#Entitlements: You Are Full of Shit if You Think People on Assistance Aren’t Working Their Asses Off

Rant alert. I’m not simply speaking to far-right zealots who place undue emphasis on individual effort and taunt welfare moms while they ignore how their party treats veterans.  I’m also speaking to those on my side of the fence, those who have no idea what real struggle looks like.  They are worse in some ways, because under their sympathy is a real resentment for poverty among their own.

I know this sounds caustic, but if you’ve never been on government assistance, let me take you through the average day of someone who is.

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Note: A quick summation of the application process for Medi-Cal, Unemployment, CalFresh (Food Stamps), Calworks, Disability or assistance with childcare.  It takes 2-3 days just to apply, and here’s why: the process is slow because the forms are not only copious, they are often badly phrased and confusing. And I am a writer.  It requires standing in line, filling out hours worth of forms, personal data collection, and one unchecked box sets you right back to the beginning. There is often no human available to talk to at the many many contact numbers if you have questions beyond the information provided.

So let’s see what a typical day looks like for someone who is unemployed or underemployed and needs these services. 

8am: You go through your normal routine feeding and getting the kid to school.

8:30 am: If you don’t have a computer, you go to the library or the EDD where you sign in and wait in line.  You get an hour, and in that hour, you must register yourself into the system and enter all your employment history so the system can send you notices.  Nevermind that no one actually gets hired this way anymore.  You still get to do it so that the EDD can tell you are trying to get work.

The EDD customer service line actually tells you that inquiring about your claim will delay your benefits.  The robot does not provide a general option to speak with an agent and all other options provide automated information.  Then it hangs up on you.  I shit you not.

9:45. You sit down to fill out your weekly EDD report online or by mail. These forms require you to track all the jobs you applied to, so you have to go back into your email, phone, look up addresses, etc. If you enter any of the information incorrectly, and I’m talking down to the period, it takes EDD a week to notify you, then several days after you correct the error to send you your check. Oh, and the IRS has the right to tax your weekly pittance, which is capped at $450/week.  So that’s your rent (barely); where does the rest of it come from?

10:20 am: You need to go grocery shopping.  First, you have to call the online system to see how much credit you have on your EBT card and then calculate out how long until you receive another payment so you know what to spend.  It’s usually in the neighborhood of $350/month if you have one child and no income. You cannot buy a bottle of wine, but you can buy a liter of Coke.   The EBT card is supposed to be more discreet, but of course, as soon as you select it, the cashier can see how you are paying and so can anyone in view of the display.

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If you are an expecting mom, you have to take WIC (Women Infants and Children) vouchers into the grocery store.  These vouchers all have specific brand names and quantities on them.  So when you check out, you have 3-4 separate transactions.  If you accidentally selected the 16 oz container instead of the 12 oz container, you either have to run back and try to find the right one, pissing off everyone in your line further, or you have to waste the voucher.  Either way, you are totally humiliated by this process on a weekly basis.  And grocery shopping takes considerably more time.

12:15 pm: You need to make a doctor’s appointment for your child. Don’t call now, everyone calls during lunchtime. Eat some Kraft Mac & Cheese and drink some whole milk. At least EBT lets you buy fruit.

1:30 pm: You still need to make that appointment but it’s not like being covered through a private carrier where that card with your medical record number is good enough.  Understand that at every turn, this system assumes you are lying about your situation, and so nearly every time you go to a doctor, you are somehow asked to verify again that you are on Medi-Cal, even if you’ve got the card.  You will be required to report on the nature of the appointment so that Medi-Cal can categorize the visit. And if you are on Medi-Cal, you are lucky compared to many other states.  I’ll skip the part where any serious health complications come up, that’s another blog.

The first available appointments for regular office visits are usually a couple weeks out.  Plan ahead!

2:00pm: You finally have time to sit down and look for a job at the library.  Again, you get an hour.  In this time, you can probably apply for four jobs online if you hustle and have all your info in place.  Those employers, by comparison, will receive thousands of resumes. Also bear in mind that if you don’t check this email later today, by tomorrow those employers may have already found someone.

3:00 pm:  You pick up the kid from school because you cannot afford to pay for aftercare or afterschool activities.  I’ll omit the conversation where you have to explain to your child why he or she can no longer play soccer or piano. The rest of your day is shot with chores and parenting even though your mind is elsewhere.

7:30 pm:  The kid is in bed and you turn your attention toward your bills.  With a fine tooth comb, you go over your finances again, seeing how much you are paying for everything, what you can do without, and give yourself a good guilt trip for any recent, non-essential purchases you might have made.

You opt to pay everyone a little because you heard somewhere that a company won’t send you to collections if you make a partial payment.  You might find extraneous charges on your credit card with its already mounting debt.  Corporations have a way of knowing when you are especially financially desperate and they like to take that time to apply random fees, jack your interest rates, increase your monthly charges and so forth.  This normally would just be irritating, but in your currently strapped situation, this feels like death by a thousand papercuts.  You spend many hours on the phone yelling at customer service agents and you can tell from the sound of their voices that they think you are crazy for making such a huge deal over $15.

8:40pm: You binge watch something and eat ice cream. You deserve this.

9:45 pm: You are already in bed because you know that it’s not likely you will get a good night’s sleep and you have to get up and do all this over again tomorrow.

Now imagine this scenario compounded by a couple of weeks or months.  Imagine having to prove on an almost daily basis that you need these services while trying to find work. Imagine that the idea of taking a lower paying job is even scarier because it will not cover your expenses but it will terminate all these services. Imagine the Sword of Damocles dangling over your head that you will lose your car, then your home and with it, everything you own.

Imagine what it would be like to go through all this and finally get an interview.  You are no longer confident in your skills, even though you have many.  You are no longer interfacing with coworkers in a professional setting daily and so your whole life feels personal and highly emotional. You cannot imagine that this company will hire you because you aren’t good enough.  If you were good enough, you never would have become unemployed in the first place.

Understand that has nothing to do effort, that to find yourself unemployed in this heart-racing economy means driving for Uber, going to work for Handy, or Task Rabbit and that you will get raked over the coals for any income you make with these types of gigs when it’s tax time.  Understand that more and more of us educated and skilled people will land here and that these meager safety net services are on their way to being nonexistent.  Entitlements? I earned that unemployment.  I earned my social security.  I paid taxes and I will pay more if this tax bill goes through. 

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It’s not even worth saying, but I need the catharsis today: Fuck you Paul Ryan, Fuck You, Mitch McConnell and Fuck all you old, white, so-rich-you’ll-never-spend-it-in-your-lifetime assholes.  When we no longer have anything to spend, you do realize the pot will run dry, right?  I guess by then it won’t matter.  You’ll own everything.

#Soapbox #TaxBill #Underclassuprising

 

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When Your Kid Parents You

Yesterday I took B to the Sacramento Zoo.  I took the stroller out of the car in the parking lot.  I put a foot on it to snap it open and a wheel snaked away from me.  The stroller lunged in my direction and me, being on one foot, fell on my ass, hard.  I drew my left hand back to catch myself and fell on my elbow.  I felt like I was still rattling for a few minutes afterwards.  

Blossom swung into action: “Aw, Mama you fell.  It’s okay, you’ll feel better soon.  Here’s a hug. Did you get an Owie? You’ll be okay, Honey.”

I didn’t feel pain immediately. I was distracted by meeting our friends.  It struck me as funny that Blossom just repeated the things I say to her when she gets hurt.

We went to the Zoo, which is always a mixed bag for me.  The animals are now dependent on these similacrums of their natural habitat because we turned that habitat into timeshares.  Just like everyone else, I love to see the animals.  But they seem listless.  Unless they are lemurs or otters.  Of course, the kids when out of their continental minds.  

Anyway, we had a great time but I could feel my hip and my arm tightening in response to the injury.  It was the weirdest pain I’ve felt in a long time.  It was as though I had done a thousand curls and I had intense muscle fatigue.  And kinda like a bad tooth, I couldn’t leave it alone.  So I would stretch and groan.  Blossom said: “I think you’re gonna live.”

When she was really little and she first started talking, she would call everyone “My Darwin.”  Especially when we did something she liked.

I think about how we hope and expect that our children will take care of us when we are old.  But they actually take care of us now.

 

They are feedback loops of our behavior, our worldview, our expression.  We get back directly what we put into our children.  

This morning, B climbed into bed and I was still having trouble moving the arm.  

She hopped back out of bed and I heard her pad down the hall to her room.  She came back in with a jar of salve that I sometimes put on her scratches or bug bites.  

“I’ll put some medicine, okay?” she asked.  She opened the jar, dipped her tiny finger in and rubbed it on my elbow.  

“That will make it feel better,” she informed me.  

“Thanks, B. I do feel better.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A thoughtful article about parental rage

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-bradford/the-part-of-parenting-were-too-scared-to-talk-about_b_4531665.html

This is something I think about a lot.  Because I am a single mom and because my child’s father only takes her on the weekends, I am always on.  I still haven’t dealt with the trauma of my divorce simply because if I stop to think about it I feel like I will fall apart.

Having a child is really alarming business; they mirror us back don’t to the words we use and the coping mechanisms we employ.  She regularly argues with me by yelling “relaxrelaxrelax, Mama!”  I can see that she is becoming more reactionary, more easily injured by my tone.  And it doesn’t seem to help that I can see in the moment that I am making a bad choice by raising my voice, by threatening to withhold toys/activities/treats in exchange for cooperation.  It’s easy to see how, in this situation, I could move abruptly and injure her, or myself.

I have been that person standing in the parking lot making judgments about the way someone talks to, or yells at, their kid.  But I have also been the mom about to burst into tears in public because I have no support and my child is testing me.

When B was a baby, a local charity organization sent a case worker out to visit me.  “Don’t clean the house for me,” she said on the phone, “you do not have to impress me.”

When she got there she gave me some literature and some other baby related things donated by a church.  And she said this too: “Remember that it’s ok to set the baby down and walk away for a little while when you see red.  And its when you see red, not if you see red.”  I remember this when B is screaming and I have spent the entire day applying for jobs and I feel like my head is going to explode.

There is an enormous amount of pressure in parenting: finding the right school, making play dates, even dressing them and owning the right stroller have a certain amount of caché.  But there is a deeper pressure and that is the ongoing responsibility of raising another human in an already overpopulated, complex, uncertain world.

“Welcome to a lifetime of worrying,” my doula said to me when B was born.

A friend of mine whom I consider to be a mother deserving of sainthood was dealing with her five yr old once when I was over.  He was in a particularly bratty phase at the time: whiny, sarcastic, belligerent.  She kept at it, asking him calmly why he was acting so angry, why he wouldn’t look her in the eye. The whole time they were having this exchange i felt like popping him right in his pie hole.   He finally relented and she released him.

“Well done,” I said to her.  “I was ready to fling him out the window.”

“Well, I was able to hold it together because you were here,” she pointed out.  “I wouldn’t have held it together if you weren’t here watching me.”  We had a good laugh.  The whole “it takes a village” thing is actually true.  We all need other adults to step in when our patience is spent.

As far as we have come with awareness about child rearing, we still keep our parenting skeletons safely hid in the closet.  It’s the reason that someone like Louis CK is so popular, because he is willing to voice some really uncomfortable truths about parenting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDwkVQL3Yb8

Here is what I tell myself after a long day of boundary defending, bath time negotiating, pajama wrestling, and multiple tucking in’s:

She is fed and clothed and warm.  And hopefully sleeping.

She is smart enough that I can tell her when I am having a bad day, and emotionally evolved enough to know what that means.

I am not traumatizing my child.

She knows I love her.

 

Rant: Rewriting Children’s Literature for Realism

There is a dark part of me, the ego-driven, socially conscious, bossy side of me that sometimes surfaces while I am reading to Blossom from the cannon of classic children’s literature. I feel this deep-seated need to rewrite the story.  I find myself tsking the writer, or the dated, unPC character:

“So what made you think you weren’t going to come home to a disaster if you left a monkey alone all day, Man with the Yellow Hat? Hmm?  That’s what you get for taking a wild creature out of his natural habitat.”

While my corrections might not be as entertaining, they would certainly satisfy the part of me that thinks modeling is important:

“I’m sorry, Son, that was my bad, I really am a terrible dad, Papa Bear admits he doesn’t know how, so maybe you should show me now.”

I secretly resent that most children’s programming tells them that as long as they are polite, and follow the rules that everything will go according to plan.  We keep it so nice for them.

I want Dora to sing a song about how she didn’t do it, she tried everything, she had all the help in the world, but no, she failed.

“We failed, we failed, we tried it but we failed!”

I want my kid to understand that often there is no resolution.  There are often desires that go forever unsated.   The world is highly unstable.  I remember the horrible feeling when I was eleven upon realizing that I was going to be required to do more and more math, that there were no longer any unowned pieces of the planet, that the social mesh we live inside just tightens with time.  It was not a slow realization, it was a car wreck.

To have a child in this lifetime is to really upgrade your level of denial about the state of the planet, our country, or even more fundamentally, about human nature.  We hope, as parents, to ease them slowly into these dismal truths, like the frog in the hot water.  That is why we lie to them in the stories we read them.

And honestly, as a person deeply committed to the literary tradition, I understand that these stories represent a time and place, that they have merit even when some of the particulars are no longer applicable.

My friend Gan Golan illustrated a great parody of Good Night Moon, called Good Night, Bush, http://www.goodnightbush.com/ and while it is a dark satire of the Bush Administration, it also deliciously satisfies the part of me that wants to call out the weirdness of the old stories.  A bunny in a nightgown, a bowl of mush even though it is night time.  ?

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There is another, unsettling thing that happens to me when I read her these books: I take them way too personally.

My mom gave Blossom a copy of Mr. Seahorse, a lovely Eric Carle book about all the Daddies in the ocean who take care of their babies:

“How are you, Mr. Kurtus?”

“Perfectly fine, Mrs. Kurtus just laid her eggs and I have stuck them on my head. Now I am taking care of them until they hatch.”

“You’re doing a good job, ” said Mr. Seahorse.

I read her this book right as my ex-husband was moving out.  In my mind it went more like this:

“How are you, Mr. Kurtus?”

“Perfectly Fine, Mrs. Kurtus just laid her eggs and I am going down to the Bay Area to do god-knows-what while she changes 100 diapers.”

“You’re doing a totally predictable job.” said Mr. Seahorse.

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Somehow knowing there are all kinds of male creatures out there holding it down for their offspring just made me bitter and sad.

In The Owl and the Pussycat:

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘you elegant fowl, how charmingly sweet you sing, oh let us be married, too long we have tarried, but what shall we do for a ring?”  I want to pull her aside and say, “you know, he is going to use this against you later, saying you pressured him into it, you’re going to let him pay that pig an entire shilling for a ring you won’t want to wear when you divorce, just sayin’, Lady. Besides, don’t you think there is some symbolism in your buying the ring from a pig and getting married by a turkey? Think it through!”

I get to the end of that book and I experience a pang of melancholy: “And hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon…”  It’s wonderfully romantic story.  But in real life cats eat owls, a tiny boat like that wouldn’t survive a week on the open ocean and there is no island that would support their inter-species relationship.

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It’s getting a little out of hand, I admit.  I get that it is a metaphor, a glorious one.

I really do manage to keep this impulse under control for the most part.  I could get away with making comments when she was a babe, but now she cocks her head at me and says: “that’s not what it says, Mama.”

So if you have suggestions for Kid’s Lit that deals with real life, please send me some suggestions.  All this internal revision is exhausting.

Some of my favorite realist Kid’s Books:

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst :http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/140185.The_Tenth_Good_Thing_About_Barney

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible no Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst

Red Tree by Shaun Tan

Spinky Sulks by William Steig

Adventures in House Hunting

Wow.  A new one, this one caught me totally off guard.  I’ve been using Craigslist, as many of you have, for at least 10 years, this one took the cake.  I posted a “wanted” ad looking for housing in Sac for me and Blossom.  Here’s the ad:

“Greetings! I am a creative, responsible and freshly single Mom looking for a place to live in a family friendly Sac neighborhood. We would love to live in an in-law or carriage house behind a family. 
I have one, lovely daughter who charms the socks off everyone she meets. We have no pets, one small car and lots and lots of art supplies! We love animals so it would be great if you have pets we can borrow. 
We would love to be near children and or a park. We like playing outside, gardening, making art and general frolicking. Biking is also high on the list. 
I am a freelance writer and rehabilitative yoga teacher so my time is flexible, I’d even be happy doing a babysitting trade or working off part of the rent in childcare. I can also furnish you with excellent landlord references and although my credit is not wonderful I have plenty of savings and additional support. A 6 month lease would be ideal but we are flexible. 
Thanks for reading this post, and enjoy this autumnal day. “

I got this response this morning:

“Hi

I have in-law quarters in back of the main house, 2 bd 1ba, that is currently empty. Its completely separate from the main house. It has its own entrance, kitchen etc. and its furnished.

Im looking for a CUTE female who is willing to clean, make coffee in the morning and do some ‘extra’ things around the house a couple times a week in exchange for $100 rent.

Normally rents for $1500/month. “

He also sent these pictures:

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So this was my carefully crafted reply:

Hi ——-,  I don’t know quite how to respond to this.  The implication is that you are looking for some sort of live in maid/prostitute and that you would be willing to knock 1400$ off the rent for those services.  Did I mention that I have a child? 
Do unusually handsome, wealthy men have to resort to sending inappropriate messages to single mamas on CL?  If they do it’s news to me.  
So I am going to have to call bullshit on this message, altogether.  The house looks beautiful, you (if this is indeed you) also look beautiful.  And while I happen to think I’m cute and I entertained this idea for a second, the fact that you had no problem sending it makes me think you are either a liar or an asshole.  Or both.
 
So I have to thank you for this gallant offer, but no thanks.  If there is a guy out there willing to make this proposal, then certainly there is a gal willing to take you up on it.  Best of Luck.  Next time, you might try asking a lady out for a drink first.  
 
 
~M
 
Again, wow.  Could I really get that lucky, to pay 100$ a month rent and all i had to do was bone a handsome rich guy a few times a week and make him coffee?  Nah, too good to be true.