single mom

We Three

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It’s nearly Tuesday, but I’m going to treat this like a Microblog (it’s technically still Monday so…). My mother turned 70 recently and the girls and I painted this series for her. We chose the same colors for the background and picked the sea creatures we wanted to paint. I think we did an amazing job. I’m constantly impressed at the creativity and talents my two daughters possess. To be a witness as they blossom and grow continues to be the highest honor.

They are away visiting family and return in a couple of days. Time and space away is good for any relationship. There are outside stresses that have made this distance quite difficult at times. I know we’ll all be glad to be back together again. This triad of canvasses reminds me so much of us. We are all unique and different, we are our own, independent beings, yet when placed together, we flow beautifully.

I have so much to write about. Some time to myself helped nourish my creativity, as well as provide me with free time for some fun and to do some much-needed organizing. I do plan to be back here more regularly. I’ve been writing about cool things over at Nerdy But Flirty, check it out!

#SingleMomProblems: Life, Work, & Benefits

This is partly an off-shoot of my prior discussions regarding the fiscal cliff and women, and partly a vent. Four years ago I found myself back in New Jersey, where I grew up, starting a new life. In nearly every way, this was a good thing. One exception was my lack of healthcare. I looked at various options, and paying for my own insurance was not something I could afford. At the time I was attending school, and even through the college the only insurance I was eligible for was “accident insurance.” I never fully understood how much was covered and how much help it would have been had I utilized its benefits, but it was only for certain types of accidents. I finally decided to go to Planned Parenthood since I was due for my yearly exam and I knew that was the only place I could actually afford to do so. There I was, at 31 years of age going to Planned Parenthood for the first time. I’ve been going there for my yearly exams since. As I said previously, it’s my sole assurance that I’m in good health. I am a freelancer, mostly in the field of art and writing, but I’ve also worked with special-needs children. None of my jobs have included benefits of any kind.

Some may say the simple solution is then for me to shut up and get a traditional job with benefits and be done with this whole discussion. That’s not so simple. For starters, I was out of the workplace for ten years as I was a stay-at-home mom. This was the first strike against me, followed by my lack of a college degree, which I’m still working toward. Essentially the jobs I’m most capable of getting are in the retail sector and involve committing to nights and weekends. This is not an option as childcare during those hours is impossible to find, let alone afford. The other issue with such jobs is that most will only hire you for up to 39 hours so they do not have to offer you benefits. Oh, and the pay? As low as $7.25 an hour. I would be paying a sitter more to watch my kids than I was actually earning each hour I worked. That simply doesn’t compute. As a freelancer, I have a higher hourly pay and am able to be there for my kids. It’s seemingly the best of all words–if only the work was more guaranteed and health benefits were affordable.

I am a single mom raising two young children on my own. I don’t have the luxury of having every other weekend and a weeknight or two each week free to work. I am the only parent available when the school nurse calls to say one of my kids is sick. I’m the only one able to take them to a doctor’s appointment or care for them while they are ill. To further complicate things, my youngest child has some special needs. She is currently mainstreamed in school, only receiving speech therapy for her articulation disorder; she has come far and continues to make progress. She is still followed by a couple of specialists, but thankfully many of her health problems have improved with age. She had a feeding tube until a year and a half ago, just as an example of how severe her conditions were and how recent. Two of her major issues now are migraines and a weaker immune system. Because of this, she misses more days of school than the average child, almost fifty last year in fact. I am unable to have a traditional 40-hour a week job outside of the home because of this. Every time I consider taking a more traditional job, I’m reminded of how frequently I need to stay home and care for her, and of course the times her sister is sick as well. No employer would allow someone three, four, or more days off each month for this. Simply put, my options are limited.

Strictly speaking in terms of medical coverage, it’s something that becomes a greater priority with each passing day. I feel like my health is a ticking time bomb at this point. I’ve been lucky in the past couple of years that I haven’t had any serious illnesses. I’d like to have insurance as an option so that I am able to better care for myself and not have to fear getting sick. That is why I’m adamant about universal healthcare. While I may struggle at times to find work that allows me to be flexible, I’d prefer to stay with my current career and have the opportunity to also have benefits. My priority is being able to care for my children, in particular my youngest when she is ill and requires medical treatment.

So that is my dilemma; figuring out how to make life and work and, hopefully, benefits all work out. It really shouldn’t be so hard.

Women and the Fiscal Cliff: Getting Sick Is Not An Option

I mentioned on Tuesday that I hesitated and missed out on making a  couple other points regarding women and the fiscal cliff. On the HuffPost Live segment, host Alicia Menendez asked how this issue effects women and children. Helaine Olen and Joan Entmacher both offered great responses that incorporated the economic effect this has on families and society. I should have chimed in on the personal. For me, getting sick is a terrifying idea. I don’t mean a simple cold. Even the flu doesn’t frighten me quite as much as a disease such as cancer or an accident. If I think too much about it, I’d never sleep at night. The financial, physical, and psychological toll that such an event would have on my children and me is unfathomable. I think it’s a tragedy that in our country single moms cannot find affordable healthcare, and that the few programs that do exist and benefit us are at risk of being cut.

For nearly four years now, I have gone without health insurance. I’ve learned to be proactive in my own health. I was an avid mountain and road biker a couple years ago. It was not only great physical exercise, it was also a great stress-reliever. I had two falls that I thankfully walked away from with only a few bumps and scrapes. However, I took that as a warning and stopped biking. It not only was an activity that put me at additional risk of injury, a major accident from biking would land me in the hospital and with broken bones. I could never afford the medical care required for this. So, I stopped the activity. I have made every attempt to eat and live healthily. I am back to a mostly vegan diet, I don’t exercise like I should but I’m working to get back to that. I don’t smoke and as of the last couple months no longer drink either. I’m doing as much preventative care as possible within my means. However, I know it’s not enough. There are things beyond my control, including a family history of disease from diabetes to heart disease.

I can’t even think, let alone write, too much on the thought of if I got sick. From the medical bills to my not being available to care for my children, our life would be tossed upside down. At the end of the day, I am it for my two daughters. I get a lot of support from my family and my friends; I have no doubt they would once again be there for us. But it is a nightmare to consider the ripple effect this would have on my children’s lives. The bottom line is simply that I cannot get sick. The effect it would have on my children would be devastating. None of us can completely prevent illness, even with the best healthcare. But the difference would be early detection, treatment (as heartbreaking documented in The Education of Dee Dee Ricks), likelihood of survival, and the financial burden I would then have to carry for, most likely, the rest of my life. This clearly would impact my children’s lives, from having enough money to keep a roof over our heads and food in their mouths to the daily stress of them knowing we were financially struggling. Poverty begets poverty. One major illness is all that stands between me and poverty; and far worse to me, is that my kids would then face such a fate.

When Alicia asked me what would I do if Planned Parenthood lost funding, it did cause me to pause. I struggled to come up with an answer, a plan, an alternative, but ultimately, I don’t know what I would do. It’s been my bit peace of mind I’ve carried for the past four years with regard to my health; at the very least, I am being screened for cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It was startling to imagine losing that. The fact that outside of Planned Parenthood I don’t have regular medical care does frighten me. I worry that perhaps something outside of their scope could be missed. I am hopeful that universal healthcare will kick in and I’ll be able to once again have coverage and be able to seek out medical care when needed, and have equal access to preventative care. It’s disgusting to me that in 2012, in the United States of America, working people cannot afford healthcare. How do we as a country have no shame about this? How do we allow single moms who are working and struggling to raise their children go without healthcare? We need to move forward instead of backwards. I am not a number, I am very real, and I hope our politicians remember that as they navigate the fiscal cliff.