I counted the eggs. Made sure there were enough for the next few mornings. Two eggs and ten tater tots a day should last through the week for Lino, my three-year-old son. I would have to skip breakfast and tell myself it’s good for weight loss. If I wake up hungry enough, I can eat the old packets of instant oatmeal collecting dust in my pantry. I could mix it with cold water and microwave it. Or I could eat the end pieces of the bread the WIC gives me that I know better than to throw away. I could slather the WIC approved peanut butter on them and share them with Lino.
I tried not to worry about lunch and dinner. I meditate on possible meals. Lino wasn’t keen to many foods. A quesadilla would suffice sometimes. And if I begged enough, I could get him to eat a bowl of rice and beans.
I’ve been here before. Rationing food to last until my next check or EBT deposit.
Eat slowly and drink a lot of water to stay full longer.
I used to say the same to my younger siblings, when at the age of 11 I had been left in charge of them, both 8. When we were hungry, I’d explore the dirty kitchen with them. I rummaged the pantry and opened the fridge two or three times in hopes that I would be inspired to create something out of the cheese that was exposed to the cold fridge air, the soggy tortillas, and soft bell peppers. There was also the pile of packaged food dumpster-dived by our uncle. But one of us got diarrhea once after eating an expired cheese Danish. Our safest bet was always Cup Noodles. I tasked myself with conquering the big white stove. Filling a pot with sink water, then sliding it over the rusted hob, clicking the stove until it ignites, and letting the water boil. When the bubbles grew, I clicked the stove off. I made my way with the hot pot in oven mit-hands to the kitchen table, where I had lined up three Cup Noodles with the flaps half open. I poured the hot water into each one and watched the dehydrated shrimp float to the top with the dehydrated peas and corn. I closed each flap and placed a fork on top to hold each one down to let the Cup Noodles cook. I don’t remember ever being picky about what I ate. I had favorite foods, early on. Mostly the bad kind that counted as a luxury, like chips and candy.
I make a mental inventory of all the expensive things in our one-bedroom apartment. The one I share with Lino and my boyfriend.
The TV cost $1k but could go for $700.
My laptop cost more than the TV and could go for $800, but I need it for school.
Lino’s iPad, switch, and mini electric car he got some Christmases ago.
I glance at all the toys splayed across the living room floor, remembering the price of every single one. Regretting giving in to Lino’s cries and pleas in the toy aisle of Target.
I used to go window shopping with my mom and siblings at Target. We’d all grab magazines and books and meet at the snack bar where there were scattered circle tables. We’d share a popcorn combo and 16oz drink. We’d sit quietly, flipping through the pages of “Beautiful Homes: Living Life Beautifully” and “Metropolitan Home: Comfort and Joy”. Occasionally showing each other ideas for home décor.
Now, I’m left at the register, choosing between a dozen eggs or 18, contemplating taking the coffee creamer or using the extra money for gas, as baby wipes and diapers fill my cart.
Yoselin Licea is a 30 year old, disabled and Afro-latina, mother of two and current MFA student at UC Riverside. I've traveled a bunch and written a bunch. Currently I'm working on a memoir about fragments of my life and stories that make me who I am. Find me on IG @yocelanegra to keep up with my work.