During the early days of the Clinton presidency, after years of war on antipoverty programs, struggling single mothers were all too common. Somehow, some found ways to provide for the children they loved and were willing to give the world for.
Mama was one of those women.
When I was younger, there were times we had no electricity, times when we had to accept food from strangers, times when all we had was each other.
Somehow, Mama made it all work. She was willing to sacrifice anything for my brother and me. She was willing to sacrifice the world.
In the end, all she had to sacrifice was her health.
It happened when Mama switched jobs. She lost her health care, and COBRA was too expensive. In order for her to pay the heat and electricity bills and put food on the table, Mama suffered from undiagnosed, severe rheumatoid arthritis for six months.
I was eight when she lost the ability to tie her shoes, put on her seat belt, or even turn on the ignition of her car. She depended on me, a child in all senses of the word, to do these things for her.
I won’t lie. I was selfish and resentful toward my mother, the “evil witch” who disrupted my playtime because she needed my help. I was only eight, only a child. But when I remember the temper tantrums I threw when she made me carry the laundry basket, or when she wouldn’t give me an allowance, I feel a knot of guilt well up in my chest. Even now, all these years later, long after Mama has forgotten what a terrible, bratty child I was, my face still burns with shame.
Today, life is better. Life is easier.
Mama can (usually) afford to see doctors and pay for her medication. She still has bad days. Sometimes, she has to grasp a wall as she walks, hunched over. Sometimes, she bites her lip in pain. Rarely does she complain.
Mama’s trials have, ironically, provided me with my most valuable vantage point. I’m able to look at the world through eyes that don’t perceive everything as black or white. I know that being poor is not a mark of unworthiness. I know that everyone, regardless of income, deserves everyday necessities like health care.
People ask me why I want to enter politics. That’s when I point out that my story isn’t as unique as many people want to believe. Every day, there are parents who worry about affording groceries and others who can’t pay medical bills because it’s winter and heating is more important. When parents cannot pay for the cost of living, their children suffer too.
My story is the story of millions.
I want to make it the story of none.
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