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Unemployment Diary: When my son sleeps, I pray

This week, The Post's Theresa Vargas presents a series of stories about what unemployed people do now that they've lost the structure that a job lends daily life. Theresa asked about a dozen people who had recently lost their jobs to keep diaries detailing how they fill the suddenly empty hours in their days.

We'd like to continue building this portrait of how unemployment changes life by asking those of you who have lost work to give us a sense of the changing flow and tempo of your days and evenings. What do you do now that you haven't done in the past? What can you no longer do? How have your contacts with friends, family, colleagues changed? What's better, what's worse?

Give us the details on the comment boards below, or make an Unemployment Diary video of your own and post it to us via YouTube.

Meanwhile, we're posting here all week the full diaries of those people who helped us out with the reporting of Theresa's stories.

Diary of Margarita Damian, who used to work at a daycare and now cleans houses when a job arises. She wrote her diary in Spanish, but we translated it here for you.

I’m Margarita Damian, a Mexican woman who arrived in this country in 2003 with my 10 month old son. I’m a single mother and I wanted to come here to give my only child a better future. Now, I think that future is only for him because he is getting a good education, can speak English and has the opportunity to have a better life. But I’m getting old thinking about how to pay for this space to live in, my apartment. I haven’t had stable employment for a little over a year. Living on the goodwill of others, I believe, is not a good example for a child, especially since my father always said that what a person eats and what they have should be earned with the sweat of their brow, and that this same idea should be instilled in children so that they learn not to get things the easy way, but to get them through hard work and effort.

I woke up at 7 a.m. to get my son ready for school which starts at 8. I drop him off and I come back home. I find myself alone. I have to clean and eat something, even if it’s only coffee, but it occurs to me that I can look for the newspaper and go through the employment section. There isn’t anything, and what I do find requires a work permit and/or a driver’s license, and that you speak fluent English.

I go through my mail only to find the power bill that I was supposed to have paid the day before. It’s $78.21. I don’t know why, but right there, my worries begin about how to get the money since I just paid the rent and I’m broke. I’m not hungry anymore and I don’t feel like having any coffee.

I relax a little bit with a bath and I talk with one of the staff at the organization (Tenants and Workers United) and they suggest I make my own fliers to advertise that I clean houses. I make them and I feel a little better.

I come home to help my son with his homework and to make a light dinner, like cereal and milk, knowing all the while that my son is going to have a stomach ache afterward because we don’t have his special milk. During dinner, I get a telephone call to work (clean an apartment). Well, this makes me feel a little better because at least I’ll earn enough to be able to buy some lactose-free milk.

Bedtime with my son is sublime because we read together and we talk for a little while. The hardest time for me is when he sleeps and I am alone; it’s when my sadness starts, thinking about tomorrow, about the power bill, about next month’s rent, about the coming weeks, about our future, a future that I don’t see as very bright and this is when I cry, alone, until I fall asleep.

Tuesday 12/08

After dropping my son off at school I get ready for work. All of a sudden they call me with the news that the cleaning job has been canceled because the owner of the apartment is pregnant and she’s about to give birth earlier than expected. They are leaving at that moment to go to the emergency room; so the day begins without the hope of a job.

With our desire to work and have a little income for Christmas, some friends who are also unemployed and I talked and it occurred to us that we can organize and look for a place – like a street corner – to wait for work just like the men do. Maybe that way we’ll get some work.

In order to not waste the time that I had planned to work, I eat some eggs and beans and I go to the organization to call some women on the phone and invite them to a workshop on self-esteem offered by a psychologist from the family health clinic that will be held tomorrow at 5:30. I called at least 35 women and I hope that of these at least 15 or 20 come to the workshop.

I go home to get my son, and with a lot of love I make him the macaroni and cheese that they give us at the monthly food bank. I check in his backpack and we do homework together. Afterward I tell him to do whatever he wants for an hour. After that I have to go to English class. I go back to the organization where volunteers give the classes. As soon as I get inside the building, they call to tell me something very important. And yes, it is very important, because on December 17 they’re going to introduce an immigration reform proposal into the Senate that would start being debated the following month. Wow!! This is wonderful news for me. It’s like a bright light at the end of the tunnel. “Blessed be God,” I said. For a change I didn’t cry tonight after I put my son to bed. On the contrary, I smiled as I shared the good news with other friends.

Wednesday 12/09

I wake up a little excited because of the news from yesterday, in addition to which I have a house to clean today so I will have money to buy some food – since I don’t have anything in the fridge. The house that we’re going to clean today we do every Wednesday. They only pay $75 and we divide it between two people.

On the way back home I get some food, I clean the apartment a little and I get ready to pick up my son. He gets out at 3:15. And at 4:30 I will meet with a couple of women who work at a women’s institute and want to know more about the project of which I’m an organizer (a women’s group). The women want to get to know our group, how we work, how we organize ourselves, the different group exercises we use and how the women respond. In order for these women to really learn about these things, we invite them to be part of our meeting in which we’re going to work on women’s self-esteem and have a talk with the psychologist from the family health clinic.

Between the presentations at the women’s group, I always talk about jobs to see if anyone knows of one for me. Luckily, one of them gives me a telephone number for a person who needs help watching an elderly woman. That’s a possible job. She says I can call her after lunchtime.

We go home and eat beans with tortillas and afterwards we do homework together. After that we get ready for bed.

When my son is asleep, I pray. I pray so much so that my wish for a job will come true. I can’t take it anymore living without any fun and recreation for my son. We don’t go to the movies, we don’t go to Chuck E. Cheese, we don’t go to the pancake house that he loves so much, I don’t take him to the toy store, I don’t take him to get donuts, I don’t even take him to McDonald’s.

I cry just thinking about how our situation has changed and not for the good. It’s the opposite really: we’re walking backwards like a crab. I go to sleep remembering years past with tears.

Thursday 12/10
My day starts at 7 am getting my son ready for school and my struggle to find a job.

They call me to clean a house but I’ll only earn $40 and this isn’t enough to pay for my light bill. Oh my God, it depresses me to think about how I’m going to pay next month’s rent -- I was able to pay it last time because I applied for $300 in help from an organization.

I arrive at midday and I call the person about the possible job taking care of the elderly woman. She answers and tells me she is very busy and she’ll call me back later. This is a great hope for me and I don’t care how much it pays -- I just want to be able to count on money coming in and pay my rent. Nighttime arrives and she never calls. I call her and she doesn’t answer. My heart beats with fear that I’m not going to get this job that has become my hope for paying my rent. I hold back my desire to cry and to get hysterical because my son is very relaxed reading without worries. I look at him and it makes me strong because I know that in my country he would never have acquired good habits like this love of reading. And I also know that he is in a better place to become a professional with a very bright future, one that is so different from mine. I studied so hard only to move so far from my family because I didn’t have a secure job. I only got short-term contracts after I passed the age requirements for a government job. It makes me ashamed to know that in my country after you turn 30 one can’t find a stable job with the government.

My son is my strength. He’s so mature and understanding for just his seven years. Though sometimes he says he wants to have his own room or his own bed, and that he wants to go Disney World, he also wants to be a teenager so he can help with the bills.

Friday 12/11
I have a difficult day ahead of me I’m thinking as I drop my son off at school, because if that woman from the job is not answering or returning my calls it’s because she does not need my services. This means I’m going to have to look for other options.

I get home, drink coffee until 9 a.m. when I visit the priest at the church and give him some of my flyers for cleaning houses. I hope that with his help I’ll be able to get some houses to clean. The priest tells me that I can only put the flyers in the information room and people who visit the church will take them.

I also have to think about other alternatives. I go home, I sit there thinking and nothing occurs to me. I only succeed in making myself depressed. I take a bath and I can’t hold back anymore and I cry, I cry like a little girl. I feel so alone, trapped with a lot of pain in my chest and then I think that I have to get dressed and get out of my apartment. I don’t know. I have to do something. Maybe I’ll go volunteer at the organization, but I can’t be alone at these times. I think this will make me feel batter. It was a good choice because I met two women who needed help filling out applications for an apartment. I helped them fill them out and I accompanied them to turn them in. They were very thankful, but really they gave me more than I gave them.

I get back to the organization and I learn that there is an American looking for someone to work for three days. The job is filling out surveys for Hispanics about their use of bank accounts. It sounds interesting to me, and I decide to do it. Oh my God, at least it’s something. It would be worse to have nothing I think. The job starts on Monday at 1 pm. At the least I’ll go home with good news, which even makes me hungry. I eat something and look at the Christmas tree where my son put a long letter to Santa asking him to please bring a Nintendo DS (oi! this is very expensive). A tenderness and sadness hit me as I’m afraid that Santa won’t be coming into our lives this Christmas.

This doesn’t frighten me because it was the same for me as a child. I didn’t get presents, only candy from the piñatas that our neighbors had. But what does worry and scare me is the rent that comes due monthly.

By God let next year be better. If not, I’ll have to think about abandoning my dream, my great longing to educate my son in this marvelous country, where I thought that even if it took a lot of work he would be able to go to the famous Harvard University that my father, may he rest in peace, always talked about.

By Theresa Vargas  | December 22, 2009; 11:07 AM ET
Categories:  Diaries, More on the story  
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