I saw a meme the other day about how to nurture a child. It included things like reading together, praising, practicing relaxation exercises together, taking walks together — the operative word here, of course, is together.
It all boiled down to quality time, and it set something off in me.
I commented that people in poverty, people who have to work two and three jobs just to keep body and soul together, might not be able to do all these things, and some woman said, “These things don’t take money, LOL.”
I was furious.
LOL? Really? I asked her whether she had ever skipped a meal to make sure there was enough, for the kids, LOL. I mean, that one’s a regular LOL riot, isn’t it?
People with the privilege of a living wage have no idea what it’s like to live in poverty, of how the system keeps poor people down.
Let’s say your three $8-an-hour part-time jobs pay the rent and for food, but just barely. You’re already working 60-plus hours a week, so you can’t just get another job. Your crappy apartment is $1,200 a month and the landlord won’t take care of the leaky faucet or the hole in the kitchen floor. The heat quits regularly. But this is the best you can find for what you can pay.
Poor people can’t afford a flat tire. Poor people can’t afford to be sick.
So, let’s say the flat tire means the utility bill is late. When the power gets shut off, you don’t just have to pay the amount due, you have to pay a service charge, which might make your rent late this month.
When you get home to your kids, it’s already supper time. Have they done their homework? Well, you can ask that after supper, unless, of course, it’s already bed time. Should you read to your child or do the laundry? Last time your kid showed up to school in a dirty shirt, the school threatened to call in Child Protection Services for neglect. So you do the laundry.
If you can’t afford a car — and millions of low-wage workers can’t — you need bus service, which just isn’t available in rural areas, and in bigger towns and cities, a bus ride across town can be an hour and a half.
And what about when you have to work evenings or weekends? There are no child care centers open for evening, overnight or weekend shifts.
Poverty is completely unnecessary. It is a political construct designed to create a permanent underclass to serve the very wealthy.
When my boys were little, the only way I could get help with day care was to quit my job and go on Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
I decided to work. I worked hard, but I just couldn’t get ahead. Every time I got caught up, something happened to set me back — and when you’re barely getting by, a flat tire can set you back six months. Forget about a new starter or alternator. I once spent a month parking my car on hills so I could do a rolling start because I couldn’t afford a new starter.
When my older son was 7 he became a latchkey kid because I had money for groceries or day care, but not for both. He would call me when he got home from school, and when I hung up, I would go into the bathroom and cry because I couldn’t take care of him the way I wanted to.
The school was constantly after me because my younger son was severely ADHD and they wanted him on drugs, even though his grades were stellar and he consistently tested in the 98th and 99th percentile in verbal abilities, reading and math. Finally, they reported me to Child Protection Services for neglect. I couldn’t afford an attorney to fight it, so we tried the Ritalin. He hated it. Said he didn’t feel like himself when he took it. But the teacher was happy because he wasn’t up out of his seat during class.
After 3 months, he begged me to take him off the drugs. I told him he would have to find a way to sit still because the risk of him being taken away from me was very real.
I couldn’t afford private school, which would have recognized his abilities, so we had to do this right in a public school setting where the most important thing wasn’t his brilliance, but the teacher’s need to have a quiet classroom.
Michael stayed in his seat every day for three months. When his teacher called to say he’d been disruptive that day, I confessed we’d thrown away the last three months’ supply of the drug and we would not put him back on it under any circumstances. I threatened to go public if they attempted to take him from me, and they let it go.
By this time, I had remarried and although I still couldn’t afford an attorney, I was not in poverty any longer.
But then Michael started experimenting with drugs, and by the time he was 15, he was dabbling in all kinds of stuff. Later, after he’d been clean and sober for several years, he told me the gateway drug had been Ritalin. It had altered his mind when he was on it, and made him wonder what other drugs might do. He insisted he wouldn’t have tried other drugs if he’d not been on Ritalin. I believed him.
At age 19, he took some time off school and was removed from our insurance plan. We didn’t realize that time off school would mean he’d never be able to buy insurance again, and in Savannah, Ga., no doctor would do a damn thing for him until it was too late to save his life. That time off school turned out to be a death sentence for him.
Poverty is lethal. It is deeply, deeply immoral. People who are affected by it suffer and die needlessly, while people of privilege call them lazy.
Poverty is a choice made by legislators and policymakers to allow some people to suffer. And it must end.