Today’s poor in the United States have cell phones, Internet service and medical insurance. Food stamps are a line away. Many public housing units have air-conditioning and heating assistance. During my childhood, poor meant that sometimes school was the only place we could get a square meal. We didn’t have medical or dental insurances, which taught me that I had to work hard to change the trajectory of my life. Rewind to my mother’s generation. Poor meant potatoes for every meal. Dental visits were for pulling rotten teeth. She and her siblings had one pair of stretched, saggy socks. And their saddle shoes were often scuffed, hand-me-downs with worn soles. Each generation seems to have more, and want for less. Basic needs in our country are met, or can be met, with public assistance.
I know my mother didn’t want us to suffer or do without. She wanted us to have everything our hearts desired. But doing without gave me a grit and determination that cannot be bought. I am just as thankful for everything I didn’t have as I am for what I did have.
This is not a guilt thing for the “haves.” No way! The “haves” have worked hard and don’t owe apologies for seeking and living prosperous lives. But striking a balance so that children don’t think that life is as easy as asking for what you want is a challenge in our times. It’s not easy explaining that many of today’s “poor” have cars, satellite dishes, computers and cell phones. I want my kids to understand that life is not always fair, but challenges and hard work usually have just rewards.
I want my kids to understand that many things, like college, are privileges, not rights. I preached it to my 4.5 year old today: “It takes hard work, discipline and a lot of money to attain the college dream… College is higher education, and no one owes it to you.” My face was scowled and my voice was firm. He looked at me like there were forks growing from my head. He stomped his foot and declared he did not want to go to college because he did not want to grow up. Okay, so it’s a mature topic, but we had to start somewhere. So I carted his tail and all of his piggy bank change to our credit union and we opened a savings account… for college! It was probably the most rewarding adventure to date, for me. My 4-year old didn’t think it was all that cool, but I’m pretty certain he will remember it, especially when he writes his own check for his first semester of college. Fingers, toes and eyes crossed.
My children have much different lives than I did. I didn’t get choices between sports or music lessons—if it wasn’t a free activity, it wasn’t even up for discussion. We sold donuts to pay for dues, and a local woman, Mrs. Kline (God bless her), sewed my cheerleading uniforms. My mother worked in restaurants and lounges to raise four kids as a single mom. I tip my hat to her for all that she did. And being a mom has taught me to give grace for all that she didn’t or couldn’t do. I was out of the house in record time paying my own way through college, and fighting like mad to get medical insurance and to earn my basic needs. I am grateful beyond any trite words for all of it, especially for what I didn’t have. I hope my kids will be grateful for their blessings. Lord willing, we will supplement and help them through college, but I want them to understand the value of sacrifices, and that nothing is gained from handouts or free rides.