Spaghetti is my go-to meal for my family. I have a reputation of not being an amazing cook and of relying on spaghetti way too often. My family thinks the reason I cook spaghetti so often is because that’s all I know how to do.
While it’s true I don’t spend lots of time cooking and I love the idea of a casserole or even a PB’n J for supper, that’s not the reason for my love of spaghetti for supper. My mother worked very, very hard all of her life. She reached goals and won awards in her profession. She was exhausted most days and overwhelmed with demands of being a working mother. To my mother, cooking felt like love and, I have vivid memories of the nights she cooked. Helping her unload the groceries and taking stock of all the items always made me feel reassured that all was right in our world. It felt like being embraced by love and assurance.
When we had her spaghetti the whole house radiated with a joyous aroma. You’d never find her using a jarred sauce; she’d have spices and tomato paste in those tiny little cans and she’d throw in a couple of bay leaves. I loved that little extra touch. My brothers could have cared less and would devour a plate of spaghetti and then make themselves a spaghetti sandwich on a piece of Sunbeam white bread. Our family was like most with some struggles, some heartbreak, some tragedy, but we had a home and our mother cooked for us.
It occurred to me recently to ask the mothers living at Nurture Home, Mental Health America of Aiken’s program for homeless single mothers, what type meals were their favorites to prepare. I was then sorry I had asked the question because, clearly if you are living in your car, an emergency shelter, or temporarily with friends or family, it’s not likely you’ve been able to prepare meals for your children.
One mother shared with me how she always held hands with her daughter and said a blessing, even when they were eating in their van. When asked what it was like to have meals at a soup kitchen she described a bell being rung and then lining up for food along with people from the street. She shared that they often were dirty and had not bathed; but, then quickly apologized and made it clear she never felt she was better, she just hated for her daughter to sense that things were so bad. She said she did her best to make it seem OK for her 6-year-old daughter. As we talked, I sensed this was a difficult conversation, so didn’t press her for more insight.
According to the National Center on Family Homelessness website, South Carolina ranks 37th in the nation for homelessness. Another alarming statistic is that the United States has the largest number of homeless women and children of all industrialized nations. Among homeless families, 42 percent of the children are younger than age six. More than 92 percent of homeless mothers have experienced severe abuse.
Children experiencing homelessness are exposed to at least one seriously violent episode by age 12. Therefore, they are more prone to violence and aggression. Homeless children are sick four times more than other children, particularly with asthma and ear infections. They are five times more likely to have digestive problems. Children who are homeless have twice the rate of emotional disturbances of other children and are four times more likely to have delayed development and learning disabilities.
We are fortunate at Nurture Home to be able to provide an environment as close to home as possible for the mothers and children we serve. Each family has its own space although they share a bathroom. Each family is able to share a kitchen, prepare family meals and then dine together at a table. Nurture Home has many rules and is known as a structured program with many requirements regarding the daily agendas of the families we serve.
We acknowledge that living among a group of families different from your own with their own set of struggles, behaviors and routines are a challenge.
We’ve found, however, of the 60 homeless women we’ve served since 2009, that the solace of a place to call home, a place to sleep safely, to wash their children’s clothes and bathe them, and a place to sit down to supper is critical to their success and their child’s well-being. For the first time in their lives, many of these women see the value in structuring their child’s day. The biggest worry for a child who is homeless is where they will sleep and eat. Imagine going through your day unsure of where you will sleep and whether you will eat.
Nurture Home assures mothers and children that while they are in our program that’s not a worry for them. Once mothers have that assurance, they, as required by the program, make real changes in their daily lives to never experience homelessness again.
And hopefully, one day, each mother will be in a position to serve spaghetti for supper in their own homes.