She did make me smile.
Two and half hours after that moment, I left the building. My eyes red and irritated from all the random and increasingly embarrassing crying jags, my arms clutching my documents file, my stomach growling for anything edible, my brain filled with next steps and oh, I was also thousand pounds lighter.
I had encountered three different social workers - Intake, screener and caseworker. All of them were kind and helpful. And, well, I'm a person that cannot handle people being nice to me when I am feeling the feelings so each of these ladies struggled with how to talk to me. I am positive my cry face was equal parts pathetic and terrifying. I could see their struggle, man. Seriously if you say a kind word to me when I'm feeling vulnerable or sick or sad, I'm gonna cry every damn time. Just ask my mom or anyone who has ever met me.
I joked with the caseworker that perhaps she could begin yelling at me instead of being such a dang sweetheart because then I could stop sniveling and focus. She laughed and pointed to the postcard of Rosie the Riveter hanging from her overhead desk compartment with the famous tag line "We Can Do it!" and said, "Nah. This is hard. I'm asking hard questions. You are doing it." to which I replied, " Be careful. Pep talks make me cry too", as more tears fell through my laughter. She laughed too and said, "Oh man, we are doomed." We both laughed for a minute before getting back to business.
I kind of loved her because in that moment I felt all of my shame and embarrassment float away. In that moment I let it go. It was also the moment I knew that I would write about it - and not a year later when I was no longer using food stamps but as soon as I could get a few minutes to write. Because I have no idea how long I will need food assistance - I just know that right now I need them to feed my children. I have no idea how long we will need Medicaid - I just know that I can't allow pride to keep my children and myself from proper medical care. And so I won't. This is real right now. We are in the shit right now. This is officially a part of our beautiful and sometimes messy story.
It occurred to me during an After the Kids are Asleep Thinking Marathon that using a food stamp card will open me up to a new level of scrutiny when I grocery shop. I know its true because, well, I wrote about it a few years ago from the comfort of my lower middle class life and all you need to do is scroll through some of the comments to see what I mean. But I quickly relegated that thought to the Couldn't Care Less column. That's a bridge I will cross and educate some fools on when I come to it.
Because I am unashamed.
I made a promise to myself while driving away from the county services offices that no matter what - my chin will stay up, my shoulders will stay back and my eyes will be trained on the bigger picture. I will allow some grieving here and there- because duh. But it won't swallow me. I won't let it. I will actively work at this new normal and dream big for what's to come. I promised myself that my children will watch me rise. They are watching all of this unfold and if I am ashamed then I am teaching them to be ashamed and that just doesn't fly in my house. Nope.
And I hope that that you will join me. Because when I was financially secure I absolutely believed that there was no shame in needing and asking for help. I still believe that.
And sure, as I walked in those big glass doors at the beginning of this process, for a brief moment I took an anxiety-riddled stroll through Shame Town. But thankfully I was ever so gently yanked out by three women who didn't have to be so kind and yet they were. Some day soon I plan to properly thank them for what they would no doubt say was simply doing their jobs. But I know better. I could see that it was more than that.
And I remember feeling that way too when I was on their side of the desk.
xoxo, Mama Pants