2019 was a hard year for my family, but 2020 would be better for me and my son — and for my second one who was on the way. Or so I thought.
My stepfather had passed away in August 2019, and I moved in with my mom temporarily to help her navigate her new normal and transition to a life without her loving husband.
Using the savings that I scraped together while working at a local convenience store, the plan was to move out of my mom's house and into my own home before my second son was due the following March, and complete my Training in Early Care and Education (TECE) courses.
Today, both of those goals haven't been met because the pandemic upended our lives in ways that I never dreamed could happen. The recent Covid relief bill signed by President Joe Biden aims to get the country back open as safely and quickly as possible. While I'm grateful for the immediate help that a stimulus check will provide — $1,400 is more than I make in a month — what I really need is longer-term support. Affordable and accessible housing, comprehensive child care, and job security would go a long way to help me pick up where I left off at the start of 2020: being hopeful and actively working toward a better life for my family.
Lockdown happened around the same time my son was born. He has asthma and requires daily breathing treatments. As I was trying to adjust to being a mom to a newborn with health challenges and feeling anxious about the rapidly approaching end to my Family and Medical Leave Act benefits, I — like many others — was expecting the changes and restrictions in response to Covid-19 to last a few weeks or months.
As a convenience store employee — preparing food and drinks made to order and performing kitchen tasks like stocking and cleaning — I was considered an essential worker. When my maternity leave was up, I was fortunate to be able to still have a job when millions of Americans were losing theirs as industries closed down.
But every day I wake up feeling like my job could be on the line. I'm a single mom depending on every hour of work I can get at a job that has little security. The feeling that the slightest pandemic-related inconvenience could result in me being fired weighs heavily on me.
When day cares suddenly closed, I was forced to work fewer hours because, other than a family member's help, I didn't have child care for my sons. I worried about being replaced by someone who my employers wouldn't see as such a liability — someone who could work more regular hours. And even now that our day cares have reopened, the timing is limited so I still can't work as many hours as I need to get past the "just making it" bar.
At the same time, I watched as my savings, which took a lot of discipline to even start, slowly dwindled. Bills. Diapers. Debts. My car broke down.
Every withdrawal felt like I was taking a step back from the life that I wanted to provide for my children. In April, I finally got a call back about an apartment that I applied for, but I had to turn it down. There was no longer enough money.
What happens if after giving my youngest his breathing treatment, getting both kids dressed, fed and rushing through morning traffic, I get to the day are and during a temperature screening, one or both of my children have a temperature over the 99.5 limit that is allowed? My baby is teething, he's mobile, he could've come into contact with germs somewhere with something he put in his mouth. But during this time, understandably, no one can take the chance on something that is most likely the result of a typical childhood occurrence.
If I suddenly don't have child care, I have to call out at the last minute. Living through these times means that I'm constantly calculating and recalculating what my check will look like if I have to miss a day of work or I clocked in late because the line during a Covid screening at one of the day cares moved a bit slower than usual.
When the first stimulus check came last year, I had to ration it out. Taking care of past due bills was the priority. It eased the burden a bit for a brief moment, but it quickly grew heavy again. It will be the same situation when the new stimulus check comes. I'm very grateful for it, but when it's spent, that's it.
I think about my situation at various moments of the day: during the brief moment of silence after dropping the kids off as I rush to work, while I'm exhausted and reading bedtime stories, and when I log in to take my online Training in Early Care and Education courses after a long day. What I'm looking forward to is getting back to working enough and saving to give my kids the life that I was aiming for at the start of 2020.