Last Updated on March 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 744
If They Give Momma the Punishment
Vanetta hides Easter eggs around the Lodge for her children to find. Four-year-old Kendal, her oldest, allows his younger siblings, Tembi and Bo-Bo, to hunt for them. Kendal appears to be “finished with childhood.” He will not hold Vanetta’s hand and does not enjoy singing in school. He seems to understand that his mother has a lot to worry about, which worries Vanetta even more.
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Several days before Easter, Vanetta and her children are evicted from the Lodge because Tembi pulled the fire alarm. Vanetta does not argue. Instead, she calls on every rental sign she sees in the inner city. She applies for everything she can, regardless of how dilapidated the properties are.
Crystal has been struggling to find housing, too. She slept at Wheaton Franciscan and the Amtrak station before meeting a woman named Patricia at a bus stop. Patricia, who was planning to kick her abusive husband out of their home, invites Crystal to move in. Now, Crystal calls her Mom.
Vanetta checks out of the Lodge and moves her children into her sister Ebony’s three-bedroom apartment. She hands Ebony $50 and leaves for the courthouse to attend D’Sean’s reconfinement hearing. D’Sean is Bo-Bo’s abusive father, and Vanetta believes that she loves him. She feels guilty for calling the police on him months earlier while he was beating her. The judge refers to these 9-1-1 calls and gives D’Sean eighteen months in prison.
Distraught, Vanetta returns to Ebony’s apartment and drinks until she passes out beside her children. She misses a call from Crystal, who is homeless once again. Patricia’s fourteen-year-old daughter sold or lost Crystal’s phone and Patricia refused to pay for it. Crystal calls in “her people” for help, and they wait in the car while she fights with Patricia outside. Patricia falls down, and Crystal begins kicking her in the face. Her sister runs over with a hammer and begins hitting her. Crystal leaves Patricia on the sidewalk and spends the night at Wheaton Franciscan.
Finally, Crystal and Vanetta are approved for a grimy two-bedroom apartment that costs $500 per month. The front door does not lock, and the kitchen sink is clogged. There is no refrigerator or stove, either. However, there is a tub, which Vanetta had wanted. The neighborhood is dangerous, but both women are tired of looking for a home. Soon after moving in, Crystal throws someone through one of the apartment windows for using up her cell phone minutes. Vanetta pays for the repairs and kicks Crystal out so that the landlord will let her and the children stay.
Several days later, Child Protective Services calls Ebony in search of Vanetta. Vanetta, outraged, suspects Crystal. Vanetta fears that her children will not be permitted to live in a home without a refrigerator or a stove, so she buys a refrigerator and a stove with a non-working oven for very little money. She also buys junk food with her food stamps so that there will be food in the apartment if a social worker appears.
Even without the threat of her children being taken away, Vanetta must arrange for someone to care for them if she is sent to prison for the robbery. She asks Ebony to take them at the last minute. The day of her hearing arrives, and she brings Kendal to the courthouse. He observed that “kids aren’t supposed to go to court,” but agreed to go with his mother when she asked.
The judge, an older white man, acknowledges that Vanetta’s crime was committed out of desperation. However, he notes that her circumstances have not improved since the robbery—in fact, they seem to have worsened. Therefore, she may be compelled to commit a similarly violent crime again. He orders eighty-one months of initial confinement, followed by sixty-six months of extended supervision. Vanetta tearfully stands to be handcuffed by the bailiff, and her mother—Shortcake—tells Kendal to “wave goodbye, son.”
Meanwhile, Crystal begins prostituting herself after losing her SSI benefits. She has joined a new church, the Restoration International Ministries, and sleeps either in the street or at the Amtrak station. However bad her life is, Crystal never misses church. She watches as her pastor, a black woman, leads a rousing group prayer in order to help an ailing member of her congregation. Crystal joins, exclaiming that “God got me...God got me!”