I wrote this back in 2007. At that time I was making about $1200 a month. There was no child support. There was no second income. There was just me, supporting two kids all by myself. Could you even imagine making $1200 a month, paying rent, paying utilities and gas, paying daycare costs, and still having enough left over to feed your family? And that is still more than some low-income households are bringing in. I did not receive Cash Aid – I made too much money for that. But I did receive Food Aid from the state, something I was grateful for since we wouldn’t have been able to eat without it.
Thankfully, things are much different for my family now. I no longer have to rely on any kind of aid to make ends meet. But the experience has placed a soft spot in my heart for struggling single mothers and hard-working low-income families. Poor isn’t generally a choice. But for many, especially in this economy, it’s a reality. And I’m including this post due to some flack I’ve received at my blog and read in various different places on the web regarding those who are using aid, and about the recent cuts being proposed for the state and national budget – how we should cut all these programs and force the poor to fend for themselves. A percentage of the population seems to have a vendetta against the poor. But there are real faces behind these statistics. And trust me, many of those holding that yellow Electronic Benefits Card would rather not be.
October 14th, 2007 by Wine Country Mom
I hate the way he is looking at me. Just moments ago he was chatting easily with me. I’ve just gotten off work. My hair is loose, slightly wavy from the rain that is drizzling outside. I am wearing black slacks and a crocheted sweater. My make-up is still neatly applied, according to when I last checked. And I am spending the few moments I have before picking up my son from daycare and my daughter from her grandparents to buy the soccer snacks for his soccer team for a game that may or may not happen due to this sporadic rain. On the grocery belt are bottles of Gatorade, packages of Wheat Thins, and two packages of Halloween cookies with orange and purple frosting to help celebrate the upcoming holiday and the fact that this is their last game of the season. The cashier had been laughing with me, the soccer mom in the heart of the wine country, guessing what the snacks were for, and hoping right alongside me that the rain would cease soon so these snacks wouldn’t be bought in vain. His smile was genuine and kind, and he told me the total. $40. For soccer snacks. And I smiled without flinching as if $40 was a normal amount to spend on snacks for a bunch of kids that would ignore everything but the cookies. And I swiped my yellow card and punched in my pin. And when he looked at the screen to see how to process his payment, his smile wavered and left his eyes completely, and I could see he wasn’t expecting this. The smile nearly disappeared completely when he asked if I was using cash aid or food stamps. And I held my head high though I was mortified, and told him, “Food stamps, please.” He punched a few buttons, processed the payment, then handed me my receipt, thanking me by my name which he mispronounced anyway. I refused the help he offered and picked up my bags of soccer snacks and left the store.
I knew what he was thinking. I knew he couldn’t believe I was spending food stamps on soccer snacks. Believe me, I could think of so many better ways to spend those precious food stamps. Milk. Eggs. Bread. Cereal. Not Gatorade and cookies and little packages of Wheat Thins. It killed me to spend that much of my family’s food money for the month on an entire soccer team. And how would the team feel if they knew that the food their kids would be eating was bought with state money? Would they treat it as if the food were tainted, as if I were poisoning their kids with poor people food?
The thing that the cashier didn’t understand is poor people have their kids in soccer too. And they have the responsibility of being snack mom too. And sometimes being snack mom is an extreme hardship. You have the choice of totally embarrassing yourself among a bunch of well off stay-at-home wine country mothers who are married to successful business men by telling them you cannot afford bringing snacks for a bunch of hungry boys who end up throwing the grapes you bring at each other rather than eating them, or you can buck up and just buy the stupid snacks and smile as they complain about being tired of chilled orange slices. Again. The thing that the cashier didn’t understand is that I didn’t want food stamps, that it was embarrassing to pull that yellow card out even when I tried to do so with a slight of hand so nobody would see. But the only way I could pay rent and the bills was to work. And the only way I could work was to pay for my son to go to daycare. And the only way I could pay for my son to go to daycare on a single income was to have my food paid for by the state.
Just to make it sting a little more, the games ended up being cancelled for the weekend. Saturday came in with the sunshine, a promising glorious day. In fact, it was warmer than it had been for this month of October. But the fields were soggy from rain, and wine country children do not play soccer in the mud. I had spent $40 of my monthly food income on food I would never buy for the household on a game that never happened and would not be made up.
So I did what any single mother would do in this situation.
The kids and I sat around the table playing poker, sipping Gatorade, and ate orange and purple cookies until our tummies ached. And I think our neighbors could hear our laughter as my hand of 4 Kings beat my son’s Full House in the last play of the night. Because single mothers in the wine country don’t let their children win. They teach them to earn those chips that they win, and to lose with a smile.