The three types of independence everybody needs

I treat my freezer like a savings account. As a single parent with an unstable income, I know that when there’s an emergency I’ll use rent money, camp money, or even food money to solve the problem. But no matter what the emergency is, I can’t pay for it with frozen broccoli, so with food in the freezer, we’ll always be able to eat.

So of course my kids hate frozen food, and they rejoiced when I bought frozen cauliflower that didn’t fit in the freezer.

My younger son says, “Just throw it out. We already told you we don’t like cauliflower.”

In this moment I think, do I throw it out because I want the kids to have autonomy over their food? Do I keep it because I need the kids to understand financial responsibility? Do I insist that he consider my feelings when he talks about the bag of cauliflower or is that not appropriate?

Emotional independence
Nino is already rearranging contents of cabinets. He says he could make more room in the freezer.

“Dad, we don’t want you to make more room.”

Nino puts down the groceries and turns around. His ears turn red. “You can’t just throw stuff out. It’s not garbage just because it’s not perfect, or not the exact thing you want. You can still deal. Just cope with it. You don’t have to just throw everything out.”

“Dad? Wait. What? Are you kidding me? You divorced your family. You literally threw your family out because it wasn’t good enough and you’re telling me I shouldn’t throw out food? I don’t think you’re in a good position to be giving me lessons on just sucking it up and coping with the imperfections of life.”

I want to tell you this was shocking, but this is actually a common scene in our family: Nino is tone deaf. The kids pounce, and they always add a little anger as well.

Intellectual independence
Child services comes a few days later. It’s a regular thing for us. It must be that blog readers call child services to say I’m a bad parent. Or maybe my family does. I don’t know. But we have lived in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, and child services have visited us in each state.

Child services are a reflection of the politics of the state they are in. Wisconsin farmers want to be left alone to do whatever they want, and child welfare checks were perfunctory at best and intended to protect the rights of the parents who invariably grew up with the caseworkers.

In Pennsylvania, child services were mostly concerned with getting my kids into school. Their tactic was to tell my son he could play cello in the school orchestra. That was a fail. But I have a soft spot for child services because they removed me from my parents’ home when I didn’t know I needed rescuing, so I kept talking to them when they came to check on us.

In Boston, social services are outstanding due to the incredible numbers of graduate students studying here and the insanely large tax base that supports their projects. I love listening to the stories that Amanda, our caseworker tells about her life on the job.

She says, “What can I help you guys with today? How is your dad?”

The boys tell her not to talk with us about Nino. “Mom is going to tell him he has to leave.”

“Oh. I am? Well. I guess. Yeah.”

“Is that what you all want?”

“The boys want that.”

My older son says, “Mom has Stockholm syndrome with, like, everyone in her life, so she probably wouldn’t kick him out on her own. But she’s doing it because we want her to.”

Amanda says to my kids, “I like coming to your house because you and your mom get along so well.”

I ask, “What do the other moms do?”

She says most of her interactions with parents entail getting their permission to take the kids away. And the moms say, “Great. I couldn’t be happier.”

I am shocked. That’s what my mom said when child services took me. That’s exactly what she said. I thought she was the only mom in the world that would say that.

Financial independence
One night my younger son walks in the door and says, “Amanda gave us a present.”


He hands it to me. “It’s a $200 gift card for Star Market because I told her we don’t have enough food.”

Wait. Wait. What? I can’t talk. My chest tightens. I might be having a heart attack. I am frozen. I want to react appropriately. He is clearly happy with the gift card. I try to say something appropriate. All I can think of: “We don’t have enough food?”

“Yeah. Mom don’t cry. You’re still a good mom. I told her last week was a hard food week. She said it’s okay to talk about having food security issues. Lots of people think they can only talk about food problems when they’re starving. But food insecurity is a real issue.”

I can’t speak. I stand there. I nod to give him positive feedback because I can see he is proud of himself for getting help.

My older son overhears. “Wait. What? You told people we have no food?”

“Yeah. We have food insecurity. We are just so used to it we don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”

I say, “He’s right. We have normalized it.” And I say, “You did a good job asking for help. Asking for help is an important skill.”

Then I tell the boys to go to the supermarket to use the gift certificate. I try to make it sound fun. What I need is for them to leave so I can lay on the bathroom floor and scream and cry and see if I need to die. I don’t know if I can live through this moment.

They leave and I tell Nino, “Child services gave the kids a $200 gift certificate for food because they suffer from feelings of food insecurity.”

He says, “I want to remind you that I can’t talk with you when I’m at work. You called me yesterday when I was at work.”

I say okay and hang up. I cry on the floor. I pet the dog. The dog licks my tears.

The boys come home. They are happy to unpack the bags and cook dinner. There is no frozen food. But they save $25 on the gift card in case we have an emergency.

49 replies
  1. Minami
    Minami says:

    Everybody I work with has food insecurity. Lots of them are good moms – or, at least, they love their children and try their best to be good moms. Food insecurity does not mean you are a bad mom. Actually, it’s good that your kids are smart enough to look for resources to get food when you are running low. It shows self-reliance and I think, ironically, a huge part of self-reliance is knowing when and where to ask for help.

  2. Anna
    Anna says:

    Your willingness to be vulnerable in public is a powerful service for all your readers. I respect and appreciate your courage and humility. Well done.

  3. Jane Carnell
    Jane Carnell says:

    What a poignant piece. So finely nuanced. Insecurities, inadequacies, subtleties. And the good old Stockholm Syndrome– I have that, too. I think I had it when I was little. Like, a child’s parent holds her hand in a flame and burns her on the gas stove, and the pain is
    excruciating, so she runs to her father and hugs his legs despite him being the one who hurt her just then.
    Anyway, I hope you can let Nino stay. But that’s just me. Seems like the kids lost respect for him when they understood divorce is a kind of rejection, sad to say. But the big story about divorce is, as you said in a prior piece you posted, people do it like an itch they are scratching at the moment, an irritation, but it’s just a temporary solution and they really might still deeply care for each other and want to maintain their family. I don’t know. I hope you are OK. If Nino is an adult, great, if he can share responsibilities and obligations with you. If he is like another dog, cute and fluffy and big-eyed adorable, well that’s another way of looking at it. If he makes it easier for you being there, do you want him to stay? Maybe you love each other. Maybe your kids are going through their own independence day.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Amazingly enough, my older son volunteers at an organization that manages one of those fridges. (He would say “manages” is too top-down of a word but I don’t know what word he’d use.) He’s very involved in the organization so we talk about food insecurity all the time in our family, but we talk about it in terms of his organization and how they help the community. Well, until now. Now we talk about it in terms of us, I guess. But it’s really hard for me to understand. Because we give food my kids don’t like to my son’s organization. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around our food-insecure family giving food to an organization to help food-insecure families. I feel like I’m not understanding something.


      • Amanda
        Amanda says:

        Perhaps think of it as: Take what you need, leave what you can. (I think that is on the fridge in my neighborhood.) Also, more in the vein of being part of a community, holding others up and them helping to hold you up instead of as philanthropy where you may only be supporting others.

        • Cheryl
          Cheryl says:

          This reminds me of the “take a penny, leave a penny” dish near the cash register in a store.

      • Morgan Balavage
        Morgan Balavage says:

        This sounds like pure PTSD/ADHD executive dysfunction, if there’s an issue with money management and errand running, but you also have two growing men in your home who probably just eat a fuckton of food that you’re not used to keeping around because of your history with eating disorders. Do you have any doctors or healers in your life helping you through this?

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Thanks for saying that. You’re right that it’s PTSD, ADHD and lack of executive function. Other times I would have written about the event from that perspective, but I didn’t want people to say I blame all my problems on [insert dysfunction]. Really what this post shows is the result of trying to raise children with PTSD and Aspergers. It’s really really hard. If I take my eye off the path for one second, I go so far off the rails because I am so close to the edge to begin with.


          • Cindy
            Cindy says:

            I just wrote a little piece for my friends about it being the 12 year anniversary of the day my boys and I were given a home to live in by a stranger. I had 3 months free, then we could stay if I could afford the rent. I started a business and we stayed….We had lost everything in the last recession and I was a single mom. A few years later, I caught my younger son stealing money from me. It infuriated me because I needed every single penny for the rent and bills. I didn’t want to lose another home. I knew exactly how much money I had at all times. He started taking it and I was distraught…… A few years later, when things were more stable and everyone was more grown up, my older son told me that my younger son took the money because he thought he was going to die, there wasn’t enough food in our house. I had no idea. I knew I didn’t have much, but I had no idea he felt so starved and insecure about it. My boys were young teens at the time. They needed more. I had no idea. I can still cry about it, and it’s been all these years…….

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            I can’t believe you shared this story. With your real name. It’s so brave. My family is just like this. And I can’t believe I share my real name with my story. I can’t believe it happens in real life, I guess. That there is this life for these boys. And that brothers talk like this. I am just saying thank you.


        • Anon
          Anon says:

          Good observation from Morgan, about the quantity of food that men — and especially younger men — can eat, and want to eat.

          Years ago, my sister visited us for a few days. At the time, my husband and I were very restrained about the quantity of food we would have for dinner. Not on a diet, it was just the habit (for each of us) of a lifetime. And two teenage girls, who usually don’t eat the gargantuan quantities that boys want.

          After my sister was back home, with her husband and two teenage boys, we talked on the phone a few weeks later. She explained that she had figured out why we (entire family) did not gain weight and get “heavy.” Whereas she had been steadily gaining weight.

          The husband and two teenage boys would load up their plates, the way that recruits do in basic training. And with 3 other people eating food that was piled up like a pyramid, covering their entire plate — she did, too.

          She figured out that we didn’t gain weight because we had “spaces between the food.”

          Instead of a food pyramid for which the base was a dinner plate, and rest of the structure was food piled high.

    • Cheryl
      Cheryl says:

      Thanks for sharing this! I contribute to a food pantry, but it only accepts canned or dry goods (no glass jars).

  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    If you don’t want to ask Nino to leave, I hope you don’t do it only because the boys are angry at him. The family may just need more time to settle in together. You’re always posting about how two parent families are better for kids, and divorce isn’t (even if you’re not literally married this time.) Teenagers get upset even in the best of circumstances, and your family reuniting during a pandemic is under extra strain. It will probably take a long time for them to forgive Nino for leaving the first time.

  5. Garen Corbett
    Garen Corbett says:

    I have been following your blog for many, many years. You’re unlikely to do so, but say the word if the cupboards are bare, and I will happily venmo or paypal grocery money, no questions asked. I have two kids, and grew up on food stamps and scholrships. Stressing about keeping everyone well-fed, sucks. It would be privilege to help out.

  6. Bart
    Bart says:

    I may be misreading the situation but….
    If your freezer is so full that it doesn’t have room for a bag of frozen cauliflower then it doesn’t seem you are food “insecure”. It sounds more like your children are being picky (spoiled) and acting privileged to the point that frozen food is beneath them,
    And taking $200 worth of charity/taxpayer funded money that should go to actually needy people is just wrong on many levels..

    The least you can do is explain where that $200 comes from – it is not coming from thin air. Someone (many people actually) worked long hours at a job in order to earn the money that went into that $200 card.
    And you should also explain whom that money is actually intended for. People with actually little to no food.

    If you truly don’t have enough food at home then my heart goes out to you and your children and take the $200 without guilt – that is exactly what it was intended for.

    Only you know the truth.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      Bart – you sound like a real drag. I hope you never donate or pay taxes again because you can’t stomach someone using *your money in a way you disagree with. And I hope you refrain from sharing your oppressive opinions in public

      • harris497
        harris497 says:

        I don’t think that Bart’s question is a bad one. I do not agree with him, but Penny is honest in her interest to hear and discuss alternate viewpoints and he expressed himself in a respectful manner. I think that the thing Bart misses is the fact that the freezer is an emergency store, and that this one being full does not mean that the family is not in dire straits. Additionally, while teenagers do need guidance in terms of appropriate behaviors and priorities, a personal dislike is a personal dislike, and should be tolerated in terms of it’s expression.
        In another life, I hid canned food behind a cupboard as a preteen, because we were not very moneyed. When mom made the groceries, I’d steal a can of something and tuck it back there so we when we ran out of food (infrequently) between her and dad’s paychecks, I’d be a hero and whip the stores out and be a hero. We’d have bread and condensed milk sandwiches instead of bread and butter:) A kid’s dream. But we wouldn’t take any government assistance because others (our neighbors) had it so much worse than us. That stuff leaves a mark. I’m happy that Zehavi seems to be able to rise above it. At least in being able to ask for help. That kid has a mouth on him though, and I love it. Keeps the world around him honest and less puffed up :)

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I love this opening as it makes perfect sense and comes across to me as a parent who knows herself and is responsible – “I treat my freezer like a savings account. As a single parent with an unstable income, I know that when there’s an emergency I’ll use rent money, camp money, or even food money to solve the problem. But no matter what the emergency is, I can’t pay for it with frozen broccoli, so with food in the freezer, we’ll always be able to eat.”
    I think my parents may have thought the same as we had a big freezer in the basement stocked with a few months of food. They subscribed to a frozen food service named the Rich Plan. This was prior to the Internet so a form was delivered in the mail, you selected what you wanted by filling out a form, and then the frozen food was delivered on a scheduled date that was convenient. I just checked and noted they’re still in business with a website.
    Now with all that being said, I’m not a big fan of frozen food today. There’s nothing inherently that’s not good about it especially as the process of freezing the food has improved. Also, I think the quality control processes of selecting and processing the food prior to freezing may provide many benefits. I think what your sons may be calling a food-insecure problem is not having enough fresh food to select from. I think having frozen food on hand is a good strategy for complimenting fresh food and as a backup. Also, they may be pickier about their food as they grew up with food fresh from the farm. So my advice would be to find the right balance of fresh and frozen food in your household.

  8. Monique
    Monique says:

    Were you food insecure years ago, when you were writing about flying around for expensive haircuts? Was your previous “wealth” all a charade? If so, I find that deeply troubling and also disasppointing. So many looked to you as a model for how to build wealth, etc. Sigh ….

      • Lucy
        Lucy says:

        She is a grifter whom has taught her children to grift. every business in my area is desperate for help. Most teens I know have some kind of part time job. Asking for help is great but learning to make your own money is important too.

  9. ruo
    ruo says:

    the best kind of help i’ve received is not knowing i needed it and someone gave it to me anyways.

    for example, my friend saw that i was eating take out all the time living by myself. She offered to drive with me every saturday morning to grocery shop together. she loved cooking. she walked down every produce section telling me what delicious simple meals i can make. then making sure i buy the right ingredients and seasoning to cook that week.

    she showed me eating well is a pleasure and not a chore. It’s a better way to take care of yourself. we did this for 6 months until i could do it on my own consistently. it seemed so stupid at the beginning until it got harder to keep up the shopping and cooking. now whenever i have a slump month, i make sure to schedule extra time for grocery shopping.

  10. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Thanks for writing this! This pandemic time has been financially terrifying for my family & I grew up poor and am still “financially insecure”. Most of my favorite people are in a similar place. There shouldn’t be shame for not being able to afford the basics in the U.S. in my opinion. It’s a feature, not a bug, as they say. But I know that when I fail at capitalism I do feel a lot of painful shame, and I know my loved ones feel ashamed when they aren’t making ends meet. Also a feature. Thanks for writing this essay. It made me cry, mostly for myself I think.

  11. Kira Gray
    Kira Gray says:

    I wish you were my mom. From about the age of 3 humans can forage and find food but they would never find cello lessons, a cuddly dog and a mom who loves them so much. Why not have a cooking contest to see if frozen cauliflower can be made edible?

  12. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    I see food is a trigger topic for others too, not just me. After carefully reading Bart’s post twice, I think he is entitled to such opinion, and that Rachel is misreading him.

    I have starved to the point of having weak legs on fire from a flight of stairs rather than ask for help. Had I a full freezer, or a cupboard of even the most boring dry goods, I would have ate it.

    My father, a veteran who before the war dropped out of school to help his family, (of origin) remembers the shame of not having enough food to feed his dog. I think he was like what producer Norman Lear sympathetically said about Archie Bunker: a man trying to feed his family (by marriage) with no credit from society for his dropping out or his war service. I grew up with food that was plain but enough. No extra, rarely dessert. None of us six kids ever needed to use sauces to eat our vegetables. Yes, we could afford ketchup, but that was not used for everyday food.

    We later acquired a big long freezer; we bought the cheaper day-old bread and froze it. Speaking of food security: When so many people during the 1960’s were into using freezers, a man did a study that the extra electricity expended equalled the savings in food. But the freezers were still worth it for people because of the emotional comfort of feeling secure.

    • harris497
      harris497 says:

      Yes, Bart is entitled to his opinion and I appreciated it.
      Emotional comfort is often spoken about but is still underrated even today. So is shame for the wrong reasons.
      I guess as we mature, the superficiality of life gets stripped away, and if we’re lucky, we become oracles:)
      Your reference to Archie Bunker is apropos. To this day I can think of an entire generation of people I grew up with and many peers who thought/think like him and for the same reasons – and I grew up in a small island in the Caribbean…

  13. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    The boys tell her not to talk with us about Nino. “Mom is going to tell him he has to leave.”

    “Oh. I am? Well. I guess. Yeah.”

    “Is that what you all want?”

    “The boys want that.”

    My older son says, “Mom has Stockholm syndrome with, like, everyone in her life, so she probably wouldn’t kick him out on her own. But she’s doing it because we want her to.”

    Amanda says to my kids, “I like coming to your house because you and your mom get along so well.”

    I ask, “What do the other moms do?”

    She says most of her interactions with parents entail getting their permission to take the kids away. And the moms say, “Great. I couldn’t be happier.”

    Be aware that you are passing a very low bar here, in terms of parents and children getting along. You should congratulate yourself too much for comparing well with truly terrible parents. I’m glad that social services don’t freak you out anymore. The first (and only) time someone called CPS on us it was quite traumatic.

    I must say that the idea that you are going to kick out your ex-husband because the boys are still mad at him seems absurd to me. You’ve talked at length here about how intact families with two parents fare better, and what a mistake it is to get divorced. Why, then, are you going to make that same mistake a second time? Nino seems like he wants to be part of your life. You indicate in this post that you need all the help you can get. Shouldn’t you be seeking family therapy to help your kids deal with their anger and abandonment issues instead of kicking him out?

    Regarding poverty and food insecurity, the hardest way to be poor is if you grew up rich. People who grow up rich have a hard time learning how to make good financial decisions. It’s surely no news to you that you make terrible financial decisions, and the endless cash you had access to as a kid is probably part of that problem. It complicates things that your income is not steady, like that of a person who has a regular job; it makes it much harder to plan. When your kids grow up they will probably have an easier time making good financial decisions than you do. If your autistic son puts his mind to it, he can develop a set of rules and practices for saving money; he probably likes to eat the same thing all the time already. We left our teenage son alone in the house for two weeks while we went on vacation (he didn’t want to go with us), and he made great decisions about feeding himself on the cheap.

    We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, in comparison to my wife’s family, and my habits going into adulthood were much more frugal than hers. Before we got married, she lived in her parents’ house, had a good-paying job, and was deep in debt. I developed a severe frugality through decades in poverty and a crippling fear of dying in a trailer park. I came out of graduate school ahead financially, and then tripled my yearly income in my first job. We bought our first home with her credit rating and my savings, and then I worked on paying down all her credit card debt. We bought our second home with the equity we developed and my bonuses. Now, at a different financial level (one where she is making far more than I ever could), I still have to resist buying whatever meat is on sale at the supermarket, because my spoiled kids won’t eat cheap chicken. And I pull that old man crap when they won’t eat: “If you were really hungry, you’d eat it!” I cannot imagine ever refusing to eat the dinner my mother cooked, because I was always hungry when I was a kid.

    As regards the questions you ask up top, yes, you should try to explain your anxiety about food to your kids. They seem to think it’s all fun and games. “Food insecure” is just a label that gets them a free gift card. For you it’s something that makes you cry alone on the bathroom floor. These are not the same “insecure.” They’re old enough that they should be able to contemplate your feelings. Maybe one of them will make you a pillow with a cauliflower design.

  14. Roxana
    Roxana says:

    From what i read: there are 2 working adults in the house and no fresh food. You are in the same position like before, with no help from yr ex husband. It seem to me that yr kid is right: kick him out. To give him a phone about a scary situation and to receive an answer like that, it means that he is self centered more than i can chew. Are you sure that yr kids need a patern figure?

  15. jennifer
    jennifer says:

    Interesting post. Bart’s comment seemed pretty rude, but I can’t disagree with him. If your freezer is so full that your family can talk of rearranging things to make more room in there, and it’s typically full, that’s not food insecurity. If your boy wants to throw away food you just brought home fresh from the store, that’s not food insecurity. Perhaps the word has been re-defined lately. Perhaps you can get the boys on board to help you meal-plan and rotate through the frozen food? Good skills to have and they will see there’s plenty of food. I grew up hungry sometimes, like many. I didn’t love the vegetables but ate every last scrap of them.

    • Noko
      Noko says:

      The truth hurts. There is no “rude” with the truth. Other than people not being able to take it and that’s when its rude.

  16. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    Strange how perceptions can psychologically vary. I saw Bart as being not not so much rude as reality based (money comes from people) and polite, using phrases such as “if” and “I may be misreading” and “my heart goes out to you.”

    I suppose my perception might vary if I just spent a day around anyone who lies and sarcasm-lies, because then I might “assume the worst.” But I have spent the last few days on vacation around wide eyed normal people.

    Yes, I take my computer on vacation! For my quality of life.

  17. rosie
    rosie says:

    I’m sorry the kids don’t like cauliflower but that doesn’t mean they are “food insecure”. The older boy could be working and providing some cash, feeding himself, etc.. And is Nino freeloading? You dumped the farmer because he wouldn’t/couldn’t get wifi on the farm, but Nino can hang out and be a leech???

    The new dog is presumably being fed and cared for, if that can be financed, I have a hard time with this idea that this family is needy.

    That said, I do wish you and your family the best. good luck.

  18. Noko
    Noko says:

    You are not “food insecure” when you have a full freezer. This jargon is now is being bandied about to middle class people who are appear to not be living their “ideal” life.

    I will say I don’t understand your reaction to CPS. It has been my worst fear as a homeschooling mom and I have spent many a night up with anxiety that my extremely conventional MIL or SIL will call them for the wild forest life we live.

    I am not calling you out about your freezer per se but do tend to agree with Bart. Ultimately you do sound a tad self indulgent. I feel your perception is off at the moment. Maybe you are really crying on the bathroom floor because living with your ex is stressful and may not be the best situation for your children.

    Some studies may point that a two parent household is better but not when an unhealthy dynamic is present. It is much better to have one healthy parent than two parents together who make each other unhealthy. Your children now are developing a blueprint for their future relationships. Look inside and see your yourself. Is it a healthy situation? I don’t know. You are the adult only you can make that decision.

    I have always enjoyed your posts. I have looked at your blog off and on for years. I really don’t know your whole story but from the small amount I have read I at times relate. I have 3 homeschooled boys and often look to your past posts for inspiration with dealing with the bullshite of my fellow humans.

    I am wishing you and yours much blessings and seriously if you need money I can send you $50 or so. Email me.

  19. Noko
    Noko says:

    Its only in America we call it “food insecurity” when your kids don’t like what’s in the freezer and are going to throw it out.

    Love your blog and your hard wood floors.

  20. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I appreciate these comments and I’ve been thinking about the discussion here.

    What I learned from this episode with my son is that I need to communicate with him more effectively. The answer to which kid deserves help is that if a sixteen-year-old boy calls child services and says his family needs food, child services can’t go wrong giving the kid some food. Geeesh.

    I see that my kid is white and privileged and because blog readers call child services so often he knows how to call child services himself, but that doesn’t mean that child services shouldn’t just give him food if he says he wants food. Child services should give any kid food who wants food. Because believe me, there is not a huge line of teenagers banging on the door of child services. Most kids have no idea how to get food if they need food. That’s a separate problem.

    In fact, the first thing the child services person said to my son was that it’s great that he asked for help with food before he was really hungry. She told him people are too scared to ask for food and they wait too long and she’s happy that he asked before he was hungry. So that’s a lesson for all of you who think kids should be starving before they ask for someone to help them with food.

    The problem my son and I have is that we don’t have a similar understanding of what it means to feel secure about food. I think of food as a bank account and I play it a little like a game. I would like to buy food once a year if I could. My son likes to cook his own food and he wants to go food shopping each week. He wants to know each week that we will buy food. It’s mental, really. I feel secure knowing I bought enough food for the year and don’t have to worry about earning so much money. He feels secure knowing he can go grocery shopping each week.

    Neither of our feelings are right or wrong. We are working with what we’ve got. So we talked with each other and talked about the gap in our understanding of what it means to feel secure about food, and I can change how I’m operating so he feels better.

    I learn a lot from child services because I talk with them all the time. And they don’t ever judge someone for using the services they provide. That’s how they operate. It’s difficult to take help from someone. And you can’t look at someone’s outside and know how much they are hurting inside. The child services person gave me the example of someone who drives a nice car and lives in public housing. She says there are a lot of people like that.

    A question I have for you in the comments: Do you believe that if you take help from social services then you can’t have nice things? Are you not allowed to have a full freezer? Are you not allowed to have a nice car? Can you only get help when you are sitting on the curb with nothing waiting to die? That doesn’t seem right.

    The truth is that I didn’t need money for food, per se. But my son needed to be able to verbalize his problem, and he needed a safe place to do it, and he needed to believe someone would help. Everything is not about money. It’s believing there is someone who can solve a problem if you bring a problem to them.


    • Valerie
      Valerie says:

      I think the point is that you didn’t need the gift card in order to eat. That resource would perhaps have more appropriately gone to someone who needed the card so that their family could have some meals.

  21. Noko
    Noko says:

    I want to preface this with I do like you Penelope and the way you have generally presented yourself in this blog. What I am about to say will sound harsh but its the only way I know how to speak about my perception of reality.

    I think that you could sell some things on Craigslist before your son starts calling Social Services for a free gift card. I think what you are teaching your kids in this situation is unhealthy. He just wants real food to eat rather than a freezer filled with frozen food. If you seriously do not have enough money than he needs to make something else. I have 3 boys. My 9 year old loves to cook. He goes through my recipe books for ideas. But I have only so much money for some of these recipes. I have an 11 year old who is literally hungry all the time. We eat and is then hungry again because he is growing. I feel guilty at times at not having enough “good” food for him. So I resort to rice noodles with some sort of soy sauce sauce I make up. I would never in a million years want my children calling some woman to help because mommy hasn’t taught them that this is what we have to make do. As you said there was food in the freezer so no he didn’t need to call CPS.

    This was not an emergency. Your son wasn’t starving nor really were you broke in the least. You have murals on your walls, very nice hard wood floors, nice furniture, dog crate (which is not cheap), a dog which are expensive and a luxury, etc.. You could sell something on Ebay. I do. At the moment my son needs swim lessons and I am selling a few things to make it work in my budget. So no I don’t think that in this time of rampant homelessness in cities does your son need to call CPS to get a gift card for food. My mother did live in public housing and she wouldn’t have thought that it was great I called CPS to fix my needs. He isn’t a gang member, his mother isn’t drug addled nor are you beating him. These are the children that need CPS to help them.

    You talk about buying enough groceries for a year. That is a lot of money up front. Which I personally do not have myself nor does it make sense when food that lasts for a year is full of preservatives and you couldn’t have enough food in your freezer for a year. Your son simply wants to make good, healthy food with you maybe because cooking is a ritual and all of us humans feel the need for ritual.

    You talk about cello lessons for your kids. Cellos are not cheap last time I checked lessons aren’t either. Can you sell an old cello? You really could sell some things around the house to make a savings for yourselves. This is what people living close to the bone do. I value my time much more that money so I live cheaply.

    And lastly your son can’t turn to his father for help? He can’t run him to the grocery store on the weekends to buy groceries?

    Bottom line to my mind you sounds melodramatic if not a tad wanting to be a victim.

    There is no strength in being a victim.


    • Kate
      Kate says:

      I do agree with this balanced and I think clear sighted, clear speaking comment. I’ve been thinking about the back and forth in the comments and trying to decide what I think- I’d hate to say critical things to a friend who was down and in need and maybe needing some emotional support. But as you say- Penelope lives this all out in Public and so I feel it’s ok to comment…
      I find it hard to believe that anyone thinks that $200 helping hand was genuinely needed for this family.
      And please, get onto eBay and flog some of the stuff you have!
      I think the need to lie on the floor and cry and try to breathe is a bigger concern and in my view indicates that Penelope needs some support…
      My best wishes to you all in the family and in the comments here.

  22. Noko
    Noko says:

    I also want to add that I am a private person and do not enjoy having to say such criticisms publicly but you are living your life publicly.

    All the best.

  23. Lesley Parker
    Lesley Parker says:

    Penelope, you are so brave as you can share your feelings and insecurities with other people.
    I also think that your son was very brave to tell honestly that the family has food insecurity (or doesn’t have food). You are an awesome Mom and you have great kids!
    Have a nice day!

  24. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    Luxury food is like drugs: If you never bite, you’ll never be hooked. My mother was clear that stuff with zero nutrition, such as potato chips, was not a necessity but a “nice to have” meaning a luxury that people like us, poor class, could not afford.

    It was people not like us, from the middle class, who became hippies in the 1960’s living by handouts. Mother would come home from the city steamed after she saw hippies eating chips. Looking back, I think from having grown up rich the hippies, when far from home, felt food security having their chips, even as, to me, it was a waste of handout-charity.

  25. Naimah
    Naimah says:

    P! I started reading your blog in 2013 around the time you were leaving the farmer in WI and trying things out in PA as I transitioned as a bold Black woman into corporate America, your advice was my therapy and catalyst to actual therapy. It’s 2021 and my 15 year old was recently diagnosed with Aspergers and all I could think about is my once close friend (in my head) Pretty P and I had to come check on you. My codependency makes me want to ask you to join me as I often sit on the bathroom floor, with the shower running in complete tears. But just like you, I eventually turn the water off, open the door and go give my kids the emo support I never had. There’s a special place for ppl like you and me…. I mean it has to be right! Lol -Your energetic sister in love Naimah

  26. Tinashe
    Tinashe says:

    I loved every word out of your blog. I have learnt a lot really learnt lot and I have been following your blog for a while now. It is really been such a breath of fresh air.

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