I haven’t been writing because I’ve had workmen pounding on the outside of my house for almost two weeks. We had the house sided – but that meant stripping off the old shingles first. It was such a chaotic noise – 2 guys on each of the four sides, each pounding with no coordination or rhythm to the sound – that it was really difficult to hear myself think. I had to go into the basement to use the phone!
But that is done finally and the results were worth the aggravation. Now I can get back to work trying to help families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I haven’t had a sponsor this week, which is a bad thing. I have gotten a new family to add to my list, though.
I called the grandmother who had sent me her request for sponsors today to get sizes for the children who need school clothes. She was delightful to speak to and open in telling me about her family. I’ll share her story, then make some comments you may or may not like.
This woman is 55, 2 years younger than I am. She has raised her children. Her youngest is 21 and still lives with her. She also has a 29 year old son and a 23 year old daughter who live with her. The 23 year old has 3 children, aged 1, 2 and 4. Grandmother is also caring for 7 grandchildren (aged 1, 4, 5, 6, 11, 11 and 16) who belong to 2 of her other daughters. She took in 2 of those children because their mother was not caring for them, the children of her first marriage, because she had remarried and had children with another man. The other 5 children, all siblings, belong to a daughter who has an alcohol problem and is not capable of caring for them. Grandmother is married. Her husband works in Nebraska and comes home on Sunday only. He has children by a first marriage and works to pay child support. He cannot support this family too.
This woman thought that her days of changing diapers and middle of the night feedings was over. Now she not only continues to do those things, she struggles to keep up with 7 children – cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and getting the older ones to activities. It never ends.
She also worries about not having enough food and not being able to provide the clothing and school supplies the children need. Yes, she gets TANF (similar to AFDC) and food stamps for the children. But I challenge anyone to make that stretch to really cover a month for growing children.
She bemoaned the fact that the tribe does not really do what it needs to help the people with the things they need – housing, jobs. She noted that it is too often “who you know” or “who you are related to” that determines who gets the job or home. I have heard that many times before.
So, you ask, if the people are so unhappy, why don’t they do something to change things? Why don’t they vote for tribal council members who will improve things? Why doesn’t someone lead?
The answer is that they are too busy living life daily to change – at least that is the answer in my opinion. Consider it!
Imagine: You live in a 3 bedroom house that is home to 4 adults and 10 children. 3 of the children are infants – that means diaper changes, frequent feedings and lots of extra laundry. 2 children are preschoolers – which means constant supervision, transporting to Head Start and teaching manners. 3 children are in elementary school – which means helping with homework, growth spurts and sports activities. One child is in high school – which means raging hormones, balancing freedom with safety and stressing staying in school. You have to feed them all. You have adult children who do help but you need to be the “field general”, keeping everyone coordinated. One of those adults is taking some college courses and you want her to succeed, so you don’t ask for too much more.
Think about the laundry created by 10 children and 4 adults. Think about the amount of food to feed them. Consider the soap, shampoo and toothpaste needed for personal hygiene. Consider the number of diapers you need for 3 babies.
If you have any kind of imagination at all, you are starting to become overwhelmed just thinking about it! If you had to actually do it, as this grandmother does, you would not have the energy to try to implement change. You would be using all your energy to get through the day.
What is the solution? I don’t know.
I do know that, until we as a nation acknowledge the circumstances that are the reality of rez life, no one else will have the time to change things.
It’s just my opinion.