Dear Teenager Scanning My Groceries,
I know you hear me talking to the mom behind me. I know you hear us discussing our children, Pre-K tuition, our master’s degrees, soccer, and gourmet cooking. I know you hear me mention “my son’s father.” I know you notice the absence of a ring on my left finger. I know you see my smartphone. I know you see my fresh makeup. I know you are eyeing my mountain of food. And I know what you are thinking as I pull out that card from my wallet — the one that screams the word “BENEFIT” in big letters across the light blue shiny front.
I know this all because I might have thought those same things when I was your age.
Look at this unmarried, single mother.
How can she be on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program? How can she afford a smartphone (and still need SNAP)? How can she look so put together (and still need SNAP)? How could she have a master’s degree (and still need SNAP)? How could she send her child to a Catholic school (and still need SNAP)? How can she allow her child partake in extracurricular activities (and still need SNAP)? How could she talk about such fine meals (and still need SNAP)? How can she cheerfully hold her head up high (and still need SNAP)?
You flip the card this way and that and shift your feet. I can feel your panic because, despite what you think you know, you are unsure of what to do. So you call a manager. You lean in, hand her the card like it’s a dead mouse, and whisper, “She has SNAP.”
Like it is a dirty, ugly, cuss word.
Not something that helps me and my son eat.
I smile and wait patiently.
I don’t know if I blame your innocence, lack of knowledge, judgmental parents, the media, or wildfire politics, but I will tell you some things about myself. Yes, I am a single mother. Even though it was not my choice, I had a healthy divorce from my ex-husband to improve my quality of life. I look put together because I take pride in my appearance, review beauty products on blogs, shop thrifty, wear hand-me-downs, and believe that life is worth looking good for.
I have a master’s degree because I worked hard, but keep in mind, my dear, that piece of paper will not guarantee you a high-paying career. On that note, I have a smartphone for answering emails and conducting video conferences with business professionals — for my job, a job that I work at full-time, sometimes into the night, to bring in as much money as I possibly can to support myself and my son. Maybe the pay isn’t quite what I deserve, but I am a valuable part of a growing company that may, in the future, lead me to start my own business. And that same smartphone allows me to participate in continuing education whenever I want, wherever I am, so I can build my resume.
My son attends a Catholic school because I sacrifice. I sacrifice a gym membership, haircuts, and manicures so he can receive the best education in the area. He can participate in extracurricular activities because I trade off my services in marketing with business owners and offer to coach so he can be a part of a positive community while I continue to build my industry credentials.
As for as all of this food, I can enjoy beautiful breakfasts, lunches, and dinners because I meal plan, try new recipes, freeze leftovers, and learn how to stretch what I have so we can stay healthy in a yummy way, as well as have fun in the kitchen.
And how can I hold my head up high? Because I kick ass. I know at the end of the day, my son looks at me and is proud of who I am. Because I know that this is not forever. I know that I am blessed to be in a country that allows this type of assistance. I know that I am truthful to the system. I know that I am going places. I know that having SNAP is nothing to be ashamed of, and I am a smart woman with a bright future. And I know that just because my marriage failed, doesn’t mean that I am a failure, and don’t ever deserve to be looked at as such.
And to the mom standing behind me, thank you for being patient and not batting an eye as I checked out. Thank you for not throwing me a sympathetic look. It’s people like you who deserve a gold star for your compassion, friendliness, and understanding of all walks of life.
So, to the teenager scanning my groceries, I politely assure you that I don’t need your green sympathy or uninformed judgment. I just pray that you unbiasedly educate yourself and respect the next SNAP-wielding, hard-working individual that comes through your line. If we were to have it another way, we really would. But we will get there. I will get there. And believe you me, it will be soon.
A (Hard) Working Single Mom