Happy Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day, and while I am a firm believer that Mothers should be appreciated way more than one day a year, it is hard for people to do. I mean Mothers sometimes get a bad rap, you know? We are the ones doling out kisses, and fixing up boo-boos, sure. But we are also the ones trying to cook dinner, yet again, keep the house clean, make sure your homework gets done, and squash your dreams of more video game time with friends, so eh, it is what it is.

But today I want to remind everyone that Mothers come in all different forms. There are many ladies I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to. Many ladies in my life who have stepped up in one way or another to be like a mother to me, when my mother couldn’t, or later in life when I wouldn’t let her.

I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, of course, to my sisters, and to my husband’s Mother. But also to the Mothers who have taught me about life, about the sisterhood of women, about friendship, about parenting, about how to love yourself. All of these women deserve a thank you, and while some of them are not actual mothers, they have taken on that role for me and for others, and they deserve our gratitude today.

I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to the Doggo and Kitty Mothers, who fiercely love their babies, and do everything they can to protect them.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Mothers who are trying or have tried desperately to become a Mother. Your day is coming. It is hard, please keep trying.

Happy Mother’s Day to my friends who have lost their babies. Man this is a tough day to be reminded of your children, but I know you think of them everyday. You deserve to be celebrated. I see you. I support you. I love you.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Grandmothers, Aunts, Sisters, Cousins, Momma’s Best Friends, and Godmothers. It takes a village, and if you have been chosen to be part of it, you are truly needed and blessed.

Happy Mother’s Day to the new Mommies. The ones whose gift today is a day alone, or a morning to sleep in, or a quiet bath. Take that time for yourself. Cherish it.

Happy Mother’s Day to the single Mothers or the Mothers whose partner just isn’t a true partner. I can’t imagine what you deal with everyday, but know that it is okay to take a break. To send the kids to the grandparents, or the friend’s who are willing to babysit. Do it. Let someone help you today. You deserve it.

Happy Mother’s Day to the teachers who act as Mothers, quite literally, for some of your kiddos. Thank you. Thank you for recognizing when your student needs a hug, or a word of encouragement, because they might not be getting it at home. I know you miss them right now, they miss you too.

Happy Mother’s Day to the nurses, doctors, paramedics. To the grocery workers, social workers, police offers. Happy Mother’s Day to the delivery drivers, Post Office Workers, servers and bartenders. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mothers out there risking their lives and their children’s well-being to help our country during this hard time. We appreciate you.

Happy Mothers Day to all the people out there who have loved a child, taken the time to be part of their life, taught them, laughed with them, shielded them from harm. You are doing the real work in this world, and I appreciate you.

Motherhood is truly the best hood I’ve been apart of, even the painful parts have been worth it. Thank you all for your help along the way.

M.

Love and Basketball

I was sad to see that the NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled, among other sporting events, and I’m sure people are bummed by this. I’m bummed by this, but I can’t imagine how the students feel. The players, and coaches, the fans. But mainly the kids. March Madness is the most fun because I love college ball. I’ve talked about my love sports of before. How I played softball for like a decade. How I was on basketball teams in elementary, middle, and high school. Volleyball? Check. Track and field? I was a Varsity thrower. Duh. I even gave tennis and soccer a go once or twice, never cared much for either, but I was an eager participant on most occasions. But if I’m being very honest with myself, softball is still my absolute favorite sport to play, and basketball is my absolute favorite sport to watch, because well, I’m just too slow to be any good anymore. Though I haven’t lost my jump shot. Seriously, play me fool!

And although I especially like college ball, I have been known to hang at an NBA game more than once, especially when we lived in Charlotte. We were big fans of watching the Hornets play, and while we are still Hornets fans, I’ll never forget that time my husband took me to see my all-time favorite team play, The Boston Celtics. Priceless. And of course, I would love to sit court-side at a Lakers game one day. Hey, a girl can dream!

The reason I like college ball better than the NBA is because I don’t like all the slam dunks and showmanship. I really like down and dirty street ball, but there isn’t a “Down and Dirty Street Ball” league* to keep up with, so college it is. I love the way the fans love their team, their school. Some of my best memories as a kid, were the few times I got to go to a KU game at Allen Field House. How and why? I have no idea. I know once I went with my sister and her boyfriend, but I remember going a few times and it was amazing. This was back, way back, when Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce (who went on to play for Boston), and Greg “Big O” Ostertag played. Jesus, why do I still remember those names?

I remember stepping into the front doors of Allen Field House in complete amazement. Here I was, probably fifth grade, totally in love with this school I dearly wanted to be part of (I eventually made it to KU as a student) and I wanted to chant ROCK CHALK! JAYHAWK! KU! on the top of Mt. Oread. And I did. Pure joy.

By middle school I was so in love with basketball, I could tell you all about the KU players, many of the Celtics players, and of course Michael Jordan, the best athlete in the whole world. That’s when I started asking my mom for a basketball hoop. The problem was two-fold. We were poor and we lived in a rental house on the “bad” part of town. If she had invested in a hoop, it would have to be one of those mobile hoops, which were just too expensive and the chances of someone walking off with it we too real. For sure, like they walked away with every bike I had while we lived there.

But one glorious day, I came home to, I shit you not, a piece of plywood painted blue, with a hoop attached to it, nailed into the damn tree in our side yard. Umm, not kidding. I have no idea where/how/what/who. My suspicion is my brother-in-law, or my mom’s friend Ruthie. But there it was, nailed to the damn dead tree in a pit of what amounted to mud, and a little Bir of run down grass, next to what I am pretty sure was a crackhouse. Yep. I played the shit out of that hoop. For years, y’all.

Listen, I don’t know how single moms do stuff, but they do it. Always. And this picture above is just a reminder that I was once the most important person in someone’s life. My mom wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But I’m beginning to see that she was doing the best she could with what she had. With what she knew. With what she was capable of. And I’m always reminded that it takes a village, y’all. And actual fucking village.

Anyway, we moved a few years later, though that was one of the houses we lived in the longest. Even though the neighborhood wasn’t ideal, the house was nice, clean, fairly new, and it was in walking distance to my middle school, and close to my mom’s work. It was just an old shotgun house, on the north side of town, with a wooden basketball hoop nailed to a tree. But it meant the world to me.

Thanks, Mom.

M.

*I was flipping through Netflix the other day and found a show that follows prison basketball. I gasped. Jerimiah yelled, “Shit! No!” and I added it to my “Watch List.”

429 Delaware Street

On the corner of Delaware and Fifth Streets in my hometown sits an old, red brick building. The Leavenworth Historical Society calls this building an example of “early 20th Century Revival and Colonial Revival design,” built at the turn of the 20th century. The locals just call it “The Corner Pharmacy.” My mom and I would go down to The Corner Pharmacy when I was a kid, on Saturday afternoons if she had a little change in her pocket, for a grilled cheese sandwich—and if we were lucky—a milkshake to boot. Sometimes we’d stop in for a late breakfast after particularly early basketball games at Nettie Hartnett Elementary. The grill was always piping hot on those Saturdays, with what seemed like a hundred fried egg sandwiches lined up in a row. The Corner Pharmacy was a pharmacy, but it was so much more than that. It was one of the last true relics of small-town prairie life, in a Kansas town that was quickly learning that if it was going to stay relevant, some things would need to change.

If you ask anyone born and raised in Leavenworth they can tell you countless stories about The Corner Pharmacy. The friendly Pharmacist, old whats-his-name, his wife, and teenage son. It was all very Olive Kitteridge from the outside. At some point he’d opened up the diner on the east side of the building and started flipping those fried egg sandwiches for waiting customers. They can tell you, some in painstaking detail, about the black pier frames, and single bay windows extending above the parapet, the wide entablature and decorative cornice, but if you ask what was above The Corner Pharmacy, who sat behind those old bay windows, they might not know. But I do.

In the spring of 1987, I was just finishing up my first year of kindergarten. I had a pretty good handle on my numbers, all the way up past 100. You can ask my mom, I recited them to her ad nauseam while she cleaned the floors, or dusted the wooden window sills, or mowed the yard with the old green push mower. I would walk behind her, believing she could hear me, believing she wanted to hear me, and recite all I had learned. I could count by ones, twos, fives, or tens. Lady’s choice. I was proud. I stuck my chest out, though it still didn’t poke out further than my round belly. I could read. I could write. I was even doing math, a fact that amazed my mother who often said math was her worst subject.

That spring, however, my mother was given an opportunity to finish something she had given up on a long time before, her high school education. On the second floor of 429 Delaware, directly over The Corner Pharmacy, a class was being assembled. A GED class. One for women and men. For those who received assistance from the state, from the government. For people who wanted to better their lives and the lives of their children. And my mom nervoulsy signed up.

I don’t know the logistics of the class. I don’t remember who taught it, or how many times we had to go downtown to the stuffy, carpeted room above The Corner Pharmacy, but I do remember my mother’s scowled face, as she sat on a metal chair, next to another woman, and did math calculations that made no sense to me. I remember sitting under the plastic and metal folding tables, while she worked out the equations, often thrusting her hands below the table to count on her fingers, while the teacher reminded her to try to do “mental math.” I’d count my numbers in my head every time the teacher said that. Hoping to send some of those important numbers telepathically to my mom.

Of course, my mom wasn’t doing kindergarten math. She was doing high school algebra, which if I am being honest, might as well been a foreign language to her, and years later to me. But in that hot room, with a laundry basket of used toys to keep me occupied, and those big bay windows to peer out of, I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that every time my mother got frustrated, every time she closed the book in aggravation, every time she told the teacher she just couldn’t do it, someone, either the teacher or some other student in the room, would assure her that she could.

Some days I couldn’t stand to watch her make her way through her workbook, so I would sit in those bay windows and watch the traffic below. I would wonder what a “GED” was, whether or not I would have to take the same test, whether or not I would be good at math. I would keep quiet, hold my bladder the whole time, and never interrupt my mother. I may not have understood what was happening, or the gravity of the situation. The way that this had the potential to change my mother’s life. Our lives. But I knew it was important to her, even if I didn’t know or couldn’t remember why. The only thing I do remember, with great certainty, is the day the brown envelope came in the mail. The way she opened it up, smiled down at that piece of paper, said she had done it, she had passed her test, then promptly hid the certificate in her top drawer. Never to be discussed again.

My mom made a decision that day in the spring of 1987, and while all that hard work, those calculations, and late nights may have only amounted to a dollar more an hour at her job, it did wonders for me. It did wonders for my commitment to education, the value I know it can bring to your life. I’m a first-generation college graduate, but I am not a first-generation high school graduate, thanks in part, to the room behind the bay windows on top of The Corner Pharmacy.

M.

The Poor Girl’s Grocery Store

My mom’s visiting. She flew in on Friday, and we’ve been enjoying catching up for the past two days. This morning over coffee I was making a grocery list for the week and she asked where I do most of my shopping. I told her Kroger, usually, but Target or Publix depending on my mood. Walmart in times of distress, like when I know I need that one kind of mustard and chain grease for our bikes. It’s a two-for. But I have to take a Klonopin before I go in, so there’s a trade-off. Anyway, I asked where she shopped and she said mainly Dillion’s (a local chain in Kansas, that might be loosely associated with Kroger), and Aldi. Then we both laughed.

My mom has been shopping at Aldi for so long she can probably tell you all the secrets you want to know. No need to join any of the 1,000 Aldi Facebook sites, where Xennial women talk about the AOS (Aisle of Shame, Shit, Stuff), and the peanut butter cups (which are shit in my opinion) my mom knows the real deal Aldi. I know the real deal Aldi. We’ve done our time at that orange counter bagging, rather boxing, our groceries looooong before Aldi’s was a “hip” and “cool”’place. In fact, it was incredibly embarrassing to be seen at Aldi when I was a kid, but of course if you saw a classmate there, then that meant their parents were probably poor too, so you’d just walk by each other and nod silently, then NEVER speak of the encounter. Oh, middle schoolers.

We’d usually go to Aldi at the end of the month, when the food stamps were gone, and it was scratch biscuit time. When it was that point in the month I didn’t care where the milk and hamburger meat came from, I just wanted milk and hamburgers. It was the odd times of the month where we would have “Food-4-Less” money, or maybe even be shopping the deals at the glorious new Price Chopper on Fourth Street, and she’s trick me, tell me we were going to Waymire IGA for the cereal on sale, and we’d end up at Aldi.

It was always too hot or too cold for me to stay in the car, so I’d have to go in, but first we’d have to dig around the car for a quarter for the damn cart. If we were lucky a family would be walking out and see us and ask if we wanted their cart, though that was rare. I must say it happens a lot more now, and on those rare occasions when I do go to Aldi, and I use a cart, I NEVER take my quarter back. And neither should you. Pass that cart off to a mommy struggling with some kids behind her. For fucks sake.

Sorry. Okay so once we were in the store my job was to immediately start scouring the aisles for boxes so we could transport our groceries home. I’d take my time with this task, because it meant I could hide in cubby holes, and look out for someone I might know. By the time my mom was finished shopping our cart was full of Moreos, and Skadittles, and Capri Fun. All the sorts of horrible knock-off names you could imagine! Oh no, I’d think, what if I have friends over this weekend and my mom asks, “Do you guys want Oreos? And then she walks into my room with Moreos?! #KillMeNow

At check-out time I’d run over to the orange bagging counter, which seemed to be much higher back then than it is now (probably cause I was a kid), and I’d sit, grumpy and scared, until my mom paid for our knock-off taco shells with her monthly allotment of government food stamps. Double whammy!

The cashier would throw our food into the cart crazy fast (some things never change) then ask my mom if she wanted to BUY bags to bag her groceries. My mom would laugh! Hahaha, pay 10 cents for a brown paper bag, I don’t think so! Then she’d motion toward me, my boxes stacked all around, and smile. We’d pack our groceries into boxes, then load our 1972 Dodge or maybe the 1979 Chevy Nova up, and I’d race the cart back to the corral, to link it back to the one in front of it, and take that damn quarter. Whether it was ours or not. Man. Those were some days.

My mom says the Aldi has changed a lot now. They have more “German” foods, and they sell a lot of good produce. I agree, then I blow her mind by telling her about Lidl! 🙂

So what does this all mean, Missy? Not a damn thing. I suppose this post just goes out to Aldi. To their fair prices and their unusual business model. But it also goes out to all the middle school kids who grew up on Fruit Tarts instead of Pop Tarts. Who sat on those orange counters, and asked for the key to the locked bathrooms. The ones who peered through the two-way glass to get a glimpse of “the back office” just to pass the time. To the box getters. The cart wranglers. The quarter gangstas. We’ve come a long way, babes.

M.

The Man Who Fathered Me

The story goes like this: My mother was the bartender at his favorite watering hole. He was married with three kids. They hooked up a few times, that led to a few more times, then more times, and eventually who could keep track. My mom loved him, and to hear her tell it, he loved her too, but you know, not enough to be with her. People knew about the affair. People at the bar knew. My mom’s friends knew, his friends knew, his wife knew, but still things kept going like that for years. I don’t know the specifics. I don’t know what he said when she told him she was pregnant with me, a 36-year-old, single mother of three knocked up with her married boyfriend’s baby in a small Catholic, midwestern town in the 1980s. I’m sure it didn’t go over well.

It’s tough to be the kid of a single mom. It’s tough to watch the father/daughter dances pass you by. To pretend that you are happy to make Father’s Day cards for your mother at school, after all, isn’t she my mom and my dad? It’s tough to see this man, the man who fathered me, day after day because my mom moved us into his neighborhood. It’s tough to watch your mother love someone so much, who just treats her like a pile of heaping trash (when he didn’t need her).

Then there is the stigma in the community. Adults knew who my father was. People mentioned his name to me on the street. In fact, I first learned his name from one of my mom’s friends. “Oh you know that old Ralph, your mom still loves him,” then laughter. I laughed too, even though I had no idea what or who I was laughing about.

Once when I was too young for my feet to touch the floorboard of the car, my mother drove me up to the IGA on 10th Avenue. It was a hot sticky day and we didn’t have air conditioning in the car so my skin was stuck to the seats and I was angry. Then, out of nowhere she points to a group of men working in the parking lot. They were all wearing construction hats and vests. One of the men, a tall, dark-haired man started walking over to our car.

“That’s your daddy,” my mom said. “That’s Ralph.”

For the first time in my life I remember getting a rush of excitement over the word “Daddy”. I had never heard it in relation to me before. I was the girl who didn’t have a daddy. As he made his slow, measured walk to our car I thought, for the first time, that my life was about to change. I thought this man, my daddy, was coming to us like he had promised. I thought we would do father and daughter things. That he would teach me to ride my bike, where my sister had failed, or teach me how catch a pop-fly. I thought we would go to the movies together on hot afternoons, and that we would eat around the dinner table like I had seem other families do. For the first time in my life, I was excited at the prospect of “Daddy”.

He made it to the car, as I was unsticking my legs from the seats and smoothing out my shirt. I wanted to look nice for him. He leaned into the car on my mother’s side, they said some things in a whisper, then he came to my side. He bent down, my face plastered with a huge smile, and he smiled back. He said, “Hi there, Missy.” And I thought my heart would explode. I was as happy as I had ever been.

That was the last time I would talk to my father, until the day after my 16th birthday when his name popped up on our caller id. I grabbed the phone and lurched into a tyraid. I called him a motherfucker. Cause he was. And an asshole. Cause he was. And a host of other names, ending with “Don’t ever call my house again, she doesn’t want to talk to you!” Only, I was wrong. She did still want to talk to him. Here they were all these years later, his kids long-since grown and out of the house with kids of their own, him still very married to his wife, and he was still calling her.

Well, to be fair, three out of four of his kids were grown and out of the house. His last kid was an angsty teenager with a bone to pick with him. But the time never came. In fact, I didn’t talk to him ever again. My mother did, to be sure. Years later, after his wife died, they hung out again. He was an old man by then, enjoying the solace of having lived a long life, surrounded by his kids and grandkids. Well, most of them.

My son was two years old when the man who fathered me died. My mother called me on the phone from 300 miles away. She told me that he died. I wasn’t sure what she was expecting from me. I’m not sure that she was expecting anything, possibly just informing me of his death, either way I said, “Hmm. That sucks.” Cause it did, for her.

For me, it was a relief. For me it was the end to having to worry about things. To having to make lists of things I wanted to say to him if I ever ran into him on the street. The end to ever having to wonder if he was proud of me, if he knew my accomplishments. Would he be happy to know that I am a grown woman with a wonderful husband who loves his child? Would he be happy to know that his grandson is gifted and enjoyed mathematics and technology? And is kind and humble? Would he be happy to know that I am smart? That I have earned a masters degree? That I strive to put the emotions and feelings of others before my own? Would he be happy to know that I turned out nothing like him, in spite of him?

It doesn’t matter anymore. Because for the first time in my life I have realized that the kind of man he was, the kind of man who lives a life of lies and deceit. The kind of man who fathers a child then runs from his responsibility, the kind of man that is exactly 50% to blame for all of it, but puts 100% of the blame and burden on his mistress, is not the kind of man that I care to impress any longer.

My mom used to whisper to me, “He is the one missing out, Missy,” and I never believed her. I always believed instead that I was missing something because I didn’t have a dad, but now I see that she was right. Now I see what I have accomplished in my life without him, and I am grateful for being the kid without a dad. Grateful for the lessons it taught me. For the conversations it provoked. I am grateful that I had someone in the back of my mind to do better than. If nothing else, I strive every day to be a better human than he was.

M.

PS… I forgive you Ralph. You can rest in peace now.

Food Stamps

I was a welfare kid. I always knew I was a welfare kid, even when I didn’t know what it meant to be a welfare kid. The word “welfare” was casual in our house. When I was small it was whispered, but as I grew, the word gradually become part of the normal conversation. It gradually became who we were.

When I was very little I didn’t know we were poor. But I do remember being very happy every month when the check came, or the book of food stamps showed up at the door. Food stamps were my favorite. Food stamps meant we could go to the grocery store. By the end of the month all that was left in the fridge was milk, condiments, and maybe some leftover vegetables. There would be bread, tuna, Ramen Noodles, and off-brand cereal in the pantry, but nothing that I wanted to eat. Food stamps meant meat. They meant sausage gravy and real biscuits, not the scratch kind that my mom made out of flour and water at the end of the month. The lumpy kind that always managed to bake hard on top, and break off in crumbles as soon as you bit down. Food stamps meant those little packets of lunchmeat that are packed with sodium and carcinogens, but only cost nineteen cents. Food stamps meant beef to mix with Hamburger Helper, and spaghetti, and tacos. Food stamps meant off-brand cereal, but the good, chocolatey kind that came in a bag found at the bottom shelves of Food-4-Less.

I’m actually not sure how my mom got the book of food stamps, she just had them on the first of the month. They were probably mailed to us, or maybe she had to go to the welfare office to get them. That’s what we called the office that was housed in the white, concrete slab building on the corner of Delaware and Esplanade, across from the riverfront. We called it the welfare office, but its official name was the Kansas Department of Children and Family Services. Today that building sits in the same space, with a fresh coat of paint, remolded from the inside out, and can be rented for various occasions; weddings, reunions, art galas, and piano recitals. I can’t imagine what it must look like inside, but I’m sure it is better than the orange and green walls that housed screaming, cranky children and sad, overworked mothers for many years.

The food stamps, I am fairly sure, were mailed to us. This was back when food stamps were actually a book of “Food Coupons” with the likeness of our forefathers, in various colors representative of their value. They looked like Monopoly money to me, though they were much more valuable.

My sister and I would argue about who could hold the book in the checkout line, and she usually won because she was older and more mature. As she got older though, she didn’t want to hold them anymore. She also didn’t want to go to the grocery store with us anymore. She didn’t want people to see her standing there, her mother painstakingly pulling out the right amount from the book, holding the edge, as to not rip them, and tearing down the perforated side.

If my sister had to come, either to keep me occupied or to help carry the groceries home back before we had a car, she would leave us at checkout and go sit on the benches just outside Food-4-Less while my mom checked out, and I bagged the groceries. If there was any food stamps left, my mom would tell me that I could buy a candy bar, and she would tell me to pick something out for my sister. This always made me mad. After all, she wasn’t helping bag the groceries.

Sometimes, my mom would tear a $1 coupon out of the book and hand it to me when we walked into the store. I would get to buy a five-pack of gum at the beginning of the grocery trip! Then she would hand my sister one too. My sister would roll her eyes and walk away. I would follow close behind, until she would shove me into a checkout line away from her. We had to checkout at different registers. I was always excited by this. There I was, just five years old and checking out at the grocery store. Buying my own gum, with my own food stamp. It was years before I realized what I was actually doing. Food Stamps came in $1, $5, $10, and $20 increments. So if your change was less than $1, you were given back change in actual cash. So, if you purchased a food item with a $1 coupon, the cashier had to give you back the change. When I paid 11 cents for my five-pack of Fruit Stripe, the cashier would hand me back eighty-nine cents. I would take that eighty-nine cents back to my mother. She would combine that with my sister’s eighty-nine cents and she would use that money, actual real money, to buy a pack of toilet paper and a bottle of shampoo. Or maybe a box laundry soap, or, at certain times of the year, a gift for someone.

The older I got the more I understood what my teenage sister had been feeling in those days. In fact, the older I got, the more I understood about a lot of things. I understood why every six months we would have to go the welfare office and sit in uncomfortable chairs for hours, until my mother’s name was called. I understood why my mother would remind me to tell them that I didn’t know who my father was. Of course, I didn’t know who my father was. I had heard his name a few times before, when he would call the house and my mother would hang up the phone in tears. I knew that I had a father. I also knew that he was married to someone who was not my mother, but I never asked. The welfare lady would want to know though, she would want to know if I knew who my father was, and if my father was giving us money. No, he wasn’t. He never did give us money, not to my knowledge. Though sometimes I laid awake in bed and cried, hoping that my father would give us money.

My mother always did her best, it was all she knew, having been a single mother of four. She worked when she could, doing odd jobs that could be paid under the table. Bartending, daycare, taking care of senior citizens, cleaning houses, places she could bring me before I was in school. When I was in school she got a “real” job, housekeeping, and by the time I was in third grade she was making minimum wage: $4.00 an hour. The older I got the more I understood the sadness and anger that she carried with her. It wasn’t from being left with four children to raise alone, it was from the fact that she needed help, government help, to care from them.

The older I got, the more I understood. I understood what being a welfare kid meant. The older I got the more I understood how you were treated if you were a welfare kid. How society labeled a welfare kid. The free lunches at school, the waved fees at enrollment, the bags of free commodities twice a year, that you had to wait in long lines to get, in the cold of January and the heat of August. Even when my mother worked full-time, still we had assistance, and I am glad for it. She is glad for it. Somewhere along the line my sister became glad for it too. Because most people who are on welfare, who get help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the current name for the Food Stamp program), who get Medicare or Medicaid, who live from social security checks, or help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 program, most of these people do not want the help they get. They need the help they get in order to provide for their children.

People don’t know that, though. People don’t know what it is like to live in apartments too small for you, or to walk through the lunchline in middle school with a bright yellow punch card in order to get your lunch. Most people don’t know the particular shame associated with it. The guilt that follows you around, even when you find yourself very far from those days.

It’s been years now since I’ve slowly torn out a $1 food coupon, careful not to rip the edges. Even longer since I felt the elation of pushing a fresh stick of Fruit Stripe into my mouth, while I hummed a song and cheerfully followed my mother around Food-4-Less, ignorant to the shame that darkened her bright eyes.

M.