Four years ago, we qualified for WIC.
I remember sitting tearfully in my living room, talking with Kiedis' social worker from the county Help Me Grow program, trying not to cry as I asked her if there was help for us.
I was newly pregnant with Tova, and the amount of times Kyle or I skipped meals to make ends meet was becoming frightening. The fallout of the charter school year -- the stolen insurance premiums, bounced paychecks, and medical bills from my high-risk pregnancy, Kiedis' birth, his stay in the NICU, and all of his follow-up appointments that literally saved his life -- were still holding us hostage.
Never mind we'd just come out of the almost-divorce. We were lucky to still be standing at all.
She nodded her sympathy and gave me websites to visit, telling me that if all else failed, I could go to the food bank downtown and pretend to be unmarried, and I could probably get some boxes of pasta.
This isn't the life you imagine when you get married and have kids. You don't realize how tenuous everything is until you have a series of events befall you and you feel left without recourse.
So I filled out the copious forms, submitted the required documents, and waited as my gut turned itself in knots.
We didn't qualify for SNAP -- which was my personal hope because it didn't limit what you could buy as much as WIC -- but I was pregnant and had a special needs baby who'd been labeled failure to thrive, so the benefits, albeit meager, were there.
And I was too proud to accept them.
I grew up a middle class suburban white girl in a Republican family. It felt like complete and utter failure on my part that we didn't have enough to pay the bills and eat -- and I knew if my family found out they would berate me. I felt like I should have been better than that, above it. I was ashamed that I'd even applied, because there were "real" families out there that needed this money more than us, like one of those awful WSJ stories you read about the hipsters on food stamps cooking lobster while single moms made soup out of ketchup most nights for dinner.
I bought the hype.
So, for my pride, we suffered. I never told Kyle we'd been approved. I never went to the office downtown to accept the benefits. I never really mentioned it again, afraid that if I breathed a word of it that I'd be branded for life as a leech on society, a degenerate irresponsible woman incapable of providing for the two children I had no sense in birthing anyway. You're not allowed to make mistakes when you're poor, damnit.
To compensate, I became better about asking my family for help -- shortly after my meeting with the social worker my dad had to buy us an entire pay period's worth of groceries because we didn't have a dime to spare -- and graciously, they stepped in. I found a part time job at five months pregnant, a near impossible feat. We sold things of value in our home; we hoarded leftovers from family events and stretched them as far as possible. Random acts of kindness occurred and reduced me to ugly cries of gratitude and shame because my god, we were a charity case.
Yet, with the help of my parents and my siblings and the kindness of friends and strangers, we survived.
That isn't to say I wasn't still ashamed -- because I brutally was -- but I'd just been through a ringer of a year prior and honestly, I had very little give-a-damn left. I was already vulnerable as hell, barely standing on my own two feet. What's another favor to ask of these people, who had now seen me at my absolute rock bottom?
But the government, that was different.
There are a lot of families that don't have anywhere else to turn but to government programs. They don't have the luxury of bowing to pride. They don't have anywhere else to turn, except maybe to crime. It doesn't make them bad people, nor does it reflect upon their intelligence or competence or ability to raise and care for a family.
It just means that for right now, things are bad. It doesn't mean that they always will be, or that their need for assistance is now a permanent part of their lives. It just means they are self-aware enough to know to ask for help when they truly need it.
I could go on a rant about social programs and society's obligation to its members but I'll save that lesson for another day.
Right now, my heart is just heavy for the mothers who stayed up to midnight last night, hoping that their benefits would renew, listening to their children sleep as they learned that what they have in the cupboards right now is what they have left for the indefinite future. My heart breaks for the kids in my kids' classrooms who I now know will only eat the meals served to them at school, how at such a young age they will learn about the shame that comes along with being underprivileged. I can't handle the thoughts of the babies whose formula will be watered down to make it last longer while their moms try to find more childcare so they can pick up another job to try and make ends meet, if that's even an option.
Regardless of your politics, the truth of the matter is that last night, 9 million families were denied the ability to feed the most vulnerable parts of our society, our infants and small children, due to no fault of their own and with no reinstatement in sight. These families are your neighbors and your kids' classmates and people who you work with and worship with. They may not qualify for other kinds of assistance -- food stamps and welfare do not go hand in hand, as they all have different requirements and stipulations -- and this very well may be the thing that changes their situation from livable to not.
These families are just like mine, and just like yours. They are not the idea we've been shown for the last thirty years.
They are people, same as you.
And right now, they need our help.
Please consider making donations of formula, baby food, and non-perishables to your local food pantries, womens' shelters, and county family services departments. Ask your children's teachers if they know of a family in need right now (and they will) and lend a helping hand. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or a shelter. Get out there and be the saving grace for a family that has just run out of options.
Do what you can with what you have and put kindness out into the world.
Because you never know when you might be on the other side, desperately hoping against hope that someone would do the same for you.