Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Form of Payment; Food Stamps With a Side of Guilt

Am I the only person who has literally never seen anyone have a kind word to say about someone using food stamps or other grocery assistance? I witness rude people behind them in the check out line talking very loudly about how horrible it is that people take advantage of the system. I see Facebook friends blast the latest atrocity they witnessed at WalMart on the first of the month with their cart loaded up, cell phone in hand and nails and hair done.

What are you going to do about it?

You aren't going to catch a "poor" bug if you talk nicely to them. Poor is not contagious. If you put as much energy into helping to feed the poor and the needy, as you do whining and crying about the government allowing "scumbags" to take advantage of the system, maybe the government wouldn't have to step in at all. See, before government supported the poor, people used to. Human beings with hearts to take care of others volunteered their food, their money, their time, and even their homes when necessary. Sure, that still happens occasionally, but mostly, it just plain doesn't.

Why am I telling you this?

I have been that girl. I have been the mom holding up the grocery line because the food stamps card isn't working in the machine, or the cashier doesn't know how to process the WIC checks. I have been that mom paying for snack items for my kids, ice cream for a birthday, M&Ms for potty training, or other items you've judged me for. I have been that mom receiving dirty looks from fellow customers, overhearing them talk about all the other ways I must be spending my money. I have been that friend on Facebook who has to read about how awful it is that a woman checking out with food stamps has a cell phone of all things. I have even been that mom swiping the food stamps card with freshly manicured nails. And I have had to block out every ounce of guilt I felt about it every time I heard the whispers, saw the looks, or came home to read all the nasty Facebook status updates about it. I have kept my silence on this topic for a very long time, mostly because of shame or fear of disgusted reactions friends might have, and also because it's really no one's business. But I want to set a few things straight.

My husband works hard...always. When he didn't have an income, he worked hard in school, and at being a great father. Whenever he could, he did work, sometimes working all day in the heat only to come home, grab a quick shower and sandwich, and then head out the door for evening classes. We did things honestly. We reported our income whenever it came in. We also had rent to pay, gas to put in a vehicle, debts to pay off due to expenses coming up during difficult times. We had (still have) cell phones, a computer (complete with internet), and a roof over our heads.

Does having those things mean we shouldn't qualify for food stamps?

That girl in the check out line paying with food stamps while talking on her cell phone probably has the internet too. I bet she even drove to the store in her very own vehicle. Do you think that should be taken from her as well? Why don't we go ahead and remove all of her resources before we're willing to provide some assistance so that then, she's so incapable, she can never get back on her feet at all, or the government has to pay out even more to help her.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Come on people! By helping with the necessities before it's too late, that family has the opportunity to put their money into other things, other resources so that they can educate themselves or find work. And what makes you think they just purchased that nice item while on food stamps? Oh, they have a great camera. They must be taking advantage of the system! Oh, look what they drive! They must be lying about income!  No, no. Not everyone who has fallen on hard times has been falling for so long that they have lost everything. Believe it or not, some people had nice things before they lost their jobs.

To give you a little perspective:

Two of the family vehicles we have owned over the past 4 years have been hand-me-down vehicles from our parents. I was bouncing around in a Lincoln Navigator while paying for some of my groceries with WIC. Our parents have helped us in whatever ways they could, and that was one of them.
I learned how to coupon while on food stamps. And I learned how to make just about anything we wanted from scratch. That ice cream or those candies you saw in my cart, cost the government close to nothing. And that flour and sugar made a cake, bread, and a couple pizzas. Those $1.50 tortilla chips happen to go nicely with the $5 meal I had cooking in the crock pot which would likely feed us for two days. I have children, and while I couldn't give them everything I wanted, I could, at least, make them food.
My cell phone allowed my family to reach me if needed, and allowed me to call 911 if necessary, for goodness sake. We didn't (nor do we now) pay a bill for a home phone, so this is all we have.
We had a computer and internet to pay bills and for Jelani's school work.
The great clothes my kids were wearing were bought by their grandparents or they were awesome hand-me-downs from friends. Their toys were paid for by modeling gigs, and a small Christmas allowance we had. (Seriously, would you begrudge a person putting away a whopping $10 a month for Christmas?)
The nails I had done were dress code for a wedding for which I was a bridesmaid. Not something I do on a regular basis, but so what? Maybe that girl you saw with her hair and nails done was trying to clean up for a job interview, her sister's wedding, or maybe it was a spa day gift from someone who loves her and felt she deserved an afternoon of pampering. I'll bet your sour looks for her form of payment sure put a damper on her day out, looking and feeling, for once, like she wasn't a leper, only to receive your glares.

People, my point is this; not everything is black and white. Not everyone's circumstances are exactly what you think they are or should be. There's already a loaded amount of guilt piled onto a family resorting to food stamps without your judgmental accusations. I had to swallow my pride and guilt every time I purchased something other than a canned good thanks to a Facebook rant from a friend who believed food stamps shouldn't cover anything else. That's not fair.

So, I don't explain myself because I owe anyone an explanation or because I have anything to feel guilty about. I explain for the mom who recently lost her job, after purchasing the new iPhone and 2-year contract it came with. I explain for the mom whose friend just took her to get her hair and nails done so she could forget her problems, if only for a moment. I explain myself for the sake of all the moms out there who are doing the best they can to keep it together during crisis while having to smile at your smug face and pretend it doesn't bother them.

Do some people lie and take advantage of the system? Yes. But not everyone on food stamps or any other kind of assistance for that matter has to have just gotten off the bus, dressed in rags, and in need of a shower. The hope in food stamps, is that they will never get to that point of crisis. So calm down, love them, smile at them with genuine patience and understanding, and maybe, instead of judging that mom who's holding up the line because she went over her food stamps budget and has to put some items back, offer to pay for what she can't matter what it may be. I promise you, it will feel a lot better than ranting online hours later about what an awful waste of space you think that person might be, and it is a much more productive use of the space God has given you to reside.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

31 Flavors (and Then Some)

When I turned 30 there was so much changing in my life, that nothing slowed down long enough for me to really think about it. Sure, I was no longer in my 20s, but being 9 months pregnant on my 30th birthday, there wasn't much else I could focus on besides getting that child out of me.

Less than one month later my first born was beginning school for the first time. We were embracing home schooling for the first time with a newborn under the roof, and life was so happily chaotic that I spent most of the year not even remembering I was 30.

But then my 31st birthday was suddenly around the corner, and I was forced to remember that I am no longer a 20-something.

We had a really busy family reunion weekend over this past weekend. I didn't even have time to think about my upcoming birthday. I came home yesterday evening to empty cupboards, a cluttered house, errands that couldn't be put off, and, of course, the dreaded chore of unpacking a car full of bags stuffed haphazardly. Then it also occurred to me that my license expired today. Woops. I had tried to renew it online, but they needed proof of an eye exam, so I couldn't. Then our busy weekend came up quickly, and I didn't get the chance to go in.

I had been looking forward to this license renewal for 4 years. That awful picture had been taken when I was 9 months pregnant with Chastity. My face literally looks swollen, my eyes just little slits barely able to open from the fatness of my cheeks. I was glad for the renewal, but 15 years after the only birthday where going to the DMV is exciting sort of put a damper on my mood.

So today, on my 31st birthday, I woke up and got around to run errands. In anticipation of the dreaded license photo, I even did my hair and make up. I raided my jewelry box and found several pieces I hadn't worn in years, just like brand new! Happy Birthday to me! I strolled into a moderately busy DMV and waited in line. When it was my turn, I handed them my ID and renewal papers, and said, "My license expires today, but I was unable to renew online." They streamlined me right through the process. No complaints there. But in NY state, licenses expire on your birthday. TWO different women looked directly at my ID, aware that it expires on this day, my birthday, and neither one wished me a happy birthday. I went on with my day with a 30 minute drive out to Lockport to pay for the pavilion we're renting for Isaac's 1st birthday coming up. That had to be done or they'd give it to someone else this week. Then I went out for groceries which had to be done, or we'd have to survive on cereal all week.

I had left the house in the morning before Isaac woke up, and returned just after he'd gone down for his nap. Elijah and Chastity were also about to go down for their naps. My birthday was half over, and all I had to show for it were some groceries.

I started to hit a wall and spin into a funk. So this is 31. Running errands, cleaning, taking care of everyone else. My birthdays are no longer about me. They are just about getting older.

To uplift my spirits, I began to think about one of my favorite things; ice cream. (Doesn't everyone do that?) The old Baskin Robbins slogan, boasting 31 flavors, hit me. I am 31 flavors (and then some). I am not just a wife and mother, or picker-upper-of-things. But my birthdays aren't supposed to be about me. They are about the life God has blessed me with, the person he's molded me into being, the husband he's joined me with always and forever, and the little people he's entrusted to me to help shape and mold. I am goofy, fun, sensitive, loving, kind, and helpful. I can be loud or quiet at times. I am athletic, active and energized, but marked with life's changes. I can be controversial and opinionated. I am creative and focused. I can be both disciplined or flaky; sloppy or trendy; brutally honest or quietly kind; clean and organized or a messy Marvin. I am confident in some things; insecure in others. I'm not afraid of hard work, dirt, and sweat, or a sexy little dress. I am prayerful, faithful, hopeful, and above all else; full of love for the Lord. The list goes on and on, and it's difficult for me to talk about myself like this, but I think it's emotionally mandatory. My boobs, my butt, my hips, my thighs will never be the same but those are not the things which make me.  I know who I am. I am so many different flavors, but not everyone's taste, and that's ok.

So this is 31; beautifully, chaotically, lovingly blessed with little and big people who know all my 31 flavors, prefer some over others, but ultimately love me wholly and unconditionally.

Today, in spite of the errands, the chores, and the unobservant DMV clerks, I am blessed. I am wrapped in love from Jelani's famous (really, it's famous!), homemade Buffalo chicken pizza, to the drawings from my littles to my very first phone call being from my very first, childhood friend. Your 31 flavors may look differently, but for me, this is 31.

I can smell the pizza in the oven, and my babies are waking from their naps. The journey must go on, and perhaps it will land us in the living room gathered around a Disney movie, but really, is that any different from any other distant year? Some things never change. :-)