She was bundled in a pink fluffy snowsuit. It was a hand-me-down from her cousin, worn enough that the fuzzy teddy-bear face stitched on the hood was starting to pill. She grunted with discomfort as I carried her on my hip and fumbled to retrieve my keys without dropping the groceries in my left hand. Her cheeks were rosy from the bitter wind.
I set her down on wobbly snow-suited feet and bent to pick up a pink paper that had been slipped under our door. I flicked the lights on to read it. The lights didn’t flick on. It was dark, the only glow coming from a lamppost in the parking lot. I couldn’t see the mud-stained carpet below my feet or the piles of laundry left on the couch from the night before. The apartment was cold.
We returned to the dimly lit third floor hallway. Instead of paying November’s electric bill I had filled the two Cub Foods bags sitting on that mud-stained carpet. I looked at the rosy cheeks on my wobbly-footed baby. One of the cheap fluorescent light bulbs above us buzzed and flickered on her face. She stood two-and-a-half feet tall smiling at me. I didn’t think she should be smiling at me. I didn’t deserve that baby. I could give her food or warmth, but not both.
Everything in the fridge was rotten now. We had two bags of groceries and a cold, dark apartment. We wandered around in the dimness; brushed our teeth in the kitchen where the streetlights shone through the windows. I put the baby to bed in a sweatshirt and fleece pants.
I sat down on the couch, buried my head in my hands and called my mom. I could barely make words between sobs. Within a few hours the lights came back on.
There’s some perspective that comes from having been desperate, poor, and constantly worried about money. I’ve never used food stamps or accepted Christmas gifts from charities. When I was a 22 year-old mother living on student loans and tip money my parents were able to help. I’ll never be able to truly repay them for that, but I can pay-it-forward to that 22 year-old mom who doesn’t have parents to rely on. So I do, every month, and some months a little extra.
I imagine that, like me, you’re sitting in a warm home, presumably with Internet access, so I encourage you to do the same, especially in the cold months. Here are some of my favorite local charities: