So today I made it to my WIC appointment. For those who may not know, WIC is the federally-funded food assistance program for the State of Michigan. It is income-based, which means I probably could have taken advantage of it months ago, but I guess I just wanted to wait until I knew I needed it. I feel slightly ashamed about needing the help. I don’t know what it is; I suppose it is the social stigma linked to those services that was affecting me. It wasn’t an easy decision.
It also wasn’t easy to sit in that waiting room. I waltzed into the clean, quiet office early, having ate a nice, healthy breakfast of Cinnamon Toasters (see post titled “Name that Cereal!” from July 30, 2008) and leaving the house with an extra 15 min to spare in case there was any difficult traffic. My appointment was for 8:30 am and I proudly signed myself in at 8:23, carrying all my required documentation in a crisp, white envelope. I sat down to read the enjoyable novel I’d picked out from the library (mostly to keep myself from picking up any baby-related items, although I did happen to glance through the pamphlet titled: “Should Pregnant Women Wear Seatbelts?” The answer is “yes,” in case you were wondering.) My name was called, and I was asked to fill out some forms.
As I was filling out my paperwork (recording the number of alcoholic drinks I have per week, and whether or not I eat/chew inedible objects such as cigarette butts or cotton balls), I noticed a few moms coming in the door. I was asked to step into the back to be weighed, and when I came back out a few minutes later, the entire waiting room was chock full of screaming kids and flustered parents. I tried to make my way back to my seat, stumbling over building blocks and trying to avoid stepping on tiny fingers. Once I sat down in the blue, plastic folding chair, I opened my book to try to drown out the noise.
“Oh yes, she is a screamer!”
“Mine has been gassy lately. Has yours been gassy? Mine just has been burping alot, and big burps, too.”
“Jasmine, stop. Jasmine, STOP. Jasmine – no, Rick, she can do it on her own. Let her do it on her own. Jasmine, stop.”
“Mom! Don’t go, Mom! Mom, don’t LEAVE me!” “Hunny, I’m only going for a minute, just wait here with daddy.” “NOOOOO!!!”
I started to panic. A small glimpse into what I was in for. I was the only one in the room sitting there with a book in my lap instead of a bouncing, twisting, snotting, whining baby. No stroller, no car seat, no bottles, no baby bag. Just me to take care of. And I didn’t need to be burped, nor was I gassy, nor was my vocabulary limited to various screams and whines, so I was fairly easy to take care of at that.
As I came back out to the waiting room after my office visit, I sat down in one of the few accessible seats, squeezing between a mom with a grumpy one-year old and another trying to balance her baby and her clipboard on her lap. As soon as the first mom got called up to the desk, another lady came up to me – “Is this seat taken?” She was carrying her newborn in a car seat carrier, had the diaper bag on her shoulder, the paperwork in her hand, and standing next to her was a bright-eyed little girl, her little fist holding tightly onto her mom’s shirt to help her navigate through the busy office.
“I, uh, I don’t know, uh, she got called up, it looks like she went over – ” and I paused, as the lady looked at me in desperation. When I looked in her eyes and saw the stress built up behind them, I suddenly came to my senses and offered her my seat.
“Here,” I said, “you can have mine.”
She said, “thank you” and quickly unloaded her belongings onto the chair next to me as I scooted over to the seat in the corner by the far wall, taking my itty-bitty purse (it’s honestly the size of a deck of cards) and my book with me.
Suddenly the room appeared much different to me than it had before and as I listened into the conversations about gas and baby formulas and diapers, I heard the soft camaraderie forming amongst the parents. I heard their reassurances, their friendly advice, the helpful information spreading from one to another. It wasn’t just a bunch of mothers rattling on about their kids – it was a room full of support and guidance, caring, nurturing parents starting out, doing the best they can to raise their kids in the best environment possible. Maybe I felt ashamed to be accepting food assistance, but I never would feel ashamed of sitting in that room with all of those women and men who were so open and willing to share with each other a little moment of their personal lives.
As I walked toward the door, a lady held the door open with one hand and held her smiling baby boy in the other, and as they walked down the hall ahead of me, he looked at me and smiled, and suddenly I didn’t feel scared about becoming a first-time mother.