My house smells delicious!
I’m cooking a turkey for supper. Such decadance for a random Tuesday afternoon! While the rest of those schmoes¹ are out there working the day away and dreaming ahead to their special treat of having a turkey dinner for Easter, I’m sitting home, still in my pajamas, ignoring the mess in the kitchen where I haven’t washed a dish since Saturday, ignoring the unmade beds upstairs, ignoring the layers of dust on almost everything. There’s four loads of unfolded laundry piled and already wrinkled on my couch and many more dirty loads on my basement floor. There’s popcorn scattered on the rug, kids’ uncompleted overdue homework tipped across the coffee table, smears and smudges on every glass surface within reach. The floor needs a seriously going over with a mop. I step into my slippers so I don’t have to feel the dirt from my floor on my bare feet.
Instead of cleaning up any of that mess, I’m making homemade chocolate chunk cookies to surprise my babies after school and cooking a turkey for our supper.
What a life of luxury, eh?
Instead of getting up to go out to work to pay for the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, the food on our table, I get up, shower and put on fresh pajamas. I have the time to make – and eat – homemade cookies and feast on turkey on a weekday evening. That’s my life on welfare. What could be more luxurious?
If you’re one of the many who like to sit back and pass judgement on people on welfare, I bet I just made your day.
“Look! A lazy welfare rat actually admitting to her laziness and extravagance – at my tax-paying expense!”
Except – that’s a pretty narrow glimpse of our life that I just showed you. You’d have to be pretty narrowminded to accept it.
I paid $15.37 for a 5.055kg turkey. That’s $1.38/lb. That turkey will be our supper today, mine and my children’s lunches for the next two days, our supper tomorrow, and a pot of soup on Thursday. That’s five meals for three people – two of which are growing children. That works out to $3.07 per family meal.
We won’t be having a proper “cooked supper” with that turkey today because I only have three carrots in the house and no salt beef or even riblets. I didn’t have enough money for that. Instead, we’ll have canned peas and white minute rice.
$1.38/lb is a great price for turkey. No doubt the sale is aimed at people shopping early for their Easter meal. We’ll be having our Easter meal with relatives – technically my ex’s relatives. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be having a turkey for Easter because I can’t afford to shop for large items in advance. I can barely feed us in the now.
The reality of our world is that I had exactly $206.15 to grocery shop with this past Saturday. That $206.15 needed to cover two weeks for three people – two of which are growing children, one of which is a prepubescent boy who eats as if he’s already a growing, hard-working teenager!
That $206.15 had to include two weeks’ worth of toilet paper – have you seen the price of toilet paper these days?? We have to have it, but some weeks, it feels like wiping your ass with cold, hard cash. Only, it doesn’t feel that nice at all.
That $206.15 had to include laundry detergent, a significant need in our house as my daughter is still a frequent bedwetter and we literally go through loads and loads of sheets, quilts, pjs, and panties, as well as mountains of poor pissed-upon stuffed animals.
Our $206.15 also had to include garbage bags. Filling my porch with regular shopping bags filled with trash is already a bad idea, but if I don’t have it all in an actual garbage bag by garbage day, the garbage man doesn’t have to put it in his truck. To make those matters worse we live in “Non-Profit City Housing”. If I don’t have my garbage bagged in the proper type of garbage bag – as is actually detailed in my lease, the city-employed garbage man can and will (I’ve watched out my window as it has happened to the neighbours) open my garbage and find something that identifies the home it came from. They generally look for discarded mail for this purpose. This can then be used as grounds for eviction. If I’m caught “hording” my garbage until I can afford a garbage bag, that is considered keeping my home in unsanitary condition, and – drumroll – more grounds for eviction.
That $206.15 had to include items that are packable for recesses and lunches. They love to have juice boxes in their bag, but that’s only occasionally possible. I use refillable juice conatiners to save money. Except when the kids lose them. Currently, we’re down to one plastic juice box and an ancient plastic thermos. I’m hoping the Easter Bunny hits Dollarama for some extra juice containers this year. My bank account knows that I can’t even afford those.
That $206.15 had to include juice – have you seen the price of juice??? Even the sugar-loaded stuff – which is all I can afford – is well over a dollar a can now. If you follow the instructions on the can, it produces 1.132L of “juice.” I water it down and we end up with approximately 1.5L of this “juice.” They still go through a full jug of it every day. My daughter will sometimes drink a glass of water, but my son is convinced that he’s “allergic” to water. That’s not me being humourous. He has Asperger’s with significant anxiety problems. He really believes that water will make him sick. I have no idea how he came by this concept. It’s just a fact of life in this house that he is afraid to drink plain water. (Not that the water that comes out of my “Non-Profit City Housing” tap looks “plain” at all. It has to be run a full two minutes before it comes clear. Yes, I did time it once.)
Oops! Sidetracked again.
That $206.15 had to include meats. Growing children need protein. I build each supper around what meat is available to us that week. Lunch may possibly contain a meat if there’s leftovers, or if it comes from a can AND if I could afford enough bread that week for sandwiches. You ever notice a woman standing in the bakery section trying to conceal the fact that she’s counting the slices in the loaf she’s holding, sometimes adding it to whatever number of slices was in the loaf she already put in her cart?
Yeah – that was me. Say hi next time!
That $206.15 has to cover breads, and rice, and pasta, and potatoes – the “starches.” The items that will keep my children’s bellies feeling full for longer after a meal. I skipped the bread this week. We had a loaf at home, and a bag of dinner buns in the freezer. I was hoping to have enough change left over at the register to cover us later in case we needed more bread then.
That $206.15 was also expected to provide my children with vegetables. I got a few canned items and a large bag of frozen mixed. I got a small head of cabbage – which my son won’t eat but my daughter will. I paid $2.89 for a 2lb bag of carrots. Isn’t that ridiculous? $1.45 per pound of carrots! There were 7 carrots in that bag. Seven! There were no other vegetables purchased. No fruit either.
Then my sweet boy asked for cookies. His sister repeated him. They hadn’t made a single other request in the store. They weren’t on their best behaviour but they had been a LOT better than I had expected them to be. I had earlier snuck a box of Dunkaroos into our cart. It had been my intention to surprise them by putting them in their recess for three days. They were on sale for $2.50.
I showed them to the kids. Would they rather these or a box of cookies? Cookies, of course. (Stupid question, Mom.) I left the Dunkaroos sitting next to those carrots that cost more than they did. I subtracted 2.5 from the total in the built-in calculator in my phone². We headed to the cookie aisle. The kids began to fight. My daughter wanted Golden Oreos, on sale for $3.89. My son wanted Chunks Ahoy, also on sale for $3.89. In most situations, my kids are amazingly adept at reaching compromises between themselves. But the opportunity to choose cookies is not one of those times. I could not spend $7.78 plus taxon cookies. I gave them a little more time to choose, and when they still could not agree, I grabbed a box of generic brand chocolate chip cookies for $2.89 (regular price).
Just so you know, there were 18 in the box. That actually works out to 16¢ per thin, brittle, who-knows-what-chemicals-are-added cookie. They were gone before Monday even hit.
My hopeful children also wanted to order their school “yearbooks”, $15 bucks a pop, out of our $206.15. There was a pay-in-advance ordering deadline for Monday. I was aiming to get our groceries with $20 bucks to spare, so we could order one to share and still have a few dollars left over for bus fare home and possibly a loaf of bread next week.
You may have noticed that there was no milk on the list. Milk is close to four bucks a carton now. Fortunately, I already had milk in the fridge and a “free carton” coupon pinned to the bulletin board at home for when this carton is gone. After that, there’s a tin in the cupboard that I can mix with water if necessary.
Our $206.15 was also supposed to supply our transportaion costs to get to the grocery store and to bring these groceries home. We go to the nearest grocery store to our home. In car, according to Google maps, it’s a four minute, 1.4km drive. It’s a pretty direct route. Walking takes you on the same path as a car would. With two kids in tow, it takes us about 30 minutes to get there on foot from our house, in decent weather, when the sidewalks aren’t buried in snow and ice. We took the Metrobus instead. That takes approximately 18 minutes because of the ridiculously designed transit routes in our city. Normally, one adult and two children will cost $5.75, one way. Thanks to my son’s needs, I have an “Attendant’s Pass”. So long as I am accompaning him, I can ride free. He also gets a monthly bus pass supplied by the SCWA*. So, heading to the grocery store, we only had to pay $1.75 for his sister. I’d have prefered to save that $1.75 for the return trip instead, but it was cold and foggy and raining, and she was only 24 hours recovered from a high fever that had lasted the six days prior.
I still have the receipt from that day. I made that $206.15 really stretch this time. Between the turkey and the other sales Sobey’s had on, we covered all the bases listed above. Maybe I’m a little worried about my toilet paper supply, but I do have friends that I’m not to proud to beg a couple rolls from if I have to. Maybe it’s still the first Tuesday and we only have one can of that “juice” left. But there’s some cheap “flavour crystals” in my cupboard to get us through the weeks like these. Maybe I forgot that my period is almost due, but I bought a “club pack” last month, so I should be okay there. I will have to go without my caffiene these two weeks. I couldn’t afford Pepsi, OR lemon juice to make my green tea lemonade. This month’s period is gonna be a bigger bitch than usual.
But my children’s bellies will be full, and I did it all for $176.02. We just dropped the penny, so that’s $176 even. (It’s actually noted on my receipt as “Rounding – Tender $0.02.”)
We had $30.15 left. Mentally subtracting the cost of one yearbook, I actually came away with $15.15 for the next two weeks. A cab home would have cost approximately ten bucks, and that would not include a tip. There was too much to carry to attempt to walk home, especially along busy roads with uncleared sidewalks and two children who BOTH have impulse-control and sensory processing problems. We missed the bus home by barely ten minutes. The next bus in that direction would have been another 50 minutes. We were all tired. Shopping had been an extra stressful experience for all of us that day. But I still couldn’t being myself to spend our last $15. on a cab. There’s a bench in the porch. We took our cart and sat there for a bit. No need to stand around at a cold bus stop until absolutely necessary.
I texted two people who might be on the go on a Saturday to see if a ride might be a possibility. They each have multiple kids of their own, and having vehicles, who knows what they’d be at or where they’d be on a weekend. I didn’t actually expect either to be available. But I was tired. My kids were tired. I worried about having Baby Girl out so long while she was still recovering from such a long fever. We could wait for the next bus, but, it couldn’t hurt to throw out a line and ask.
I generally try not to ask too much from those who are supportive in my life because I’m always afraid of asking for too much and losing the support that I do have. The two people I asked that day are lovely, generous, supportive people and I knew they wouldn’t be mad at my asking. One didn’t see my text until hours later, and the other was out with someone else, in someone else’s wheels. Oh well, it was an off chance anyway. Then she wrote back – her and her friend came and got us anyway!
This kindness has since been written on a note and placed into my “Good Things” jar. I won’t forget those who are kind to us.
As for the mess my house is in, my son had a bad day on Sunday. We had five straight hours of his freaking out. It wears him out. It’s tiring for his little sister. I’m the one who has to keep it together.
When he’s okay again, when his sister is okay after, that’s when I can let go a little. When I have to let go a little. All I wanted to do on Sunday was lay down and cry. Holding back a flood like that is exhausting. I don’t even get to feel the exhaustion until it’s all over. So I “cope” instead by letting the house slide a little. By tomorrow it’ll be better. The dust will still be there, and the clothes will still be wrinkly and on the couch, but it’ll be folded and stacked and ready to go upstairs. The rug will be vacuumed, my floors will gleam and my dishes will be clean. I probably still won’t make the beds, but we’ll be back to chipping away at that homework.
I’ll be honest, I’ve already taken a break from this and washed most of those dishes. 😉
But for tonight we’re going to enjoy that turkey as if it really was a luxury and not just another attempt to bring the ends – which never quite meet – just a little closer together.
¹ I don’t really believe you’re a schmoe for working. I was making a point. Duh!
² Yes, I have a smart phone. To get it I used money that had been “guilt-gifted” (that’s a story for another time) to me about four years ago and I had to sign myself into a ridiculous and unfair contract. Due in particular to my son’s needs, I need to be reachable at all times. This phone is an older model, and it is our ONLY phone. We do not have a house phone. We do not have an internet connection in our home. We do not have cable. My children do not have their own phones. This is our total connection to the world. And it has a spending cap, so sometimes we still get cut off from the world.
* SCWA is a program here that provides funding for community requirements of children with special needs.