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American Nightmare…tales from Carlin

7 Mar

Lately it may seem that I have been so absorbed in my own personal world that I have been oblivious to the happenings in the world…after all I haven’t done much blogging about world happenings. Today’s post is one that I have been thinking about but until today I just didn’t have the time to put it to paper (or monitor). Yet as I deal with the increasing stressors in my own life and think about how many of them are tied to scarcity, I realized what I am facing is just one sliver of the crazy pie we are being fed against our will.

If you have never seen George Carlin’s American Dream clip, take 3 minutes and check it out. In the bible in the book of Ezekiel 33, reference is made to a watchman who “when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people” well readers in many ways I think foul mouth comic Carlin was probably one of our many watchmen. In his way Carlin told us about the “owners” of this country but I will be damned if many of us just thought this was some hilarious shit being spouted by an old guy.

Well folks, now that we are being told that the country is broke and sacrifices have to be made, it’s awfully funny that everyman/every-woman is being asked to make those sacrifices. In Wisconsin folks are fighting for the right to bargain, in Detroit we are being told half the schools will be closed and classrooms will swell to perhaps as much as 60 kids per class. White guys are feeling like minorities and the madness grows.

Yet as a collective aside from those brave souls in Wisconsin, most of us are sitting back passively struggling to maintain the illusion that all is well when for most of us we know we are living a lie. I think about the fact that in the years since I have started blogging how many real life friends I have had tell me casually how they too are struggling, yet on the surface all looks fine. (So many struggling with basic survival, even down to having to visit local food pantries yet on the surface you would never suspect they had become those people) But because to talk honestly and openly about money in this culture is frowned upon most of us never do it…actually I have found being a big mouth about money and lack thereof has served me well. After all I never would have found out several years ago I was the least paid person on a team of folks despite having the most experience.

Nope, rather than coming together and having unity as a people we would rather maintain illusions and dreams that are nothing more than nightmares and worse case turn on one another. A few days ago when I read the piece about white oppression and the white’s only scholarship; as a Black woman, my first response was a knee jerk reaction rooted in race. Folks this is about more than race, the fact is in America race and color on some levels is so last millennium…the only fucking color that matters is green as in money. If you are part of the ruling class that holds most of the wealth, no one gives a rat’s ass about your race or ethnicity.

However we are too immature to realize that. Instead we can go ahead and see racial tensions flare up as we are all focused on what we see as racism and how whites are not aware of their privilege. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of white folks don’t realize how good the have it compared to people of color. But this is frankly a diversion from the larger issues which are that wages in this country are stagnant, yet the cost of survival has risen and not kept pace. During the real estate boom, sure many folks made boneheaded decisions and used their homes as ATM’s to fund ridiculous shit. But the fact remains that at a time when healthcare cost increased and wages did not keep pace, plenty of people used their homes as ATM’s to supplement what they weren’t earning. Plenty of folks used and are still using credit cards to make ends meet because their wages don’t pay enough plain and simple. Yet we think all is well.

Instead of getting mad and questioning why it is that families can have two college educated wage earners yet still need help for insurance costs because jobs either don’t offer it because we have been sold a bogus dream about being contractors and selling ourselves…very nice scam by the way since its harder to access health insurance and save for retirement when you are a contractor. Or the price is no longer affordable because compared to our grandparents we earn less when adjusted to real dollars. I had a job a few years ago where I had a co-worker struggling to stay insured with our company plan that was costing him $700 a month!

This morning I found myself thinking about how my grandparents who were first generation middle class blacks who worked union factory jobs with high school educations had enough money every year for a yearly vacation to Jamaica or some other fancy locale (fancy for the 60’s and 70’s). These same grandparents had a house with a reasonable mortgage, saved for retirement and had a comfortable middle class life.  Yet now their grandkids (that would be my brother and I who both hold masters degrees) scrape to get by…its already been proven that most likely Gen X probably won’t have it as good as our Baby Boomer parents. Obviously there are exceptions since I know my parents didn’t have it so good but as Black hippies that was more a personal choice rather than a reflection of society.

Nope, the owners of this country are delighted that the masses are fighting, average white guys are mad because they think the Black folks got it good. We got folks who think the school teachers have it good…how dare teachers who already on average are not paid proportional to what they actually do (don’t give me that shit either that they have summers off) are mad because we want to cut into their retirement and health benefits. Hell, even doctors have to adjust to their corporate overlords as this piece in the NY Times talks about.

It’s no coincident that it seems like we have more kids and adults on psychotropic meds (sorta interesting how drugs can advertise too on TV, so you know what drug to ask your doc for), turns out a psychiatrist who wants to get paid is little more than a well educated line worker these days slotting folks into 15 minute segments trying to get the right combination of drugs in that brief period of time…drugs that affect folks minds. This school year I have had several kids at my center who have been put on heavy duty meds and the side affects are heartbreaking. Sadly these are kids whose parents have little in terms of financial resources so if Doc Feel Good says little Johnnie needs XYZ drugs with no actual talk therapy even if the parents wanted to protest lack of access to healthcare with choices and money to pay out of pocket leaves them at the mercy of a guy who only has 15 minutes with their kid. Time is money and if doing your job in a compassionate and honest manner dings your finances, well you have to make a choice.

However all is not lost, the fact that the protesters in Wisconsin are still out there and the Democratic legislators are still in hiding does speak to the quiet fact that many of us are fed the fuck up. The fact that more and more of us are realizing we are not alone in this struggle bodes well for the potential of some real change happening. Not that hope and change Obama used to get us fired up but the type of hope and change that will make the overseers sit up and take notice; after all they need us to work so they can keep getting rich. So it would be in their best interest to break us off a bigger slice of the pie.

Teeth are optional in the USA

22 Feb

Warning I am in a pissy mood…so if you aren’t in a pissy mood, feel free to catch me some other day. I woke up Sunday morning, still reeling from the great relocate Dad to Maine project that ended abruptly and without resolution. After all my Dad leaving while it’s nice in the short run to have my house back still doesn’t solve any of the problems that we/me was hoping to solve. While lying in my bed letting the thoughts run through my mind, I realized that my mouth didn’t quite feel right, not quite pain but definitely uncomfortable. So I ran to the bathroom and grabbed a mirror and flashlight to look in my mouth and sure enough noticed that my back gums seemed inflamed. Initially I didn’t worry too much but by Monday morning, it was clear whatever the issue was, needed the care of a dentist.

Uh-oh…like millions of Americans I don’t have dental insurance. Shit, I was only just at the dentist in November and while my visit did reveal a few things that needed to be done, the truth is I simply didn’t have all the money at once to pay and explained that I would need to do the work one procedure at a time spread out over time. The office staff and dentist said they understood but the vibe I got was that to be honest they didn’t get it. Oh, the very helpful office lady told me I could apply for credit via Care Credit to finance my dental work. Yeah that was real helpful. Considering that we are still digging out from the 18 months of unemployment I had back in 07-08 and the Spousal Unit’s decreased client load, our credit has more holes that a hunk of Swiss Cheese and I already knew that Care Credit wasn’t an option because they turned me down a few days before I went in for my exam. I had sorta sensed I was going to need a bit of work and was trying to be proactive but I didn’t share this with the office manager. Instead I smiled sweetly and said, I will be in touch.

The treatment plan has been sitting on my desk in the inbox since November and I have been trying to work the various procedures into our budget…eh, it’s been a mixed bag. Oh I only need a few fillings which alone aren’t too bad but I also need a new crown which with a whopping price tag of $1034 simply is not going to happen until after houses taxes and insurance are paid in a few weeks and the tax man gets his money on April 15. I was pretty okay with waiting until this new issue came up.

Well yesterday after waking up in great discomfort…who am I kidding, shit I barely slept. I realized fuck let me call the dentist. Turns out the dental office was closed for President’s Day so I left a message and after an hour decided to call their emergency number. The on call dentist called me back and while gracious enough to call in a prescription for antibiotics was adamant that I needed to come in this week. No, shit Sherlock! By the way what is it with these people speaking to folks like you are all of two years old?

Nope, the real fun started this morning when the office staff called me back to schedule that appointment and I brought up the matter of what was this little visit going to cost. I guess they aren’t used to folks asking that question but this is already the office that charged me more than I was quoted earlier for a visit and didn’t include the cleaning I was told would be included. So I will admit I am already on the fence about them, but since this is all coming out of pocket the idea of starting with yet another dentist and paying yet another couple hundred for an initial visit doesn’t make sense to my wallet.

While on the phone the office gal stressed that depending on what the good dentist finds when I go in later today they will have to get started today. I calmly explained that while I understood, I was concerned with matters of paying for this emergency work…I could hear the blank face look through the phone. I do have a few hundred that I can use today but the truth is if the good doc tells me whatever work he needs to do exceeds my ability to pay, either we need to look for a cheaper option (extraction) or I will have to delay this a week or so until I have some more money. As I nicely told the lady I can’t manufacture money…I suspect there is a notation in my file now that reads bitchy patient.

However this whole situation got me to thinking about the millions of folks that have dental issues who really lack the ability to pay at any point. While I don’t have a great deal of funds, I know I can move some stuff around and more importantly once I get a few things off my financial plate, it will free up some cash but some people are in situations where there is never enough money to do that…ever.  Based off some of my Google searching that seems to be a lot of people. I was on one site where people were looking for home made remedies for dealing with dental abscesses. Yikes! One of my former staff folks had really bad teeth, broken teeth, missing teeth and at one point an abscess but in the two years he worked for me he never went to a dentist. Why? Because he couldn’t afford it. I remember when the abscess got bad he went to the ER for treatment. I wish I could say he was an isolated case but in my line of work I see plenty of people who are in this shape, even in my center I have some teens that have bad dental issues.

People who don’t know better often say well can’t folks go to a sliding scale clinic? Good luck with that one. I know in my state, it takes months to get an appointment and frankly these appointments are never conducive to folks who work. Ask me how I know? Yep, I tried that last summer before breaking down and saying fuck it, I’ll just have to deal with full dental prices. In many states adults on Medicaid are not covered for dental care unless it’s a major medical emergency. So by the time you have teeth rotting out of your head and you have multiple abscesses then you can see a dentist and at that point you are saying bye bye teeth. Its extraction for you! You didn’t need those teeth, eat mashed potatoes and oatmeal.

So is it better for kids? Depends. Due to low reimbursement rates many dentists just pass on accepting Medicaid patients even with the tykes or the wait is so long…well you get the picture. The not so funny thing is the fact that good oral health is needed for overall health yet we live in a nation that does not make that connection as more and more employers simply don’t offer dental insurance. For many families struggling to survive, teeth and dental health are seen as expendable in the family budget and who the hell can blame them. If dental cleanings and exams average $135 (what we pay for my kid) to $200 (what I pay) and you have 2-3 kids plus the adults, that’s a lot of extra cheddar. That says nothing for if cavities are discovered or heaven forbid more work is needed. To the few Americans that are more or less still financially solvent that may not be a big deal but to many it is, if the choice is the mortgage or dental work…most folks will take the mortgage. Can’t live in them teeth.

Yet the issues with dental care in this country and make no mistake it is an issue, after all remember this case. Kid in the US of A died due to a lack of access to dental care. The issues with access to dental care are simply part of the other things that are broken in our system. We the people at some point have gotten confused; we have all started buying into a dream that is just that…a fucking dream. Instead of demanding that we all have access to good schools, good healthcare, etc we instead see it as moral issue and spin it as those without are simply lazy bastards. We see the folks who will still take a stand as leeches on the system, maybe what we need to do is examine ourselves after all in these turbulent times, our fate can change with the wind. As for me, fingers crossed the dental issue is minor or else I might have to put on my Spanx and look for some side work if ya catch my drift.

How class can impact rites of passage

12 Feb

I rarely cover similar subjects in back to back posts, yet I read this piece from a Tumblr blog (I must be honest, not sure I quite get the Tumblr thing) and it really resonated with me. In fact I am extremely happy that the author tackles just how deeply the class we were raised in impacts us even when we are no longer a member of that class. It always amazes me in America how we say folks can move up the class ladder and how so many people refer to themselves as being middle class. Yet in a nation where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is almost an ocean these days, I think most of us are living in a class cloud where fear of being at the bottom keeps us hanging on to the middle when the fact is we are much closer to the bottom than we would like to admit. However that is another discussion for another day.

No, it was reading this piece that hit home to me something I have really struggled with and the fact that while I have blamed the situation on other issues the roots of my dilemma are very much based in money and in class.

I don’t drive. Once again I have said it and it’s embarrassing after all I am an almost 40 year old woman, college educated, fairly professional gig, and all that jazz but driving? Basically it’s gotta be life or death for me to drive. People who know me ask why I don’t drive. Well part of it is driving makes me anxious, no not just a little nervous, a lot of nervous. The type of nervous where mistakes can be made, and frankly I have no wish to kill myself or others due to being nervous.

Often people ask, was I always this way? Well, that’s where my humble roots play a role. In many communities in the US kids start learning to drive at 15 and at 16 get licenses. (Granted with graduated licensing I know that is not exactly how it happens now but that’s what it was like eons ago) At 15 my high school offered the written knowledge of how to drive as part of my physical education classes but the actual behind the wheel piece was not taught at my school and basically parents had to pay for it. My folks didn’t have the few hundreds required for me to take the behind the wheel classes and if memory serves me correctly we had no car at that time so I never learned.

I worked after school but my money was used to pay for my clothing and for my lunch money and bus fare back and forth to school (I went to high school clear on the other side of Chicago, having won admittance in one of the top academic programs in Chicago at that time). So being 16 as you can imagine I wasn’t exactly earning enough to handle my expenses that I was responsible for and saving to take driving lessons. Then there was the realization that since I had no car to drive there was no rush to learn to drive.

Long story short I went from age 16-30 with the idea of driving never crossing my mind in any serious way. I mean yeah there were a few times when a car would have been nice, it was sometimes inconvenient raising a kid in Chicago always taking buses and trains but I most certainly wasn’t alone. A lot of the reasons were rooted in lack of resources, having become a mother at 19; I didn’t exactly have a lot of spare cash lying around to afford the cost of driving lessons. Then there was the issue of actually buying a car and upkeep, it simply was not in my budget. Hell, even taking time to get lessons would have been a resource juggling act since I would have needed someone to watch my son so that I could to take lessons. Even when I started earning decent money, I just chose to live in neighborhoods that were easily accessible to public transit and things I needed and wanted.

Nope, it was the Maine move that brought the matter to the forefront. Granted my plan had been to live in Portland, Maine’s largest city where I figured I would be able to get by until I mastered this driving thing. (Yeah, dumb me didn’t bother to learn before moving 1100 miles away…figured being a 30 yo newbie it would be easier to learn in a small state) As fate would have it I landed a job less than 3 weeks after moving to Maine therefore giving me no time to get a handle on the driving thing. That first year in Maine was a real juggling act as my job required travel at times and the Spousal Unit thank goodness to his flexible schedule was able to assist me but it was hard.

I figured after a year or so I would learn and while I did the truth is learning to drive as an adult is hard and while I can do it, my own anxiety gets in the way now. I often think had I learned as a teenager it would have been better. One of the instructors I worked with explained that in many ways it’s harder for adults to get it because by a certain age you realize that shit…driving is serious business and if you fuck up it can have grave consequences. Whereas teenagers are fearless, this frankly can also be a bad thing.

Anyway in thinking about my driving issues and pondering how lack of resources can get in the way of folks learning how to drive actually made me think of many of my current clients and clients I have had over the years. Most of them don’t drive which for most low income folks especially in a rural state greatly limits ones opportunities. In my area we are fortunate to have public transit but it’s costly. A one way ride to Portland from my area (by car a 20 minute ride tops) is $5 that means a round trip is $10. As a result I have a lot of kids in my after school program who have never been to Portland or who rarely get to the beach despite the fact they live mere miles away from the beach. In Chicago it was poor minorities who rarely traveled around the city because they too had a lack of resources granted public transit back in my hometown is far more affordable.

It means that when lower income folks have cars they are almost always jalopies that are on their last leg, which pretty much describes every car my dad, had when I was growing up. Though in our case having access to good public transit did not limit me but at times it was a minor inconvenience.

Yet like the tumblr poster, even so called rites of passage are not always accessible to those who hail from the working and lower classes. Those of us who are able to emerge from that background and move up due to education are often still struggling with the residual effects of our childhood.

PS: People often ask me how I get around, well I bought a house in a very walk able area and even my office is less than a mile from my house. I utilize public transit and the Spousal Unit due to working from home is often able to help me out when I need to go further. One thing I do not do is ask others for rides since this is my shit with that said with the girl in grammar school now I am realizing I have to work on this issue. I need to get comfortable enough where driving is not this emotional and anxiety roller coaster and I am setting some goals and plans in place to get there.

Straddling the class ladder and family

8 Feb

Just a quick post as I head off to bed. Tonight after a tasty dinner cooked by the Spousal Unit I ended up spending some time talking with my Dad trying to make light conversation about life and the state of the world. Yet it was one of those conversations that veered a little off course which frankly is quite common with my Pops but by the end I had one of those light bulb moments. My dad has now been with us a few weeks and it’s still an adjustment and part of it is due to his rather acerbic personality, coupled with the fact that ours has never quite been a warm and fuzzy relationship. However the light bulb went off tonight that some of my general discomfort is really based on the fact that I am a class straddler.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a child of the working class, as I often joke during my childhood we alternated between two states, poor and working class. Working class was what happened in a good year and  poor was the rest of the time. However due to just making different choices than my folks made, I am no longer officially a member of the working class though in many ways it’s what I still identify with. Though as I discovered it’s a lot easier for me to identify as working class when dealing with friends who come from family money than with my own father.

During his time here there has been that sense at times that he does not quite understand how we live, why we make the choices we make. One night he actually commented to us “So this is how you live” on the night in question it was a Saturday night and the hubby and I were getting ready to settle down to watch a movie and share a glass of wine. Ours is a quiet existence, far more stable and frankly quieter than what I grew up with.

Like most working class kids I did not grow up in a household where simple discussions were held for no reason. Instead my parents chiefly my Dad ruled the house as if it were his kingdom and the rest of us were serfs. Rules were laid down and you followed them lest you wanted to get your ass kicked. Alfred Lubrano is his book Limbo talks at length about this, part of the reasoning behind this is that for many working class folks, their home is the only place where they have a say and can actually control things. My father seems amused that our five year old is allowed a voice in things, once again tonight reminding me of the good ole days when you could slap a kid upside the head. Having been the kid being slapped upside the head I have no desire to create those memories for my own kid.

As a straddler I realized even seemingly small things like buying in bulk seem to perplex my Dad, as he asked me today why I had bought multiple packs of batteries. It was one of those moments where I clearly felt the divide between how I was raised and who I have become as an almost 40 year old woman. One of the legacies for me growing up with little is that for years I had behavior bordering on hoarding but now I simply like to keep a well stocked house. After all it would make no sense to buy toilet paper one pack at a time in house with two bathrooms.

I often struggle with my working class roots in professional settings yet tonight I realized that even with family that movement up the class ladder can create a disconnect and frankly it saddens me.

How dare you? The story of Kelley Williams-Bolar

26 Jan

For the vast majority of women bringing a child into the world triggers something so deep and so primal within that until we take our last breath we will forever be conditioned to put the health and welfare of our child first. (Obviously there are exceptions) I saw this clearly in my mother’s last weeks and days, after having brain surgery to remove a fast growing tumor, when she finally became conscious she was not the same person she was prior to the surgery. But she never forgot she was a mother, the last conversations she was clearly able to articulate centered on my brother and I, telling my father to remember our birthdays, etc. One of the last conversations she had with me was by phone and she was so weak…yet when the nurse put her on the phone, she whispered daughter.  So weak that she could not utter my given name yet she knew I was her child.  It was at that moment I realized that mothering never stops; it simply changes shape even when our children become adults as I am now learning with my own son.

That said, no matter what our financial circumstances we all want the best for our children. In today’s world we are seeing a revolution in mothering which we see clearly being played out within social media, on television and books. Many women in my generation (Gen X) are refashioning our lives to be the best mothers we can be for our children as evidenced in the rise of stay at home mothers. Yet for women with meager financial resources, doing one’s best can take many forms, going to school so that we can eventually get better paying jobs, etc.

This brings me to Kelley Williams Bolar, a Black mother currently serving a 10 day sentence in Ohio. Her crime? Sending her children to an out of district school as her local school was neither safe nor adequate. Ms. Williams-Bolar made the choice to do the best for her kids by sending her kids to an out of district suburban school that incidentally her father, the kid’s grandfather resides in. However this is a crime. The reality though is that this sort of thing has been going on forever, perhaps if schools were not funded so unfairly in our nation a parent would not have to make the decision to break the law in order to make sure that their kids receive an adequate education.

I won’t say that Williams-Bolar didn’t break the law but her punishment for a crime that if we are honest is victimless is 10 days in jail, probation and community service. More importantly because she was convicted of a felony, she now risks being disqualified to teach. See, Williams-Bolar is a senior in college looking to pursue a career in education; she currently works as a teacher’s aide. Apparently the judge wanted to make an example out of Williams-Bolar and deter others from skirting the law. Now as you can guess, the area Williams-Bolar resides in is predominantly Black and poor and the schools she sent her kids to was predominantly white and middle class.

There are some who are saying that race should not be an issue, but let’s be honest. Do you think this would have happened had Williams-Bolar been white? Of course not! Oh, she may have been caught and there may have been repercussions but a felony? Not likely.

While mothering and motherhood is simply not valued in this culture, I think it’s even less valued when the mother is a woman of color. Historically Black women were not allowed to mother our own kids; instead we were forced to mother other’s kids. It’s why the image of the Mammy still exists, we are seen as mothers of others but not our own kids. I think this is why it’s shocking to some when we see a Black mother fighting to mother her own kids and give the best we can to our kids. It’s why Black stay at home Moms are still perceived as oddities even in solidly middle class neighborhoods. It’s why when a Black mom shows up to be a class helper or accompany the class to the field trip we are looked at with skepticism. Its why even in the blogosphere there are literally only a handful of mothers of color whose blogs are highly rated and last time I checked while there are plenty of Mamas who have turned mothering into a money making venture with blogs that are producing real income and book deals. I have yet to see a Black or Latina mother receive these same accolades and rewards. Our mothering is simply not valued. This along with classism and racism is why Kelly Williams-Bolar is sitting in a jail cell as I type this separated from her kids with her future looking not too bright.

The only real crime in my eyes that Kelley is guilty of is wanting a better life for her kids yet doing that in a system that does not value her as a mother, a woman and most certainly a poor person.

Classism in school

5 Dec

The other day I had the pleasure of volunteering in the kidlet’s class for a field trip and I must say it was an eye opening experience for me on how class divides us in seemingly innocent ways. I went to college in my mid-late 20’s and my undergraduate degree is in African-American studies yet by the time I got my BA, I became obsessed with looking at class. In fact while I think racism is still a huge issue in our culture, it’s the unspoken issue of class that I feel divides us more than anything.

A big thanks to the free flowing credit of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s many of the material markers that divided us fell away. After all you can (though with the lingering Great Recession I truly believe the class markers and rules are being redesigned as I type this) hardly tell who is struggling by the car they drive or the gadgets they carry. I suspect many of the families that I serve have far larger television sets that I own, and I know several have better cell phones than I have.

Yet a visit to a kindergarten class made me ponder the subtleties of class and the impact they can have on your kid’s experience in school and the perceptions and assumptions the teachers make based off class or perceptions of class.

In almost 19 years of parenting, I must admit it’s only been in the last 1-2 years that I have been in a place where volunteering has been possible. See, I was 19 when my son was born and due to the need to work sometimes 2-3 jobs to keep food on the table, there simply was not enough hours in the day to volunteer and I suspect as part of my working class roots it probably never dawned on me to ask and I most certainly was never asked to volunteer in any classroom he was ever involved in. Yet I am a class straddler, a term that has gained popularity due to Alfred Lubrano’s book Limbo. I was born to a solidly working class family, at the time of my birth; neither of my parents had touched foot in a college classroom. My father eventually went onto seminary in his late 30’s and early 40’s but as for straight forward college; it wasn’t in the cards for my folks.

Over the years I have by virtue of education, income and profession moved at least on paper away from my working class roots. Make no mistake though the influences of my childhood and upbringing are still beneath the surface and as a result I struggle and straddle the class line. I am most comfortable talking with the families I serve rather than the money folks who keep us open. Yet I am good at my job and generally able to straddle that line between connecting with a single Mama who has no idea how she will make ends meet (I’ve lived it) yet at the same time I make the other folks feel good and convince them to support my cause because I have learned to speak their language. But I can’t lie, there are days I feel like an imposter…like who is the grown up lady who uses big egghead words and has mastered the mask. Thankfully I am married to a straddler as well so when I come home it’s my safe space.

Yet the other day in my daughter’s class I felt like an imposter. I arrived at the designated time to accompany the class on the field trip and immediately noticed the other Moms. Two of whom I know in passing since we attend the same church. I was immediately struck with how cozy the other Mamas were with the teacher; in fact the other Mamas had brought cups of Starbucks coffee and even had one for the teacher. Nope, no coffee for this Mama and that’s cool but I did feel as if I had entered a clique and it was a tad disconcerting. It appeared the kids knew at least a couple of the other Mamas since as my daughter later informed me; Mrs. M regularly helps out in the class. I immediately sized up the situation and figured I would focus on the kids, many of whom were openly staring at me, after all it’s not too often they see a fully brown person and it was cool. So as we were walking to our destination a couple of the kids told me they were sad that their parents couldn’t come on the trip because they were working. One little boy was almost on the brink of tears that his Mommy was not there, I gently explained that it was okay and that not all parents can come but that his Mommy’s work was important too.

I admit that exchange with the kids is what prompted this post, for starters after making a little bit of chit-chat with the Mamas, I realized that they were stay at home Mamas which means they have the flexibility and time to be involved in the classroom. Yet for many parents that is not an option, especially if they are employed at companies where there is less autonomy over their work schedule. In the months since the kidlet has started school I have observed that the parents who often stand around making chit chat after the bell has rang often are either self-employed, don’t work, or have flexible positions like my own. The parents you see rushing who never stop to chat are the same ones you often see in work uniforms or have the weary look of folks who work at places that will not cut them slack if they are late for work.

During the field trip I had a chance to make small talk with the kidlet’s teacher who was curious about a project we were doing at home that my daughter had mentioned to her. I explained the project and she was so excited about that it that she was wondering if there was a way she could incorporate it into the classroom. That exchange made me think about the ways class lends itself to building social capital.  The daughter of a waitress and a mill worker most likely don’t have the time or ability to take an hour off from work to volunteer and engage with the teacher and create that connection and while no one will ever say it, not building those connections in my opinion can be harmful.  While I don’t have the level of involvement in my daughter’s class that I would like to have due to my own work (yet as I work with the less fortunate and everyone knows this I feel this is given a pass compared to if I couldn’t make meetings because I was the shift supervisor at the local fast food place) I am involved enough that I have noticed that the so-called trouble makers all seem to hail from the lower class.

Schools want parents to be involved in their children’s education yet we cling to ways that are quite classist and don’t allow for connections to be made. Our school recently had an event and I realized that while attendance was decent, the timing of the event definitely was at a time where folks with less flexibility in their schedules were not able to attend. I know teaching is hard work and I can imagine that by five at night teachers want to go home, yet making events at 5:30 in the middle of the week pretty much assures in my opinion that only certainly folks will attend. For an event designed to get parents actively involved in their kid’s schooling maybe such extra enrichment activities should start later or be held on the weekend.

I realize this is a rambling post, but I can’t help but thinking that working class folks and their kids are penalized in school of all places because working class folks often work at jobs that don’t allow them to be involved directly at their kid’s school via volunteering. Even email as the preferred method of staying in touch with parents is not a guarantee for folks who are financially vulnerable. I know that on the contact list for my kid’s class of 19 students, I saw at least 5 folks who had no email addresses listed. I know that at my center out of over 200 registered participants less than 25% have email addresses. This may not seem like a big deal but if you have a young middle class teacher who prefers emailing parents, lack of an email address matters.

I know I have a few educators among my readership; I would love your input.



Class, Privilege and Black Friday

26 Nov

I had no intentions of blogging today, figured I’d take the day off and relax with the family. But today’s post was inspired by one of my favorite folks on Twitter and it actually made me think. Today is Black Friday, a day that in recent years has become synonymous with great bargains and the possibility of getting trampled if you are trying to shop at a store that serves a rowdy clientele and has bargains too good to resist. In many ways Black Friday has become a great joke for the economically comfortable. Granted there are many solidly middle class folks that like to go out and shop on Black Friday but for working class folks, the deals touted on Black Friday may be the only way some families will be able to afford gifts.

Now I know many folks who will say but why do they feel the need to feed the shopping machine in the first place? Good question but that’s a different discussion for a different day. However as someone who spent the first 18 years of her life working class in a good year, let me tell you the holidays despite the interpersonal strife and conflict often times represented the only time of the year that some of my needs and wants got met. Working with low income families for many years now, I will say things haven’t changed much for the poor and or working class.

In solidly middle class and higher families, good food, enriching toys and clothing needs and desires are met throughout the year. Yet for people who struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, that is often not their reality. It was just over a year ago that this reality hit home with me when I was working with some of the kids that attend my after school program and we were working with paints. Not terribly expensive paints by any stretch of the imagination anyhoo one of the girl’s parents called and she was upset that she had to leave the project we were working on. So very thoughtlessly, I suggested maybe she could paint at home and she explained she had no paints at home. Recently two of my younger kids asked if they could take some crayons home to color with as they had no crayons at home with which to color with. As a parent who tries to keep a stocked craft cabinet for my own child, my heart broke then I remembered that I don’t recall ever having any paints at home myself when I was a child. I can’t even imagine that it dawned on my parents that they should provide me with paints. I suspect in their minds they figured my painting needs were met at school plus they probably didn’t have the resources to obtain paints and other art/craft supplies for me.

Just yesterday while killing time on Twitter, I’d say 25% of the folks I follow were railing against Thanksgiving as a bullshit holiday. I won’t deny it’s a bullshit holiday and most of us were taught a false holiday that whitewashed the brutality and sheer evil that is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Yet like Christmas celebrations how many people even think about the historical roots of the holiday? Nope, for many it’s just a pig-out day to spend with loved ones or people you are suppose to love. Yet for those who live with financial and food insecurity, its one of the few days that in many cases you can have more than enough food complete with treats.

One of the shittiest things about my job at times is that during the holiday season I am inundated with folks offering help for the needy, free meals, free toys, free clothes…you get the picture. Yet ask me where this help is in July? Yeah…can’t tell ya because I don’t see it. But in November and December offers of help flows like booze with the cast of Jersey Shore and you can be damn sure I see to it that people are able to get their needs met.

Yet there are folks who are not among the neediest so agencies like mine generally can’t help them, so what’s a working stiff to do when they want or need a new television set? Wait like hell for the deals and hope they can snap up that TV. I admit as someone whose main telly is on the brink I almost sent the Spousal Unit out to brave the crowds at Wally World since a 19” TV for $99 is quite a steal. We don’t shun television in this house and by most folk’s standards our TV’s are modest, I have an old 13” in my bedroom and a 22” in the living room, that’s it. No bells or whistles, and considering that televisions these days are quite costly I can sympathize with those who feel the need to get up early to snag a good deal. Shit, it’s getting harder and harder to make the shekels stretch…if giving up a night of sleep to get needs and wants taken care of works for some, who the hell am I to judge?

Admittedly I have in the past said not too nice things about Black Friday but for me it’s always been more about the mob mentality that seems to surface. On the other hand maybe it says something deeper about us as a society that we allow what used to be a benign day to become such a crazy thing. After all I don’t recall hearing about violence happening as a result of shopping on Black Friday back in the 1980’s or even 1990’s. I think as we live in such rapid paced times we are pushed to our breaking point. Living in a time when even before the Great Recession there was such opulence or so we thought yet for the real man or woman on the streets they saw their real wages stagnate, health insurance go up and basically started using their houses and credit cards to supplement with the Boss man didn’t pay so that their ends could meet. In such situations how can you not expect people to go a little crazy?

Perhaps all of us including myself need to look at root causes for why days like Black Friday bring out the worst in humanity. Sure it’s easy to say well folks don’t need this or that; all the while you are typing from the comfort of your home with your latest piece of iGadgetry.

At the end of the day, we all want good food, a warm house, clothing, love and maybe even a few extras however we define those extras, for some it’s iGadgets, Kitchen-Aid mixers and so on…yet who are we to judge someone else’s desires? Yet our ability to have these things will depend in large part on where we sit on the socio-economic ladder and even a decision of whether or not to brave crowds on Black Friday versus shopping on Cyber Monday from the comforts of our home and or office will depend on what we have access to.  Just some food from thought from a lifetime card carrying member of the working class.

Revisiting the issue of food and class…a visit to Trader Joe’s

12 Nov

Living in Maine is an experience, Maine is a rural state but at the same time it’s a place with class. It’s a place where the pace of life is definitely slow but at the same time due to its natural beauty and relative closeness to places like Boston and New York City, there are tons of transplants here. While this is a rural state it’s rural with a cosmopolitan feel especially in our largest city, Portland. We have a growing well respected foodie scene, shit even the New York Times says we have some of the best bagels here. (This place is fucking amazing).

That said, Maine is slow to catch on as far as the big national trends and places…hell, we don’t even have billboards in this state. When I first landed here almost 8 years ago, you could count the number of Starbucks on one hand and it would not have been full. The first year I was in serious coffee withdrawals since the closest Starbucks meant heading to the next county over. Thankfully after a year here, Starbucks opened in my town…the upside of living in a tourist destination, the tourists like decent coffee. (Sorry New Englanders, where I come from Dunkin Donuts is what you drink at 3 am when you are drunk as a skunk and need to start the sobering up process).

Other national places that were slow to arrive here include Whole Foods, hell that took several years to arrive. Those of us from away were jonesing like crack addicts waiting for the next fix and let me tell you it was a big deal when Whole Foods landed in our fair state. But nothing and I say nothing could have prepared me for TJ madness…that’s Trader Joe’s in case you don’t know.

Now Trader Joe’s is a place I had only been in once before on some trip many years ago, hell the Spousal Unit is a California boy and he had been to them but clearly in the time since we lived in close proximity to one, their legend had grown. I have had buddies in Maine tell me how they drive monthly two states over to go to Trader Joe’s. I admit I am lazy; the idea of traveling like that to spend my money leaves me scratching my head. To each his own though, in my early years in Maine I trekked monthly to Boston just to get my hair done, so who am I to talk shit?

In recent years there had been all kinds of talk about bringing Trader Joe’s to Maine and it finally happened. They officially opened a few weeks ago; a colleague from grad school actually got up to stand in line at 6 am to shop there on opening day. Um….nothing short of a sick child or a flight will get me up that early. I admit the energy over Trader Joe’s was contagious, the way folks talked about their beloved Two Buck Chuck, the treats, oh my…shit I was expecting a magical experience.

Well today the Spousal Unit and I decided to have an early date while the kidlet was in school and hit up some of the new Maine chain places. First stop Cracker Barrel…that was ummmm interesting. Breakfast didn’t quite rock my world though the hash brown casserole was intriguing, though I admit I will go back, they serve catfish and I do love me some catfish. Enough about the Cracker Barrel though, on to TJ’s.

So we arrive in the parking lot of the Portland Trader Joe’s and it was real clear that just the act of parking the car was going to take some time, thankfully after a couple times circling around a space opened up. First thing I notice people are flying in the doors as if they ate a McRib and their bowels were about to open up, but I think they were just excited to go in. I admit for a moment it felt exciting. I grabbed my cart and away we went, I won’t bore you with the details but I did drop $100 on items that I am not sure I would have normally have bought, after all will I really eat those dark chocolate mints?

What I was struck by though was how much TJ’s reminded me of Aldi, the no frills grocery store where folks who tend to be short on cash shop. It’s my understanding that the two stores have some type of connection though it’s not entirely clearly but what I was struck by is that just like Aldi caters to low income folks allowing them to splurge on cheap faux peanut butter cookies, canned ravioli and pizza rolls. Trader Joe’s caters to the well heeled who like to eat hummus and pita and kick back with a cheap wine but not too cheap. Once the wine can be opened with a cap its officially low class.

I have talked here before how much our food choices are tied to where we sit on the class ladder. I will openly admit that once a year I like to kick back with a glass of grape kool-aid and a fried bologna sammich on Wonder Bread, it’s the comfort food of my youth. Truth is in the past decade or so since I officially moved up the class ladder leaving my working class roots behind by virtue of my education, I have worked hard to change my palate. If left to my own devices I will eat the shit out of fried whatever, smothered in gravy with a side of bread product with a limp green vegetable on the side.

The thing is I know now that such foods are bad for me so guess what? I rarely eat them, they are now officially treats. I literally have willed myself into liking sushi, there are times I ask myself is this really good? Yet as I have shared here before it was in graduate school where I learned to eat it since not eating it made me stand out even more, besides I like spice, with enough wasabi my mouth is on fire so it glides down the old shoot.

Yet it’s funny where food is as much about comfort as nutrition certain food choices are seen as less than and the eater seen as less enlightened yet if you are high enough on the class ladder your junk food is seen as better. Take Cheetos versus the Pirate Booty that the well heeled feed their progeny. Truth is I will takle a damn Cheetos or Cheez Doodle any day over Pirates Booty, yet now that I no longer am a card carrying member of the working class, I feed my kid Pirate Booty. I admit I fear being judged over this stuff, though occasionally we share some of Mommy’s off limits Cheetos.

I must admit I often like looking in people’s carts at grocery stores and today’s maiden voyage into Trader Joe’s was no exception. I found myself thinking that most of the patrons myself included had quite a bit of processed food items in their carts yet unlike many there I have no problem buying the occasional junk food from a regular grocery store. In most stores when I see someone with processed food items I figure they either have no time or talent for cooking, but what I was struck by today was that most of these same people with carts piled high (and I saw a few folks I know personally) would never be caught in say Wally World buying some off brand frozen burritos yet in the right and oh proper setting, buying such things are a sign of how hip you are.

Take the famous Two Buck Chuck wine; while I am not a wine snob, I am not big on California wines so after reading the label I took a pass though the Spousal Unit grabbed a bottle for himself. Yet I found myself wondering how many of these same folks grabbing up bottles of Two Buck Chuck would be caught dead with some Julio and Earnest Gallo? Not many I bet.

So like most things in America it all comes down to class, even our taste in junk food is segregated, while I didn’t see any good ole fashioned bologna at Trader Joe’s I did see plenty of deli meat that would definitely be higher up on the class ladder.

As for me, while it was great to check it out and I admit tonight’s Mandarin Orange Chicken was tasty as hell, not sure TJ’s will be a weekly stop though it might be nice for the occasional treat. I will continue to eat much like I live wedged between my working class by birth roots and dangling in the middle class, quite an interesting place to be.

Open season on those pesky poor folks

18 Oct

Despite the fancy words that the powers to be use to tell us that economically things are getting better in the US, most of recognize a con job when we hear it. The truth is there simply are not enough full time jobs for all the folk looking for them and that is not even taking into consideration all the new entrants into the work force. I suspect we don’t really have a good idea how many folks are jobless or underemployed. I do think it’s safe to say that the go-go days of the early 2000’s are but a distant memory and something we will tell our grandkids about when we talk about how the US went down the tubes.

I do know though that when times get tough rather than working together for the collective good, human nature often makes us hold tight to what we do have and in some cases get quite judgmental of those who are without.

Here in Maine, we are just a few weeks away from electing a new governor and let me tell you its crazy time. We have a slate of 5 candidates running and the 2 major party candidates in my humble opinion leave a lot to be desired. One of the independents is starting to look promising to me but I fear that he will split the vote with the Democratic candidate and we are going to get stuck with the crazy Republican Paul LePage. LePage is crazy, thus far he has shown that anger management is something he lacks and that he often he forgets where he lives since he and his wife filed homestead exceptions in both Maine and Florida. LePage happens to be the general manager of a chain of salvage shops in Maine that while they employ a lot of folks they keep the wages low and don’t offer a hell of a lot in terms of benefits. Yet Mr. LePage talks a good game of how if he is elected he will be getting the welfare cheats off of welfare, in fact it appears that LePage is one of those lucky bootstrap fellas that worked his way up and gosh darn it if he can do it so can the rest of the other poor bastards.

Such talk about ridding welfare of the cheats and making everyone work sounds good and it’s appealing so much so that LePage seems to be emerging as a front-runner in the race. This week the state’s largest paper is talking about the welfare system in Maine and it’s definitely worth a read even if you aren’t a Mainer. I have been working with low income folks going on 15 years now and if I had a buck for every time someone tells me about some person they know on welfare that is cheating the system I probably could take that dream vacation to Paris that I have been dreaming of lately. In all my years of work I can count on one hand the number of folks I thought may have been cheating the system.

Perhaps it goes back to the days of Ray Gun Ronnie when he whipped up a frenzy about the mythical Black woman on welfare driving a Caddy in the 1980’s but for a segment of Americans they truly believe their fellow Americans who receive assistance are just milking the system. Never mind that Bill Clinton killed welfare as we knew it and created in it’s place a safety net program that started off with holes and now has gaping rips. Of course in the 1990’s we were optimistic that the good times would always roll…never thinking about the fact that continuous growth is just not possible and it damn sure is not possible when we ship all the good paying jobs to 3rd world countries so we can maximize the profits for the company owners and board of directors. Oh in the 2000’s we were still playing that game of illusion that all was good but that was before the credit bubble went pop.

Yet it makes folks feel better to shit on the poor and assume they are poor because they are lazy and shiftless…never mind the fact that if you had to live off say $600 a month even with food stamps and reduced rent via a Section 8 apartment how well would you live? No, we want our poor to work hard for their pennies! Go slave away at an $8 an hour job, a job that pays so little that in most cases the worker still qualifies for some type of benefits.

Now the poor are not even being allowed agency to determine their drink choices if New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has his way. Bloomberg is trying to get permission from the feds to ban food stamp recipients from purchasing soda…look no one is saying soda is a great thing, it has no nutritional value and some might consider it a waste of money. I will be honest and say I enjoy an occasional soda. Why? Life is short and I like to do things that bring me pleasure. I suspect most of us have things we enjoy drinking or eating that offer no nutritional value yet we still partake, otherwise how else can you explain the rise of Starbucks? Very few things that Starbucks offers are truly healthy. Shit, you can go and get a drink with a calorie equivalent to a meal yet as Starbucks is frequented by folks who are middle class and above there is no rallying cry to help those folks. I bet Bloomberg most likely enjoys the occasional latte yet as lattes are the purview of people we figure are financially better off even if it’s simply because they have better access to credit, no one slams those choices.

Nope, we like to make the matter of poor folks a morality issue. If people are poor it’s easier to assess individual blame and assume these folks need guidance or to be told what to do rather than looking at the larger systems that create poor people. That is why a guy who runs a chain of stores that most certainly do not assist folks in rising up from poverty can convince folks he is the guy best suited to cut the fat in state spending. It’s why folks can get behind soda bans all the while sipping on a mocha which isn’t much better and say we care about nutrition.

Perhaps we would all be better off if we acknowledged that unless you are a member of the wealth holding community that our fates and lives are far more intertwined than we would care to admit. Real change happens when we band together and create policies that benefit us all, after all I wonder how many of todays newly poor are realizing that we have insufficient safety nets and that once you tumble into poverty what you need is a hand up and compassion not legislation.

That is sooooo ghetto…NOT!

29 Sep

Oh, how I hate that phrase. Some where along the line the word ghetto has grown from being a word used to describe a slum area in a city primarily occupied by minorities to a catch phrase for describing anything that folks deem to be lower class. Frankly it pisses me off. Recently an acquaintance of mine referred to her neighborhood as being ghetto, problem is she lives in Maine. Yes, we have some areas of low income folks but by and large these areas are packed full of white folks after all this is Maine. Yes some of these areas are a tad rough by the standards of what folks generally think of when Maine comes to mind but I would be hard pressed to say there are any ghettos in Maine. Sorry folks.

See, I am from Chicago and while I grew up working class I can honestly we say we never lived in any area that one might deem a ghetto by the official and technical definition of ghetto. However families being what they are, I did have some family members who lived in what definitely could be called a ghetto. My first images of visiting these family members start at about age 5. My mother was not raised by her mother who left her when she was 8 months old, my mother didn’t officially meet her mother again until she was 16 and she spent many years trying to forge a relationship with her mother and 7 half siblings.

During her early and mid twenties my Mum spent a great deal of time trying to connect with her birth family and that required us visiting them and well they lived in the now gone Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago’s south side. The Robert Taylor Projects along with the Cabrini Green Housing projects were some of the worse housing projects in the country.  The place was like a giant concrete jungle, it was not safe for outsiders to just wander in unless they wanted to go out in a body bag, thankfully my mother’s brothers were well respected gangbangers so that kept us safe along with the fact when we got off the el stop nearest to the projects there was always someone waiting to pick us up. One of the things I remember from this period in time is that my father rarely made the trek to visit my mother’s family…to this day I don’t know why.

One of the things I remember most about these visits was fear, entering the building that her family lived in was scary, it was a dark place, it alternated between smelling like an overripe sewer and a urinal. The times the elevator actually worked, it had one bare bulb and smelled like pure piss. Even at 5 I knew this was not a safe place. Yet as soon as we entered my mother’s birth mother’s actual apartment it was like night and day. Well decorated and beautiful, no doubt filled with items obtained through my uncle’s ill gotten gains. I also remember that the food was amazing, some of what we now call soul food.

Occasionally younger cousins would insist I play with them in the hallway and I remembering being afraid. Especially when we played hide and seek, the only bright spot to playing with the cousins was the visit to the candy lady. That would be the lady a few doors down from my relatives who sold candy, pickles and snow cones from her apartment. To this day that still amazes me as I have never seen that any place outside of the ghetto. In part because in many true ghettos it’s not safe for kids to venture out to the local convenience stores on their own, because danger lurks at every turn. These visits stopped around the time my brother was born.

Yet as an adult having chosen to work with the less fortunate sometimes my work in Chicago called for me to travel to areas that were well…ghettos. Last time was about 10 years or so when I had a training to attend on the west side of Chicago and let’s just say it was an experience. Cabs do not go to such areas I learned when I tried to get a cab and at the lunch break a group of us ventured to the only sit down eatery in the area where our transaction for fried chicken at KFC was conducted through bullet proof glass. I remember heading home on the bus after two days of training thinking about how hopeless it must feel to live in an area where transactions must be conducted through glass. Think about that.

My experiences both as a child and as an adult in venturing into true ghettos left me with a very clear definition of what a ghetto is and living in an apartment in Maine is not a ghetto. By and large in Maine even the rough areas are relatively close to nature. This particular area that was called a ghetto is about a 10 minute drive to the ocean, on a good night you can smell the ocean. I can assure you in most true ghettos (outside of perhaps LA) you won’t be smelling an ocean, instead you will smell the stench of hopelessness mixed in with piss.

While I work with people who at times have many of the same issues that my clients in Chicago had, it’s still different here. People are free to leave their houses; their homes are not transformed into virtual forts because getting in and out involves taking your life into your hands. While pockets of hopelessness now exist all across this nation, the fact is to call your area a ghetto trivializes the lives of those who really are living in a ghetto and in some cases to claim such language in my opinion speaks to having privilege that true ghetto dwellers do not.

So if you are one of those folks who like to use the word ghetto and you are using it for any reason other than describing a real ghetto, please find another word. Tacky is a good start and you won’t get any resistance from me.