
In 2016 she became a citizen of the United States.
“When I graduated in my 40’s, no one would give me a job because I didn’t have a portfolio to show for it,” explained Hernandez.
Understanding that most of the graduates were younger than her, spoke better English and could garner more experience, she still fought her way to get employed.
With her persistence, Hernandez finally caught a break.
According to Hernandez, her brother-in-law was looking for someone to help him with valve testing at this plumbing job. All the other backflow testers were too expensive and booked up in advance.
Hernandez stepped in and helped.
She took two courses to become a certified tester and cross-connection control specialist.
“I took a week-long course at USC that cost me over $4,000 for each course,” said Hernandez, “Then I took the test, and I passed it.
Hernandez’s business flourished after that, and she got in contact with other plumbers that helped her learn more about the business.
While balancing two businesses, backflow testing and plans for small designs, Hernandez has her eyes set on becoming a certified architect. She is currently studying to be certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. She is on her third phase out of six to be accredited.
All that schooling came with a lot of sacrifice and resourcefulness. Her favorite saying, “Keep going, tired? sad? Keep going” said Hernandez.
“Being a single mother and immigrant was very difficult,” Hernandez said, pausing, while wiping tears from her eyes, “I shouldn’t cry; I am fine now. I knew I was going to go to school, I just didn’t know when.”
Hernandez credits a lot of the resources she found in this country.
She used welfare, daycare resources, and even to this day she is a student in the city program, Emprendedoras.
In broken English, she navigated different obstacles– finding her way every time.
“But I am sure that I am better now than I was in Mexico,” Hernandez said reassuringly.
It took Hernandez three years to learn English before going to Cal State Fullerton.
“I was lucky that my kids love me so much; there are sad things, I mean, the last years of my masters, my classes were from 7- 10:45 p.m. My baby, the youngest, would tell me ‘don’t leave me I want a kiss before I go to sleep.’”
“But I told him when I get back, even if you don’t notice, I’ll give you a kiss,” she said. “And he would start crying, and I would go to school crying.”
“My older sister said that I left a lot of cadavers along the way, but I am happy. If I were to be born again, I would do it again.”
Hernandez’s oldest son of three helped her dreams become a reality, a pressure that she realizes she put on him out of necessity.
During her times in school, sometimes her youngest son in his high school years would get lost, not knowing where he was. She would drive late nights through all the gated communities in Tustin, screaming his name.
The security knew Hernandez.
One time she was out looking for her son when she had an exam the next day she had not studied for.
That night she prayed,
“If there is a god, please send me my child now,” said Hernandez. “And then in the distance, my son appeared, I got out the car, I was scared, and I couldn’t believe that I had him, realizing there might be a god.”
“I feel so guilty for my youngest, and I don’t like to talk about it, but it’s a reality,” said Hernandez. “And I also understand the women who don’t want to study and stay with their children and stay home; living in poverty, but at least they’re together.”
Historically, higher education is difficult to achieve for women, who are immigrant mothers; Hernandez saw it firsthand.
“I took classes for Mexican American History, Chicano Music and all of that, and it said in the textbooks that it takes three generations for Mexicans to get to the university,” she said.
“I am first generation, and I am already in school,” Hernandez said with a smile, knowing she was an exception.
Hernandez hopes to expand and get started in the recycling business, looking for a 3-acre space to begin her next journey.
Adding a third business to her life.
Hernandez says she has felt the societal pressure of not pursuing higher education and staying home with her children.
“We all keep going through life with lots of choices, I choose going to school and leaving them in daycare, and that’s ok,” says Hernandez.
Irayda Torres, 63, a mother to two children and an immigrant from Central America, came to the United States in the 1980’s.
By chance, she got a job at the Hilton Hotel as a room attendant while accompanying a friend to fill out an application. Her friend couldn’t read or write, so they told her to fill it out.
She got hired the next day.
Torres had never in her life cleaned rooms. She was a journalist covering “the revolution” and also a teacher back in her home country.
At the beginning of her new life in the United States, she cried. Torres wasn’t used to her new job, but she had to support her 3-year-old child, whom she left at daycare while she worked long hours.
Then she joined a union. Where she felt safe, but still, it was something that required fighting.
“And we have fought hard!” said Torres to Voice of OC, after giving a speech at the Unite Here 11 Local presser.
In 1992, she had her second child.
That year, Torres had a medical emergency on the job while working one of the 15 rooms she had to clean alone.
“ I was cleaning a room and it was so dirty, and I started bleeding, I ran downstairs to my supervisor, who I felt had something against me, and they gave me another section to clean instead,” remembers Torres.
“I got angry, and I started cleaning to show her I can, and when I was making a bed I had pain, I went to human resources and threatened them, ‘if something happens to my baby I will sue,’ and I only had some time working there when I made those threats.”
In many ways, her journalistic experience informed her on how to navigate injustices and bring them to light.
“I got this job as another career for me, for the unique experience, the contact I have had with the people here, and the injustices I have seen from this hotel,” said Torres, “discrimination for being Latino.”
Torres has worked through her motherhood, knowing she worked more than spent time with her children.
“I couldn’t give them time, but I gave them quality of life. I only had little time with them,” said Torres.
Her two children are now working professionals.
“I have learned how to use my time, I feel like a double mom now, I gave the time to my grandkids that I didn’t give my children. I learned a lot from my children, they have repaid me by being good students and great people, I thank god, and everything I have done. We are a family that has survived.”
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