Thursday, August 11, 2011

With Benefits

Last year, as work began to dry up at the PR firm where I had worked since 2006, I found myself painfully jobless. And amidst the huge pile of ashes from the employment bridges I'd burned I found myself with very little options to keep my fridge stocked and rent paid. Basically, I had to swallow my pride and participate in what I considered to be beneath me- I turned to Uncle Sam and demanded he give me back some of that dough I'd fed into the system since I first started working "on the books" at age 14. That's 20+ years of FICA n shit that motherfucker owed me. So I reluctantly decided to go and try to collect.

I hadn't realize the shitstorm of paperwork, degradation and bureaucracy for which I was in store. But I'll tell you this much- it opened my eyes as to how this government works and doesn't work, capitalism and it's wasteful ways, and the functionality (or lack thereof) of social programs.

Let's not beat around the bush- I applied for temporary cash assistance. I needed help with bills and rent and maybe a little with food, too. Applying for government assistance is not unlike having to undergo a full body cavity search by some really, really mean and bitter Federales. I do believe there was even a question on the form wanting to know when it was that I'd last wiped my ass. Just horribly intrusive.

In that government office, and the many others I had to visit during my six-month stint on welfare, my degrees meant nothing. I was nothing. It was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever had to live through (which, if you think about it, is kind of a blessing!).

But I put up with the bullshit; I ate and cried myself to sleep every night (hence the weight gain I'm currently trying to undo) but I put up with it. I had two little girls at home who needed me to put up with the applications, mistreatment and humiliation so I did it. And when it was over (exactly one year ago) I can't tell you how deeply I exhaled (for those of you familiar with the Pilates exhale, it was pretty much like that).

New York Staffing Services swooped in and saved the day with a long-term temporary assignment that, just last week, turned into a salaried position. And I'm oh-so-thankful for this job. I'm a paid writer, close to home, with the means to be a proper head-of-household for my impressionable daughters. When I first started this gig I thought to myself, "Now I can hold my head up high again." But looking back, I really shouldn't have felt otherwise while on public assistance. I'm PROUD of the fact that I was able to fight through all of that stress and do what I needed to do to keep my tiny family afloat.

Recently, there were simmerings among Negro Twitter about the film "The Help" and its depiction of Black women as domestics, clearly implying this is something to be ashamed of. I say FUCK YOU to all these soapboxers because when it comes down to it, those domestics of the '60s, AND the domestics of today, are only doing what they have to in order to provide for their families. My grandmother did it, my mother did it and I did it. So what? It's not Wall Street but you know what? It paid us in the same green American dollars your snooty ass got paid, and it helped us live.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson about myself: I hate housework and I hate other people's kids even more. But if the thing standing between my babies' full bellies and a cardboard box in the alley was my pride, I'd actually pick up a mop and don an apron for Whitey in a second. Nothing hurts my heart more than to hear my kid say "I'm hungry" without having a way to feed her. It was the first time I'd ever felt truly selfless.

In the end, the fact that I learned to love my kids more and be a better mom helps me trudge forward, because I realize that anything I do for their well-being will never be suffered in vain. No matter how "beneath me" my education tries to convince me it is.

*smooches...finally back in the saddle*
for a quick, good read about this issue with "The Help" click HERE and HERE