Hello, I’m Dawn. I’m not really a writer and I don’t have a blog, but I’m messy and I’m beautiful. I have a story to tell and so Jessica, my beautiful friend, offered to let me guest blog. I am what some call “religious” so please know this one will be heavy on the “God talk”. Thank you so much Jessica! I am truly honored, and terrified. Deep breath here goes….
My son doesn’t know we are poor. He has no idea he is homeless or anything about the national poverty line. He doesn’t lay awake at night worried that the bills might not get paid.
The Wal-Mart cashier knows. She rolled her eyes at me and told me to just not panic. My son hopped beside me humming a happy tune trying to be patient and wait for the lady to put his new Hotwheels in a bag.
“Don’t panic” she said. She tapped her fingers on the scanner. “Do you want me to just stop?” she pushed. “No.” I tell her. “Let me think a moment” I beg. I’m trying to figure out what I really need and what I can put back and get later. I’m trying to do math in my head and that is never good. I think I’d rather put most of the food back and leave. I’d rather pretend I forgot my wallet and say “I’m gonna run out to my car,” but then not come back.
“Look, Mom! That red car is cool!” my three year old beamed. I can’t leave. I can’t tell him we will get the cars another time. He doesn’t know. He has no idea I don’t have a job and I don’t have anything in reserve. Don’t panic?
I look at the tiny bit of groceries laid out on the conveyer belt and mumble, “I’m sorry.” I don’t even know who I’m apologizing to anymore. The lady sighs huffily and flips the light over her station to blink. She is calling a manager to void my transaction. The manager comes over and the checkout clerk hisses in her ear, “She doesn’t have enough for this.”
The manager is much nicer. She smiles sympathetically at me but there is nothing she can do. I am worried and embarrassed. My unemployment benefits that were supposed to be on this card weren’t there. They were supposed to be, but they weren’t.
Now for the hard part. I bend down to speak softly to my son. He is standing still now, watching with wide eyes as the cashier and the manager carefully unpack the food and put it off to the side. “Honey, momma can’t get the cars this time.” I murmur in his little ear. “Oh,” he replies and nothing more. I take him by the hand and lead him to the car. As I put him in his carseat he looks at me and asks, “What happened, Mommy? Why did the ladies take my cars?” I don’t remember what I told him. Whatever it was satisfied him and within moments he was back to swinging his legs and singing loudly to himself. Whatever it was I said worked for him, but it didn’t satisfy me. And that wasn’t the only time this had happened.
This was life. A single mother, I was in the process of finishing school when I lost my job due to an “economic roll back.” I didn’t have too much longer until I finished my degree, but every day was starting to seem more and more like an eternity. While I didn’t have much, my son never knew. He simply trusted that he’d eat when he was hungry, play toys when he was bored, and wear clothes because he had to. What I couldn’t do, I learned to turn over to God.
I remember driving to take him to preschool one day. He was talking happily about something, and not in the least concerned with anything. I prayed as I drove, “God, my baby needs a coat. I don’t have the money to get one so here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to trust. It is not my job to know how You’re going to do it. It is simply my job to trust that you will provide.”
We got to preschool and I carried my little in. I set him down and off he went to play with friends. The teacher stopped me then, and said she needed to give me something. She brought me two large garbage bags and set them down on the table in front of me. “I hope that you are not offended,” she began, “but the other teachers and I could see that you are trying so hard. We wanted to help. We sorta put the word out that you needed some winter things for your little one.” Offended? I was dumbstruck. “Can you tell me,” I managed to gasp, “if there’s winter coat in there?” The teacher looked almost guilty and nodded. “There are two. You don’t have to be embarrassed. They are hand me downs….” she began. I didn’t let her finish. I was half laughing / half sobbing and I hugged her hard. I think I may have scared her at first, until I told her what I had just been praying on the way to school. Yup, this was Life.
It has been four years since this happened. I still cry when I remember those times. I’ve finished school, gotten a professional license, and found a job since then. But, even with the hard work and positive changes, my son and I still live with my parents because even with the job, I can’t swing the car payment, groceries, *and* rent. I still have a hard time juggling bills.
Going to Wal-Mart still fills me with a special sort of dread, like the ghost of embarrassment, and a flicker of panic whenever I slide my card. Is it just me or do the machines take an excruciatingly long time to “approve”?
In fact, just today I went to Wal-Mart to get a few things. Like years ago, my son was hopping beside me trying to be patient while the lady put his new Hotwheels in a bag. And yet again somehow I didn’t have enough on my prepaid debit card and the ATM was out of order too. That feeling of dread spread all over me again. I opened my wallet and was desperately counting cash, all the while thinking about what I would have to put back. “Take your time,.” sighed the cashier.
This time was different. This time my eye fell on a blue plastic Wal-Mart card. It had been a gift from some Monkees back on Valentine’s Day. Today I didn’t have to put anything back. This time was also different because I told my son. I told him that so many times momma can’t buy the toys, fancy games, and clothes, but this time he could take his cars home because of the way that God had blessed us. God blessed us through the love and generosity of the Monkees, 154,000+ people he didn’t know. His eyes were wide this time as he watched the lady carefully pack the food and cars into our bags. Today, he climbed into the car with me and asked, “Why did all those other mommies and people know you needed a card, mommy?” and I replied, “Because, I am a mess. My life is a mess, but that’s okay. I am beautiful, and my life is beauty- full.”
This essay is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE.