Friday, July 2, 2010

Thinking back

I don't usually get emotional when I think about my "past" life - i.e., before Ron - but as my co-worker and I were discussing how time flies, the present, the past, etc., I found myself tearing up a bit when I got to the point where we were talking about the time in my life when my children went hungry.

To give a little background (I don't remember if I've ever talked about this before, but oh well... gonna do it again), after my first husband and I got divorced, I lost my job. He had quit his (to get his child support commitment reduced) and never paid any after it was even reduced. I received unemployment insurance (at the time, in MO, it was $105 per week) and I received a small amount of food stamps per month. This went on for March-May and then I was offered a job in June. I hesitated to take it because it was such a cut in pay from my previous job that I was afraid I would be unable to pay my bills. My ex assured me that he had gotten a job and that he was fully prepared to pay child support again. So I reluctantly accepted the job.

His child support bill was $200 per month; he paid $150 during the month of July and then didn't pay anything else. He quit his job and moved back in with his parents, where he had free rent, a car/gas/insurance provided, food and entertainment (they had cable).

I was on my own now with a job that didn't cover my expenses. Although I didn't have many bills, after I paid rent ($180), car insurance ($25), health insurance ($80), life insurance ($25or so), my divorce attorney ($50), babysitter ($200), gas to/from work (don't know what that would have been in 1983), parking (probably $30 or so per month), and utilities (electricity, gas, and telephone; we did not have cable), I had roughly $25 per MONTH to feed the three of us. I went to a food bank but because I made too much money they could only give me canned goods and $15 fresh produce/meat voucher once a month. They knew I wasn't making it (had to do a printout of where my money went) but their hands were legally tied. (I was $25 per month over the income guidelines for the size of my family to receive any public assistance; if I made just $26 less per month, I would have qualified for rent assistance, food stamps, and utility assistance.) Coffee was a quarter and bread was fifty cents; if it was Monday or Tuesday, I didn't put my quarter into the coffee machine because I might need bread on Friday. I had to wear slacks or dresses to work, so I'd start my hose out with dresses and then switch to slacks when I got a run; I'd wear those panty hose under slacks then until they didn't have any life left in them. My co-workers didn't want to include me in any activities because I didn't dress nice enough for them and I never had the money to go out and eat (I worked near Crown Center in Kansas City, MO and it was quite expensive, even then, to eat out).  So, I was pretty lonely. I had no friends to speak of and no money. I existed and that is just about all.

We lived on eggs, canned soup, and bread - sometimes with butter or peanut butter but often just plain. I usually ate one meal every other day. My ex-in-laws had two grandchildren - mine - but they never once offered to lend us a hand. When I would mention something to them, I would invariably get a response along the lines of "we each have to take care of our own" or "we don't want to get involved in your differences." Hello - our "differences" were THEIR grandchildren. They let those kids go to bed hungry while they took care of their own - a grown man who knew that by making the kids suffer, he was making me suffer more and he was willing to do that. I was a long time forgiving those actions. (side note - sometimes I wonder if I truly have forgiven his parents for their actions)

After Ron and I got married Shaun used to hide bread and cheese behind the sofa just in case the food ran out so he wouldn't have to go to bed hungry again. If my babysitter hadn't fed them breakfast and lunch they would have been much worse. Or, maybe I would have because my one meal might have needed to go to them instead. I was doing pretty good talking to her about it until I pictured Shaun running into the room one day saying, "Mommy! Mommy! Can we... oh, never mind. I forgot we can't afford it." The child had just turned 5 years old! He should not have had to worry about whether or not we could afford to do something.

One time, Ron incurred the "wrath" of my mom by saying something along the lines of "it's not like they've ever had to go hungry or anything" when we were having finicky eater issues with both Amy and Shaun. My mom rounded on him so fast his head was spinning and proceeded to lay it all out on the table for him about just how much they had actually done without and gone without while I was single.

But, God took care of us. He sent angels to give me a helping hand every once in awhile. My parents started buying food for us every month (when I'd let them) and my oldest sister even came over one time with sacks and sacks of groceries (I'd never asked her for anything as her husband was not a generous type but she said if they could spend $500 on a wig for his brother, who was going through chemo, she could spend $85 on groceries for me). My aunt sent me $25 one time when I needed exactly that amount for an unexpected expense. My babysitter would hand me a sack lunch every once in awhile, claiming they'd had "extras" the night before and just couldn't bear to throw it out or eat it again.

Even though things were really rough, I was reassured that my kids did turn out OK and that I did a good job with them and for them. It all worked out in the end.


Donna B said...

That is tough. Obviously, it made you strong. I remember some thin times when I was a single mom...only by the grace of God did we make it through...just like you.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I think tough times make us appreciate what we do have all the more. We went through some lean times when we first married and always managed to pay our bills as if by a miracle. If we wanted extras, then we would get in our car and go through the nicer neighborhoods and offer to sweep pinestraw off the roofs and rake it up. I sometimes miss those simpler times. Not too often ......