Wednesday, March 15, 2006

$8

Funny how that dollar amount seems so unimportant to me today, yet five years ago that would have been the extent of my worth until payday. A few mornings ago I found $8 as I was unloading the dryer. I stashed it on my dresser and promptly forgot about it. I also found a few stray dollar bills in my dirty jeans that I had forgotten about. I’ve got roughly $50 worth of unrolled coins sitting in fish bowls atop my refrigerator. I’ve got enough loose change in my van to buy happy meals for a bunch of screaming monkeys. No, this isn’t a testimony of how much money I have on-hand because we just get by. We have what we need but we get by.

But still.

I think back to the days of single parenthood, overdue rent, no-brand sneakers, hand-me-down clothing, do-it-myself haircuts for my daughter, and late night trips to the grocery store to avoid being recognized as I bought groceries with food stamps. I remember not having enough of those humiliating stamps and I’d have to chose between getting healthier food but less of it or junkier food and more of it. Sometimes those choices are the most gut-wrenching. And just as the twitchy lady in line behind you tsk-tsks your choice, you want to spin around, grab her by her Nordstrom brand blouse and scream “I’m not a welfare bum who likes feeding my child animal crackers, Hi-C, and popcorn but goddamn it the fruit is too expensive! I have to make these stamps last all month okay?!” But I don’t. I just avoid eye contact with everybody, including the pimply faced cashier who has no troubles other than an upcoming algebra exam and I tell myself that I’ll be out of the store in two minutes and the sinking feeling of inadequacy will have passed. I hastily grab my one bag of generic toasty O’s and three packages of apple-flavored sauce. Were it not for the two year old blonde nymph I was carrying on my hip, I would have sprinted out of that store. My one wish for her is that she never feels the shame of parenting without the proper tools. Unless one has worn those shoes, it cannot be understood.

Again, I’m sadly reminded of $8. If I ever had an extra $8 I certainly would never have put it somewhere and forgotten about it. That money would have been all I had for days, weeks even. It makes my stomach turn to think of how closely to the edge of dirt-poorness she and I walked. I was never not worried about how I was going to buy her pretty new clothes that fit properly. I was never not worried about keeping enough gas in my car to get her to daycare and myself to my unremarkable $9/hour job. I was never not anxious about keeping the electric bill low while, at the same time, trying to keep the gusty winter chill from blowing through the crevices of my shoddy window frames.

I shove that freshly laundered $8 in my pocket and cry a little bit. I cry because I’m so thankful to not be in that place anymore. I’m so thankful that she has all the wee trinkets her sweet heart desires. She has fresh fruit and whole wheat. She wears the cool sneakers on her feet and the warmest jacket on her body. She can show off cornrows in her hair or new pink polish on her nails. I can buy her that book if she asks. I say Yes more often than I say No.

And I still have $8 left over.

3 Comments:

Blogger MomEtc. said...

I know the feeling....and am happy to be in a different place now as well.

10:35 PM  
Blogger lemony said...

Oh, man, have I ever been there. You were braver than I, though...I never could bring myself to go to the welfare office for those food stamps. So I bought the healthiest I could afford and fed it to the girl while I ate nothing and drank a glass of water.

What I could have done with eight bucks back then. Today it's a grande latte and a few downloads at iTunes...for the teenager that girl has grown into. I, too, am always thankful. And relieved that she doesn't remember.

xoxo

4:49 PM  
Blogger Progressively Me said...

I hear that. This was so beautifully written, I could have written it myself. Right now we're faced with some renting problems and all that, but honestly, we've come so far in our life too that sometimes I am just so proud of the work we have done.

And as painful as the past may be, just think of how strong you truly are for getting through those times. No one understands it until they live it.

8:29 PM  

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