M started working on his driver’s license. He made an appointment to take his road test and solicited people to take him driving. I didn’t hear anything more about anyone moving and I assumed they had reconsidered their decision. As such, I was more than a little shocked when they came to me beaming, proudly informing me that they were subletting a condo and that they planned to move in three weeks.
I was inexplicably crestfallen. They had come really far but still had so far to go! I so badly wanted them to be able to succeed when so many people had given up on them or said they would never be able to make it. I wanted them to have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them without serious repercussions – like starvation or continued homelessness. They weren’t ready for this! They were going to end up in a worse spot than they were before and … then I remembered, it wasn’t about what I wanted.
I promised to allow them to make their own decisions, to support them and teach them skills they need to accomplish their own dreams. I promised I would not to push my dreams for them. And this, this moving into their own place, was part of their dream. So, I simply did my ‘kind-of-a-mom-even-though-I’m-not-really-your-mom’ thing. I quizzed them about rent, deposits, utilities and budget. They proudly showed me their calculations demonstrating that E’s net pay covered all of their bills leaving $20 extra.
“See! And we can make it even without M having a job. If he gets one, it’ll just be extra!” E proudly informed me.
“Ummm… I am really glad you guys worked this out. But… how does food play into your budget?” I queried. “What about toiletries? Clothes? What happens if you get sick?”
Their faces fell. And then E said resolutely, “Well, to be honest, we didn’t think about those things. But… we can survive on $20 a month! We’ve done it on less than that before, right M? We’ll just go to the food shelf…”
“Oh, Hon,” I hated to tell her. “This isn’t like the city. Out here in the ‘burbs, there is only one food shelf for the whole county. The food shelf for your condo is in the town of _______ – a 20 minute drive away. You can’t walk to this one.”
“What the heck?” M was confused.
“Why would it be so far away?” E asked. “Well, whatever. When we used the food shelf before it seemed like everything was pretty much expired or gross anyway.”
“That’s right.” M chimed in. “If you have any expired cereal, wormy apples, separated peanut butter, weevil infested noodles, shriveling carrots with moldy tops fresh from your garden make sure you give it to the food shelf, okay? The people who shop there just love that stuff, right E?”
“Yea,” she chortled. “And don’t forget the really weird stuff, too. Like remember when they gave us a jar of pig feet? What the heck!”
“And the time we got a can of something called ‘Grass Jelly.'”
“Or the powdered goat milk! What are you even supposed to do with that stuff?”
I had no words.
“It’s okay, E,” M assured her. “We don’t need that stuff. We’ll just use some of our extra $20 to buy a bunch of noodles and then we can make spaghetti from gas station ketchup and parmesan cheese packets. We can unroll toilet paper from different bathrooms and bring it home in our pockets.”
“Maybe we could start saving empty rolls here and use them to wind on the other stuff so it stays sort of clean and feels more normal,” E suggested.
“Oh E… ” I sighed before appealing to M’s better nature. “You are really going to move out and make her live like that again? You are going to live like that again? I want you to move forward. I want you to have your own place. You deserve your own place but… you also deserve to not have to scramble for everything. She deserves to not have to scramble. Do you really, truly think you are ready for this right now?”
They just stared at the floor and M started pacing.
E explained they were already stuck. “We paid the deposit and signed the lease while you were at work yesterday.”
“Look, I am really happy for you guys and I’m proud of you both, okay. I just don’t want to see you in trouble again. I just kind of care about you guys, you know?”
“You do! You actually do care!” M grabbed me in a bear hug from behind, my chair pressing into my spine.
“All right, all right.” I shrugged him off. My inner German/Vulcan was not very comfortable with public displays of affection and the chair hurt. “That’s enough. How did you get there anyway? Where is this place?”
E got excited and directed me to the car. I drove as she navigated. Down the street, a left turn and then a right, zip across the county road, take a left and bam! Just six blocks later, we were there.
They could have gone anywhere but they didn’t. They chose to stay near us, near our family.
“Okay…” I said thinking fast. “What about this? No stealing toilet paper or ketchup packets. You just do the best you can. And M… you need to get a job. No excuses, No thinking about it, no trying, okay.” He looked frustrated. “No… If you are going to have your own place and be responsible and pay rent, then that’s what you need to do and you need to just do it. But… you can come to our house to do laundry.”
“We have a washer and dryer right in the place.” M interjected proudly.”No coins required.”
“Okay,” I continued. “But you need to promise me you will not starve. If you are short money, you need to come over for dinner. And if we aren’t home, you have the garage code. Just walk over, grab some food out of the freezer and leave me a note letting me know what you took.”
“And you can come to our house for game nights,” E’s eyes sparkled.
“Yes, yes, we can.” I agreed, happy they were happy but defeated because I worried about what would be forthcoming.
We used social media to let people know, some for the first time, that M and E were staying with us. We used social media to let people know that they were moving and that they were lacking household goods and would appreciate cast-offs. The phone started ringing, our in-boxes began pinging and the community stepped up, pledging to cover various items. Old dishes, towels, rugs, laundry baskets and other such items made their way to our house. We used some of the TKC donation money to buy a shower curtain, household cleaners, a broom and dustpan and other cleaning supplies. We used some more to pay the deposit required on their new utility accounts.
I prayed this wasn’t a mistake. I prayed that I was going to be wrong, that everyone who predicted their failure would be wrong.