The past few weeks have been so cold that at times she can see her breath in the building. She remarked on it once and then returned to work. After chasing, cuddling, yelling at and caring for her toddler for a good 12 hours, Marie, a single parent, goes to her second job, washing dishes.
But these are not just any dishes. They are more like containers, half-filled with wood shavings and excrement from small animals.
For three hours, Marie scrapes each container’s contents, using a paint chisel, into a large garbage bin. If she can find a facemask and gloves, she wears them.
Arranging the empty containers in three rows of three deep, she shoves them into an industrial dishwasher. When the loud sloshing of water and sanitizer end, Marie pulls the wet containers out of the machine, dumps a handful of shavings into each and stacks them on a pallet.
Over and over again.
She had hoped that she could work full time, but daycare expenses consumed too much of her meager paycheck, and her son was frequently getting sick from the other children.
Fortunately, she lives with her father who takes care of her son while she works in the evening before he begins his night shift. Her life is filled with a boundless love for her son as well as tremendous frustration about her circumstances.
But she persists.
When I see her, I check in with her to find out how she is doing. Topping the list of her anxieties are her financial problems and an energetic toddler who doesn’t listen. Well, I could at least help her with her first stressor and so I adopted her and her son for Christmas.
Reaching out to a family in need
Buying gifts and food for people during the holidays has been a tradition with one friend and my family.
My friend routinely helps a hardworking co-worker who is struggling financially. She sets aside loose change and cash over the course of a year for this endeavor.
Weeks before Christmas, she selects this individual and privately explains her intention. If the person accepts her generosity, the buying spree begins based on the person’s expressed wants and needs.
After the gifts are purchased and wrapped, arrangements are made for delivery.
I learned about her act of openheartedness when she approached me about a co-worker with small children whom she believed would be a perfect candidate.
I happened to supervise him and she asked if I thought he would be open to the idea of her financial help. I believed he would consider her help, so she discretely suggested her idea to him.
Agreeing to the offer
At first, he was reluctant. He did not want to impose on her generosity, but he knew he needed help to give his children a merry Christmas.
Being a single parent on one income had been a struggle for him. Many times he did without so his children would not.
And sadly, Christmas simply aggravated his financial headaches.
After some thought, he agreed to my friend’s offer, which became a Christmas gift in and of itself.
For a couple weeks, my friend shopped for the items on his list, grabbing a few extras along the way. Toys mingled with food as Christmas approached.
She enlisted my help in wrapping the gifts one evening, and I was overwhelmed at the number of items she had amassed for him and his children. I could feel her love and kindness, and I knew he and his children did as well.
Donating food and more
My mother and I have participated in Thanksgiving food collections and Christmas gift drives through our church. The aspect I respect the most about these campaigns is that the recipients are anonymous as are the donors. By doing so, the recipients maintain their personal dignity and the donors focus on simply helping others, regardless of who they are.
A couple weeks before Thanksgiving, the church gives away boxes and a list of food.
My mother and I hit the grocery store and supply the items on the list, but we don’t stop there. We are mothers and we know families need more than pumpkin pie filling and stuffing.
We grab other foods in addition to cleaning supplies until our boxes are about to burst.
After we return them to the church, the boxes are placed on trucks and in vans and whisked away to the families in need.
Granting children’s wishes
At Christmas time, the church works with an organization that helps children in the city. It gathers the Christmas wishes for all of the children at the nonprofit so no one is forgotten.
Their simple wants are carefully and clearly written on pieces of paper and hung like ornaments from the Christmas trees in the church’s vestibule.
After the priest announces that the giving tree is ready, my mother and I grab at least four or five ornaments each.
We not only purchase the items requested but as you might have guessed, we pull a few more items for our dear children. We end up providing more than requested, but it’s Christmas!
The wrapped gifts with the labels firmly affixed are gathered and taken to the nonprofit where they are distributed to the children during a Christmas party complete with Santa Claus.
My friend, mother and I don’t have a lot of money.
We budget our spending and try to live within our means. We have done without many things and sacrificed our needs, so those who are less fortunate are helped.
Through this gauntlet, we know the value of love and community, of generosity and humility, of kindness and compassion.
We know it because we live it.
I knew Marie needed these intangible gifts as much as the tangible ones I gave her. My gifts to her are that she realizes she is worthy of love and that she is deserving of dignity.
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.