D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: WIC

About Guns

I am in the WIC office, there to answer some questions and get my vouchers from the government for free food—the milk, the cheese, the cereal. The woman is pleasant and professional, she coos over my fat little baby and tests the iron in my blood. I don’t drink or smoke or eat all that unhealthily, and I answer questions in a conciliatory manner. Five years ago I was in this same office with my firstborn, I remember it all—the dingy gray walls, the posters with fruits and vegetables arranged in a rainbow. As the woman gives me the informational packet, she rattles off what I can and cannot get—yes to tuna, no to those fancy-ass organic eggs—and then she gets to the juice page. She purses her lips and pauses. I interrupt her, eager to please—Oh, we don’t drink juice in our home. She is visibly relieved, and nods her head approvingly. We share a smile of those in-the-know. She finishes entering up all of my information in the computer, and I bounce my son on my knee. It’s just so crazy, she says, more to herself than to me. Years ago we used to be worried about people being vitamin C deficient, so we put juice on the vouchers. Now we know that in the long run, giving your kids juice is so much more harmful than any residual vitamin benefits might be. It just causes so many problems, it’s just so contradictory. She looks at me and shrugs. But, you know. We are a government program. And the juice lobby is pretty powerful.

I leave the office, my vouchers clutched in my hand. I didn’t know, until just now. I keep my baby's teeth free from the sugary juices, and I feel good inside. But there are so many others, caught up in a game of making money off of the most vulnerable in our society. Women, Infants, and Children. We are nothing compared to those that whisper in the ears of the powerful. We drink our juice, and it sure does go down easy.

//

I always try and think of cheerful and yet accurate ways to describe my neighborhood. I never know if I am hearing gunshots or fireworks I tell people brightly, my anecdote tightly crafted. My neighborhood is under-resourced, pre-gentrification, “diverse”, post-urban. I want people to know something about me because of where I live. I am tough yet hopeful. Sometimes it’s actually both. Gunshots and fireworks, I mean.

One day I was putting my daughter to bed. I was pregnant with my son. I am patting her back and I hear gunshots, loud. It does not really sound like fireworks at all, it sounds like it is right outside of my window. In the end, I never know how close it is, if it happened in my front yard or in the back alley. It is all so disorienting to me. I am not afraid, probably because I did not see the gun, I did not see the person holding it, and myself have never been at the business end of a revolver.

One time, we called the police on a neighbor. He had been in a downward spiral for a while and there was a lot of drug activity, a lot of shouting, women wandering the hallways wearing nothing but an open trench coat, extremely lost. The screaming got so loud that grown men stood frozen in the stairwells, the shouts bringing back memories that made us all long for quiet. We called the police because at that time we didn’t know any better. The police showed up and they had guns that looked fake—so large and so black in such bulky yet long shapes. They waved them everywhere, running down the hallways, my daughter asleep behind paper thin walls. They screamed at us to get on the floor. Our neighbor barricaded himself and his guests inside, refusing to let anyone leave. There was a lot of pounding and shouting. And then, he left with them. The police questioned my husband, because he was the one who called. They were very unkind. Why do you live here? One asked, but it was not in a curious tone of voice. We reported him, we did not appreciate his attitude. We now knew why nobody else had called the police, preferring to walk quickly and quietly into their own apartments and to shut their doors.

//

When I was in high school, I was in a play. It was loosely based off of the Kip Kinkle school shooting—in Thurston, Oregon--where that sweet-faced boy with the bowl cut went and stopped the hearts of four people with the bullets of a gun. I played the shooter’s girlfriend, who breaks up with him for another boy. The play ends with all of the characters—a best friend, a teacher, a rival—standing on stage dressed in white. When we are shot, we each take our right hand, full of ketchup, and plaster it over our hearts before crumpling to the ground. We gave a several performances at our high school and then did a mini-tour of a few other places. I can still remember lying on the worn-out stage, breathing heavily, the smell of tomatoes and vinegar upsetting my stomach, the loud silence of an audience shocked and excited by the drama of it all. We held Q and A’s after the performance, but I don’t remember much of what we talked about. It was so horrible, so horrible, we would have told anyone. These kinds of shootings have got to stop. We really thought we were making a difference, our eyes sober and clear, our hands full of ketchup. The shooter was lonely, he felt wronged by the world. If you are sad, talk to someone. If you are sad, don’t shoot anyone. In my own heart, I knew what the answer was. It was love, always love. If you loved all the people, then nothing bad would ever happen. I didn’t know that there were so many more factors, so many more unseen forces, all pulling us in the same direction.

//

My husband grew up in Roseburg, Oregon. A mill town, small and sleepy with hints of generational poverty hovering everywhere. He took swimming lessons at Umpqua Community College. A shooter walked in there today and killed 10 people, and injured more. I imagine my husband as a small boy—brown eyes and hair bleached blonde by the southern Oregon sun—paddling underwater, carefree.

We live several hours from there, now. Our landlord is a real character, small and fidgety, dressed professionally but with eyes that dart all around. The rumor is that when he first showed up a year or two ago he wore a bulletproof vest and went door to door, evicting all of the tenants engaged in illegal and violent activity. I don’t know if it’s true but there is a stillness to where we live now; families, mostly immigrants and refugees, push strollers through the parking lot. I went for a walk this afternoon and there was a young boy on a pink bike, pedaling furiously. In the back of his shirt he had a long plastic assault rifle delicately tucked.

//

I have been a bit depressed, these past few months. I went and saw a counselor for the first time the other day. She looked at me and she was so calm. You have a lot of anxiety, she told me. Yes, it was true. Things had happened in the past few months: I almost died in childbirth, my son got very sick, I moved across the country, I changed jobs. Our brains always want to solve a problem, my counselor told me. Your brain wants to solve the problem of you being anxious. This was why I was depressed, why the future felt like one long horrible event to be endured, why I found no joy or pleasure in my current situation or in thinking of what would come next. Buckle down and survive, was the answer to my existential questions. Suicidal tendencies can be the same. The brain just wants to solve the problems of sadness and misery. It’s not a good solution, but the brain never made those promises. It just fixes the problem.

Death is your trigger said my counselor, and I knew it was true. I lived in neighborhoods where thirteen year old boys were shot and killed in front of the community center. I worked within refugee communities where the stories of trauma piled on top of one another. Everyone had dead babies, starving relatives, stories of rape and war and famine. Sometimes it felt like everyone I knew had stared down the barrel of a gun. And sometimes I would log into my Facebook, and scroll past the posts. The ones about second amendment rights and tyrannical governments and yellow-bellied liberals. I thought about how protected the people who own guns are, and I thought about the rest of us. The women, the infants, the children. How we are just pawns in a game that was started long before we were born. That there were lobbies, ears being twisted, mouths moving fast, to keep our rights free.


It doesn’t matter that it isn’t good for us, it doesn’t matter that it is the most vulnerable that pay the highest price. We have rights, is the thing. And besides, it probably won’t ever happen again.

 

 

 

Women, Infants, Children

us, just trying to survive.  

It's been a rough few weeks on the internet. I have wanted to write about violence, #yesallwomen, abusers, rape apologetics, and #howoldwereyou; instead I wrote an essay about WIC.

 

Of course, it really isn't about WIC (or Whole Foods for that matter). It's really about a much bigger issue that creeps into my bones: how much I would like to forget about the most vulnerable. In my life, there have been a few times I have been confronted with this, and in the end it is better to face it than explain or medicate or wish it away. The world has always had a hierarchy that was very much at odds with the kingdom of God, and it still continues to do so. Every day I see the fruit of this, teaching English to women who were never allowed to step foot inside a classroom before--due to outright discrimination or due to the constraints of crushing poverty.

I suppose this piece comes out of a renewed sense of wondering how our family is going to grow and the frailties inherent in all of our options. I am also thinking about the meals my daughter eats at the park, all the children who come to get fed. I am thinking about my own #howoldwereyou story, which I would much rather forget. I am thinking about a God who is so relentlessly for the vulnerable that I feel nearly swallowed up in his love.

So it's not really about WIC. But it is about the good news, for people who tend to not experience very much good in our current world.

 

 

Here's the beginning of the piece:

 

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. - Jeremiah 22:3

The other day, I walked into a Whole Foods to pick up a few items, my WIC vouchers in hand. I have the luxury of thinking carefully about my food purchases. My husband and I do not want to support the torture of animals, and we do want to put money back into the hands of our local economy. We try to eat more in-season, locally, organic, fair-trade. We still, however, sit somewhat close to the poverty line, and we have had to make a few sacrifices. Less meat, more beans. Rice and pasta to tide us over. Eating what is on sale, doing without non-essentials like alcohol or snack foods.

The WIC vouchers help too (especially in more expensive stores like Whole Foods). I wandered the aisles, looking at the beautifully stocked shelves, until I found a clerk at the back of the store. “Do you participate in the WIC program?” I asked. He had never heard of it before, but his female co-worker was sure that the store did. I didn’t see any of the tell-tale blue stickers placed under the proper cereal boxes or bags of dried beans, but I took her at her word. As I queued up to pay and saw the look of confusion on the cashier’s face (male, hipster glasses) when I handed over my voucher, my stomach started to sink. As the line piled up behind me I tried to explain what the WIC program was.

The boy was interested, but he had never heard of it. He called his manager and confirmed what I already knew. Whole Foods did not participate in the program. I left my small bag of groceries at the register and walked out the door, trying to keep my smile bright. I went home and e-mailed the customer service team, who responded to me within several days. “Unfortunately,” they wrote, “we cannot participate in the WIC program” due to conflicts with “quality” in regards to specific products such as infant formula. It was short, conciliatory, dismissive. It was clear that they did not need my business, nor the business of anyone who found themselves in need of a little assistance when feeding their children.

The e-mail brought me back into those harrowing first months of my daughter’s life: due to a vicious medical emergency, she was born nearly 2 months early and I was left without the ability to breastfeed her. I was sad and shaken up by my traumatic birth experience, grieving the loss of my ability to feed my own child. I remembered the price of formula, the staggering realization that it would cost us upwards of $150 a month. Due to both my medical emergency and the financial strain of losing work hours, WIC was a godsend in the area of feeding the baby. I had never felt more vulnerable in my life, both physically and financially.

In a flash, as I deleted the e-mail from Whole Foods, I was reminded of my vulnerabilities all over again. And I did not like it.

//

Go on over to Christ and Pop Culture to read the rest.

 

 

On Food Stamps, Local Schools, and All my White Friends: Guest Post by Alissa

Alissa is another person I met through this series, when she bravely contacted me out of the blue. I can't express to you how encouraging it is to even find people wrestling with similar sorts of questions. I will address this sooner than later, but it has become increasingly clear that the Downward Mobility series is for those that are already feeling the call, the nudge, or are somewhere in the messy throes of trying to live simply and with our marginalized neighbors in mind. Alissa is one of those people. And she encourages me with her honesty, her love, and her willingness to risk. This subject has no easy answers. Anyone who has even for a moment tried to identify with people from different backgrounds will recognize what Alissa talks about when she says she sometimes feels like a fraud. There are no easy answers here, but I am glad we are all questioning together.   

 

On food stamps, local schools, and all my white friends

Guest post by Alissa BC

 

A couple weeks ago, I went in with my one-year old to our local Department of Human Services. Visits like this are not entirely out of the ordinary for us. In the four years I've been married we've been on and off of both food stamps and WIC at different points, services which require at least a couple visits a year to various government buildings. This particular day, I was in to renew my son's TennCare, which is our state's Medicaid program, the only income-based service for which we still qualify. While we were waiting in line, I turned around to notice a mother and newborn baby in line behind us. I asked about the baby and tried to make polite conversation, but I could tell she wasn't really interested, so I turned back around. That's when it suddenly struck me, that this woman, or any of the people surrounding me, could live on my street, could live a few houses over, and I have no idea who they are.   

We moved into our current neighborhood nearly four years ago, fresh from our honeymoon. We had each spent the previous year or so as full-time community volunteers in two very different rural communities. I had been on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and my husband had been in the small coal-mining town of Logan, West Virginia, communities found in two of the poorest counties in the country. After our experiences there, we were committed to living the same type of lifestyle- knowing our neighbors and being involved in the community- in our new home. 

We chose our particular neighborhood for its racial and socio-economical diversity and chose a nearby church for its emphasis on community development. We were quite poor ourselves in those early years, working minimum wage jobs and finishing up school, and more than a little dependent on food stamps. Meanwhile, we attended community events, frequented the same grocery stores as our neighbors, and became extremely involved in the local work of our church. A couple years later, my husband began teaching at our zoned high school, where a large majority of the students are considered low-income. After our son was born, we took him to appointments at the nearby pediatric clinic run by our pastor's wife. 

The point I'm trying to make with all this is that our lives are arranged in such a way that makes interacting with the poor on a daily basis highly probable. And yet, despite the fact that I may wave hello on our daily walks, or give a hug during church, or let a group of teenagers pass my baby around, none of these people can be found among my closest friends. Sure, I know the poor. They sit across from me at the potluck, or ask to mow my lawn, or even watch my kid in the nursery. But when we throw a small birthday party, or get together for dinner with our closest friends, the people I see are nearly all middle-class, at least culturally, and they are mostly white. 

And I think that's strange. I think it's strange that after nearly four years of somewhat-intentional living in a low-income neighborhood, long enough for us to have built a family out of thin air, we still find ourselves worlds apart from the people we are meant to love. I think it's strange that despite all the downward mobility we can muster, the people we call with news and pour our hearts out to are, by and large, people who look and talk like us. And I think it's strange that it's the struggles of those people that move me far more than those of the people I supposedly came here to love, because for some reason the former are close like family, but between me and the latter there exists this mysterious insurmountable chasm that keeps us from knowing each other's hearts truly and deeply.  

I could propose a few reasons for why this is, but I don't really have the answers, and I actually think that is okay. I think it's okay to keep reaching out to complete strangers and hoping for connection, even though I feel like a fraud, even though I am a fraud. I think it's okay to keep showing up to the potluck anyway and to sit in the tension of being with people who are different than me. I think it's okay to acknowledge that I am pretty much not getting it right when it comes to loving my neighbors, and that something must be deeply broken, in our world and in me, that I alone do not have the power to fix. 

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlissa BC is a wife, mother, and aspiring writer. She spends nap times obsessing over words and the rest of the day biking around town with her toddler or waiting for the next person to show up at her door. She writes about family, community, faith, doubt, the South, and simple living at makinghomesimple.blogspot.com and occasionally dips her toes into the cold waters of twitter and facebook. She lives real life among the beautiful people of Chattanooga, TN.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

 

 

 

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