Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Look Inside From a Commenter

I found this comment to be particularly moving and insightful.  To whomever wrote it, thank you for sharing.  Your comments about the different outcomes of you and your siblings made me think about a book I started reading by Paul Tough called "How Children Succeed", which offers insight into why children raised in similar circumstances, but with different levels of support, may turn out differently.  I don't suppose to know those circumstances for you and your family, but thought you may be interested in the read. 

I apologize in advance for this novel, but this is a place I can voice my rage as I can't on my blog or my FB because of family.

So, I do know what it's like to be poor. I grew up poor. I'll never forget being poor and I tried to protect myself so I would never be poor again.

Growing up, my family was a lower middle class, blue collar family in the midwest. My father worked at a factory for tractor parts, my mom stayed at home raising us four kids. My dad was a high school drop out (he was dyslexic, we later learned and school was no place for him in the 60s). My mom was a college drop-out, but in the 70s, with manufacturing jobs, they could make it work and make it work enough so that my mom could stay home. We owned two cars and a home. Life was fairly comfortable.

Then the recession of the early 80s hit. Unemployment in the state I grew up, the town I grew up in was among the highest in the nation - making national news frequently. My dad lost his job. My parents relationship broke up and we lost everything - our home, our cars - absolutely everything. I was 11 years old.

We moved, started new schools. From the time I was 11 to 18 we moved 5 times. When I was in college, they moved 3 more times. Do you know how hard moving is on kids? Not only emotionally, but academically? if you aren't a smart kid, you might find academic disaster.

My dad disappeared completely. My mom tried to find work. She eventually went back to school. Every time she got a pell grant for school, we lost food stamps and medical.

From the time I was 11 until most of the way through college, we were on medical aid, food stamps, ADC. We never had enough food stamps. My mom tried hard, but there was never enough. We relied on food banks frequently. There were months we had potato soup for days on end. One month we lived off stale donuts for a few days.

From the time I was 12, I paid for my own clothes, haircuts, school stuff - first from babysitting money and from 14 -18 with job partnership training programs and regular jobs. My extra money went to help the family. In college I bought them a cheap car so that they had transportation. Cars? Always on their last leg - there were many times we pulled a wagon to get groceries from the grocery store. One year we scraped enough money together to get a Christmas tree and the we walked to the tree lot a mile away and then walked home with the tree.

Some republican conservatives might look at that tree and say, "that tree money should have been squirreled away so that you could buy food. Why waste it on a tree. THAT's why there should be no such thing as welfare.... yada, yada, yada." Tell that to 4 kids. Tell the 4 kids that Santa can visit everyone else, but not the poor.

There were years where our presents were Toys 4 Tots toys. Back then they didn't ask what kids wanted or needed. At 12 or 13 I might get a cheap baby doll when what I really wanted was a pair of shoes or a pair of jeans that fit. The programs were there and yes we had presents, but as you can imagine, it's not what we wanted and we knew it was charity and charity never feels good - even to kids.

I was the oldest. I was my mom's confidante. I knew it all. I absorbed it all. I was the other parent - babysitting, contributing money, disciplining, getting after my mom for not taking care of herself, etc. It was tough, very, very tough. Honestly, now as an adult, I don't know how ANY marriage survives poverty. Poverty is stress 24 hours a day, every single day and getting out of poverty, even in the United States, is still extremely hard to dig out of.

I don't know what we would have done without the support we had. If I were born in another country, I would have been forced to quit school to raise the family. I might have had to sell my body or marry young just to be able to eat. But because we had welfare, I had a future - maybe... if I was lucky.

Of the four kids, I'm the only one who graduated college. It got progressively worse for each one of us. My sister was a college drop out. One of my brothers a high school drop out and the other barely made it through HS. I think I made it out for four reasons - birth order - having more years of my youth being middle class than my siblings, I'm smart - though so are 2 of my other siblings, determination - I am a fighter, and lastly, my looks. All of us kids are/were attractive and yes, attractiveness helps - want to believe it or not... I know it made a difference for me and my sister in the very least. People are willing to help pretty people more than those less attractive.

As a college student, I struggled - a lot. I barely could scrape up money for books. Personal expenses? I still get a sinking feeling in my gut when I think of not having money for sanitary supplies. I worked two jobs most of college on and off campus and sometimes I was too tired to make it to classes - such an irony - I was working to pay for college, but too tired to get the homework done. What should have taken me 4-5 years (double major for most of it), took me 7. My transcript is a mess of dropping classes, failed classes mixed with As for much of it.

But I fought on.

What people truly don't understand about the poor is when they say they are poor, they mean POOR. $5 might as well be $5000. I almost had to drop out of college one year for not being able to pay a $50 bill. There was no one to ask for the money. I called my mom just to cry and lean on emotionally - not to ask for money as I knew she didn't have it. She said, "What do you want me to do about it?" and hung up on me. She was so thinly strung that she didn't have the emotional suppor to give me.

I think that's the other thing people don't get about being poor. You are so alone. You can rely on no one but yourself. It's you against the world and the world mostly wins.

My breaks came though. I had federal help. I had people help me here and there.

I was smart, so starting soon I was able to get better and better jobs - getting leadership positions in college. I was building and building, but I was also barely skimping by. I noticed of all the student leaders on campus, I was the ONLY one from a single parent home save one other person. Over a hundred on a staff, and only two from divorced homes? I was the only one who grew up in poverty.

Then I met my to be husband. Life changed. Someone was there for me emotionally, financially and I was finally able to get my feet under me. I went from barely making it academically to getting mostly As. While it took me 7 years to complete my undergrad degree, it took me less than two years to get my Master's while doing it part time and working full time. I got all As.

I had support. I had my education. I was no longer poor and I have not been poor since I was 23. My husband and I got married when we got married to end my poverty and to get me health insurance.From the time I graduated from high school until I was 23 I had no health insurance. No fancy wedding - just a trip to the courthouse.

Most of my marriage we have lived comfortably. My husband got his PhD while we were together and we've skipped around a bit, but we have never been poor. Times have been tough, but we were still able to make things work so that I could stay home when my kids were little. As tough as that was, it was a luxury. Even now as I struggle to get myself back into the workforce during another recession, we are doing OK, we can make it. Even the idea of making it in today's world for a family of four on $23,500 is mind boggling. I cannot even imagine how hard life must be for these families.

I volunteer my time to help the needy. I give money. I volunteer at schools to help the kids struggling with English. I give people the benefit of the doubt and I support help for the needy.

What's the most shocking? Two of my siblings are staunch republicans. They vote against their own interests. My sister who even used federal aid as a parent herself, thinks welfare is too abused and needs to be gotten rid of. My brother who works as a non-union factory worker supports republicans as he's afraid the democrats will take away his gun rights. Yet, if he misses a day of work for being sick, he doesn't get paid. He lives hand to mouth - no health insurance either for him or his adopted family of three boys.

That's what I find the most criminal - the republicans hood-wink the poor of the US to vote for them by getting them by social issues. They screw them over economically, but make promises about guns and abortion and the like. It makes me sick and angry.

So yes, I know what it's like to be poor. It sucks. I hope I never experience it again and I will continue to fight for their best welfare