I’ve never been a great planner, but growing up poor made me more or less a prepper. I typically buy my daughter’s clothing a size and season ahead, I start buying things for Christmas in September, and I start planning--and paying for--her April birthday party in January.
These habits are important to me because I’m a single mom and if I don’t prep ahead I won’t have the resources to give my daughter decent holidays. Four Christmases and birthdays have taught me not to count on her dad to pull his weight. If someone's going to make the holidays great, it's got to be me. But these prepper habits are a challenge since my full-time job became a part-time one.
Last spring I had to ask my daughter’s paternal grandma to buy her summer wardrobe because for the first time in years I wasn’t prepped ahead since the money wasn’t there.
This year is the first year I haven’t begun shopping even a little for Christmas yet. But I did manage to get my daughter her Halloween costume last month and just bought her winter wardrobe--minus shoes, pajamas and boots.
Coincidentally, she had a growth spurt too--so she needs essentially everything all at once. Of course.
My daughter’s name is Sophie. Right now she’s curled up on my lap staring up at me, so I asked her what she’s thinking about. She said “I’m thinking about mama,” but didn't expound when I inquired further.
“Just mama,” she replied.
I smiled, gave her a kiss, and kept typing from my phone.
This is the first Christmas my daughter is actually requesting specific toys. The pressure I feel about that is a little bit crazy, and I know it’s tied up with my own childhood. Everyone remembers that toy they never had but always wanted.
Well, I remember my parents getting me Christmas presents I never wanted, but telling me I said I wanted them. As if I didn’t know what I wanted, AND couldn't remember what I said.
I remember feeling two big feelings as a child during the holidays: completely unknown and guilty. I knew we were poor because our mother said so all the time. Anytime she bought me something, I felt guilty like I didn’t deserve it. And guilty that I even got a present when we were so poor.
There’s this thing about being poor: you’re taught that you should be happy with scraps.
The lesson carries over into every part of your life.
My sister and I grew up on food stamps, food shelves, and commodities. Before food stamps became SNAP, and before EBT. Paper food stamps everyone could see.
Food shelves might be the epitome of the world telling the poor to be grateful for whatever they get. I still remember getting some of the worst food that way. Sometimes really random junk like a case full of marshmallows. Spoiled food--not just expired use by dates.
Smile! Be gratefulyou have anything!
At my schools, everyone could tell who got the free lunch, since everyone who didn’t need it brought their own.
I had classmates who brought Clearly Canadian bottles to lunch everyday and talked about grocery shopping at Sam’s Club or Costco with their dads back when you still had to be a business member to shop there.
These girls counted me as odd because not only had I never been to either Disney--my family never took any vacations.
My friend Stephanie tried to correct me whenever I said “home.”
“You mean your apartment. An apartment isn’t really a home.”
I was the only person any of them knew who lived in an apartment.
To be honest, I thought many of my classmate’s lives were magic. And I felt guilty knowing it’s not so simple.
It’s hardly fall and I’m already feeling over my head this season. Carter’s/Osh Kosh has a sale on shoes and boots but I need to wait until I have money again and hope for a good sale. Everything is a balancing act.
Sophie is adamant about what she wants for Christmas this year. And it's a lot. Barbie everything… the giant dream house. Last year’s pop up camper. The pink car. And a Samantha American Girl Doll.
I’m still new to this whole parenting thing. So I apparently missed the fact that Barbie accessories cost an arm and a leg. Whenever she asked for a specific toy I tell her we can put it on the list for the next holiday and decide what's most important then.
But of course, every mom wants to give her daughter a magical holiday.
Sophie's a pretty typical 4 year old. Everyone who meets her comes away saying she’s very sweet and very smart. But as a preemie and “mag baby,” some milestones are delayed. Because I had preeclampsia, she was born with hypermagnesemia, hypocalcemia, hypotonia, and a host of other issues that kept her in the NICU for the first couple weeks of her life.
Delayed milestones are pretty much par for the course with preemies, and especially mag babies. Sophie was a very delayed talker, and even a late bloomer with playtime. At two years old when she began therapy, the staff clocked her at a 5 second attention span for any given toy.
It wasn't just my imagination, after all.
We’ve come a long, long way since those days, and I’m grateful that she finally loves toys and playtime.
Every time I sit down to write, it occurs to me that people think this is an absurd way to make a living. To have an income completely up in the air and uncertain. I would have thought it crazy last year when my job and income were stable too.
But there are a lot of crazy and absurd things in this world. I think it's absurd that friends can give a person a job they rely upon for years, suddenly cut them down to less than half time, and then act shocked there's a problem. That people can do that kind of thing with no guilt--and blatant nepotism at the same time--is crazy.
I think my mother never working and never trying to improve our circumstances growing up was crazy too. She wanted wealth to happen to her. Like the lottery or some miraculous handout from God.
I'm trying to raise my daughter to understand how I work for a living so we don't have to be as poor as my childhood was. That we make our own luck. I want her to know it's me, not Santa making her holidays happen. And I hope she can grow up much less fucked up from being poor.
As I write my stories over the next three months, I'm hoping to make her holidays better while helping other people feel less alone and more inspired. While inspiring myself. I'm hoping for head nods and highlights and folks who can say, "this really resonated with me because..."
I'm hoping to write past my holiday blues, through my ever present depression, and to reach a few different goals along the way.
One word at a time.