I was about 10 years old when my family applied & was accepted to the reduced lunch program. I remember my dad telling me that we had been approved. I knew, I should be grateful but instead, feeling a pit in my stomach-the dread of going to school & worrying about what my friends would think. Wondering if they would even know. What would my teachers think? I didn’t grow up in a well to do home, but we had enough money to get by.
We were fine until my mom got sick. I remember that day too-the day I realized something was really bad & really wrong. My dad carried my mom out of the house to the doctor because she wasn’t able to walk-the feeling that day wasn’t so much about reduced lunches, it was about my mom being so sick she suddenly couldn’t walk.
We were accepted to the reduced lunch program because, after my parents found out my mom had leukemia & would have to have a bone marrow transplant to live, my mom had to go on disability. Disability helped us keep our house-but it didn’t leave a lot of money for anything extra. The reduced lunches (along with a lot of help from friends & family) helped my parents make ends meet while my mom was in the hospital and then the months of recovery that she needed before she was able to go back to work.
I was dealing with the loss of my mother, who was 2.5 hours away getting treated, dealing with the life I knew being ripped apart and now I was also dealing with the social issues that I thought might come from my family now being labeled poor or poor enough anyway. As adults we know kids can be mean, as a child I knew they could be mean too.
I remember going to school to pay for my lunch-hoping my dad would give me a week’s worth of money at a time because one week of reduced lunches cost about the same amount as 1 regular lunch. Looking back as an adult on my feelings towards the program, I still get the feeling in the pit of my stomach-now my friends will know. I still get the feeling of being embarrassed-I spent a few years of my life hoping no one would find out my secret. Today, I’m writing it down for everyone to read.
Now as a parent myself, I am often shocked at the number of people who will make comments about some children not needing the help. They’re not trying to be mean, they really think they know the parents aren’t spending their money well or on their kids-they make snarky or rude comments to each other or to say that we shouldn’t provide XYZ to these children because they’re parents COULD afford it-if they wanted too-if their children were really the priority. My dad still worked full time & we received disability for my mom-but it wasn’t enough.
When I see other people who need help, it kills me that people who don’t understand & have never been in a position that requires them asking for help, judging other people. Please trust me, you have no idea what is happening.
About the guest blogger: Jessica is the mom of 2 living the dream in the ‘burbs of Philadelphia and can usually be found at Delaware County moms.