Friday, September 13, 2013

The Lovely Sounds of Thank You and You're Welcome

Last week, I spent the last three dollars and sixty-six cents of our nutritional assistance-- also known as Foodstamps. We have been in the program for a year, after multiple weeks of spending hours on hold for multiple telephone interviews which qualified us for a no-expenses-paid  trip to the DES office where my husband and I and our two little girls waited five and a half hours to be asked for I.D., photographed, and fingerprinted, so that we could solemnly swear that we were poor enough to receive family nutritional assistance and federally subsidized health insurance for the girls.  Not that we had been singled out for such treatment.  We waited those hours in a large holding pen, er, waiting room, crowded with other similarly eligible Arizonans.  Then, until last month, we got a couple of hundred dollars a month  loaded on a debit card which could only be used for food. It had a distinctive Arizona sunset skyline on the front that was instantly recognizable in the store, so there could be no mistake about the person using it and how they got it.   But, it helped to keep us from starving, so in retrospect, I guess the wait, and the way I felt when I used the card, was worth it.  

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 


  1. uggg Erin idk why but i am in tears. Awsome my friend. although it made me cry, but still pretty awsome!!! love ya janet

    1. Thank you Janet. You know that you're one of the people I'm talking about here.

    2. I figured!Whoot whoot its my big break. haha.. Thanks Erin!