Growing up it was just my mother and I until I was eight years old when she married my dad. When it was just the two of us, we struggled financially – we had to live in government housing, the jobs my mother had to work never really paid a lot, we didn’t have all the new stuff nor did we have a lot – but as a child, I never knew that. To me, we were the richest people in the world. We were always doing something fun. I didn’t realize the things we were doing were inexpensive. We would go to the park and get a pizza and drink and be there all day, looking at the clouds, taking silly pictures, running around, and playing. We would get in the car and pick random directions and just drive to see where we would end up. We would make up games that didn’t cost much, but I was too young to know. All I knew was that I was having fun and so was my mother.
Looking back, I now know how hard it must have been for my mother to know her child was not able to have all the new toys that every other child had and having to come up with fun things that didn’t cost a lot so we would still be able to eat. There was one time my mother told me that money had gotten so tight a few times that we only had enough food in the house to feed me and when I would ask her why wasn’t she eating she would say she had a big lunch or didn’t feel good. My mother sacrificed everything for me and she always made sure I had almost everything I wanted, I don’t know how she did it, but she did.
Growing up poor meant I could never have a birthday party because we couldn’t buy the supplies for it or rent out a space for people to come to. However, I always had great birthdays, we would do something or go out for a special dinner (that at the time I didn’t know she had struggled to make possible). One of the most memorable birthdays I have is when I was turning six years old. We didn’t have enough money to go out or do anything but it was still one of my best and favorite birthdays. The day of my birthday, we went to Wal-Mart and got a small square chocolate Pepperidge Farm cake that had chocolate icing. After we bought it and brought it home I had to take a bath before we could start our “party”. I took my bath and put on my pajamas and then ran down stairs to see a corner full of presents. Before we could open the presents we decorated the cake with red writing icing that said “Happy B-day Pokey” (Pokey is my mother’s nickname for me from one of my favorite books “The Pokey Puppy” as a child) and put six candles in it.
After we decorated the cake, she sang “Happy Birthday” to me, I blew out the candles, then started asking if I could open my presents. Out of all my presents, two of them stood out the most, a cabbage patch doll and a play medical station. These two stand out the most because I couldn’t believe that there was actually a cabbage patch doll that really did look like me, with dark brown eyes, light brown hair, and a mole on her face with a freckly nose – and she even had clothes that I had too! – and the medical station stands out because I would play nurse with my mother constantly (to the point where I know she got annoyed and wished she had never gotten for me) and that’s what made me want to help people when I grew up.
To outsiders, it probably was the saddest birthday they would have ever seen, but to me – even now – it was the best birthday ever and I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. I never knew we couldn’t go out because money was tight. I knew that I had a yummy cake that I had fun decorating, a new doll that looked like me, a nurse station, and a mother that loved me more than anything in the world.
As I look back on my childhood, this was just one of the many memories I have that I love but also didn’t know how hard it has for my mother to be able to do things like this. Growing up, I thought we were the richest people in the world - and I guess we were, not with money, but with love.