Monday, August 8, 2011

We Don't Use The "F Word" In Public!

When my kids and I moved into our first apartment after their father and I separated we were church mouse poor. Even though we qualified for state assistance, 30% of your income going to rent makes things extremely tight. After a couple of months of barely scraping by and seeing the cupboards getting more and more bare, I broke down and went to the local DHS office and applied for Food Stamps. Filling out the forms was simple enough, proving my finances even more so... we had none. As they sent me out the door, they gave me what they called "emergency assistance" which consisted of about $200 of paper food stamps. Humbled and grateful, I walked the kids back to the car and we drove to the grocery store to do some much needed shopping. 

One of the biggest mistakes we often make as parents is failing to realize our kids understand far more about what's going on than we give them credit for. As we walked around the store filling the cart, I made a mental note of how much the running total was. I was so busy counting boxes of cereal and cans of soup that I paid little attention to the shoppers around me. As we wrapped up our shopping and headed toward the checkout, my daughter, then six, chirped loudly beside me, "Mom? Are we going to have enough food stamps to pay for all of this?" 

HORRIFIED! I looked around and, though in reality no one was probably paying attention to us, I felt like everyone in the store had to have heard her. I stopped the cart and knelt next to her and said, "We do NOT use the F word in public. EVER!" I could feel the heat in my cheeks and my eyes filling with tears and it only got worse when I saw her eyes well up too. She understood what food stamps were for. She understood why we needed them. What she didn't understand was why I was so ashamed. 

To address the situation, I tried to explain that food stamps were like money and it's not polite to talk about money in public. Putting the burden of shame on her was completely unthinkable. I felt that we'd settled things and would no longer hear "the F word" from her mouth. 

Some time later I realized that a caring relative or friend had submitted our name to a local care center. When Christmas rolled around, we woke to several boxes outside our door filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, a turkey, necessities, and a variety of small gifts for the kids. School was not yet released for Christmas break yet, and the next day my daughter took her new Walk Man and flip top candy dispenser to school. 

When she returned home that afternoon, she excitedly told me that one of her friends brought a new Walk Man and candy to school too... she was quick to set my mind at ease by saying, "It's okay Mom I didn't talk about the F word but they got boxes too because they are poor like us!" Her smile was from ear to ear and I couldn't help but love her just a little bit more because she was capable of doing something I couldn't. She was looking past the situation and simply enjoying her blessings. 

Things today feel so far removed from that place in our lives. While we haven't seen those financial stresses in many years, we still have our ups and downs. Most people, at one time or another, have something going on in their lives that they aren't proud of. We all have our burdens. Most people have some sort of "F Word". I hope everyone has someone to remind them that no matter what today looks like, what tomorrow might bring, and how bad it seems, you're not alone. Enjoy your blessings. 

23 comments:

tazerwarriorprincess said...

How wonderful your friend or relative did that for you. There's absolutely no shame in being down and out. Kudos to your kids, they sound fantastic.

Miss Sassy Pants said...

I really, really liked this post.

And your daughter sounds so sweet.

Azra said...

Your daughter is(was?) so sweet :D When my parent's got divorced, we were dirt poor too. Although, we didn't have government assistance so my Mother had to work really hard and we substituted a lot. Sometimes we didn't even have money for bread, but the shops here give small change when you return empty coke (glass) bottles, so we'd exchange them to buy bread. What was worse is that my Dad's family is very wealthy, like OBSCENELY wealthy, and they'd be flying around in their private jets but no one cared if we lived or died. It was one of the toughest times of our lives and I will never forget it. But I'm so grateful because it's made me who I am today and I could never have gotten here... I would never have been this driven and determined to succeed had I not been there. And in those dark days, I often thought to myself that when I had money, I'd never be cold and heartless and if that's what having money did to you, then I don't want it. I'd rather have my humanity. Thankfully, I'm not like my Dad's family and never will be.

Thing about people like us Angie is we've been there. We've been down, scraping the floor and we've survived and even thrived. So we know what it's like down there... and if we really must, we can survive again. But there are other's who don't know and don't know how to survive without money when they've had it all their lives. So really, we're the lucky ones. Here's to many more blessed and prosperous years ahead for both our families ;)

hmr59 said...

Great story, Angie! Really gives a person a lot to think about - especially remembering to count one's blessings.

Angie said...

TWP,
Thanks! They are great kids and I'm pretty damn lucky to have them!

Sassy,
Thank you girl! Glad you made it back from your vacay! I hope you had fun!

Azra,
So true! What's even more amazing for me is that my fondest memories from childhood and the times when my kids and I have the most vivid memories of laughter and togetherness all fall during the times when we were almost penniless. It tells me that more often than not, I've spent too much time focusing on getting ahead and not enough on what matters.

By the way, have I mentioned how awesome you all are?

Angie said...

Thanks HMR! Have a wonderful day!

Leauxra said...

I once walked out of the assistance office empty handed. I hadn't eaten in a few days, and I finally decided I needed to do something. I had a job, and a place to live, but no car and no food, and the walk to the office was long and hot. I was so hungry.

It turned out that I made $400 too much per year to qualify for food stamps. I was shocked and humiliated. The lady behind the counter suggested I have kids, because I would get more help. I left red in the face and horrified that she would suggest I have a kid when I couldn't even take care of myself.

On the way home, I walked by a place that distributes produce to local markets, and I saw all these boxes of veggies sitting out. I asked a guy bringing out a box of avacados what the boxes were for, weren't they going to spoil in the sun? And he said this was the trash- the stuff they couldn't sell because of cosmetic defects.

I smiled and took the box out of his hands. "I'll throw these away for you," I said.

I came back later with a few friends and ate ugly vegetables for a few weeks. Six months before I would never have imagined I would take "trash" home to eat, but it was less embarassing than being denied food stamps.

Linda Medrano said...

I understand every word of this post all too well. my husband and I split when the baby was 3 months old and my son was 3 years old. We spent about a year hanging by a thread financially. My dad brought by groceries once a week or I couldn't have made it. All things considered, I still think of that time as the happiest time of my life. We didn't have much, but kids and I did have each other. We are crazy feeling shame because we don't have enough money. It's not because we used it on drugs and whiskey or at the casino. Life just takes a turn sometimes. Great post, Honey!

Angie said...

Leauxra,
I remember about almost 7 years ago now when we first moved to SD when I was a college student and working full time and raising 2 kids on my own I missed the "reduced price" lunch cut off by $20/yr. Isn't it amazing what we never thought would happen and how easily we adapt? It's hard sometimes but things always seem to work out.

Linda,
Don't go tempting me with drugs, whiskey, and casinos! :) I believe part of that happiness we feel is due to not being able to afford the things that distract us from what's most important in our lives.

wagthedad said...

A-men, Angie! I think it's great that you blog about this AND that you've gotten yourself and your family out of that bad financial situation. It's really a very heartwarming story. And honestly, that's what I picture when I hear about people getting food stamps - someone who's down on their luck - and not the people my family talks about when they bitch about all the people on welfare "ruining the economy."
And of course nobody in my family has ever been on food stamps or welfare, but they have no qualms drawing unemployment when the need to, all the time ranting about big government ruining their lives, of course.

But I didn't want this to turn into my rant about my family. You are right, we need to count our blessings and realize what we have while we have it. The problem is, it's easy for people to forget about that. I know it's easy for me.

Thanks for the reminder.

Heather said...

I really needed to read this today for a variety of reasons.

Great words to live by - we often forget to count our blessings because we are busy worrying about what we don't have, etc.

Thanks for this post!

If I were God... said...

I had forgotten about my own stint on PA. I remember those stamp books now. It was so long ago, last ice age maybe? I'm far removed from it now, like yourself, but it's very true that most of us are only a few bad moves away from the brink -especially today.

Glad we're both doing better. And though it's probably an experience we'd rather forget, it might serve us well not to.

RCB said...

Hello Angie. When my parents divorced my mom went through hell, too. But she never told me anything about her money problems. I would sometimes see her crying in bed and she'd say, 'Don't worry, honey. Mom is just a bit tired.' The fact is, she managed to send me to university and never failed to put food on the table even if it meant there wasn't much left for herself. I don't know why, but I never think about those poor days. I'm glad you jogged my memory.

Angie said...

Wag,
I know the type of people your relatives refer to and it's the very reason it's so humiliating to find yourself in the position where you need to ask for help. On a positive note, it's this very feeling that compels many to pull themselves up by their boot straps.

Heather,
~hugs~ I hope the day gets better! Keep your head up girl. I've read your posts and know that you will excel! You work so hard girl and it WILL pay off.

IIWG,
Every experience leaves us with something to learn from doesn't it. :) I'm glad we're both better too!

RCB,
You reminded me of a sweater my mom had. Story for another time perhaps. Thanks for reminding ME!

Left Coast Guy said...

Angie,
Memories, memories. Now I need to write yet another post on my blog. Mothers like mine and like Angie are unsung for the most part. I think it’s time I do some singing. Mommy Angie, you rock.

Dean
Http://leftcoastguy.com

Elizabeth - Flourish in Progress said...

I loved this beyond words. I wish we were neighbors. I have a feeling we would be fast friends.

Steve Bailey said...

Thanks for reminding me of my blessings. This post did that for me. Excellent post!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Your daughter is delightful. I think she should start a food stamp collection. They actually looks quite impressive if the pictures on google images are accurate:

http://v50731.eteloshost.com/surviving_a_layoff/resources/Food%20stamps.jpg

Angie said...

LCG,
:) Thanks!

Liz,
We would spend so much time at Dollar Tree it would be criminal. LOL

Steve,
;) Have a terrific day!

GB,
Those are the ones I was speaking of! Colorful aren't they? Look a bit like Monopoly money. Apparently they now use a credit card type system which sure would have been handy back in the day!

Fred Miller said...

When my dad got into his eighties, we kids talked him into applying for medical assistance to help him take care of Mom in their home instead of putting her in a nursing home. He balked at the application because it's the same form to apply for food stamps (at least in Kansas). I told him to skip the food stamp parts. He did, and they are still going strong getting the help they need. Nothing wrong with food stamps, but the idea is kinda hard on an old Kansas farmer who raised ten kids.

Angie said...

Fred,
We recently went through this with my grandmother. It's a difficult time for all concerned when the nursing home option looms more as a probability than a possibility. I think it's especially difficult considering it often feels like they've worked all their lives to own their home, provide for a family, pay their taxes, yet we practically leave them destitute or take away what they've worked for in order to qualify them for benefits. :( So sad.

Diana Burfield (BettyShmetty) said...

When I was a little girl, we were on food stamps too. My crazy mom was divorced many times over and my sister and I grew up mostly poor around rich friends. We moved around a lot and learned to adapt quickly. It sounds like you and your family are very well grounded. I can understand your embarrassment having felt it myself, but you are teaching your children that it's ok to get help when you truly need it and that it's temporary. You are a good mom. Thanks for sharing this story, it brought back memories for me.

Angie said...

Diana,
Thank you so much for the kind words! Stop back again and I'll try my best to entertain. Hope ya don't mind if I stop by your place and check it out!

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