it is four in the morning and i'm awake.
i'm awake crying.
what is it, you ask, that keeps me up?
stupid, senseless comments.
someone i barely know in my new circle disparaged someone else's use of food stamps.
that in itself is a funny story, because this "someone else" is a someone she has never met.
someone who, by all accounts, has quite a bit of tough issues going on.
someone who was just reamed on a "mom support" message board.
how those things turn all moms into bitches i will never know.
as the night went on the discussion turned to children and all the things you need to have to survive.
like lots and lots of extra crib sheets.
and at least three mattress protectors.
and the list goes on. and on. and on.
i remember when my oldest was born. we were given so so much. we bought a few cloth diapers and were given the rest of those. we felt so blessed and insanely overwhelmed with gratitude.
and we still had no crib. two sheets that had been my siblings, that we haphazardly wrapped around the bottom of our second hand pack'n'play. i forgot we even needed a baptismal gown until my mom brought my old gown (that she had made by hand when she was pregnant with me) for our little one.
the point here is not all the things we were missing. the point is we didn't even know we were missing them, and when people tried to tell us, we didn't care.
maybe because we were so young, so naive. so hopeful and so innocent.
we just figured we would bring our baby home. we would wrap him up in blankets made with love by grandparents and great grandparents. we would pop him in his 10 year old bouncer and/or ancient garage sale jumper. we would snuggle him all we could. he would sleep in his "bed" sometimes and sleep with us sometimes and sometimes not sleep at all. we would hold onto his soothies because after the hospital we wouldn't have money for more. and we would love. we would love so so much.
those days were so infinitely wonderful. i borrowed my mom's rarely used bread maker and enjoyed paying thirty cents a loaf instead of two dollars. we ate pasta by the pound, literally, so we would forget that the dish had only a few ounces of meat in it. the husband would read homework on the couch with our child sleeping on his chest and i would wash another load of diapers and dishcloths and i didn't even miss paper towels.
then the twins came. pregnant again. and i was just excited and grateful that i had a few clearance dresses from target that i could wear the entire pregnancy, and one pair of maternity pants and one maternity dress.
the twins came and it was harder. it was more exhausting. it was more stressful.
stretching the budget became harder as meager savings dwindled and we really DID save pennies in a jar on top of the fridge and i cut coupons and searched deals so our grocery budget would fit under thirty dollars a week. i burst into tears once when my dad was talking about how gross the cheap hamburger at walmart was because i had just been super excited to get it for 1.12/pound.
we finally came to the point where we found ourselves walking into a food shelf with a panicky feeling in our gut. what if they turned us away? we had a place to live, we had a check every two weeks. our monthly income was only twenty dollars over our rent and still we worried.
the woman who interviewed me asked, in shock, "you aren't on food stamps?"
no. we were not on food stamps. because christians fend for themselves, they don't rely on the government. the church takes care of them, or the men do the manly thing and make sure their families are provided for. the wives do the wifely thing and make the money stretch.
that's just what you do.
and if you didn't have the money to be doing that, then you shouldn't have had those kids.
or you shouldn't be in seminary.
or you should work more than 20 hours a week.
or you should get a different job.
or the wife should get a different job.
but not put the kids in daycare, of course.
so change that to...
the wife should take in daycare or sewing or whatever.
so i made the trek downtown. i sat in a line for an hour. i sat in another line for half an hour. i talked to someone, personally, about our situation for half an hour.
and i left with a little card. a little card with a minnesota lake scene.
a little card that had more food money on it than we made every month.
five times. five times our previous food budget.
i still cry thinking about that day. that moment.
if you haven't been in a similar situation and you think you're okay to give your opinion on food stamps, can i ask you one thing?
please. shut up.
it's all fine and good to say "well, it's ILLEGAL to feed anyone but your family with food stamps, so if you can do that you shouldn't be on food stamps anyway!"
sounds simple enough, right?
it's not. it's so not.
any time we had friends over they were eating food bought from food stamps or WIC.
if someone asked me to bring a dish to a party or a shower it was bought with food stamps.
when we brought food to a potluck, or a shut in or a family with a new baby...
that's just what happens when you do not have any other money to spend on food.
any food you have or share comes from your food stamp money.
unless you're ready to really listen to others, keep your mouth shut.
and no matter how many times i start to learn this lesson i have to start over.
the husband likes to be proud of how we finished school with no debt.
and now we have as much debt as he makes in a year - 9 months out of school.
we would get frustrated with and try to take advantage of salesmen when we bought cars.
now the husband sells cars. and their job just plain sucks and it is so hard to make a dime.
i would criticize parents for whatever thing their kids did.
and now it's my kids doing fill-in-the-blank-what-a-bad-parent.
none of the people in these tales are beyond redemption, or are all good or all bad.
not my husband.
not my acquaintances.
not crazy mom board women.
i just need to remind myself:
because someday you might need it too.