Despite Tough Year, Flint Mother Stays Strong For Her Children | KERA News

Despite Tough Year, Flint Mother Stays Strong For Her Children

Dec 23, 2016

Jeneyah McDonald is tired of using bottled water for everything: drinking, cooking, bathing.

In order to keep her two children safe, the resident of Flint, Mich., told them the city tap water was poisonous.

"I don't know any way to explain to a 6-year-old why you can't take a bath anymore every day, why you can't help mommy wash the dishes anymore," McDonald said earlier this year. "So I told him it's poison. And that way, he'll know I'm serious — don't play with it."

It's been just over a year since the city declared a state of emergency over lead-contaminated water, and McDonald is still using bottled water for everything.

Most of the old pipes still have not been replaced, and the state has spent more than $200 million on bottled water and water filters. Congress approved $170 million in aid earlier this month, but city officials say they will likely need tens of millions of dollars to replace all of the lead pipes.

Even though a court order required the state and city government to pay for water delivery, McDonald tells NPR's Ari Shapiro she still has to pick up cases of water herself. She says her son keeps asking her when this will be over.

"I tell him I don't know," McDonald says. "I tell him — at least on two different occasions — when you see a bulldozer out front digging up our front yard and replacing pipes, you'll know that the water is almost safe again, but until you see that. ... I remember when this first started he thought it was fun. It's no longer fun."

Use the audio link above to hear the full story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In these final days of 2016, we're checking back in with people we met during our reporting this year. Early in the year, I visited Flint, Mich., and spent a day with Jeneyah McDonald. She was using bottled water for everything - drinking, cooking, bathing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JENEYAH MCDONALD: I don't know any way to explain to a 6-year-old why you can't take a bath anymore every day, why you can't help mommy wash the dishes anymore. So I told him it's poison. And that way he'll know I'm serious. Don't play with it.

SHAPIRO: It's been just over a year since the city declared a state of emergency over lead and other toxins in the water. Most of the old pipes still have not been replaced. We've been checking in with Jeneyah McDonald regularly over the last year, and she's back with us again now. Hey, Jeneyah.

MCDONALD: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So when we first met, your daily routine included going to pickup sites for cases of water all over the city. And now I know a court has ordered that the city and state government have to pay for water delivery. Has that started happening yet? Or are you still running all over town to get water every day?

MCDONALD: It has not happened yet. And I've kind of stockpiled because I knew the winter was coming so I wouldn't have to do it on a daily basis. Now it's more of a weekly thing that we do.

SHAPIRO: And what's the routine?

MCDONALD: Well, we take the pickup truck out, and we try and get as much as we can from each site. And we come home and form a little assembly line and one by one bring it in. Not much has changed as far as how we use the water. The kids still are not getting a daily bath because of how tiresome it is to just get a bath prepared with bottled water.

SHAPIRO: Getting a bath prepared with bottled water - meaning opening and pouring bottles of water into a pot on the stove, heating the water on the stove and then pouring it into a bathtub. That's what we're talking about.

MCDONALD: Absolutely. I mean I'm grateful for the bottles of water, but you would think someone would start at least thinking gallons or the five-gallon jugs, something that's more convenient to do stuff like that with instead of having to...

SHAPIRO: Because what we're talking about is just a little bottle of drinking water.

MCDONALD: Right, and it takes cases upon cases.

SHAPIRO: I know your thoughts on whether you'll stay in Flint or not have evolved over the last year. What are you thinking these days?

MCDONALD: Earl and I have discussed that.

SHAPIRO: Earl is your husband of course.

MCDONALD: Yes. We have been leaning towards possibly moving within the next five years possibly, if not sooner.

SHAPIRO: And I know that would be hard. This is a place you both grew up. It's a place you both call home.

MCDONALD: Yes, both born and raised here, our family is here. But we also have to look at what's best for our boys.

SHAPIRO: If you do decide to move, do you think you would be able to sell your house? I know real estate prices in Flint have been hit hard by this crisis.

MCDONALD: Nope, I know we wouldn't. The value of this house is nothing. I mean it means everything to us, but to try and sell it, I doubt that it would even be worth it to us whatever someone would offer.

SHAPIRO: You know, we've talked to you a number of times over the year, and your positive attitude as this drags on and on and on and on is really something to behold.

MCDONALD: Well, I've got two kids that's looking up to me, and it's not going to help me or them for me to break down and not be able to see the blessing in things. Although we can't drink our water, we do have water.

SHAPIRO: I know how hard you're working to stay positive for your kids. Have you given yourself a chance to be angry, to be sad, to be frustrated (laughter), to express outrage at everything you were being forced to go through this year?

MCDONALD: No, not really. Even with me losing my hair, I - it's there, but it's not even worth it. And I just want my children to see a positive outlook on things. I mean Justice is so sick of bottles of water; it's ridiculous. He's asked, when is this going to be over?

SHAPIRO: And when he asks when will this be over, what do you tell him?

MCDONALD: I tell him I don't know. I tell him at least on two different occasions, when you see a bulldozer out front digging up our front yard and replacing pipes, you'll know that the water is almost safe again. But until you see that...

SHAPIRO: I imagine, you know, years from now, he's a grown man with a wife and kids of his own. And his wife brings home a bottle of water, and he's like, get that out of my house; I don't want to see it.

MCDONALD: (Laughter) Exactly, exactly. I remember when this first started. He thought it was fun. It's no longer fun.

SHAPIRO: Jeneyah McDonald, it's been great talking to you all this year. We'll keep checking in with you in 2017, too.

MCDONALD: Well, thank you, Ari. You have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.