APPLICANT #22: Jesse Michener

Jesse Michener is a mother of three from Seattle, Washington.

Here is Jesse's video application:

Here is Jesse's current situation:

"Jesse Michener is keepin' it real with her family in North Seattle. Come see a slice of life on on Planet Michener."

Here is Jesse's blog post:

"We've been here before, but this time it's different.  We have a little more hope, a little more perspective.  I lost my job in June but a new, better job waited for me in August. Six weeks isn't a very long time to be unemployed, but coming out the financial upheaval isn't easy.  Still, it beats the time nearly five years ago December when things were much, much harder.

We qualified for food stamps that month. It took everything I had to apply—no, actually all it took was getting rid of all the pride I had. I woke up early, at 6am, and drove 45 minutes to the DSHS office so I could get there when they opened.

I laughed at the irony: I had Master's degree and a minivan, and I was getting food stamps. Still, a week's worth of groceries was a week's worth of groceries, so I went.

"Cute baby," the girl in front of me said. She was holding her 5-month old daughter and had too-large blanket and a diaper bag. She arrived just moments before me on the city bus. She must have stood in line at the bus stop, in the rain, trying to keep her baby girl dry and warm in that too-big blanket.  She fought the rain again from the bus stop to the DSHS office in order to get there when the doors opened.  When it was her turn, I heard her find out that her appointment was an hour later. She just smiled and sat down. No anger, no big scene. I would have been so irritated. I took a mental note to improve myself. 

Later that day, I went to the store with all three of the kids. I circled the parking lot five times to find a space. It was a Wednesday afternoon and it seemed like everyone in town was there. I panicked and thought I should have gone to a different store--one where I wouldn't be recognized. 

I buckled the older kids into one of those three-seater monster shopping carts.  The spectacle took place in front of a group of ten youngish boys, all of whom were smoking by the entrance to the store. I felt like I did in high school when I passed by a group of them in the hall—and I made damn sure not to make a fool out of myself. Then I realized that I was nearly invisible to them. I was almost thirty with three kids, a little overweight and on food stamps. Off the teenage boy judgment radar, you bet. The damn buckle on the cart wouldn't work. It was raining. The cigarette smoke stunk.  

We shopped. I was careful to seek out sale stuff. The store was hot. I was sweating. The baby, nestled in my sling, had rosy cheeks. The older girls were blotchy. We needed to get out of there but I dreaded the check-out. What if I did the food stamp thing wrong? What if they had to use the loudspeaker and call someone over? We got in line. My eldest daughter kept asking for candy, my middle daughter begged to get out of the cart. The baby was waking and hungry. I was sweating.

$172. Ok, I thought. It was more than I had on the EBT card but I had enough money to pay the difference. I rang my food stamp card through the machine. "Credit or debit?" the checker asked. "Uh, Food Stamps." "Oh," she said. Did she look me up and down? I don't know. I think she did. "Your card was declined. You only have $117 worth of food stamps." I wonder if she could say it any louder?

I was so hot I thought I might pass out. "Can't I just put some of it on my debit card?" I asked. She sighed like I should have said that before. 

And then, right on cue: "Mama, I have to poo." Great. Of course she did. I rushed her to the bathroom and held the door open while I tried to convince my two-year-old not to freak out. The baby had calmed down but was still fussing. I went over my shopping list in my head. $172 seemed like a lot for what I got--everything I wanted was on sale. What did I do?

Then it hit me: I didn't give them my club card. They usually asked me for it but I think the food stamp thing threw both the checker and I for a loop. I steeled myself for a battle as I walked to the crowded customer service counter and waited for my turn. 

A pretty older lady with white hair asked if she could help me. "I just went through the line and forgot to give the checker my store card--she never asked me and I forgot and I didn't get any discounts."

The lady looked at me and my too-full shopping cart and gave me a look of total and utter exasperation. "Well, I can go through the store and try to find all of the prices for each of your items and then refund everything by hand. Do you have time for that?"

"Um, well..."

"It's going to take quite a while, do you have the time it will take for me to do this all by hand?" She made sure I understood she was doing it all by hand. 

I resigned myself to it all. All I could think about was getting the money back. I needed that money back. "Yes, please. I'm sorry to be such an inconvenience." 

She sighed and got down to business.   At some point, she decided not to be pissed at the situation. We made small-talk as she manually refunded each of my items and then re-scanned them. I could tell she was having a change of heart. I was a food stamp mama but I wasn't invisible to her.  She looked up at me and said, with total sincerity, "Your children are so well-behaved. You do a good job."

Forty-five minutes and nearly $40 later, we were on our way out...again. My four-year-old was limping but I was ignoring it.  She didn't want to put her sweater on. It was raining—absolutely pouring.  Two of my three girls started crying. All I could think about was making it to the van but she was still limping badly. "What is wrong?!" I demanded.

Just then an old lady walked by and said with an air of amusement, "Why, she's got her boot on backwards."

I looked down. Her boot was completely backwards--she had crammed her toes into the heel. In the rain, I doubled over with uncontrolled laughter. It was the slow-motion kind of laughter, where every detail of the moment was frozen in one giant feeling of joy. The kind of laughter that explodes and keeps coming, like a volcano. 

Backwards. The boot was backwards but it still functioned, still kept her dry. That was us back then. We may not be on completely right, but were there, just like we are here now. We are still limping along, staying dry.

Sometimes it's all you can do.

Jesse"

The Verity Mom Team