When I was five years old, my parents opened one of the first Chinese restaurants where we lived. They called it Ruby and it boasted the best deep fried chicken wings in town! I grew up in that restaurant. I peeled carrots in the kitchen, and I played hide and seek amidst the planters, tables, and chairs.
To scrape together the money needed to open the place, my dad cooked and my mom waitressed, and they saved every coin they made. Denied a loan because they did not have equity, a close friend lent them a few thousand dollars. They needed $3,000 more to get to $10,000. Then the bank would match what they had so they could open the restaurant. Back then, accumulating $3,000 was a nearly insurmountable challenge for my parents because their job prospects were limited.
So, how did they bridge the $3,000 gap? “Milk money,” my mother tells me. Back in the 1970s, the Canadian government provided cash benefits to families with the goal of reducing child poverty. These “family allowances”, known today as the “Canada Child Benefit”, provided $23 every month for every child. My mother called this milk money.
They did indeed use the milk money checks to buy milk for me and other food. They put whatever was left into a bank account in my name. Eventually, $3,000 accumulated. My mom remembers taking me to the bank when I was five years old to withdraw the funds. At the teller window, she tells me that I looked at her and said, “Mommy, why are you using my money?” She was so embarrassed! “We still owe you that $3,000,” she says today. I tell her it was the best investment they ever made. I understand that Ruby’s was our livelihood; it sustained us with food and enabled our economic mobility.
In the U.S. where I now reside, my husband and I benefit from a $2,000 annual child tax credit because my stepson is under 17 years old. Yet according to The Century Foundation, one-third of children do not receive the full credit because their families do not earn enough to qualify, though the child poverty rate is higher here than in any other wealthy nation. Per the Foundation, most other wealthy nations have more robust social policies for children, including some form of child allowance to help parents with the costs of raising their children.
Looking back on my childhood, I remember having a lot of milk (and chicken wings and egg rolls at Ruby). I am certain that my well-being today is a tangible result of Canada’s social policy for children in action, coupled with my mother’s tenacity and love.
Customer favorites at Ruby Restaurant.
A cup of milk every day.
A break from the kitchen with mom on a snow day.