Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The New Poor

I have written often of the poverty in which I was raised. It has heavily influenced the kind of people my sisters and I have become as adults. We are independent, resourceful, capable women. We can budget like nobody’s business. We have no entitlement issues. Certainly there are times that I wish I had more disposable income, but for the most part I feel happy, lucky, and content with what I have.

I think I harbored some resentment growing up, for the things I didn’t have and do…but that’s only natural I suppose. As an adult, I see how it has shaped me as a person, and I am really quite grateful. I had friends who were handed everything their heart desired and I won’t deny the envy that consumed me at times. But years later when stepping out into the real word, these people floundered.

They were not prepared for the reality of making a meager paycheck stretch to meet expenses. They were not prepared for the responsibility of making sure bills got paid on time. They could not prioritize their wants and needs, because they had been led to believe that every want was a need.

I left home at 18 with $100 in my pocket without thinking twice about it. I took the first job that was offered and worked my way up in skill and compensation. For several years I lived a fairly comfortable life on $18,000, which I then thought a veritable fortune. Quite a few years after I struck out on my own, I abruptly quit my job at a local law firm because the senior partner was verbally abusive. I was denied unemployment benefits and survived for six months on next to nothing.

My middle sister, who had her heart set on a school that was well respected but incredibly expensive, did not give up until she found a way to finance all four years of college. She worked at the student union to cover the cost of her meals, a load or two of laundry every week, and an occasional tank of gas to get home for a visit.

My youngest sister works for a very modest salary. She has been in her field for a number of years and could go any number of places that pay more. But she stays because she loves what she is doing and because she is committed to those in her care. She works with adults who are severely developmentally disabled and she could no more leave them than a mother could leave her own children. So she makes do with what she has and she is happy.

So, you see, we are survivors. We are lemonade makers. Silver lining people. I consider it a gift that we have been given.

Recently I was talking to my sister who relayed to me that my mother was a little bit affronted by my repeated references to our underprivileged childhood. I was a little puzzled, because I have also explained that although we were poor, we never went without something we needed. We never had to go without food, clothing, medical or dental care. We always had wonderful birthdays and Christmases. My parents worked hard to make sure we were well cared for and that we had some small indulgences now and then.

In addition, I have written that despite not being affluent, we had an absolutely wonderful childhood. It was idyllic in many ways. Yes, there were material things we wanted that we did not get. But we had a strong family bond, loving parents, and a stable home. We were given a very definitive set of values and realistic ideals in regard to what was important in life. We were happy because our happiness did not hinge on the getting of stuff, though of course, getting stuff did make us happy.

So, why, exactly, would my mother be so bothered by my characterization of our childhood as “underprivileged”? It was a simple statement of fact, was it not?

I began to think about it a bit and I realized that describing our childhood as “poor” might not have been entirely accurate. And she must have felt that it painted her and my father in a poor light, implying that they failed to provide us with basic necessities. I can see how that might have caused her some pique.

Less than a century ago, America was in a deep depression and a staggering number of American people could not feed and clothe their children or take them to the doctor when they were sick, much less afford well child visits and innoculation. They did things like patch their shoes with tread from old tires and darn their socks with thread from old feedsacks. They were desperately impoverished people and I suppose it was that standard by which my mother felt she was being judged.

Put in the proper perspective, we were not poor at all and in that regard, I have done my mother and father an injustice.

This realization prompted me to really examine the shift in values that has taken place in our society. We have become a nation of materialistic spendthrifts and status chasers, sinking further and further into indebtedness, never thinking for a moment that the gratification that comes from acquiring material goods is a house of straw and a poor substitute for that which it strives to replace…true happiness and contentment.

Because of this emerging neediness and entitlement, the definition of poverty has changed since I was young. The new generation of adult Americans wants it all and feels quite strongly that they deserve to have it all. So what was once simply “not rich” is now…poor.

My husband and I live in a very affluent area, though we ourselves are firmly middle class. Many of my children’s friends come from affluent families. They have things my children do not. They have big expensive homes, they drive brand new expensive vehicles, they wear designer clothing, and they vacation in the most fashionable places.

But are they really affluent? I think probably not. I think the need to consume and to keep pace with their peers has driven many people to live far beyond their means. We have redefined the word “poor” to suit an unrealistic ideal, one which validates the pursuit of material goods and luxury by deeming them necessary and thus, worth sacrificing our values and priorities for.

We live on one income. And because we live on one income, we have had to make certain decisions regarding how we spend our money.

We have enough. We bought an older home that is modest in comparison to those around us. It needs work, but it keeps us warm and dry. We drive used vehicles though they are quite presentable and in good repair. Because we do not spend much money on frivolous things (I do not tan, for example, or get my hair and nails done weekly. Husband does not buy expensive man toys) we can do things that benefit the whole family such as go to museums, sports and cultural events, do some travel and buy a good bottle of wine now and then.

Are there times that I wish I could walk into a store and buy what I like without checking tags and mentally calculating how far I can stretch the groceries in the house? Yes, absolutely. I would by lying if I said I didn’t. But my childhood taught me that happiness does not lie in material acquisition and equipped me with the ability to be content with and grateful for all that I have, instead of lamenting all that I have not.

I am enormously grateful that my children have a roof over their heads, clean water to drink thanks to modern sanitation, nutritious food to eat and warm clothing to wear. They have access to health care, public education and assistance should they need it. The few small luxuries we can afford for them are just icing on the cake. My children have far more than I had as a child, and yet, they are not given everything they desire simply because they desire it. They are learning, I hope, that stuff is not important.

We are the new poor, and we are happy. And I have my not rich upbringing to thank for that.

Don’t be mad at me anymore Mom.


  • At 5:52 AM, Blogger Sandra said…

    I get this. SO get this. Every word. I too grew up "not rich" and have described my childhood like yours and when my mother caught wind of it was intensely offended. I went through the same thought process to come to an understanding of why I offended her and how much perception has shifted.

    I am proud of the way I grew up. Like you describe it has made me a survivor, a lemonade maker and most definitely a siilver lining person.

  • At 8:52 AM, Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said…

    OMG, I love this post. Your mother should be soooooo proud of how she raised you all! What a great example you guys are!

    I grew up very, very modestly and now, like you, live in a more affluent town but with a stricter budget than many of my neighbors (although I will say that I get along best with those who are most like me). However, I don't think my kids will live with those same money fears I had as a child (I remember being so scared that we wouldn't have enough money some months)----I worry that they will grow up feeling entitled without that fear in them. Just one more thing I worry about!

  • At 1:16 PM, Blogger OhTheJoys said…

    Nicely put, B.A. This one, 10-year old vehicle family salutes you.

  • At 6:58 PM, Blogger mamatulip said…

    This is a FANTASTIC post, BA. I too grew up "not rich". My mother worked hard for what she had. We had nice things and although my wardrobe wasn't full of designer clothing, my mom made sure that I wasn't left out. We did things like art classes, trips to the ballet and the opera and regular Saturday trips to the library that were worth far much more to me than a Far West jacket, which I coveted but never got.

    My mom worked hard and was smart with what little she had and I learned from her. I'm proud of who she was, how she raised me and I feel like if she were here, she'd be proud of what I learned and took from her.

    Just like I'll bet your parents are proud of you, and you are proud of them for being who they are and for what they taught you -- lessons and things that no doubt, you will pass on to your children.

  • At 9:23 PM, Blogger Rachelle said…

    It's amazing how many of us are saying the same things... I, too, grew up "not rich." I, too, live in an affluent community but have a smaller house, few toys and vacations, and presumably smaller income than most of our neighbors. I totally understand your post -- and what a great revelation about how the perception of what constitutes "poor" has changed. How sad that having all our basic needs met -- in other words being more affluent than a good portion of the world -- is no longer even nearly enough. I sometimes feel embarrassed that our family does't go on tropical island vacations every year like many of our friends. Now I feel silly for ever thinking that way. Thanks for your eye-opening post. Great thoughts.

  • At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    BA you are so smart. I struggle with this for so many reasons. I too grew up with enough. We were not poor, but certainly not quite middle class either, in my estimation. We always had enough to eat and enough to wear and some of the other things as well, although not indulged. I have a problem not indulging my children, although they do not feel indulged because of all the excess around us. Does that make sense? In a way I am grateful for the magnitude of what goes on in our midst, so my excesses in our family seem quite tame in comparison. And not to play a violin over here, but sometimes I figure my kids have suffered enough to last them a lifetime...and that they deserve some special things in their lives...just I try so hard to balance it with lessons of the heart. I am grateful that they seem to know the difference (sometimes).

  • At 1:57 PM, Blogger Namito said…

    Like you, I grew up with a family rich in experiences rather than money.

    My life as a member of alternately the lower middle/poor classes has definitely helped me to understand the Impling now. I know, for instance, that when she becomes excited when she sees something at the store, it is enough to acknowledge it's bright colors, it's resemblance to a chicken, the fact that we have something like it at home. Interest is not connected (yet) with ownership. Things can simply be, and we can appreciate them.

    Here's to all of us lemonade makers.

  • At 7:56 PM, Blogger Marlana said…

    Thanks for sharing this, I totally relate, understand and feel the same.

    But as a first time visitor to your site, I wanted to make sure you know what lurks behind the "Roe Vs. Wade" link on your page. I was curious and nosing around and clicked there and it didn't seem like other stuff I read on your site. Maybe I am wrong...check it out.

  • At 8:20 AM, Blogger Mama of 2 said…

    What a well thought out, articulate post. I couldn't agree with you more. I want more for my family than just keeping up with the Jones. I want the things you have talked about in this post and my husband and I are working towards that goal finally together and it feels great.

    Please pass along to your mom that I think she did a wonderful job in raising you and your sisters. She should be proud of what she's done.

  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger Her Bad Mother said…

    I think that we, as a society, still have so many hang-ups about what it means to be poor - we take it to mean *deprived*, to be *impoverished* - and we take it to be a reflection of our contribution (or lack thereof) to society. Protestant Work Ethic and all that - if you're *poor*, the shame is not in not having much, but in the idea that you didn't work hard enough.

    The real shame is that this prejudices are still so pervasive, that we cannot, many of us, see the tremendous value of lives lived for purposes greater and richer than base *acquisition*.

    So well said.


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