This is a teen-written article from our friends at L.A. Youth, a nonprofit organization that uses media as a tool for young people to examine themselves, their communities and the world at large.
My mom, my brother and I used to go to the movies or eat out almost every weekend. We weren’t rich but I could tell my mom wasn’t struggling because she could always afford to take us out. Things changed in June 2009 when my mom was laid off from her job as an assistant property manager for a property management office. I never thought she’d lose her job because she’d been working there for eight years. But since she didn’t look worried, I didn’t worry either.
My mom had savings and the government gave her unemployment -- money you get from the government every two weeks after you’ve been laid off. But she still made sure to budget her money. We didn’t eat out or go to the movies as often. Out of habit, I’d ask my mom to buy me clothes when we were at the store but she said she couldn’t. So I would mostly ask my dad whenever I went over to his house because he had a job.
Many times my junior year I’d come home after band practice and see my mom on her laptop looking for jobs, but she wasn’t having much luck. I didn’t think it would take two years for her to find a job and that she’d struggle to pay her bills.
The summer before senior year, I researched colleges. My dream school was the University of La Verne because I thought its small class sizes would be better for me. Tuition cost $31,300 a year, but I thought financial aid would cover everything since my mom was unemployed.
By the end of the summer I knew that I couldn’t depend on my parents to buy me new clothes and pay for my senior year expenses, so I kept my summer job at Little Caesars.
In late September my mom started dating an old classmate from New Orleans. He and his daughter moved here and my mom and them moved into a three-bedroom home. My brother and I stayed in our apartment and my dad moved in with us so we could continue going to school in South Gate. My mom and her boyfriend got married in December.
MY MOM STARTED TO WORRY
At the beginning of 2011, I started to notice that my mom was struggling. Her mail was still sent to the apartment where I lived with my dad, so she would call almost every other day asking me whether her unemployment check had arrived. When I would say no she would say “OK” in a worried voice. She had been receiving unemployment for a year and a half and to keep getting it she had to prove she was still looking for a job. She told me she was worried that they wouldn’t believe she was having trouble finding one and that they would cut her off. Her husband wasn’t working either because he was having trouble finding a job in construction. I felt bad.
One day in March, I was doing homework in my mom’s room. She was sitting on her bed going through papers when she told me she was behind with her car payments. She started crying and said that she didn’t know how she was going to pay for her car and for rent. It hurt me to see her cry and I started tearing up too. I wanted to help her but I didn’t know how. I knew that if she couldn’t pay her car loan that they would take her car away, but she needed it. How else would she go to job interviews or pick my brother and me up so we could stay at her house?
In April, my mom scored a temporary job as an assistant property manager. I was hoping that they would keep her permanently. But after five weeks they didn’t need her anymore, so she went back to looking for a job. Around the same time I noticed that my mom’s husband was borrowing her car more often. I asked my mom what happened and she said he sold his car and they used the money to pay for rent. Still, I didn’t think their situation was so bad because they still had their home and money to buy food. But now that I look back, my mom had been worrying about a lot of bills.
In May I decided that I wanted to get my prom dress made so that it would be unique. I asked my mom if she could help pay for it since my dad had offered to pay $100. I think she knew how much it meant to me so without any hesitation she said she could pay $100 too. I was so excited. I didn’t feel bad for asking because if she had said no, I would have understood. I wanted prom to be perfect and I was just thinking about that.
A couple of weeks later my mom picked up my brother and me from my dad’s house, and I gave her three letters from the unemployment office. When she read them, she looked worried. I asked her what was wrong and she said that they were no longer going to give her unemployment. When she started driving she remained quiet and looked like she was thinking. Then she started crying and said that she had a lot of bills to pay and she didn’t know what she was going to do. I thought about saying, “It will be OK, things will get better” but it didn’t seem right because I didn’t know whether things would get better.
My brother and I kept quiet for the rest of the car ride. I wanted to offer her money but the only money I had I was going to use to buy my prom ticket. I didn’t want to be selfish but I didn’t want to miss out on one of my most memorable high school experiences. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t find a job. She had a college degree, she was outgoing and hardworking, so why wouldn’t anyone hire her?