LIMA — Click. Click. Click.
Dean grinned in his mother’s arms, his 4-year-old fingers working to pull another noise from the small toy he held. His 3-year-old sister, Eileen, stood nearby watching.
The two children were mostly oblivious to their mother’s story. To them, a three-bedroom household with eight people didn’t seem so crowded, and with a toy in hand, Dean seemed more than content clicking the toy and pointing it at others in the room to see how they would react.
As long as he got attention, he gladly flashed a grin back spilling a little laugh.
Despite his good humor, Dean’s never experienced what his grandma Mattie would call a good Christmas.
Health problems — running the gamut from lung cancer to heart issues and nerve damage — have Mattie collecting Social Security disability to pay rent and receiving SNAP benefits to pay for food. Meanwhile, Mattie’s daughter Rose has worked as a housekeeper for a number of years to increase their income, but since her business tends to wind down during the holidays, her paychecks shrink when winter arrives.
Even after grouping their incomes, the family has been bouncing back and forth from paycheck to disability check for almost half decade. Lackluster wage growth has kept their progress at a minimum, and most dollars are used toward housing, utilities, food and medical costs for the five children of the family. Dean, in particular, has speech problems. He goes to a specialist on Mondays to manage.
“I don’t want to say all my money goes into the house, but the majority of my money goes toward the house, to get our bills paid, our rent, to get what we need for our animals, the kids, so around the holidays, it’s just, it’s …” Rose paused, showing her frustration. “It’s tough.”
“It seems like every time we think we’re getting ahead, we fall further behind,” Mattie said.
In the three-bedroom household, Rose uses one bedroom, and the kids’ two rooms are split by gender. The seventh member of the household, Rose’s adult brother, has carved out a space in the basement, and Mattie has staked out a niche in the living room. She would use an upstairs bedroom, but she has a hard time climbing stairs.
As for this holiday season, the two women are hoping to at least give the kids in the household a good Christmas.
“I would love to get my daughter something, my son something, my grandkids something. But I don’t have the money. I’m totally tapped,” Mattie said fighting back tears.
Rose’s five children include 3-year-old Eileen, 4-year-old Dean, a 7-year-old boy, a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. Barbies, baby dolls, cars and trucks are on the list for the youngest, and Mattie mentioned the need for a ham for the Christmas meal.
Clothing sizes for the children — from youngest to oldest — are 3T, 4T, 7 (pants size), 9/10s and women’s medium to large (shirt size).
“It’d be nice to have a good Christmas,” Mattie said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.