I have a really good life. I've said it before. I've also said that I have a life that is so far above and beyond what I thought my life would be that I feel quite lucky every day. And I get that to a lot of people I live a pretty plain life. But I have a house that we own. Not just a car but a luxury automobile in my garage. A closet full of shoes and clothes. A child attending a private college and getting ready to graduate. I spent over $4 for a cup of coffee today. And I don't have a paying job.
If you had asked me at 15 what I thought life would be at this age I'm not sure what I would have described. But if pushed I'm pretty sure I would have come up with something close to what I was living right then. My mom worked, my dad worked multiple jobs, all of the kids worked from the moment we could. We were broke. But in that twilight of brokeness. Not so poor we were on welfare but so poor there was no extra and I've met the repo man. Our house had wheels on it. Cars were worked on in the driveway with parts scrounged from the junk yard. The very definition of the working poor.
College was a thing. I knew it was coming but had no clue at all what to do about it. My parents hadn't gone. My siblings didn't go the traditional route. Susan went to a small Christian college in Grand Junction for a semester but I have no idea how she got in, or applied, I think a youth minister at camp did it all for her? Jeff went to TVI and did their nursing program then switched to something (?) else? But never did the four year college thing. I had some scholarships to Christian colleges around the country as well as one to UNM by the time I graduated but I had no clue about applying. The when/where/how of that? No clue. And no idea where to turn to make that happen. And honestly there was no way my family could have afforded what the scholarships didn't cover if I did get in someplace.
And when it came time for C to do the college thing I still had no clue what to do. We stumbled along in the process, did the visits (later than we should have), selected schools to apply for (not as big of a mix as we should have) got in the applications (later than we should have) got a few extra scholarships set up (ignoring the free rides he had other places) and got him settled. If we could go back and do it all again knowing what we all know now we would do it differently, but we didn't know. So we muddled through. Aware that this was sort of what we were supposed to do but not having done it before having no real clue. A lot of internet research to even get started.
So why am I telling you all of this again? Because I've had a rant building for years and I have to let it out.
When C was younger every Christmas we would go to the Giving Tree in the mall and he would select a tag for a boy about his age and buy him a gift. He would save his money and buy it out of his own pocket. So there was a lot of looking, what did people ask for and what could he afford? But it was important for us to teach him that there were kids out there that wouldn't have things under the tree like he did. That couldn't just ask and expect to get what they wanted. And the year we knew he got it was when he picked a tag for gift that was well out of his comfortable spending zone. It was going to tap his resources to give. See, he didn't choose the cheapest tag off the tree he chose the gift that sounded like something he would want and gave that.
He got it.
What was it? That giving is important? No, he understood that before. What he got was that the kid who wrote that tag was just like him. Just with less money.
Seems really simple right? But it's a really hard concept for people to get.
See same tree different people looking at the tags this is the conversation you are going to hear, "This kids is asking for an X-Box! Are you kidding me? How ungrateful!"
"Oh my god! This girl wants 7 For All Mankind Jeans! She should just be asking for clothes, not brand name items! What a greedy thing!"
"Look at the size of this list! He asked for at least 5 things! Entitled. I swear."
But if you asked any of them what they were buying for their kids for Christmas that year it would be X-boxes, brand name clothes, and I guarantee more than one gift under the damn tree. But see, their kids aren't poor so it's okay that they ask for nice things. Poor people should just be damn grateful they get anything. How dare they want something more than the basics.
Jon Stewart has been having a bit of fun poking at Fox News over their fear monger reporting over food stamp abuse, I suggest you check it out. It's the same thing. How very dare people who are broke buy organic food. They should be eating generic foodstuff like products and be happy to have them. Don't even think you should have what "normal" people are having because you are poor. You deserve to suffer.
It makes me livid. Because I know what it's like. My parents worked hard for what we had. And though I said thank you for the clothes it doesn't mean that I didn't want new instead of the used clothes we bought from the second hand shop. And never more than when sitting in a classroom and having someone recognize that the shirt you are wearing, the one you patched the small hole in the collar and then artfully hid the patch with a bandanna is the same shirt they gave to the charity shop because it had a hole in the collar and some poor person could have it.
Just because I knew that Christmas morning would be a collection of clothes, shoes and few toys that didn't mean I didn't go through the Sears catalog marking pages, a LOT of pages, with what I wanted. Being poor doesn't mean you don't get to dream of having what everyone else has. And trust me when I tell you handing the little girl who asked for a Barbie a "Betty" with the legs that won't bend, and makeup that is a fraction of a centimeter off so the face looks more like a party girl at the end of the night than a doll face, the one "outfit" is a painted on bathing suit "This is just as good as Barbie" Doll isn't good enough.
It's not. And shame on YOU, yes YOU for thinking that because she's poor she should just be grateful for whatever piece of shit you hand her.
Ask yourself the simple question, would you buy that toy for your child? Or your niece or your nephew? If you are donating food to a food bank, would you eat it? Sure you can get a smoking deal on 10 cans of generic slightly dented beans but why? If you wouldn't eat it why do you expect someone else to? And not only to eat it but to be damn grateful that you gave it to them?
Because that's the part that gets me. The expectation of gratitude. You say they are entitled and looking for a handout. I say you are trying to make yourself feel like a hero for pawning off crap you wouldn't want.
How dare poor people want the same things we all want. How dare they. And how dare we have programs set up to help them get there. They should just figure it out on their own.
"Oh!", they will moan, "You should see the fraud! There is this guy at our freeway ramp who begs for change and then drives off in his BMW every night! I swear I've seen it!" Seriously...have you seen this or did you hear it from "a friend" and if you are willing to stand on a ramp all day in the rain getting a dollar a shot I think you probably "worked" pretty damn hard for that BMW anyway.
"You know Obama gave away free phones right? FREE PHONES! How dare poor people get a free phone! They should get a job!" Okay, Einstein, how are they supposed to get a job if they don't have a phone where they can be reached?
"The fraud! People abuse the system!" Yeah, they do. Just like people abuse tax write offs. Corporations jump through loop holes to make sure they get every bit of money back from the government that they can. Lobbyist help write laws that benefit the groups they represent so they get more money. But are you bitching about those things? No, because it's only poor people who you are disgusted by.
Is there fraud and abuse of the system? Sure there is. Show me any system and there will be someone gaming it. But why is it The Wolf of Wall-street gets a movie made about his illegal activities and people laugh and gasp at the excess but The Welfare Mom caricature gets demonized? Is compassion really that far behind greed?
It's enough to make me grit my teeth.
One of the things I believe to be true in life is that you can tell a lot more about a person from how they treat the waiter than you can how they treat the restaurant owner.
And you can tell an awful lot about a person when you listen to them talk about the poor.