The last 11 years have been harsh and humbling for Maria Maley, and whatever years remain to her seem certain to be the same.
“I’m not deluding myself,” Ms. Maley, 52, said. “This is what it is. This is what it’s always going to be. I’m always going to be a single parent struggling. My daughter is always going to be sick. I’m always going to be in this situation.”
Her declaration is made without contempt or self-pity; it is a clinical recitation — an acceptance — of her life, which has only bolstered her love for her daughters, Nicole, 17, and Danielle, 11.
Danielle has severe autism and can do very little for herself. She has to be bathed, dressed and groomed, and can barely communicate, often speaking in single-word statements.
“Once I knew there was something wrong, it catches in your throat and you don’t think you ever get over it,” Ms. Maley said. “I cry every day for her. All the things she could have been and things she doesn’t understand.”
Each day, Ms. Maley soldiers on — slightly harried, fully dedicated. Her husband left her shortly after Danielle was born. The family has no contact with him. Her mother died a few months ago. She has been estranged from her sister for years.
“My sister’s answer was: ‘Isn’t there someplace you can put her? Isn’t there someplace you can lock her away so you can have a life?’ ” Ms. Maley said. “That wasn’t an option for me. Once she said that, that whole relationship just deteriorated.”
In 2007, Ms. Maley learned she had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She is in remission, but the disease and the treatment have worn on her health.
“I have days where, ‘I can do it, I can do it,’ ” she said. “Then I have days when ‘Please, dear God, just take me,’ I’ve had enough.”
Nicole, a junior honor student at Susan Wagner High School on Staten Island, offers invaluable help caring for Danielle, which leaves Ms. Maley feeling both grateful and guilty.
“I don’t even want her to feel burdened,” she said. “She is wonderful with her sister, but it’s not her job. Her job is to be a teenager, have fun.”
Her hopes for Danielle are equally simple.
“I want her to feel loved,” Ms. Maley said. “Me and my older daughter, we treat her like gold. She has moments: ‘Mommy, I love you’ and that’s what it’s all about. Give your children the best life and make them feel loved.”
Since September, Ms. Maley has been working part time in the cafeteria at the Academy of St. Dorothy, near her apartment in New Dorp, Staten Island. In June, she was laid off from a part-time job as a restaurant manager.
“I’d love to be able to work an 8-to-5 job,” said Ms. Maley, who must rush home in the early afternoon to meet Danielle when she returns from school. “I don’t have those options. I have no one to stay with her. A lot of jobs, they want you weekends, they want you nights, they want flexibility. Your pool of jobs is very small.”
In addition to her part-time pay, each month Ms. Maley receives $744 from Danielle’s Supplemental Security Income and $280 in rental assistance from New York City’s Human Resources Administration.
While unemployed, Ms. Maley fell three months behind on her rent, which totaled $3,300. She reached out to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation of New York, one of the organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
The Metropolitan Council used $1,100 from the Neediest Cases Fund to help with Ms. Maley’s arrears. The remaining balance was covered by $1,100 from the homeless-prevention services of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, another beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation. It also drew the money from the Neediest Cases Fund. The remaining $1,100 came from two other agencies.
“I really don’t do a lot because financially, I just don’t have the means,” said Ms. Maley. “If my bills are paid, I’m happy.”
Whenever Ms. Maley does have extra money, she spends it on treats for her children. “If I come up with a few dollars, I like to take my kids for pizza,” she said.
Finances are so tight that Ms. Maley cannot afford a computer for the home, which she knows places an additional strain on Nicole, who must trek more than an hour to the library to complete her school assignments.
Nicole recently had to buy a graphing calculator for math class. “It’s $100,” Ms. Maley said. “Might as well be a million for me.”
She added: “Those are regrets, what you want to do for your children, but can’t.” Ms. Maley said she managed to acquire a heavily discounted calculator on an Internet auction site.
Despite her family’s challenges, Ms. Maley has chosen to embrace what life has given her. Her children are everything to her.
“People are like: ‘Oh, you have to get out, you have to have your own life,’ ” Ms. Maley said. “They are my life. There is no other life.”
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/28/nyregion/for-staten-island-mother-her-two-daughters-needs-always-come-first.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fneediest-cases&action=click&contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&module=Collection®ion=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article