9.24.2004

If I were a rich man?




After finishing Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt a couple of weeks ago, I felt a huge sense of urgency to be a better parent, and still felt relief that I can feed not only toast and tea (in a real teacup) to A in the mornings, but an egg, pancakes, sausages, and most anything else that I can afford...right now, it's a bit more than the author of AA enjoyed from his parents as a child.

As a child of immigrants, things for me were not so easy growing up, either. My father owned his own business and was better off than my mother's family. When my mother divorced my dad, suddenly, we had far less than I was accustomed to. We moved in to an old white wooden tropical house in Florida, with cockroaches and possums as additional boarders, and I remember the house glassware being comprised primarily of McDonald's $.99 specials glasses that I could get with my weekend Happy Meal.

Even when the miracle of miracles happened, I got to go to school abroad for a couple of years, what I brought back was mostly in my head, not in the trunk that came on the trans-Atlantic ship 2 weeks afterwards.

That formula made me person and parent that I am.

Dr. Phil is on a book tour right now, and seems to be counseling a lot of families who give an awful lot of things to their kids. Those parents once were poor(ish) and perhaps to compensate, are creating a new generation of kids who feel entitled to owning things. Things like Kate Spade handbags, a brand new sportscar at age 16, etc. etc. Mommy! Mommy! You don't love me! [mommy immediately purchases whatever Thing she feels necessary to prove her love]. What are those parents doing about their kids' educations? How are those kids going to make a go of their lives, if necessary, without the help of their parents?

Paris Hilton was on Oprah explaining how her stint at McDonald's left her surprised that "They like, only make $40 a day...like, how can they have dinner with that money?" Ah, yes, Paris...

Material wealth does not necessarily lead to cerebral riches.

Poverty is particularly useful for keeping things in perspective. Something is stolen out of your car trunk while you were gone? At least it wasn't your health that was taken. Don't have pancakes for breakfast? At least you have toast, tea, and shoes to wear. Donnatella Versace calls on the phone? [yes, happened to me] Don't worry. She was once poor, too. [heh, heh, we even talked about how poor she once was] Kid didn't make it to Harvard? Thank goodness that he has a head on his shoulders, he can make a living, be a good parent, and do good things for his community.

Thank G-d for the value of poverty. I doubt we would see Tevye dancing as much once he had his riches.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

hmmmmm.... having been raised by a single mom who worked hard to keep us off welfare, I am not sure I agree that poverty has "value" - I guess I am happy that my own children aren't as rich as some of their friends are (we have struggled over the years especially when I went back to school for the past few years) - but on the other hand, we have come nowhere close to real poverty - having always had a roof over our head, running water and food to eat - the closest thing I have seen to real poverty in North America is on our Indian reserves (we have several thousand reserves in Canada where they have no electricity or running water, let alone decent education). Shows like Paris Hilton's make me sick.
-lisa

la Maitresse said...

Just a note, since poverty is a relative term, depending upon where one lives: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines state that the poverty income level for 2 people in 2001 in the 48 contiguous states and Washington D.C. is $11,610 or less. If an individual makes less than $9,000 per year and a family of four makes less than $18,000 per year, they're earning below the poverty income level in the United States.

L said...

It's that sense of entitlement that burns me up.

Wait 'til these kids grow up and realize they can't afford these things on their own. What service have their parents done them? Like the tot I saw twirling around at the airport the other day. She was with her white trash family, swinging her teeny little Louis Vuitton.

Rebel said...

It's complicated.

While on the one hand I'm appalled that parents have to go to seminars to learn how to say, "No," to their over-indulged offspring, on the other I'm uncomfortable with making poverty into something admirable.

I've never felt poor, though my mother had to make do with foodstamps at times, and we always lived close to the edge. I always had a keen sense of how priviledged we were, living in the west, with running water and books and heat and a roof over our heads and food on the table.

OTOH, I also inherited from my mother a deep sense of guilt when it came to spending money on myself. One of the most difficult things I've ever done was decide to buy myself a big wide screen TV. Who needs such a big TV anyway? I could have used the same money to take my children to Europe, and do something educationally mind-expanding with them. I struggled with the guilt for weeks, and it wasn't helped by the fact that my mother's first comment on seeing the monstrosity was, "Tch. It give your place a white-trash ambiance."

Sigh... I'm GLAD to have more money now than I did when I was a kid. I wish I didn't have to feel guilty for buying something like a wide-screen TV. Somehow I think there's got to be a way of living simply, but also not feeling guilty about having the money to get what you really want.

I don't want my kids to grow up feeling either deprived or entitled. They have an allowance, so they can save and buy whatever they like. They have birthdays and Christmas, so they can ask for bigger things. I want them to appreciate how fortunate they are, but I also want them to be able to buy things for themselves without feeling guilty about it.

la Maitresse said...

Woah! Please note that Maitresse did use the word "admirable" anywhere when describing poverty. For the first commentator, my own childhood was difficult, and for what it is worth, my mother did not beat the welfare system initially. Also for the first commentator, if you had at least read more than the one post, you would note that I am also a student, as well as a single parent. I do, however, think there is value in having nothing, and understanding what nothing really means, when one finally is able to acquire "stuff." To find balance, there must first exist the knowledge of "wealth" and the knowledge of "nothing."

I also wrote the post on Erev Yom Kippur, when we prepare to go without water or food for 24+ hours - there is a "rebirth" of sorts, once one is able to eat and drink again.

There is an entire demographic that simply does not understand what it is like "to be without," - nor cares to - and that is the demographic for which my post expressed concern.

la Maitresse said...

For Darby...please learn this mantra:

"I totally deserve that wide-screen t.v., I totally deserve that wide-screen t.v., I totally deserve that wide-screen t.v."

While you say the above, throw in a coin in the charity box if it will help you feel better. : )

And finally, many people wouldn't understand this, but my driver fulfilled a secret wish of mine: He took me to the drive-through of a White Castle burger joint in a very poor part of town, in the Lincoln Towncar. We ordered a 5-pack.

Rebel said...

I did, I did, lol!
After I got the TV, I actually went down to the store and put five dollars in the collection box for homeless folks.
Surprisingly, it DID help a little. :-)

But you want for absurd? Once I found twenty dollars just blowing around on the street. I picked it up and looked all around for the owner, but there wasn't anyone in sight. So, I skulked guiltily over to the grocery store, bought myself a loaf of bread and some milk, and gave all the rest to charity. ;-)

I think you are absolutely right. You can't really appreciate wealth unless you have some conception of poverty. The news coverage of those poor folks in Haiti have had me thinking about this recently.

Rebel said...

P.S. If I'm not mistaken, the "first commentator" lisa, has actually read a lot more than just one post on your blog.
I think she's kind of agreeing with you...
At least, that's the impression I got.

Orion said...

I don't think it's so much an appreciation of poverty that is nessessary, but certainly, as Maitresse said, an appreciation of nothing. My family was never really poor while I was growing up. We were essentially an upper-middle class family, living in a small town with both parents working in a factory, both climbing the union/corporate ladder quickly (now both earn approx. $30CDN/hour, though my mother is now in the PR office of the factory and making salary) and so I never really felt poverty. However, my parents were both very down-to-earth and refused to pamper my brother and I, and also made sure we had a very deep appreciation for the arts and sciences (which left us both void of any religious affiliation, which allowed me to develop my own beliefs on The Powers That Be (generic term) and the Hereafter (again, generic). It also allowed my brother to become a complete atheist.

We were also raised with an appreciation of the outdoors, and we learned to "rough it" from an early age, not hunting or anything, however we learned that you CAN survive several days without electricity, running water and the other benefits of everyday urban, "civilized" life.

We learned how to deal with what we had, what we were given. Unlike all the kids I went to school with, who had a new silver Mustang bought for them for graduating that year of high-school.

la Maitresse said...

My apologies to the first commentator, then. Lack of food can do things to your head and get you awfully defensive. ; )

Orion said...

Amen to that! Speaking of food, I'm gonna go scrounge! *lol* All available funds right now are going to rent/a visit to Maitresse's neck of the woods (3 more weeks! OH YEAH!) and even when that's not goin on, there's hardly anything else. I'm throwing myself back into debt (which I never really came out of) to go to NYC for 4 days, but it's worth it! That city just feels like home, and I normally hate being in the US.

Anonymous said...

I agree that poverty is relative - whether its between households, urban and rural areas - let alone continents! I think our kids need exposure to not getting everything they want - and exposure to other people in our community who have much less (ie. one time I dragged my two eldest to an evening of volunteering to wrap christmas gifts for women and children who were spending the holidays in a women's shelter - it really opened their eyes to how lucky they were to have a home for christmas) And it drives me nuts when one of our teens whines "there's no food to eat" (when the fridge is full of food they would have to PREPARE)... we have recently had some problems with our third child, who thinks we are the worst parents on earth, because we cut off her allowance on her 17th birthday (June) and expected her to get a job for the summer to earn her own spending money... (and we warned her last year that we would be doing it, just like we did it with the other girls)... so now she thinks she is hard done by... and wants to move out just to punish us!! (which would actually teach her alot about money/lack of I suspect) As a parent, I want to model to my kids the idea that you have control over your future, including your financial future...

Anonymous said...

sorry... that was me again, but I don't have an account... - Lisa

la Maitresse said...

Ah, yes...that "I've gotta prepare food?" equivalent to "we have no food" thing...I wonder if our kids could all benefit from what Orion mentioned, and that is spending time in the outdoors and roughing it. Man against/learning to deal with nature is a pretty good lesson and allows for a profound appreciation of food!

I'd put A in Scouts to learn to rough it/camp out regularly, but in the States, the (Boy) Scouts are a rather repressive regime. (A sidebar, I guess... )

And I think you're doing an awesome job, Lisa. Your plate is seriously full!