How many of you watched Dr. Oz yesterday? If you missed the show it was about the "New Face of Hunger in America" and gave a startling statistic... 1 in 5 kids in America is hungry and does not know where their next meal will come from. 1 in 5.....
This hit really close to me because we have been there. His show gave me the courage to finally write the blog I promised in Karma's Adoption story, to write about our dark days of 2009. This is hard to write about, it was a very bleak time and not something we are proud of. I feel very exposed and vulnerable sharing this deeply into my life.
Right before the economy tanked Ted started his own lawn care business. It was awesome, at first that is. He could easily make more money in a day than he would make at a typical job in a week. It was crazy what (and how much) people were willing to pay others to do (things like mowing a lawn) so they didn't have to mess with it.
Then the economy began to take a bad turn and people began to look for ways to save money. Whats the first thing to go when people are looking to save money? Anything deemed "unnecessary" or a "luxury", paying someone else to do a chore around your house is definitely a luxury.
In the Spring/Summer 2009 we made enough to pay our bills, but not enough to save for that winter. We still thought it would be ok. Ted figured he could pick up a PT/Seasonal job and some off and on work through a temp agency. He had done this before no problem, temp agency's were the best because you often got paid the same day for your work. We were in for a big shock, we had no clue just how bad things were getting.
October approached and while Ted sill had plenty of work with Fall clean ups and final mows he began to look. That was our first reality check into this new job market. There was nothing, NADA, zip, zilch, zero out there. He went to temp agency after temp agency and was always told the same thing. They received about 20 jobs a day, double that on a good day but had between 100-150 people show up each day looking for work. People would begin to line up as early as 2-3am to try and get at the front of the line.
Ted exhausted all of his options and finally we thought our prayers had been answered. In October he found a job through friends at our church. It was pretty far away (about an hour drive 1 way), had 0 benefits, was for very little money (not even enough to pay all of our bills but some money is better than none right!), and was NIGHT SHIFT! 12 hour days from 6pm-6am. Not the ideal situation for us but we were willing to make it work.
At this point I was just ending my first trimester with Sariah and we had 3 kids age 3 and under in the house. I have nicknamed October and December 2009 as "the 2 months of hell" as I was basically a single parent the entire time. On a work day he would get home at 7am, go to bed and sleep until 4-4:30pm, get up, eat dinner with us and be out the door by 5pm so he could be in to work by 6. On his days off he couldn't just switch his internal clock and make himself stay up all day so he would still sleep from about 5-7am until 4-4:30pm. That meant on a work day our kids got to see their dad for 30-60 minutes, on a none work day they got about 4 hrs. It was torture. Did I mention the area of the warehouse he worked in had NO HEAT and December 2009 was one of the coldest months on record for our area?
Now you may be scratching your head asking yourself why only the months of October and December were the "2 months of hell". That's because in October their work load dropped and they let him go, only to take him back in December and repeat the whole process again after the holiday season.
Needless to say in November we fell WAY behind, that month our only income was what we received as foster care payment for Karma (since she was still a foster baby at that time). My life became a sort of surreal experience I felt like I was viewing as an outsider. Every day was the same. Watch Ted spend all day searching for work, spending every dime we had on gas, exhausting all leads only to find nothing. Try to figure out how we were going to eat that day while trying to hold it together and not loose it in front of the kids. Do it all again the next day
If it was not for our family, friends and especially our church I know we would have been homeless. Our church took care of us and I will be eternally grateful to them for that. They paid our rent, utilities and provided food. Our friends/family helped in the areas they could from providing spontaneous groceries, diapers etc to helping with bills our church did not cover. Every month as I made the appointment once again with our Bishop to ask for help I promised myself that would be the last time, that Ted would find work and we would be ok. Every month I lied to myself.
Winter 2009 was not all dark. It was hard to see the light at the time but there were bright spots. Those bright spots were also a huge lesson in humility. There is no more conflicting of a feeling in the world than to wake up and discover huge boxes of diapers or bags full of groceries on your door step. Conflicting because you feel so happy and so extremely grateful but at the same time you are then reminded of your own inability to provide these things for your family.
Christmas 2009 was really rough, it's heart breaking to think you are not going to be able to get your child a single thing that year. Yes, that's not what the holiday is about but every parent wants to be able to provide that for their kids. Once again those closest to us stepped in. Our church does it's own Angel Tree program each year and in 2009 they put our 3 kids on that tree. Without that and the wonderful gifts provided by friends/family our kids would have had nothing that year.
Our church gladly helped but they also encouraged us to apply for help through our state. Ted had previously been self employed and had not worked at the other job long enough to qualify for unemployment though. We were terrified to apply for anything like food stamps. We had already gone through a scare of loosing Karma once and feared if we applied for any type of assistance they would think she was too much of a burden on us and remove her from our care.
Our church gave us food but I didn't want to appear "greedy", they were already helping us out with so much more. I often requested less food than we needed and I made myself pay for it. I never wanted to make my kids feel the pain of hunger so I shouldered that burden for them instead. There were months that went by where I would only eat dinner, or perhaps a PB sandwich for lunch and then dinner.
Even with that our kids were hungry. They were accustomed to having lots of snacks, fresh fruits, etc in the home at all times. Now we were down to the bare minimum essentials to get by. We did get WIC, something we got automatically for Karma because she was a foster baby, so I was not worried about the state taking her away for that. I was very thankful for the WIC, especially since 2009 is when they made all the big changes to start giving fresh fruits/veggies, bread and more food. There were many weeks where I had to plan all of our meals around what we got on WIC. Lots of eggs and toast, beans, PB sandwiches, etc filled out plates at that time.
If I am being completely honest here, another thing that held me back from applying for assistance was what others would think if they found out. We already had people in our lives (sadly some were family even) who felt we "lived off the government" because of the WIC and Medicaid we received so getting something like food stamps would only confirm for them that we were indeed lazy bleepity bleeps living off of "their tax dollars". The fear of loosing Karma just provided a much more convenient excuse for my aversion to the idea of applying for help.
I had learned to keep my mouth shut about these things too, so I held it all in and never told anyone the 100% full truth of what was going on in our home during this time. I had heard it all before so I thought I "knew" what people would say. It never ceases to amaze me the lack of empathy that can exist in people. In the past if I even uttered anything about financial woes all I ever heard were 1 of 2 things:
1- Why don't you just go back to work?
to which I would answer "because the daycare costs for 3 kids full time is OUTRAGEOUS!" we would be even deeper in the hole if I got a job!
to which the second (and in my opinion even more rude/heartless) comment would almost always follow..
2- Well, you guys are the ones that CHOSE to have this many kids, you should have thought about that before you had them. You shouldn't have kids that you can't take care of.
This one always stings, what are they trying to say, that since we have hit a few bumps in the road our kids should be taken away. You can have all the financial security in the world when you decide to have kids and POOF it's all yanked away after they are here. What are you supposed to do then, just walk away and say "well I can't afford to have kids anymore so I don't deserve them". I plan to blog more on this subject in the future as I have a lot to say about this area.
Because of encounters like the ones I mentioned above (which happened both online and in real life, sadly again even with family members) I never breathed a word of my hunger. Even Ted did not know I was restricting my diet so much to make sure he and the kids had enough to eat. I was pregnant at the time and fainted 4 times in 1 month. I even spent 4 days in the hospital with heart palpitations.
I couldn't vent about any this to anyone really. I never mentioned anything on FB because I did not want to advertise things like we were home alone all night long the 2 months Ted had work or that he was unemployed and we were living off the kindness of others when he didn't. I slept very poorly all night long out of fear and anxiety. Ted didn't get much better sleep when he was working as we lived in a tiny duplex and it's nearly impossible to get 3 kids so little to be quiet all day long.
My health was suffering big time and in my head I knew I was not bonding with the baby inside of me, another thing I have never admitted (until this day) to a single soul, not even Ted. I tried not to think about the fact that I was pregnant because thinking about it meant I had to admit to myself I was choosing the kids I already had over the one I was carrying because obviously she needed nutrition too.
Looking back I am pretty sure I suffered from depression during this time, I just covered it well to the outside world. Many days I would wake up, go out to the living room and just lay back down on the couch and only move to do absolute necessary things like cook meals for the kids, change diapers, use the restroom, etc. No cleaning, no playing with the kids, nothing like that. After a week or so of this "funk" I would tell myself to snap out of it and make an effort to be the person I wanted to be only to fall right back into the cycle again. Yelly Mom also made her debut in the Winter of 2009 sadly. Before this time I had never yelled at my kids, by the time spring finally rolled around the yelling was a daily occurrence in our home.
Finally the light at the end of the tunnel came. March rolled around and the Spring clean up jobs began to come in. March was the first month we did not have to ask for help from anyone. In the months that followed things got better, we were able to catch up on our bills and pay for everything ourselves. I finally allowed myself to bond with the baby inside of me. I thank God everyday that she is so smart and bright, that the things I did during those dark days had no lasting effects on her. Ted did lawn care all throughout the Spring/Summer of 2010 but knew we could not have another winter like that again so he began searching for another job much earlier, and thankfully found one in September.
Now, anytime things appear to be getting rough for us I ask myself "is this as bad as the winter of 2009?", thankfully thus far it never has been. That will forever be my comparison point for how "bad" we have it and even then I know we were so lucky compared to the things others have gone through. We never did end up homeless, we did have some food in our home, our utilities never got shut off. Sadly others cannot say the same.
I was in tears yesterday afternoon as I watched Dr. Oz. Watching those families gave me flashbacks of our own dark days when we didn't know day to day if we would have food to eat or not. Now, after a meal when our kids are finished and there is still so much food left on their plates I cry. I cannot stand to throw that food out when I know so many out there are struggling to eat. At the same time I never want to force my kids into the "clean your plate" club. Its really hard to find balance with it. Our rule is they have to take at least 1 bite from everything on their plate and usually have to complete a certain amount of bites total before they can leave the table. This still ends with more food than I would like left on their plates.
Dr. Oz ended his show by announcing he has partnered with Share Our Strength to Help Fight Hunger. You can click on that link to donate and help provide meals to kids in need. As little as $5 can give 1 child 50 meals, FIFTY! People who say the rude comments I mentioned above have no idea what it's like. They feel superior thinking they have made all the "right" choices and are protected. Well, wake up call, plenty of people made all the "right" choices and STILL find themselves and their children going hungry. It is no longer the stigma of only those "lazy and unwilling to work" need help. Plenty of hard working families in America, families who have done all the "right' things are still in need. Families who have jobs, pay their bills, don't have credit cards, etc and they still just can't make it. Consider yourself lucky if you have never had to know what it feels like to go hungry but please do not look down on those who have. Any one of us is just 1 paycheck, 1 terrible medical diagnosis, 1 accident, 1 unexpected lay off away from being THAT family. I say a prayer of thanks everyday to have food in our bellies and a roof over our heads.
As hard as it is to share such deeply personal things I do so because I want people to know that it can happen to anyone. The job market is tough right now and even when you find a job you often have to settle for a job making far less than what you really need to cover everything. So people are working, HARD and still can't make it. There is nothing "lazy' about this, that stigma needs to end NOW!
I'm donating...... will you?
this humble and very exposed feeling mama,