It’s funny sometimes to think about the way our past shapes our future. Small moments of time can change your outlook on life for years to come. Many people choose to take those moments and have them affect their lives for good or bad for years to come, perhaps without even realizing it.
I’ve always prided myself on being independent and rising above my past to become a better person than what circumstances dictated I should have become. The change came quietly, but from the time I was 12 it burned like an ember within me. Every decision I made was based on the fact that I did not want to become what my mother had. I refused to let poverty and mental illness take hold in my life in the same way a runner trains for a marathon.
From the time I was 11 I worked at odd jobs, but even before then I was doing my part to support our family. I knew from my mother that money made the world go round. After all, according to her we had been done wrong by society and they owed us. I never knew what we had done wrong to deserve poverty, but like any child I just kind of accepted it and when the money would run out well before the end of the month I’d do my duty as a good daughter and take up a collection.
The first people I would hit up would be family or friends asking to borrow a cup of milk, an egg or two, perhaps even some money. Once the well had run dry from those that we knew my mom would tell me to go next door. “Try the neighbors.” she would say. “Look sad, and hungry.”, ”See if they can lend us 20″. I was horrified at having to do this, but if I fought it tempers would rise, and when I wouldn’t give in to the yelling the tears would come. I could handle the anger by heading into my room or yelling back, but the tears got me every time. She knew that.
So, as soon as I was old enough I decided that if I didn’t want to have to beg any more that I was going to have to do something about it. My odd jobs babysitting and my flyer route didn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have to go door to door but the frequency that it occurred was greatly reduced. From then on there wasn’t a time in my life where I didn’t work to help support my mom and our family. Even when I moved out at 16 to take a nanny position and then ran away to Saskatchewan I still sent money home to help out. It wasn’t much, but is assuaged some of guilt I felt at abandoning my brother.
When the jobs and money ran out I did what I had to do, and asked my Dad for help to get home. I had learned my lesson the hard way and realized that working while in school was hard, but doable, but getting work without an education was not. Asking my Dad for that money just about killed me, because I had made a vow after leaving home that I would never rely on anyone to pay my way ever again. I had to do it alone. As my Dad said last night while talking on the phone – I wear it like a badge of honor. Even as bad as things have been in the past I have always found a way to struggle through without asking for help, even if that meant moving cross-country and starting over.
Since my teen years I’ve done pretty well making ends meet, and always quietly patted myself on the back for not relying on anyone for financial support. If we didn’t have money to put the kids in sports I told myself that I never had any of that and I was fine. Last month something changed though, my eldest daughter came to me asking if she could make something for her sister in woodworking class, something that would not benefit her in any way aside from what she would learn crafting it. She came to me quietly, knowing that I would say no, it’s too expensive, there are school fees yet to pay. And I was going to say no. I ran through all those thoughts in my mind in that moment after she asked. I had no business committing to $300+ when my pile of school bills had yet to be paid. Something in her eyes got me though, and I found myself saying “Let me ask Gran”.
My grandmother is a generous soul, sometimes too generous. She has helped support her own kids and grand-kids for years and when I would visit and she mentioned all the small ways she was helping them I would just smile and be thankful that I didn’t need to ask for any kind of help. She had always told me that if my kids wanted an instrument, or to take a course that she would do what she could to help, but I just never could bring myself to ask. In my mind it was always my job to be an adult and take care of myself and family. For my daughter I pushed through my own misgivings and swallowed my pride and called Gran to ask for help funding this project.
It was the hardest call I ever had to make. Trying to explain why I needed this money, and how it wasn’t for me, but for my daughter so that she could make her sister smile brought me near to tears. As I stood there on the phone with her I couldn’t help but feel like that scared little girl standing in front of that big metal door, begging. My Gran was completely nonplussed and said she didn’t have all the money, but she would happily pay for half. I thanked her profusely, assured her I would find a way to get the rest, even if I wasn’t really sure I could, and made promises that as soon as I was back out West her house would be one of our first stops.
After I got off the phone, I pushed away all thoughts of the call and got down to the busy work of being a mom. Three days later an envelope from Gran arrived and I set it aside, not quite ready to face it. Instead I worked on my budget, and started supper only stealing the occasional glance at the envelope. Finally I knew I had to open it. I didn’t want the kids to see the transfer of money from the card to my purse since it was supposed to be a surprise for one of them.
I opened the envelope making sure to not even look at the cheque enclosed, instead quickly shifting it and tucking it under the card so I could read what my Gran wrote. In her card she apologized to me for her initial assumption that she had to help her great-granddaughter financially. That it wasn’t my daughter who needed support but rather me. She phrased it in such a way that any guilt I had at asking melted away in the big sloppy tears that were rolling down my face. She made me realize that maybe I didn’t need to be strong for everyone all the time and that maybe it was OK to ask for help.
When I flipped the card over and realized the cheque was not only enough for the course, but also enough to cover extra transportation costs I lost it. I broke down in a way I hadn’t in years and sobbed. I cried for that little girl in me who had been quietly whispering in my ear all these years that asking for things was bad. I cried because I had never trusted someone else to share my burden and here my Gran was gently taking some of my load with a smile and without throwing any guilt my way. I cried because until that moment I never realized how deeply some feelings ran in me and I cried because a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I have always been really good at giving of myself, but never of giving to myself and maybe that needs to change. Thank you Gran for making me cry and for showing me that sometimes it’s OK to give up some of your burden and ask for help.