Sunday, August 5, 2007

Tough Decisions

When we are sick we go to the doctor, when we get "old" we retire to a comfortable living on our lifetime of investments. If we are career minded we work long hours while our children spend creative days with trained caregivers that enlighten with art, music, reading, and imagination all within the safety of criminal background checks; unless we’re like Sametta Heyward.

Without knowing the story behind the news article, Sametta Heyward was a single mom called in to work, when her sitter canceled on her. She drove her 1 year old and 4 year old to the group home she worked at, set them up with fans, food and drinks, leaving them in the car for her 3-11 swing shift. She has been charged with homicide by child abuse. The article from the Associated Press written by Bruce Smith, I read in the Sunday Register Guard (8/5/07), goes on to recount interviews with neighbors and co-workers describing Sametta as having gone through some difficult times but seemed like a “loving mom”.

I live in a community of poor and working poor. 96% of the kids, my kids go to school with, are on the free and reduced lunch program. I’m using this as an indicator because it means that they are at or below the poverty line set by the state for our county. What I’ve seen has gone by my eyes without much consideration. Over the years my own apathy has blinded me to what had always been a passion; children, their safety, enlightenment and empowerment.

My mother worked, sometimes two jobs,to keep the house going as the main bread winner in our family. My stepfather worked too but his was seasonal field work that slowed down in the winter after the plums were dried into prunes, and didn’t start back up again until early spring when the fields started planting. He worked hard long days and never made much money; so much of our survival was on mom.

We were very lucky for about two years. Really it was one summer and part of the preceding and following school year. We lived in a big house that had four bedrooms, a dinning room, an inside laundry room, and a big backyard that backed up to the neighbors house and a vacant field; no fences to bind us in and free access to blackberry vines, apple and cherry trees, a generous neighbor with a lush vegetable garden, and another with seven kids to play with. Our school was only blocks away and mom worked across the street at the health department. Life was very good then. It was still a financial struggle but we could get by.

My little sister had just started kindergarten and had to go home alone. She was scared alone in the house and would call mom at work everyday because she heard ghosts in the house. My responsibility as the oldest child, was to go straight home after school and take care of my brothers and sister, make dinner and clean the house.

This was one of the best most comfortable times in my families struggle to survive in this world. Everything was as good as it could get; mom and dad working, home close to work and school, fresh fruit and vegi’s to supplement the meager resources available to our budget. Still we were home alone for hours until mom got off work and my sister even longer. My mother had little choice. To not work meant welfare and food stamps, we’d done it before, but she had gotten this job through a program putting women back to work funded by the Carter administration. It was meant to be a future without government assistance. She was excited about it, talking everyday about what she was learning, how much she liked the people she was working with. To her it was a chance at a career that had a future.

Before the end of the next school year, the government administration changed, priorities shifted, and the program she was being paid from lost it’s funding. The shoe string department tried to get other funding to keep her but in the end she lost her job. By the next summer we were living in a motel a mile outside of a desert town in California, the six of us sharing two rooms watching tumble weeds roll by.

As I read the paper this morning and observe the priorities of the current administration I wonder about how little has changed. Children are still not a priority, and families still have to face the decision of what to do with their kids when work is how you feed and house them, but it also takes you away from them. How desperate must a mom be to do what she did? What would I do without the friends, family, and husband that I have? I have been blessed but what about the others. What should I do, what can I do to help? Do I let the vastness of the problem blind me with apathy or is there something I can do?


Herb Urban said...

Quite a moving story. After my dad died, my mom worked two jobs to help keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Sadly, things have not gotten any better in this country. A lot of lipservice is paid to "leaving no child left behind", or supporting families, but our leaders have no interest in either. There are just empty slogans.

Hope said...

Trouble is, financial stress on a family puts kids at risk for abuse and neglect. Dealing with those issues early can prevent the later criminal acts as kids grow into adults. Most understand the logic but still we are paralyzed as a nation.

Redness said...

What a story! You dealt with it so eloquently! The solution ... impossible while women and kids suffer! Thank you for your honesty.