It’s a cold and snowy day here in my corner of the Pacific Northwest. I woke up this morning to snow on the ground which isn’t a common thing here. It’s the kind of day where you want to cuddle on the couch with a blanket and a cup of something warm, to be sure.
As I waited with my kids at the bus stop, the wind started picking up, blowing the snow. I was the only parent at the stop this morning, so I fussed at Middlest’s classmate to put up her hood, the other girl to zip her coat all the way, and I gathered them around me in a circle, everyone’s chin tucked into their coats and scarves, with their backs to the wind.
And I thought how lucky all five of us were to be coming from a warm home, and on our way to another warm place. The wind bit at my face, the snow stung. But I knew that soon, it would be better.
Today is a terrible day to be homeless. Truthfully, there is no good day, but on days like this, it is deadly to be homeless. I hope the people I usually see at the intersections and in the parks have found ways of staying warm, of finding a meal.
I’ve never been homeless. But I understand all too well the many ways it is possible to become homeless in this country. I know mental illness. I know family dysfunction. I know abuse. And I know how poverty can happen with a phone call.
I remember when I realized I was poor. Being a farm kid in a rural area, it wasn’t until I was in upper elementary that I figured out my family wasn’t like everybody else’s. It’s a weird moment when you realize that other families don’t eat like you do, don’t live like you do. We had clothes, food, and what I considered the normal stuff of life. I never thought much about how my clothes came from Kmart, and we ate lots of beans and split pea soup, and never went to see movies or ate in restaurants. Those things were what rich people did. We were normal, as far as I was concerned.
And then one of my classmates, a town kid, got new shoes. They were from Nordstrom’s and had a bold white stripe against their dark navy blue fabric. She thought nothing of getting those shoes or casually answering another classmate’s inquiry over their cost, which was more than my mother had ever spent on any of my shoes.
Funny how a shoe can change everything.
Her shoes looked so sleek, so beautiful. So unlike my “Trax” from Kmart. In one moment, sitting there in my fourth grade classroom, all the dots aligned and I remember looking around at my classmates. It was like there were two sides to the story, our own version of the haves and the have nots. There were wealthy town kids, and not wealthy town kids. The same was true for the farm kids. Two groups regardless of where their homes were, and miles apart in what their lives were like.
It was soon after this that my parents told us one night at the dinner table that if we (my older sister and I) wanted to go to college, we’d need to work hard, get good grades, and get scholarships to pay for it.
And I knew, right then, that if I ever wanted to buy a pair of fancy, sleek shoes without having to save and scrimp, I would need to go to college. I would need to escape.
Back then, we were poor, but not impoverished. That changed when I was in the ninth grade. I grew up on a big farm, but it wasn’t a big enough farm and the debts and loans had added up over time. Then the bank called them due. One phone call and everything changed. Every last thing that could be, had to be sold. We lost it all but the land and the buildings. Those were technically my grandfather’s anyway.
I remember the numbing exhaustion of that winter, before the banker’s phone call. Of getting up on cold nights, cold as this morning, and helping my mom mix up formula for the baby lambs without mothers. Our herd of rambouilet sheep had gotten “white muscle disease” and every day meant more dead lambs, more dead ewes. Of my parents’ faces as things got worse and worse. I remember thinking things had to get better. And I remember the taste of beans.
After that phone call, and many calls after it, my parents moved my little sister and I back to Oregon and we lived off of the money I had saved over the years from showing pigs and steers in 4-H and FFA. My college money — my escape money. It took awhile but we seemed to get back on our feet. My dad got a job, my mom started smiling again, and we lived in a double-wide trailer house that was the nicest house I’d ever lived in.
Then that job fell through, and we moved again. Thus continued a series of events, each one more difficult to overcome than the one before.
For the first time in my life, I qualified for free lunch at school. Before I graduated from high school, I watched my mother’s face the first time she had to pay for beans with food stamps. Everyone worked, not to get ahead, but to get by. And I also worked to get out.
I’ve been thinking about these things since the other day when my sister, Wendy, published a blog post about growing up in poverty and how it changes a person. She lived in a harder version of poverty than I did because I’m ten years older than her. I guess I was also ten years closer to escaping than she was.
By the time things got really bad, I was in college. Of course, that was just a different kind of bad because then I was an “adult” and I had to find ways of balancing my need to escape that life and the guilt I felt for having left them.
One year, it was nearly Christmas like now, and my mom called. I didn’t have a phone, so she’d called my friend across the hall and I remember standing there, at the end of her bed and hearing my mom cry on the phone. My mom never cried. Never. And yet, there she was, crying and telling me that she had twenty dollars and that’s all.
“And I need to buy your brother milk. I don’t have any milk for his bottle,” she sobbed into the phone. I cried with her, sinking down to sit on my neighbor’s cold linoleum floor. I remember winding the cord around my finger and then pulling it smooth. Over and over, giving my hands something to do while we cried together.
I didn’t know what to do then to truly fix things, and I still don’t. Because even though my parents got through that time, that time got through them too. Each time the phone rang with a new disaster, the disasters didn’t really ever end for them or my siblings at home.
Being poor, really poor, makes you look at the world differently. It makes it hard to be an optimist, to believe that things will work out because poverty tells the ugly truth — that sometimes things don’t work out. And those truths ultimately turn into a different kind of truth…when little boys and girls grow up believing that there is no way to escape, that they don’t deserve shoes or a warm coat or a home to call their own, they are unlikely to escape either their poverty or their feelings of unworthiness.
Being poor becomes a cross that cannot be put down. Instead, like a tree with a chain left around it too long, growing up poor becomes something that is so much a part of you, squeezing and crushing you, that you don’t even know its still there, even if you’ve escaped.
I may be a well-educated member of the middle class today, but those feelings of panic and fear are still with me. I still hold my breath when the cashier rings up my groceries. I still worry about how I’ll keep my kids safe, how I will help them when they need help. When my husband’s jobs have been in jeopardy or lost, I’ve laid in bed terrified I would lose my home, lose my kids, lose myself. I’ve spent months having panic attacks just getting the mail and seeing bills among the circulars.
Because I know just how easily it can all change. And then you are the one without a warm jacket or home to protect you on a cold and snowy morning, like this one.
If you are able this winter season, please give to which ever local agencies you feel can do the most good. I believe in food pantries which feed people while helping them retain their dignity. And I also believe in supporting shelters that help give people a bed to sleep on instead of the street.
I’m having one of those days. You know, the kind where you find yourself craving all the fat, sugar, and salt in the world. In other words, you desire an opportunity to eat your feelings. Or chips, salsa, and guacamole chased by a margarita, whatever.
It is seriously not my finest moment. Well, last night when I forgot to get Littlest from his friend’s house until 30 minutes later…that was probably a really not-fine moment. But today is ranking up there too.
It’s like I’m at the epicenter of a storm of pet ownership, menstrual angst, parenting, and career issues. I’m probably only about ten minutes away from being given a new name by the weather bureau. In case you are wondering why I’m so close to flying off the deep end, let me elaborate.
As folks know, it is November and we are heading quickly towards the US holiday, Thanksgiving. (Which falls this year on my 21st wedding anniversary. Turkey flavored cake, honey?) For several years, I have briefly considered participating in the NaNoWriMo writing competition, but never have. However, for some reason I felt this year I should ignore my strongly held beliefs that NaNoWriMo is the worst idea on the planet and participate. (To be honest, it actually is a great thing, it would just be greater in say February when there isn’t as much going on besides stocking up on chocolate which most writers would totally get behind.)
Anyhoo, I’m NaNoing and it’s not going badly, if sleep deprivation and a really messy home aren’t issues for people. They are for me, so I’m not only feeling a bit more crazed than usual, but I keep trying to get sick.
I decided to grab a fresh cup of coffee and the last gluten free chocolate chip cookies and head upstairs to my lovely new novel I’m working on.
But first, I realized the pet gate in the laundry room was down. Now, normally this is a sort-of issue. But today, it is a big issue that needed to be corrected. Because old cat peed on Middlest’s bed. Again. Mister Soandso got most of the stuff in the laundry last night, but the comforter is still in the laundry basket.
I was reminded of this because Charlie was standing just inside the laundry room with that look on his face. The look that says “I smell Pepper’s pee. I think I should go eat all the cat food and then pee all over the floor. Because I am the dog and my pee shall reign supreme.”
At this moment, I had a few choices to make, and you can bet that I made the one that didn’t work out so well.
Instead of putting down my very full coffee cup, or the chocolate chip cookies down (because that would be gross seeing as how they were not on a plate or anything), I attempted to use my MOM-POWERS to set up the pet gate. Which pretty much means I use the last three fingers of my right hand to hold my coffee cup, whilst pinching the cookies between my index finger and thumb AND my left hand to pick up gate, balance it on my foot, while I lifted the pressure bar to get the gate in place, all the while hip-checking Charlie who is really interested in going in the room.
Alas, a cookie broke and fell on the floor, my coffee spilled, the gate pressure arm was off its track, and the dog ignored my commands (aka pleas) to not go in there.
Meanwhile, I’ve only got like an hour before I have to get the kids from point A to point B, I still haven’t got Middlest’s comforter washed, nor have I phoned Littlest’s friend to arrange a playdate (for like the millionth day in a row). Instead, I’ve eaten my remaining chocolate chip cookie, drank all the coffee, and McGyver-ed several items into heating pads for some of the worst PMS related issues I’ve had in the past thirty-five years.
So yeah, please send all your comfort foods. And Advil. I seem to have run out.
The other day I was using a public restroom. It was lunchtime and the many cups of coffee I’d had before arriving at the restaurant combined with the two more while there and, well, it became imperative to “break the seal”, so to speak. So off I trundle to the bathroom in order to void my bladder.
So I’m sitting there, happily voiding, when another person comes into the bathroom. Me, being me, I look at the stall’s lock to confirm for the eighth time that yes, I did, indeed lock the door. And wouldn’t you know it? The woman walked up to the stall and tried to open the door. A line of eight to ten bathroom stalls and she picks the one I’m happily voiding in.
But that’s not the story.
The story is that I’m sitting on the toilet, clothing bunched about me, getting ready to pull off some lovely one-ply when the stranger on the other side of the stall door makes full-on, 100% eye contact with me.
Because the installers of stall door and toilet didn’t have that lovely conversation that begins and ends with, “Don’t, for the love of god and all things good and holy, let the gap between the stall door and frame exactly line up with the toilet.”
It’s a little thing, but like most little things that seem to not matter until they do, the way things line up makes a difference.
Like, what are the odds, right?
There are so many instances in life where things line up just so, and therefore, change the outcome. Think about your own life. There have been how many instances?
The red light that kept you from speeding past the waiting traffic cop. The missed flight that then experienced tragedy. The neighbor’s dog waking you up when you slept through your alarm. The held elevator door. The mid-life surprise pregnancy. The shared cab that held your future spouse.
So many times that things line up and everything is inexplicably changed forever in ways both big and small.
For me, sitting on that public toilet, having that woman look me in the eye was no game-changer. It may have been awkward, but really, she couldn’t see anything terribly risqué and it’s no big deal that she knew I was peeing. I’m sure she could hear that anyway. Really, it wasn’t that big of a deal and that’s not why I’m writing about it today.
I’m writing about it, three days later, because it was a good reminder of the many, many times my life intersects with others’. For good or bad, we live in an existence where things line up and the moment is changed. Sometimes those changes are heart wrenching and others are heart warming.
In fact, life is the act of things lining up and changing the fixed points, over and over again.
I’m going out into the world now, seeing in my mind’s eye that woman’s eyeball centered in the crack between door and frame, a big white orb of surprise. I didn’t see her anymore than she really saw me. And yet, that moment reminded me to go into the world and keep looking. Who knows what I’ll see lining up…
I’m warning you, I’m feeling grumbly today so if you don’t want to read my grumbles, you should go Google cute photos of kittens or puppies or something. Why am I so grumbly? Oh, I did that thing I promised myself I would never do. I let myself scroll down on an article and started to read the comments.
Why are so many folks such meanie-pants in their comments? The things people think it’s okay to say on the internet makes me lose my faith in humanity. Like to the point that not even sparkly kitten GIFS really helps.
It’s like the internet provides a switch for some folks; a switch that they wouldn’t flip if they had to say it to another person’s face, but in the freedom of their own space and comfort of their jammies, they flip with wild abandon.
And I’m not even talking about articles on contentious topics. I’m talking about run of the mill stuff like oatmeal.
PEOPLE ARE OUT OF CONTROL! It’s a dystopian novel in the making, I swear.
Let me elaborate.
If you were to hear someone say, “I’m lactose intolerant,” what would be your likely response? Not that heated, I’d wager. After all, most folks know that if someone says they are lactose intolerant, that means that the lining of their small intestine isn’t producing any/enough of the enzyme lactase which causes the lactose to pass from the small intestine into the large intestine where it interacts with that environment to cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Or if someone says, “I’m allergic to shellfish,” no one freaks out. Instead, they may offer sympathy that the shellfish avoider must skip the lovely prawns due to his/her body’s immune system’s response to the protein found in shellfish.
And for the ever growing population of folks who are allergic to nuts, we may be sad that we can’t share with them our Aunt Mabel’s world-famous peanut butter balls, but we wouldn’t assume that they are carrying an EpiPen just for kicks.
People are allergic to all kinds of things: dogs, cats, grass, mold, latex, pine trees, and even the sun. It may not make sense that our bodies go nuts and react to stuff, but they do.
So stop hating on the folks who say they are allergic or intolerant to gluten. Haters may hate but to read their comments, every person who is avoiding gluten is half-brain dead and the other half is so shallowly concerned with the circumference of their thighs that they should be taken out to the wood shed and soundly beaten about the head and neck until they wise up and just eat a bagel, dammit.
Yes, there are many, many people who don’t react in such a manner. And there are plenty of folks who latch onto every new diet out there.
But for those of us who really are intolerant to gluten, can commenters be a bit more gentle in their comments?
Let me tell you what living with a gluten intolerance is like.
When my family eats pizza, I don’t. I may eat a similar looking thing, but it isn’t pizza in the same vein as that yeasty-yummy-gooey-pizza thing you know and love. Imagine never again eating a hot dog at the ball game. Or a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Or macaroni and cheese bites on the happy hour menu. Or anything without reading its label or making it yourself.
Or imagine if you did eat something “normal”, feeling like someone is stabbing you in the stomach with a hot knife. That’s the first part. Then, as things move south, imagine needing to be near the bathroom. Let me tell you, explosive diarrhea gets old, real fast. And then there’s the several days of intestinal cramping that follows.
I remember the first time I had a gluten attack. I was a high school freshman, and I thought I was going to die. My family is of German heritage and so my life has always included lots of homemade bread, noodles, cakes, and cookies. All the comfort foods that sustain a farming family through a long, cold winter. I don’t remember what was for dinner that night. I just remember later curling up on the couch with a stomach ache like I’d never had before. These stomach issues continued to plague me until when I was an insured 25 year old, I started trying to find out what was wrong with me.
My doctor tried all the newest medication on me. Three different acid reducers, muscle relaxants for the upper duodenum, tests and tests and more tests, and finally an upper GI with that lovely strawberry-flavored barium. It’s no surprise that no medications worked, and no tests revealed anything.
She wrung her hands and went with what doctors are left with when all their tools don’t work: try to avoid stress.
What I needed was to avoid gluten. Which I found out when Mister Soandso joined a high performance gym and was put on an allergy diet (similar to the Elimination Diet). As we both stopped eating gluten, I found that for the first time since I was 14, I wasn’t suffering from the issues that had plagued me for so long. When I told my doctor, she was thrilled. She will biopsy my colon when I have my colonoscopy at 50 to rule out celiac’s but she thinks this is an intolerance. Her diagnosis: avoid it and test your kids for celiac’s.
Last winter, I inadvertently ate some gluten at a restaurant. The restaurant is about 15 minutes from my house. It was a very long and uncomfortable drive home. And then, about three hours later, the rash started. By the next day, I had a rash all over my trunk and my upper arms. My doctor’s reaction: Your reaction seems to be getting worse. You really need to be more careful when eating out.
I don’t eat gluten free because I’m looking for some magic way of being high-school-skinny. I’m very nearly 45 years old and I don’t need to revisit my high school years, thank you very much. I avoid gluten because when I eat it, it makes me sick and apparently, more and more sick as time continues.
So, feel free to leave a comment. But don’t tell me its all in my head or that I’m just being silly. Because my doctor and I will tell you that you’re the one being silly. Now, if you want to invite me out for coffee and a gluten-free scone, that’s different. Or a real, honest-to-goodness loaf of GF sourdough bread slathered in butter, or spaetzle and apple strudel, then comment away. My birthday is this week and I could use some of that comfort food that won’t make me sick these days.
ps. I mean it, never read the comments. Remember back when Walter Cronkite was responsible for telling us that’s the way it is? Folks left comments back then that showed a level of common respect for all. Their comments showed that they wanted to be part of a discourse and not just clang their swords together. It was a better time, back then. These days, it feels more important to shout from the rooftops than to sit down and talk. Let’s stop shouting and teach our children to talk with one another. I’ve got a cup of coffee and a gluten free muffin right here…let’s sit down together and stop hating on each other.
This week I was able to do something I’ve never done before. I witnessed a marriage. I have been an attendant in a few weddings, but I’ve never been the “maid of honor” so it hasn’t been my signature on that important line. But this past Wednesday I was honored to scrawl my rather untidy signature next to “Second Witness”. And the best part of the whole experience was the level of happiness in the room. Read more…
Yesterday was a day of many pilgrimages for me. If it’s ever taken you eight trips to get your reusable grocery bags from your house into an actual place that takes your money, you know what kind of day of pilgrimages I’m talking about.
It all started innocently enough. Mister Soandso texted me, “Get OJ.” I texted back, “Sure. Anything besides oj?” but because my phone is “smarter” than me, it wanted to send “Sure. Anything besides ok?” like eighteen freaking times. Thankfully, I noticed. But still. A smart phone is supposed to make communication smarter, not harder. Read more…
Hi folks. How have you been? I hope well. In fact, I hope your dial has gone far enough past well to put you into the fantastic land. Because who doesn’t want to be fantastic? Me, I’ve been fine. Could have been finer, but could have also been lots worse, so I’m not complaining. I have, however, been more scratchy than usual.
In case you are wondering, it isn’t uncommon for me to be scratchy. Read more…