Every once in awhile, I find an article that mirrors my old struggle story from many years ago. I was sifting through random posts on Quora. I stumbled upon this post that caught my attention. The author, her name is Kris Kouba, touched briefly on her early struggles with her son in the aftermath as a fellow widow. She spoke about the extremely tight financial budget and used a few examples. She spoke about the ways she cut corners in order to survive. Additionally, Kris spoke about her son who joked about the times when the house utilities had gotten shut off, periodically from time to time, for lack of payment. Kris managed to get out of the struggle by finishing and graduating nursing school. She reflects on how her two youngest children, she has since remarried, won’t understand nor experience the struggle her eldest child endured. I appears that the family is now in a much better financial situation. On one hand, it is great to see the younger siblings get a better slice of childhood. On the other hand, Kris can’t erase the loss of her husband/dad or the struggle from her son’s memory. However, it appears that the eldest son takes the hard days in stride. He jokes with his mother about the bad moments during the old struggle. My eldest son Tom, the family called him Thomas as a child, and I sometimes joke about the hard times as well. Tom sometimes reminds me of his younger era joys that include his beloved Sega Genesis video game system. We also reflect on how Tom would chew on my hair while I took a brief nap before heading to another job. I will then tease him about how he once ate my lunch on the way to early AM daycare and I had to angrily fast that day. It has taken 25-years to be able to discuss this without experiencing a waterfall of tears that would flow down my face. Hopefully, our stories will help other women who are enduring the struggle as a single mom or a widow. Just know that you are not alone and nothing tough lasts forever. Here is Kris’ story that she shared on Quora where she touched on parts of the struggle that came after becoming a widow:
“After my first husband passed away in 2006, finances were very tight. Once a month, when we received a financial assistance check, we would drive to town for basic groceries and I would treat our 6 year old with a kids meal and play time at local fast food restaurant. I would watch and just talk with him. There were days when he would give me his fries because he knew I was hungry and we couldn’t afford for both of us to order food. Or the afternoons when I would make him a sandwich and take a bite…again I made sure he had enough to eat. He would laugh and say “Mommy takes a bite so I know its made with love”. This is my child who has held my hand as I would cry/scream in grief, would say he didn’t want big toys for Christmas/birthday and celebrated with me when I graduated from nursing school-knowing it was for his benefit. As he turned 18 this year, I get teary knowing how his life was harder than it will be for his brothers who have been born since I remarried. I cry knowing he remembers the month of 1 packet of rice, 1 can of veggies, and 1 4 oz pork chop diced up, was dinner for the 2 of us-for 2 nights. He jokes with me, each winter we no longer get our gas turned off, about no more keeping the house warm with the oven or placing blankets in front of the doors and windows, or boiling his bath water. Last year the both of us had the opportunity to spread his Dad’s ashes in a state away from our own. The sight of my tall, handsome young man spreading his dad’s ashes with his bare hands, spreading them in water, on trees and along the ground and talking to his dad the whole time, dropped me to my knees. I can not tell you how much this young man means to me, knowing how strong he is and what a survivor he has had to be”. -Kris Kouba
I felt Kris’ story reflected mine also in some ways. We both got out of our struggles by finishing our education and training. However, I only allowed myself to cry when I was alone staring up at the ceiling at night. I needed to be strong for my boy who, at the time, had yet to realize the impact of not having a dad in his life. Besides, I was way too busy working to dive into any deep thought processes. I am thankful that work served as that barrier for my thoughts. In the very beginning, I had to make $20-$30 worth of groceries last two weeks. We had eaten a ton of rice and butter, $1 boxes of cheap macaroni and cheese, cheap hot dogs, spaghetti O’s and other cheap canned goods, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, popcorn, and whatever stuff was on sale. Other than hot dogs, meat was a luxury and it didn’t come onto the table until the last 18 months of my apprenticeship. I consider the art of tight budgeting as a necessary life skill if I am ever forced to do it again in the future. Yes, I am aware that the American “struggle” is something people do in other parts of the world as their “normal”. I do find myself frustrated when I hear foreigners assume that all Americans are “rich”. Many of us work like dogs and never get to take vacations and hardly see our families. I had to come to work a few times sick, including a 103 degree Fahrenheit fever, early in my career. If I missed a day, I didn’t make any money that week and it all went to the babysitter. I grew up as a poor kid out in Oregon so the struggle wasn’t considered new. I didn’t fully know about my level of poverty as a kid. Therefore, being broke was not a culture shock to me as an adult.
My extremely high carb diet indeed made me gain some unwanted weight over the years. The good thing was that I was using some carbs while I was expending energy with physical work as an apprentice as well as the process of getting between jobs and back home burned a lot of energy. I have somewhat worn out my body from years of working. I walked quite a few miles to get back and forth to work. In my early years, I tried to work as many hours as what was available. I was too prideful, I got that from my father, and refused to take handouts. You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back to the post widow era. I certainly do not have the energy to do that hectic schedule today. My eldest son, who now goes by the name Tom, had a decent amount of toys given to him, via his family around the holidays. He received quite a few hand me downs from friends and family. I am grateful for anything that was offered to me on his behalf. I know Tom struggled in ways that I may not fully grasp having zero access to his father from a 18 month toddler and onward. Not enough people think about or prepare for the impact of a death of a parent in a household with young children. It was not spoken about or suggested as a reality. I sure wish I had thought of it to plan properly for a worst case scenario. Then again, I didn’t have anyone in my life to talk to me about being an adult. Hopefully, my writings can serve as some experience that helps some people as a virtual mentor. For my family and legacy, the story has been told and written down.
When you are a young teenager who falls madly in love super fast and gets married, the last thing you think about is losing your life partner to a motorcycle accident. I got married while still in the military at 18-years old while my husband Jimmy was 20-years old. I came from a coastal town in Oregon and Jimmy came from the suburbs of New York City. We had this once in a lifetime kind of instant chemistry from the moment we both met while serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In hindsight, we moved way too fast in our relationship!! However, there was nothing that was going to stop me from this intense connection. It appeared that my mother-in-law could not talk any sense into Jimmy either. Like any relationship, it was young, passionate, and consisted of a roller coaster of emotions with the severe ups and downs. Jimmy was getting out on medical from the U.S. Marines and heading back to New York. I had to follow him to start our new life together. So, I requested to leave from the chain of command, got approved, and honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy Seabees. This new revelation shocked my family out in Oregon!! In hindsight, I would have been shocked if I were my family as well. Once out of the military, I had my son Thomas and we settled with his parents in the suburbs. The goal was to get our own house. I had to figure out life in a new town with zero family and friends. I needed to develop a relationship with my in-laws and extended family. To this day, I consider my in-laws like my parents and I am close with the entire family. Both of my parents are deceased on my end. I wasn’t really the type of person who had a ton of friends so the adjustment to a new world wasn’t too extreme. I felt like once we came to New York, Jimmy ditched me and baby Thomas to go hang out with his friends. He then went to go buy a motorcycle without talking to me about it. After a series of events, I then had some regrets with my life decisions. Getting married when you are very young and immature is not a good idea. Do not do this at home people!
I started my electrical theory classes for my apprenticeship in January of 1996. I started working on the job training the month prior in December of 1995. I decided to work some extra hours by the summer of 1996 to catch up with some extra money. The babysitter took a lot of my money so I needed to work more hours. I took advantage of the time since electrical theory classes and college for my Business Administration degree were not required in the summer. By August 23, 1996, I was at the summer job working. I didn’t have a cell phone back in those days either. Come to think about it, that was a peaceful thing not having a phone. Well…moving on with the story. I get the call to come to my in-laws house by my father-in-law Chris. I was confused since I didn’t understand why they were asking me repeatedly to drop what I was doing and come to their house. I hear some yelling and screaming in the background. Chris finally caved, since I was being too damn stubborn and worried about leaving my second job, and dropped the bomb on me! Chris told me that Jimmy had passed away in a motorcycle accident on the way home. It was the moment where time stood still!! I was in absolute shock and launched the phone and cord into an abyss that went over a table and away from the receiver.
That indeed was the hardest, the most emotionally teary-eyed ride to my in-law’s house that I have had in my entire life. The absolute sinking in the deepest pit of my stomach, upon the realization, is something that I will never forget. I was swirling in a pool of emotions. Everything from figuring how to make it on my own to how will this impact my son to what is going to happen if…… I had just bought the house six months before. I had used my settlement proceeds, from a car accident, to buy the house. I initially felt like there was no way I can do this on my own. The mountain felt way too HIGH to climb at that moment. It didn’t help that when I told my mom and then told my dad, I didn’t the best feedback. When I reflect on it and anything else in life, they were both cold and distant. That was just the way it was in my childhood and as adults. My dad told me, “what do you want from me? I didn’t really know the guy”. This was the very first time in my life that I screamed and cursed my father up and down. I normally feared him; not today though. I then realized that my family were not supportive nor did they care. Par for the course.
I got into a groove with the work, apprentice school, and college schedule. I had started an associate degree in Business Administration the year before my husband’s accident. I was determined to finish the classes and graduate. I prayed to God that my automobile would not break down on me. Those prayers only lasted for a little while. My first year apprentice chariot was a grey 1989 Chevy Cavalier. My “hooptie” had a smashed passenger side headlight, it started up with vise grips, and had over 235,000 miles on it. Once the grey beast surrendered with transmission issues in the driveway, I had to get another car. I had to search high and low to get another car. I got denied by plenty of auto dealers for both bad and no credit. I finally found an auto dealer that sold me a Ford Escort in exchange for around 33% interest on the car loan. Once I paid that car off, I was happy. I then get rear ended and that accident totaled the car! Talk about total frustration!! The next car, it was a Mercury Tracer, I had gotten after the collision was for 18% interest. It is those past life events that push me to keep a hold of stellar credit today! It took quite a few months to get the used Ford Escort vehicle. Sadly, I was stranded in the meantime and relying heavily on generous people or my feet.
I didn’t have the funds for a down payment and the Cavalier was worth nothing for a trade in. My son’s cousins stepped up to gift me a down payment. For that, I am eternally grateful. I never forgot that! The cousins also helped me with holding onto Thomas for about nine months so I could work a lot and catch up. However, Thomas put a monkey wrench in the plan and he came home earlier than planned. Thomas missed me terribly, acted up, and it was time for him to come back. I also relied on the kindness of my fellow electrician brothers and a sister on the jobsite to either get me to work, between jobs, and back home. I had an air mattress on the floor, in my bedroom, when I bought my house along with Thomas’ crib and dresser. Each house item was put on layaway and slowly paid on each week until I fully purchased the items. It was such a joy when I was able to bring each item home from the store. I didn’t even think about dating during that time. I felt too tired and had too much on my plate. I remember Thomas really wanting for me to date and find him a “dad”. He even yanked on a man’s coat one time in a convenience store when he was about 4 to 5-years old. When the man turned around, he said, “Hey! You want my mother’s phone number? It is *(914) 222-2222*”. I was so shocked and embarrassed!! The man was kind, smiled, and walked away. He was looking up at me smiling as if letting me know he was just trying to help. I know he wanted to fill the void. However, I had intensely feared getting involved with a person and them also dying on me. Yes, I know it is a ridiculous fear. I also felt like men my same age would not want to be serious or saddled with a child; regardless of the circumstances. I didn’t want to waste time so I opened up, at some point, to dating guys in their 30’s and older.
Life started getting better financially for us when I sat for the Connecticut E-2 electrical license and passed it the first time around. I had a lot riding on passing this exam that was about two hours away. Passing it meant a big pay increase. It also meant that I no longer needed a second job. I studied as often as I could. I always had flashcards in the back pocket. Life was already tough under the circumstances and my son’s behavior made life a lot harder. Thomas’ bad behavior at school and daycare made this tough journey a whole lot more grittier to manage. I had more crying episodes late at night out of sheer frustration. His ADHD behavior required for him to go into special education. The school was pushing real hard to put him on medication. I first allowed it out of fear of him getting kicked out of school. Once I learned about the (IEP) Individualized Educational Plan and that they can’t kick him out of school, I dropped the medication. I fought the school system and refused to keep medicating him with Ritalin and some other behavior modification drugs. I thought it changed his behavior and made him a shell of his former self. By the time Thomas reached 5-years old, he managed to get kicked out of every local daycare in town. I found a woman 35 minutes away from the house that was able to endure Thomas’ behavior from age 5 to 11-years old. She was a life savior after dealing with people who kept kicking him out of daycare. This added an extra hour to my commute and hours during snowstorms. In hindsight, I think he figured if he acted up enough, it would force the school to remove him from school and I would quit my job and be just home with him all day. The school could not believe that he didn’t act up when he was at home. He was content and exactly where he wanted to be. I still have his stack of paperwork from his bad behavior over the years in school and in daycare. I will share with him when he buys his first house so he can store it and reflect in the future when he has his own children. I often joke with him that he will end up with a few terrors of his own. He will have to remember he acted up as a kid and not be so hard on them.
When I had chats with Tom about how he feels about not having a father growing up, I get it that the loss goes deeper than what he can verbalize. The void was temporarily filled with a “step dad”. However, the man ended up disappointing him via not stepping up to the plate for events to support him. For an example, it was his choice to stay home and be lazy and not bother with attending Thomas’ sporting events. I attended his events like clockwork. One day he shared with me his feelings. He said, “I love that you come each Sunday during the season. However, I really wanted him to show up”. Step dad managed to do a few other things to alienate himself from Thomas over the years as well. There are many lessons, no matter how good the intention, that could have been better taught by his father and not his mother. I learned and passed onto Tom a lot of things from asking guys at work during coffee break. I have a funny detail about bathroom habits that I didn’t actually know about men as a young mom. I was potty training Thomas and told him to urinate first then go #2 (pooh) afterwards. One day I walked by the bathroom and saw Thomas in the bathroom with the door open. He was in the middle of standing up and peeing while pooping in his pants that were around his ankles! I was like, “oh no!” I made him take a bath and clean up. I was at coffee break the next day at work and asked my crew the burning question that was on my mind. I couldn’t freely ask my dad those questions as a kid. I didn’t have any other peers I felt comfy asking either. I used to see urinals, as a kid, and called them “sideways bathtubs” since I didn’t know the proper name. 😛 I was around 22 to 23-years old at the time. I asked the guys, at coffee break, if they can do both bathroom functions at the same time? My rationale was that men peed first, then went to go poop afterwards. Oh boy did the room erupt in laughter!! After they caught their breathes from laughing so damn hard, they confirmed that males can do both. I was then instructed to go home and teach Thomas how to “sit and tuck”. That was an example of things that fathers teach their sons that moms may not be aware of. Today, Tom will joke around and call me on Father’s Day to say thanks. 🙂 I do appreciate the recognition.
Overall, I would say that raising a child alone is a tough job by itself. Add a heavy work & school schedule then add a long commute time; that makes life exhausting. Having no family to care about you to help makes it an even harder struggle. When I got married at 18, I didn’t sign up to be a single mom. Life showed up and challenged me with that notion for sure. I didn’t chase down a man to pay my way either. Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have been more serious abut finding a good husband. Many factors, based on life events, made me fear going in that direction. It could have either made my life much easier or harder if things didn’t work out. Then again, I didn’t cross paths with any man that was life changing either. If it didn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be. Women need to know that daycare costs a lot no matter where you are in the world. If you are making not a good wage, most of your money goes to daycare and not your own pocket. It is very hard to dig yourself out of poverty. The only reason why I did was because I picked a good paying trade with better money at the end of the apprenticeship. I understand why continuously poor people opt to do drugs and alcohol intently. I would have been burned out doing that work grind another 15-years with no pay increase in sight. Choosing to be a single mom with a sperm donor is just foolishness!! Opting to have children late in life is just as crazy too! I did my young child rearing during my 20’s to early 30’s. I cannot imagine trying to start out in my 40’s to 50’s with small children. Not all children come out perfect either. They can end up with ailments like: ADHD, Autism, cleft palate, heart problems, seizures, missing limbs, or even totally handicapped that require a lifetime of support. If you do not have medical insurance, those costs can become astronomical!! Try your best to strategize your family plan and know you may be forced to weather the storm of unforeseen circumstances! It is time to take a breather from reading or listening. You are appreciated no matter where you are in the world. Thanks for stopping by to read HERstory! I want my great-great-great grandchildren in the future to comment on this post. You are special and you keep holding the torch for me. I wish you all a peaceful Thursday evening that leads to a great Friday and kick ass upcoming weekend!
Leslie M. Jasper
*The phone number does not belong to the author*
-Author & Host of the #VerballyDisastrous podcast now alive on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Deezer, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, Soundcloud, Spotify, and YouTube. Other platforms include: Acast, I Heart Radio, Listen Notes, Overcast, Player FM, Pod Bean, Podcast Addict, Podcast Gang, Podchaser, Stitcher, Tune In.
-The Audio Blog: Verbally Disastrous Podcast & Construction Tales Blog. Now available on: Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Breaker, Deezer, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, and Spotify. I will announce more platforms very soon.
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