For a long time, Laura and David Hinton were living their version of the American dream.
He earned a steady income as a driver for Arrowhead Water. She waitressed part time at Marie Callenders. They owned a boat. They took their three young daughters to Disneyland. They bought a three-bedroom house more than a decade ago and decorated it with family photos and angel figurines.
Then, on May 22, 2009, the bottom dropped out.
David was laid off from the job hed held for 13 years the job hed planned to keep until he retired. When the employment ended, so did the familys comfortable middle-class life. And so did their health insurance.
Things changed almost overnight. Laura, 38, was forced to expand her waitressing shifts from three nights a week to six. She started looking around for a second job. David, 49, looked for work, too, but prospective employers balked at his frequent migraines.
Ill give 110 percent unless I physically cant work, he told them.
In this economy, that wasnt enough.
David collected first unemployment checks, then disability, and took care of the kids. Sometimes, Laura felt a little jealous. That always had been her job.
That wasnt the plan, she said. We had a plan.
The boat was repossessed. They filed for bankruptcy. The fluff money that once paid for Friday night pizza and trips to the movies now went toward milk and bread.
They applied for Medi-Cal, but were told they made too much to qualify. Made too much and yet here they were, uninsured and struggling to hold onto their home.
Theyd paid their taxes diligently for years. Theyd always presumed that, should circumstances change, the safety net theyd paid into would be there to catch them.
I presumed incorrectly, Laura said.
They sought help at the welfare office. One well-meaning social worker suggested they get a divorce, so that Laura and the kids, at least, could become eligible for government insurance.
It was humbling, Laura said. Dave and I used to be critical of people on the system, thinking, If they just worked harder And then, there we were, realizing we had worked and worked and worked and we were in this situation.
Not having health insurance for their daughters was the worst.
Their 7-year-old has an autoimmune disorder called Celiac disease. Their 14-year-old has asthma. Their 12-year-old has both. Laura felt powerless, like she was drowning. Shed send the girls to school, terrified that something would happen.
I became this paranoid mom, and super protective, she said. I was almost not letting my children enjoy life because I was so nervous.
The Hintons found themselves grappling with impossible questions: How long should they wait out a fever before scheduling a doctors visit that might cost $125? What should they tell their asthmatic daughter when the school demanded a doctors signature so she could use her inhaler during recess? Sneak a puff when no ones looking? What kind of values would that teach?
Laura got creative. When her daughter had an ear infection, she posted on Facebook. A doctor at church offered to take a look, then gave her sample medications. On another occasion, when Laura herself got sick, a friend gave her some unused antibiotics; she Googled to make sure theyd be OK.
Eventually, their former pediatrician found out about their situation. She suggested they enroll the girls in Kaisers Child Health Plan, a special program that provides full coverage for uninsured kids.
That was a huge relief.
But being without insurance is still hard on the parents. David is supposed to get shots to keep his migraines in check. He is supposed to see a neurologist.
Today, those arent options because of the cost. With the added stress of their financial situation, the pounding in his head sometimes gets so bad he cant stand up. He sees other men like him working jobs for $10 an hour with no benefits. It scares him. He doesnt want to feel hopeless.
Its like theres nothing offered for the average person thats barely making it, he said. Theres nothing. Its either youre rich, or youre poor. Poor get the government handouts and the rich have their own money. The middle class, theres no things offered for you.
Recently, Laura picked up a second job, waitressing at Red Lobster. The company offers health insurance, and shes working out how shell pay her share. In between jobs, shes squeezing in nursing classes. Another dream deferred. She hopes not forever.
Laura cant help thinking about the other mothers out there, mothers who are working and raising children all alone. Even with Davids disability check and his help with the kids, even with the Kaiser plan, shes working herself to exhaustion trying to keep their dreams afloat. What must those other mothers go through? What impossible choices must they face?
Laura and David pray a lot. They attend church on Sundays. They do unto others as theyd have others do unto them. Recently, despite their own struggles, they took in a troubled teenager who had nowhere else to turn.
For me, the Bibles real clear, Laura explained. It says if you can meet someones need, then you meet it.
Capital Public Radio will discuss The Bees series on Insight, its interview program, Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m. Listen at KUOP 91.3 FM or www.capradio.org/news/insight.