Sunday, May 24, 2009


So, I've been thinking a lot lately about things. Objects. Stuff we have, or want to have.

The seed for these thoughts, particularly in regard to my son and how I want to raise him to view "things", was planted a week or so ago as Jaden and I were driving through downtown Traverse City. I was looking for an office I had never been to before, and so intent was I on finding it that I did not notice a truck trying to merge into the right lane. I also did not notice that the left lane was closed. That makes me a bad driver, but that's not the point. :)

In the lane beside me was a brilliantly shiny, red, brand new Ford F-150, toting two guys who were apparently contractors of one sort or another. As my attention was elsewhere, the young man in the passenger's seat vocalized their need to merge into the left lane. He did this by shouting, very loudly, "Hey rust bucket, you have to let us in!"

This one comment, this one very brief moment in an otherwise wonderful day, really got under my skin. I did not care that they noticed the rust on my car. It has rust, and that is pretty evident. What bothered me was that they said such a demeaning comment in front of my beautiful baby. I know Jaden can't understand it, and is totally oblivious to the words and their meaning. Still, it bothered me.

It bothered me because a deluge of childhood memories came flooding in as the insulting words hit me. When my siblings and I were very young, our folks did not have a lot of money. We wore used clothing, we used food stamps, and I clearly remember standing with my mom in the unemployment line to collect the check, which we would need to have before going to get the few things that check would buy. I am sure things were much worse than we will ever really know, but the sketchy memories I have of those times are simply that we didn't have much of anything.

I remember going to school and often being teased about my clothes. I remember one incident in particular, which happened in second grade. I had brought one of the few dolls I had for show and tell. I was particularly proud of it because it was from Africa, courtesy of my Aunt Nita and Uncle Bill, who were mssionaries in Kenya. Somehow, I was not allowed to show and tell about the doll during regular show and tell time, so the teacher told me I could do so at the end of the day, going from student to student to make my presentation. I can see now that it was a classic "brush off", but as a child, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share.

Many of the kids thought my doll was pretty special, and then...I approached the class "rich girl", and a couple of her friends. She didn't want to hear about my doll, but did take the opportunity to tell me that my clothes were ugly. Until that moment, I didn't really know that my clothes were that much different than anyone else's, and certainly didn't know they were ugly.

I remember folding clothes with my mom that night, and as I folded one of my shirts, I said, "Mom, a girl at school today told me that my clothes are ugly. Is that true?" I remember how sad she looked. I can only imagine the reasons for her sadness, but I am sure that among them is the fact that someone was needlessly cruel to her daughter, over a set of circumstances that she and my dad were working very hard to overcome. The clothes I wore were only one piece of a very large and difficult puzzle, and I had been targeted for it by a girl whose parents apparently did not have the same struggles.

I don't remember what my mom said. I do remember, though, that the comment made by the rich girl (whose name is Brandi, of course) stole a bit of my innocence, and I never saw myself or the world the same way again.

How does this relate to Jaden? Well, because I don't want him to know that pain. I don't want him to ever be targeted because we do not have a lot of things, or the things we do have are not as nice as others might think they should be. I know the world we live in will be quick enough to rob him of his innocence, but I do not want our financial standing to be the thing that starts the ball rolling.

So, I am left wondering how I can raise Jaden to understand that having things is nice, and having nice things is nice, but it is not the be all and end all of our existence. We were made for more than that. How do I instill this in him to the degree that, should he ever face his own "Brandi", the comments won't sting as much? How do I teach him that being rich or being poor is, in so many ways, about a state of mind more so than a financial statement?

In the last year or so, I have been more financially destitute than I have ever been in my life. Cancer took a lot from me, not the least of which being my ability to support myself as well as I was once able to. Pain and fatigue is now a normal part of my every day life, and it makes working a regular job an unrealistic goal for now. So, I live on what I get from the government every month, and my annual income is several thousands of dollars less than what it used to be.
I remember when I was making more money, I wanted so many things, and was never happy even when I had them. Now, I rarely find anything that I simply "must have", and I find a lot of joy in the very simple things in my life, my beautiful son being first on that list. Financially, I am living well below the poverty line. In all other ways, I am incredibly rich.

How do I teach Jaden about this kind of wealth? I'm not sure. I hope and pray I can be an example to him of what it means to have true, recession-proof wealth, regardless of household income.

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