When I got my current job, which is part time, at the state's minimum wage, we submitted the changes in our income, by mail, not in person, (though there was a twenty minute telephone interview which came after I stayed on hold for an hour and 57 minutes, hearing over and over again how important my call was) and were found to be $1.71 over the eligibility limit for assistance. And so, I spent my last $3.66 on milk and bread and put the card away in my underwear drawer when I got home, just in case we ever need it again. Because really, I never thought I would need it at all, until I did.
During all the years I worked, I never thought that I would need help buying food. But when I realized that we could not manage without help, I told myself that all that work had also included those mysterious "FICA" deductions that seem to take such a bite out of our paychecks. I told myself that I had "paid in" for a long time, and now for a while, I was going to have to use those benefits... kind of like paying for insurance and then having a medical bill paid.
I just wrote that like I didn't wrestle with myself and feel inadequate and guilty and shamefully over-educated and foolish about every transaction I made with that desert sunset debit card. Clearly, I still can't quite get over that: being the worn-out woman with the hungry kids hanging off the side of the grocery cart, making sure that we weren't buying anything that looked like a treat and feeling like I needed to somehow justify my very existence. I'm working on it, though.
To say that we lived frugally is an understatement. We had recently been living the working graduate student life, then the working graduate student life with little children, so we were used to a relatively low standard of living. This last year though, keeping food on the table has been the priority and other things, like haircuts and clothing and shoes and doctor's visits for grown-ups fell completely off the radar. We got a lot of help from family and friends. A lot. Of. Help. If you bought us dinner or groceries, or gave us a ride, or brought us a pizza, or gave things to the girls, or made sure we had gifts at the holidays or took us for coffee, a bagel, and a much needed laugh this year, you know who you are. I love you all the more for that help and for giving that help without making it obvious that needing help meant we were kinda dumb. I really love you for that last part.
My mom has said that one of my first sentences was "I can do it myself!" I have never been comfortable asking for help, because I am not someone who feels comfortable needing help. I love to be able to offer help-- to be helpful-- but I have never been graceful about being the one who is in need. This year, especially, has been about learning to take help gracefully and gratefully. About learning to say thank you without apologizing at the same time, without feeling like I was just kinda dumb because I didn't have a job and money to manage without the help. I've been reminded over and over again that people don't help you to make you feel bad, they help you to, you know, help you.
We still struggle, but I'm looking forward to the time when I will be able to offer help again, and offer it the way it was offered to us, casually and openly, and with no strings attached. Our friends and family have been such wonderful examples, and I've learned from them. I have learned to say thank you, and really mean it, then let it go when someone says "You're Welcome." Those are lovely words.
|Image from here|