One year, one week , five days

One year, one week and five days. 

That’s how long it’s been since I graduated.

That’s how long it’s taken for me to finally utter the words

I GOT A JOB!

After I graduated I went through what can only be described as absolute financial hell. I lost over a third of my income. I went through a series of job rejections. I ended up on food stamps. At one point things were so bad that I would let my daughter stay up late at night, so that she would sleep late during the day in order to conserve food. We were down to a meal and a snack per day. Things were grim.

Then I got landed a job with a temporary agency. I started working at my old school as a financial aid technician. Slowly I started clawing my way out of absolute poverty. This is the closest I’ve ever been to financial stability. I’ve managed to establish some savings and even start paying on some student loans. I’ve been able to afford the little things that on the surface don’t matter but deep down they really do. I was able to buy my daughter everything she wanted for her school dance. I was able to pay for car repairs from savings and still have money left over.

The only down side is that I’ve been rather miserable. I hate my job and I hate my boss. She’s probably the worst boss I’ve ever had. She’s basically a condescending bitch that has never learned how to be an effective leader. Every day I go to work and waste 8 hours of my life doing something a trained monkey could do. Most of the time I do absolutely nothing. Even when I am doing something, I’m not doing anything that I went to school to do. I have still been applying for other jobs and still going on interviews. I keep getting the standard “You have no experience” or “You’re over qualified”. None of the jobs I’ve applied for are things that I really want to do. They have just been jobs that pay a decent wage.

But that’s all changed now!

Today I got the call with a job offer. They even offered me a higher starting salary than we discussed in the interview. Words cannot express how excited I am. I feel like I’ve finally arrived at where I’m supposed to be. I finally feel like everything is coming together.

I’ve spent most of my life not having a clue what I want to do. This past year has been such an incredible learning experience. I got to spend a lot of time just learning about me and I finally have a clear picture of where I want my life to go. Even better, I feel like I’m finally making steps in that direction!

I only have one week left at my job. Then I’m off on a new adventure in a new career.

It’s been a long time since I was this happy.

 

 

 

 


Baby’s not in a corner

My little girl had her first real dance a couple weeks ago. She’s been to a couple school dances but they were just casual after school things. This was a fancy dinner dance. She had been looking forward to it for weeks. We spend two days shopping for the perfect dress, shoes and accessories. She took all her stuff to school that day and the little girls in her after school program helped her do her hair and makeup.

All the little girls were very excited for her. They’re all a lot younger than her (K-5th grade) and they’re at the age where they dream of going to school dances. Jessica loved being put together. By the time I got there she was absolutely glowing.

I drove her to the school and walked her to the door. The girls were all squealing with delight over glittering dresses and sky high heels. The boys were all awkwardly pulling at collars and ties. Parents were fluttering about like paparazzi.

In the middle of it all there was Jess. Twirling and smiling, she was absolutely caught up in the magic of the evening. We were entering a world neither one of us had ever been before. She was heading into a dance that had nothing to do with special education or her ALE class. This was all regular students and regular teachers. I was entering a world where parents drop their children off at 6pm and then pick them up at 9pm. This seems normal for parents with regular kids. But when your kid has Down’s this is completely out of the question. Jessica has never been with strangers. She’s always been with me or family or her class or daycare. This was my first time letting her go. My first time letting her be a regular teenage girl.

She walked into the glittering decorations and I stood in front of the door not really knowing what to do. One of the teachers invited me in to take pictures. Jess was already at a table chatting with a group of girls. I called her over and she says “MOM! You’re EMBARRASSING me!!!!” She reluctantly let me take a picture then told me to go home.

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I sat outside for a minute. I worried about her being included. I was scared she would be sitting alone in a dark corner trying to break into the “normal” world. I forced myself to get in the car and go home.

And I waited.

I’m not sure time has ever passed so slowly.

When I got back to the school, the dance was still in full swing. One Direction blasted on the speakers as a hoard of teenage girls screamed “THAT’S MY SONG!!!!”

As I stood in the shadows hoping for a glimpse of my baby a girl came and asked if I was looking for Jess. She said that Jessica was having a great time. She told me Jess had been dancing nonstop all night. I fought back tears and told her that I had been worried Jess wouldn’t be included. She smiled and told me that everyone loved Jess. She said Jess had initially been worried that she wasn’t beautiful. All the other girls were in really formal gowns and Jess was in a simple dress. After the girl assured Jess that she was beautiful, it was all forgotten and Jess decided to jump in and enjoy herself.

Around that time the shimmer of a white skirt caught my eye and I saw Jessica dancing with a group of kids. I managed to sneak a picture of her. It’s not a clear picture but it’s probably my favourite picture. I look at this picture and it’s hard not to feel so overwhelmed. There was my little girl just being herself. Her happy go lucky in love with the world self.

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I walked out of the dance and let her have the rest of her evening. This wasn’t the place for parents. This was for 8th graders enjoying their last dance as kings and queens of their school. Next year they will be freshmen in high school and back to the bottom of the pecking order.

I sat outside and marveled at the young lady my daughter is becoming. She is bold and fearless. She’s 14 years old and she has Down Syndrome but she’s doing something I never could at her age. She went to a social function and didn’t care that she didn’t have a date or a group of friends to go with. She wasn’t shy or over self conscious and she didn’t give much of a toss what anyone thought of her. She was just a girl that wanted to go dance and have fun. This is one of those things the Down’s couldn’t take away. There are a lot of things the Down’s robbed from us, but this wasn’t one of them.

This was a night where a young girl taught her mom that it’s okay to let go and that she’s going to be just fine in this big world.


Conversations

I picked up Jessica from day-camp today. I stood there watching her play Just Dance on the Wii with kids half her age and size. I don’t think Jessica even realizes the difference. These kids are on the same level as her and they’re her friends. I think the kids are at that age where they know that she’s different, but can’t figure out why. They love being around her because she’s a teenager, in junior high yet still likes to play little kid games with them.

We got in the car and she started prattling on about her day and she usually does. This is where the autism kicks him. She has a life plan and she repeats her plan every single day, multiple times a day. Any every time she goes over her plan, it’s like she’s telling us for the first time. She’s going to go to high school next year. She’s going to be 14 and in “nine grade”. Then she’ll be 15 and in “ten grade” and then 16. When she’s 16 she’ll get a computer. Then she’ll do “gradulations” after “twelve grade”. I go a long with her plan. All these things will happen. Though I’m not sure the computer will be pink with flowers, but she’ll certainly get a computer. Maybe it’ll have flower stickers.

But then she continues her plan. She’ll go to college. She’ll go to St. Mary’s and study math and science “just like you mommy”.

That’s when I get a lump in my throat. I try to fight back tears and suppress the anger at the damn 21st chromosome that will roadblock this plan.

When you’re pregnant you have all these hopes and goals for your baby. You dream of making sure they have things better than you did. You want them to know that the world is wide open and that they can do and be anything they want. And then the doctor tells you that your daughter has Down Syndrome and it’s like her potential was cut off before she was even out of the NNICU.

We have to work on her transition plan. They sent home assessments where I ask Jessica where she plans on living after high school, where she plans on working, if she plans on going to college etc… And it all just seems so cruel.

I’m friends with people that have kids the same age. They’re doing the same transitions, making the same plans, but they don’t have an extra chromosome holding them back. While I’m genuinely happy for these kids and their parents, it still stings. It still feels like she’s been robbed, like she’s had her dreams taken away before she’s even been allowed to dream them and that hurts. It’s even more painful because she doesn’t know.

She’s going to finish high school and expect to go to St. Mary’s and I have no idea how to tell her that it’s not going to happen.

I went to school and got degrees because I wanted to be a good role model for her. On the day I graduated when she said she was proud of me, it was the greatest moment of my life. And now my little girl wants to do what I did. She wants to be like me and I feel like I just set her up for disappointment.

There isn’t a “What to Expect When Your Kid has Down’s” book and no one ever tells you about this part.


It’s August

This will be the first August in eight years that won’t end with a new fall semester. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that school is over for me. I still have the same anxious feeling that I’ve always had trying to get my summer to-do list done in the last couple weeks before school starts. I still get excited to see all the school supplies out and longingly run my fingers over the pages of the office supply adverts.

I think even if I had found a job shortly after graduation, I would still feel these sharp pangs of sadness. I miss my campus, my professors, my classmates and most of all I miss my feeling of possibility. When I was still in school all my dreams were still possibilities. Now they just seem so silly. As if I was ever going to be able to move to Boston, or get accepted to The New School of Social Research. 

I can already feel my brain starting to lose everything I learned. I pull out my math books and flip through the problems thinking I’ll try to keep my skills sharp, but then I just get sad and long to redo my whole college experience. There’s a million and one things I would have done differently. 

My mom is really pushing me to go into teaching. She wants to give me the money for the down payment on this alternative certification programme. It’s an intense two week class on how to be a teacher, followed by being thrown in a classroom as a full time teacher. The whole idea of it scares the living hell out of me. It’s like someone teaching you to swim by throwing you in the middle of the ocean.

At one point I really wanted to be a teacher. Part of me still does, but I’m terrified of it at the same time. I don’t think I have enough confidence in my math skills to be an effective educator. I barely muddled through my last two years in college with C’s in my upper level math courses. I’ve never even taken a geometry class!

I have a tendency to blank out on exams. That’s the biggest reason I’m dragging my feet when it comes to taking the GRE.  It’s the same with the teaching thing. I know I could pass the first certification exam, but I’m scared of the content exam. I didn’t take abstract algebra or modern geometry, both of which were required to get a teaching certification. 

My fear has always been the one thing holding me back. Part of me screaming to just go for it and the other part of me is just screaming. I feel stuck, like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. 

August is here, but it’s not the same August that I’ve known for the past eight years. This August is demanding final decisions. No more daydreams and fantasies, this August wants a plan of action and most of all a commitment. 

I am giving myself a deadline. My birthday is in 12 days. I will be 32 years old. By my birthday I will make a decision and draft a course of action. 

By my birthday I will be ready to make a solid commitment to a plan. 


Adventures in Welfare

Dear Texas.

Go fuck yourself.

Yea I had to get that out of my system.

When I was studying working poverty in school a lot of the material came from case studies. It was a common theme in these case studies that the application process for government assistance was a complicated labyrinth of paperwork leading to a lengthy wait for approval. Many people could go from barely getting by to homeless in the time it took for a food stamp application to be approved.

When I was in the hospital for the first surgery I applied for emergency medicaid. I was denied because my income was too high. At the time I was an unemployed student and my only income was my daughter’s child support and social security.  Apparently the state of Texas thought a monthly income of less than $800 was sufficient to finance a $30,000 hospital bill.

So imagine my shock when I was approved for TANF and medicaid.

[cut to back story]

When I applied for the food stamps I checked the TANF box just as a “they’re going to deny me anyways, but what the hell” sort of thing. Later in the process of applying for food stamps (technically it’s called SNAP, but I’m about sick of acronyms) I learned that if a person received cash benefits (TANF) then the state will recoup those funds from the absent parent.  In other words, if I accepted TANF then I was agreeing to forfeit the child support. Given that I’m getting $360 a month in child support, it made no sense to give that up in order to get less than that in TANF.

At this point I asked if I could just cancel the TANF application and keep my child support. Surely the state would be well up for not paying out cash benefits right? I was informed at the workforce orientation that withdrawing the application for TANF would also withdraw the application for food stamps and I’d have to start all over again. So I agreed to just go through the motions figuring they would deny me anyways. A week later I got a call from the welfare office and voiced my concern about the child support issue. The man contradicted what the workforce office said (these are two entities that really need better communication skills) and told me that TANF had nothing to do with food stamps. He said that I could withdraw my TANF application and keep the food stamps and my child support. He would mail me a form, I’d mail it back and bob’s your uncle. Problem solved.

No.

Somewhere in the span of three days my application for TANF was approved! Now I have talked with a lot of women in worse situations than mine who couldn’t get approved for TANF because their non existent income was too high. It’s common knowledge that it’s virtually impossible to get cash benefits in the state of Texas. It completely defies precedent that I was not only approved, but approved so quickly.

Time for some number crunching. Currently I get $360 a month in child support and $268 a month in Social Security. The state had already approved me for $300 a month in food stamps. With the TANF approval the state was giving me $110 a month in cash assistance and $200 a month in food stamps. I was losing $360 just to get $110!!

I called the welfare office and tried to get them to cancel the application (the form hadn’t had time to arrive in the post)  and take back the benefits but alas there was no hope. The best they could do was deny the benefits for September, but August was a done deal. Immediately that knot was in my stomach as I freaked out about how we’d survive August if we lost that much money.

I ended up filing a formal complaint. Apparently this formal complaint was against the man that worked up my case. I thought it was just going to be against the office in general. So he called me pretty pissed off that I was filing a complaint and trying to talk me out of it.

Surprisingly I got a child support check for the beginning of August. My guess is that the payment was processed before the child support office was made aware of my TANF approval. So I was fortunate to be able to pay everything that needed to be paid and have a few dollars left to put gas in the car.

The moral of the story is that the myth of the welfare queen is bullshit. There are no women sitting back raking in piles of taxpayer cash. No one is doing so well on welfare that they can choose it over working. Welfare is temporary. There are time limits on how long people can receive benefits, so the myth that women are spending their whole lives on welfare is bollocks! There are caps on how many children will be considered when approving the benefit amount, so the myth that women are just having more kids to get more money is also bullshit. The fact is that sometimes bad shit happens and people (mostly women) need a little help to get through it.  I didn’t apply for this because I was a lazy cow that doesn’t want to work. I applied for this because I had gotten to the point where my daughter was only getting one meal and a snack during the day and there was no where else in the budget left to cut.

This is only temporary. When I start getting really depressed about this situation I have to remind myself that this is only temporary. That a year from now this will just be one more experience that I look back on wondering how I ever made it.  Just like the broken relationships, the surgeries, the insanely hard semesters at school, this is just another hurdle that I will eventually get over.


Gradually then Suddenly

I remember this quote from Prozac Nation:

“There is a classic moment in
‘The Sun Also Rises’ when someone
asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt,
and all he can say in response is,
‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ When
someone asks how I lost my mind, that
is all I can say too.”
— Elizabeth Wurtzel

When I was sitting at the food pantry a few weeks ago and asking myself how my life had fallen apart, this was all I could tell myself. Gradually and then suddenly.  From a private university to welfare in the span of two months. That has to be a record.

I remember being a kid and my mom was on food stamps. Back when they were actual coupons that looked like fake money that you pulled out of a booklet. As a kid I would pick that time to find something else somewhere else to do. It was a humiliating experience that burned into my memory. When my daughter was born I found myself in the same situation. My experience being on welfare was traumatic enough that I chose the cold austerity of a shoestring budget over jumping through the government’s hoops of shame.  By the time my daughter was in school, I was enrolling in college which provided the scholarships and loans that allowed us to get by and make ends meet. Things were hard, but they worked.

Now it seems as if after graduation I’m right back where I started. I honestly feel as if I’m no better off than I was with a GED and dead end job.

Applying for food stamps required a workforce orientation where someone shows us how to apply for jobs. Apparently being financially strapped equates to being an idiot.

So as I was sitting in this lobby waiting to find out if I would have to take the same basic literacy and mathematics tests as the people without college degrees (it turns out that everyone has to take that stupid test and my blood is still boiling) I had an epiphany. I would use this time to be academically productive!

I remembered reading Nickled and Dimed and being incredibly annoyed.  In this book Barbara Ehrenreich attempts to experiment with poverty and write about it as if her experience was authentic. I remembered thinking that one cannot simply try on poverty. There’s a certain fear and desperation that is inherent with being broke. Something that Ehrenreich never was able to experience in her experiment.

So instead of lamenting my downturn in fortunes, I’ll make the most of the experience. I’ll see if the welfare system really can work and I’ll document my experience along the way.  With any luck this will be a very quick experiment and I’ll either be employed or be in grad school by January.

Gradually then suddenly everything fell apart. Maybe gradually and suddenly they’ll come back together.


Meshed

I miss

…conversation that’s effortless and silence that isn’t awkward

…hands that feel familiar and kisses that feel brand new

…middle of the night philosophy turning into sunrise jokes

…playlists, inside jokes and daydreams

…fingers running through my hair & fingernails running down my back

…being completely spent

…feeling connected.

It’s been years. I should have been able to find this again. It still feels like I’ve lost part of myself. The part that was able to be happy. I keep thinking I’ll be able to start over.  Shouldn’t I be able to find these things again in someone new? Yet every time I try to start over conversations are hollow, hands feel foreign and kisses are stale. It’s been years and nothing has ever meshed the way it did with him. Nights like these I wonder if it ever will.


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