"What would you like to eat?"
She pauses. I wait. And wait. I'm impatient. I have things to do. "Phia? What would you like to eat?"
She looks at me, her dark eyes in a squint. "I can't decide. There's too much to choose from."
The issue of scarcity comes up in a way I didn't expect. But then this is why people who win big in the lottery lose their minds and end up destitute and depressed three years after they bought the yacht, the life size statue of Elvis, the portable zoo, and the vintage jukebox collection for their custom built pool house.
Scarcity affects your brain. Going from having not enough to having more than enough is a weird transition.
We went from being a family with enough to a family with not quite enough. When I was employed, we were already juggling madly. Because I've made idiotic decisions in my personal life and financial life and began my career in the Pink Collar Ghetto and never learned the art of negotiation thus giving away a lot of my talent without ever labeling it a valuable commodity, we were in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy (that's the one where you pay back your debt to those long suffering banks like Citibank, Chase and Barclays) and in the settlement, we gave up our house and a car.
We tested the notion that once you get behind the eight ball, it's really hard to get out. Guess what! It's true! You've heard that if you're in a hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging line? Well, once you stop digging, you still have to claw your way out, running at the steep sides, clutching at nothing but a belief that things will get better if you follow the rules whatever the hell they are. And don't forget to dodge the dirt clods being lobbed at you by someone up there. And I don't mean god.
Even so, we had enough. Not shopping and vacations and savings account enough, but enough.
So we went from that to not quite having enough. We reached the end of each month feeling stressed and hungering for things we couldn't have. I worried about having the utilities would be cut off. We still can't agree which is worse- having the gas, water or electricity cut off. We experienced each at least once. The cats found it exceedingly difficult when the TV was cut off, for example. Not being able to watch Animal Hoarders was tantamount to torture. But they, too, survived.
When food was more scarce than we were accustomed to, we each reacted in our own way. MathMan and I hid any treats in our room because the kids became territorial as we got squeezed.
"I spat on that so don't eat it."
"That's my last bit of ice cream. You had two bowls of it already."
"Can I have a piece of your gum?"
"I have to make it last."
It wasn't all bad. We've grown from the experience and I hope we never forget making choices such as whether to eat what's left of the salad now or save it for lunch tomorrow? Salad. Right. That wasn't me.
Realizing that we couldn't continue that way, especially if I hadn't found paid work before the unemployment checks stopped coming, we took a hard look at our variable expenses and decided that we would have to cut spending on groceries because that was one thing we could control. I took the couponing class and started researching buying groceries on a cycle and stockpiling.
I had no idea what a radical change that would mean for us regarding the issue of scarcity. Through inertia and ignorance, we'd been living a split deprivation. The first two weeks of the month, we lived our old life - a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator, money on the bank card for gasoline. The last two weeks, it felt like a rerun of the Great Depression with cellphones and iPods and a message at the gas tank that read "Please see attendant." Gulp.
So now we have enough food and with the money we're saving on groceries, cleaning supplies and electricity (using the dryer less), we're able to pay our bills on time. With our tax refund, we paid off our outstanding medical bills except for the orthodontist, but at the end of this month, we'll bring that bill up to date. We set aside some savings for emergencies because we drive two cars, each with 200,000 miles already under their fan belts and we're considering moving closer to MathMan's job, but there's no getting around the fact that moving is expensive and would cause yet another financial setback. Rising gas prices may create a no win situation and force the issue. Damn it. I like gazing at that balance in the savings account.
Now what was my point? Oh, yes. Having enough. And how living with scarcity changes you. It's true. Sometime in early January, I had my Scarlet O'Hara moment. I stomped around the backyard, hiked up my dress, shook my fist at the sunset and announced that we would never go hungry again.
The neighbors are still talking about it.
The kids will adjust. MathMan and I will adjust. We always do.
Here's the nice part. Having enough moves us from the receivers' column back to the givers' column where I, at least, feel more comfortable. Some of the food that I'm getting for free is going to a local food bank and the free toiletries are going to a woman's shelter. There's even a way to recycle expired coupons. You can send them to military bases where they can be used by our service members and their families.
This is what it looks like when people have a chance for a fresh start. Our family is going to recover from this financial mess. While the reality that I'll never replace my former income is a frustrating example of how things have changed for workers in this nation, I can at least use my experiences as a long-term job seeker as blog fodder, book fodder and a reason to drink. Plus, it's aces for putting a quick end to fundraising phone calls.
"Hi, Mrs. Golden, how are you today? This is Shelley with the Save the Speckled Easter Egg Fund and I'm not calling to ask for money, but can I tell you a little about what we do?"
"Sure. I've been unemployed for over a year and still can't find a job so I'm lonely and bored. Broke, too, so there's no disposable income for me to donate, but please do, tell me what your organization is doing."
I guess she'd heard enough. Dang it. I had to go back to talking to the cats.
Speaking of fundraisers (and I do support some), my friend Latka is fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Walk. Latka's father suffered from the disease and now his daughter Meredith, age 30, has been diagnosed with it. Please join me by making a donation. If we each give, it adds up. And some day, it will be enough.