When I Knew I Was Poor

As if it were not challenging enough to find myself in the position of mother at 19 years old, without so much as a friend in the world, and yet the great responsibility of raising this child lowered down on me like a boom. There I was, in Minneapolis, in a studio apartment with a roommate who was too mentally ill to work, and a job that couldn’t support me, much less support a child and pay also the expenses for three people because the roommate would be listed as the childcare provider. Joslyn was her name. I had not expected to be missing work and I was not ready. Even under normal circumstances, missing an hour or two really hurt my paycheck. Fortunately, the hospital social worker had some options for me to explore. One was applying for charity help to pay my rent. This helped for one month. But what would happen over the coming months with this poverty wage job and no social support? Even after working as many hours as I could pick up, there was still not enough money to cover the food, rent, and transportation. And Joslyn and I would have to negotiate agreements, which was often very difficult and sometimes deteriorated into absolute drama. I came to the realization that I would need to look at getting welfare to make up for the gap between my earnings and the very basic costs of living. I will never forget my first trip to apply for government aid in downtown Minneapolis. One word to describe this: humiliation. I had always been someone who had worked hard, supported myself, and even look after many others. And now for all of the abilities that I had, I was in a position of helplessness. It was like a punch in the gut. I could work 24 hours a day, and some days I worked as long as 18 hours or more; I even worked 24 hour shifts, and I’m not talking about sleeping over nights in a group home. These were awake shifts where I was working as a caregiver and in factories. But it would be impossible to make a living. And while I was away toiling, my child would be motherless. While I was away I could not hold her, feed her, and admire her beautiful face, or kiss her soft cheeks. Often the only time I had with her for bonding was to sleep for couple of hours a night. This is why I delayed putting her in her own bed. I had to snuggle with her to squeeze a few moments of time with her that I could. I never really got to enjoy my baby and every moment that I was not working I was trying to connect with resources to make up the difference. And my community saw me as a burden. We treat the poor like garbage. And I knew I was not garbage. The pain of this treatment broke my heart more than anything else I was going through. I could handle the pain of being abandoned by my daughter’s father. It was almost unbearable, but it does not compare to being sent down the river by my fellow community members. My child was facing a long list of lifelong disabilities and medical issues. I had the constitution to take this on. But not without a community. During those moments when I was talking to the social worker begging for help and waiting in line for hours at the welfare office with other oppressed people, I knew that I had become one of the poor.

5 thoughts on “When I Knew I Was Poor

  1. Beautifully written and it communicates the pain you went through. No one should face the stark choices you had as a young mother. I am glad you can help educate other people about the difficulties in being poor and how hard people have to work just to survive. You are a great mom!

    • Thank you so much for commenting, Gene. I really appreciate your reading and commenting. If I can help change perceptions of the poor so that it affects how we treat the poor, then I will feel satisfied. Even if it’s just a few minds, it will make a difference.

  2. You write so “Beautifully” & I know its not easy to open up & be vulnerable, but it can be a tool to release the pain. And In the proccess it does help othees like me to open up also. So I thank you, Bridget 😉

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