The lucky kids.
September 11, 2016 § 6 Comments
If, like me, you were lucky enough to be born in a middle class family, you were given many gifts. Bet you took them for granted.
That’s okay. As a kid it is not your job to question the way the world is, it just is. But even now those gifts may be unappreciated, and so taken for granted you figure they come with every childhood.
So, what did you and I get as some of the lucky kids?
We had a childhood.
We worried, sure, but our worries were kid-sized.
Learn to throw a ball?
Figure out long division?
Compared to wondering if the lights will be turned out or whether to eat ketchup, the only thing in the refrigerator, our worries were easy.
What else did we middle-class kids get?
Good grammar, books, travel, experiences.
But the best gift we received was a sense of time that ran far into the future, encouraging us to consider a horizon so distant the view stretched all the way to college, a place in the family business, a career.
We were told we could become anything we could dream.
To reach our goals we learned to study, defer, save, budget. This was possible because our families were safe enough in the now that there was something to put aside and time enough to consider that glowing future.
A child needs to be taught to dream and plan. The poor are too busy patching up the now to give or take those lessons.
Our parents never had to share their worries with us:
What do you mean you need five bucks for the field trip?
I’m sorry you’re tired of Ramen Noodles, but that’s what we have for supper.
Go ask the neighbor if she can lend us twenty bucks to cover the rent. How mad can she get at a kid?
Taking a long view is a luxury poverty rarely allows.
What does it feel like to live scared, and moment to moment?
For all our technology and intellect, our bodies and brains still follow the rules of mammalian biology. In times of stress, the fight or flight response kicks in. That response is designed to save us in the right-now, and that is where the poor live.
The homeless man by the roadside is not thinking, if only I could go to college… He is thinking, if only I had a smoke and a pair of dry socks.
This thinking-in-the-moment that allows the poor to survive also keeps the poor right where they are.
In my experience, most of the chronically poor know how to apply for food stamps, and when Catholic Charities has its food distribution. They know which neighbor will give them a ride and how to vacate an apartment fast.
But none of these skills fixes anything for long. The next crisis comes and the timeline of planning remains urgent, immediate, and short.
Because they have few planning skills and no raw materials with which to build a practical plan, the poor seek one-step solutions, engage in magical thinking.
Every kid who shoots hoops in the street is going to the NBA. Until the shiny silver is scratched off, and the useless piece of cardboard is dropped by the side of the road, every lottery ticket is the lottery ticket. The ticket out.
To understand poverty we have to first identify those aspects of our middle class childhoods we take for granted. If we don’t, we simplify the problem and it is easy to think, if only the poor would work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps!
As children of the middle class, even if you and I hit hard times we still have our educations. Nice straight teeth. We know someone. We have connections. We can go broke, but the ladder we were given as part of our birthright is still there.
The generationally-poor don’t have the benefit of a ladder. Ditto connections.
They’re just looking for milk for the baby, a ride to the store, that one lucky lottery ticket, that killer slam-dunk that will take them straight to the NBA.
Note: The photos come from my husband’s family. Ray is the cute one.