I grew up thinking I was poor.
I just had this discussion with my dad over Thanksgiving break. He was hoping that I didn’t feel I grew up in a racist household; I told him that I did. But there are reasons. We learn lots from our parents. And our grandparents. Sometimes the lessons are not overt, but we take things with us.
Like the kids who lived next door and were the children of Mexican migrant workers. They didn’t have toys; we left ours out. They took them. We threw rocks. We stole our toys back. They threw rocks and stole our toys back.
You get the picture. Hate (which I now know was just misunderstandings and a lack of empathy) abounds.
I think we want to pass on messages of compassion to our children, but we don’t always get the job done. I kind of wish there were do-overs, that I could learn that those kids had nothing. And I should have had compassion. And even though I thought we were lower-middle-class, we likely were a lot better off than we thought we were.
These are the lessons I was taught in church each Sunday. But those lessons don’t always translate well to real life.
My dad didn’t remember the time I came home with a free and reduced lunch form and got yelled at because “we don’t take handouts.” My teachers, concerned that we did not have enough money at home, just wanted to make sure I had enough food. There was no ill intent, but there was a lot of prejudice in my house against people who took those handouts, even those who needed them.
I was one of seven children, with two parents who worked, living in a three-bedroom tiny house. I likely came to school in dirty clothes, not because my mom wasn’t constantly washing clothes day in and day out, but because I had my favorites, which I would hide in my room and wear again. With that many bodies, it’s not too hard to sneak out wearing yesterday’s clothes.
So my teachers likely thought they had reason to worry.
Today, I found this article from USAToday that has average income in the United States. How do you compare, it asks.
Well, I’m richer than about 85% of the general population. I don’t feel like it. I feel like I am in the middle, but the numbers tell a different story. I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s better than most people in my country, or even in my state or my community. And if you’re better than most, you’re not in the middle.
I feel like I’m pretty comfortable. Not rich. Not part of the 1%. But comfortable.
I then started wondering who else feels this way. And although I’m not as comfortable as Chris Christie, I think we fall in the same boat. This blog post from sociology professor Jay Livingston looked at exactly that dilemma: Why do rich people think they are in the middle class?
I’m not sure.
But I don’t feel any richer knowing that I’m not in the middle. I still don’t have the money to redo the bathroom and simultaneously get a new roof.
First world problems abound.