last fall my welfare workercalled me up to announce it was time for the works -- Ontario Works, that is. The reason was that my youngest son had just started junior kindergarten.
"So you're an actor and a writer," she says when I meet with her later that week. "How about a computer course?" she asks, looking over her list of possible placements. "I already know how to type," I respond.
"You're a mother," she says. "How about an ECE (early childhood education) course?"
"I already know how to educate persons in early childhood," I declare, referring to my three children, two of whom were home-schooled to grade eight.
I know, I know, the idea is to be certified, and then you can make money raising other people's kids.
"Got any courses for dominatrixes?" I ask, peering at the list. The worker frowns. "Just kidding," I say.
I call her attention to a flyer I picked up in the outer office about a neighbourhood services agency that needs writers for its newsletter. She tells me to phone them and also hands me the number for the computer course.
We part, and she informs me that I'll soon be getting a new worker.
The computer-course guy is clearly thrilled to have an applicant he can communicate with. "They keep sending me people who can't speak English," he says despondently. "It just won't work." But he knows the course is not for me when I rattle off some of my publishing credits. Incredulous, he asks, "So what are you doing on welfare?"
"Kids," I reply. "I'm a single mother."
I love my kids. From the moment I knew they were in me, this love came over me. And from the moment they came out in a rush of blood and excitement, I cherished them with all my beating heart and hot blood. So instead of making money, I'm making macaroni and cheese for dinner or hot lemon and honey for sore throats.
And instead of playing the clubs, I'm playing Monopoly on a rainy day.
A few years ago I scraped together a retainer fee for a lawyer so she could pursue my child support. A few thousand dollars later, a court order for the child support was issued. The deadbeat dad has been playing games ever since, and I don't mean Monopoly.
So I make the trip to the agency that needs writers and sign on and luck out. These people actually treat their volunteers not just like human beings but like gold. If we're in a meeting at dinner time, they feed us. If we need to print resumes, they let us use the copy machine. There's always coffee and cookies and friendly faces and sometimes tickets to hockey games.
But best of all, they provide childcare. I'm on welfare, remember, so I can't afford to pay for childcare. In Ontario Works theory, I should only be working while my son is in school, but he's only in school two and a half hours a day, which really isn't enough time to travel anywhere and back, let alone work there in between.
Ironically, my son sometimes has to miss school so I can go to afternoon meetings of the newsletter committee. Some on the committee have just arrived in Canada -- refugees looking for homes and work. Some have been here all their lives. Language barriers can make understanding slow. Sometimes the language barriers are between people who share the same tongue.
Harold, for instance, a voluntary volunteer as opposed to a forced volunteer, seemed to have time on his hands. But he soon dropped out, and I took on his assignments. Others fell by the wayside as time went on, and I took on their assignments, too. I've shown up for many meetings with my son in tow only to find that no one else has come.
It's now five months since we began, and we've almost completed our first issue. It has articles on homelessness and youth violence and lots of other good stuff. We had to change the heading from winter 2001 to spring, and we hope not to have to change it to summer. But it turns out the agency may not even have the budget to print it.
The other day my new welfare worker phoned to ask if there have been any changes in my situation. "I still have three kids," I answer. "And no, my child support hasn't come through."
What surprises me is that this worker doesn't have any information about my workfare participation. Nothing. So, I'm thinking, all these months I needn't have dragged my four-year-old onto the streetcar, then the bus during rush hour, only to discover that no one else had shown up for the meeting.
Mind you, I wouldn't have received a Metropass every month. But I also wouldn't have had to take cabs on cold winter nights to get my tired boy home from work(fare). It seems that Mike Harris is happy as long as I'm wasting my time, doing my duty as a conscripted volunteer in a giant photo op for the Ontario government.