Monday, March 16, 2009

I am one of THOSE people

I grew up in the ghetto. We were dirt poor. Although my childhood experiences have helped to shape me into the person I am today, I look back on those times with anger and disgust. I hated never having money to buy new clothes. I hated babysitting my little brothers every night while my mother was at work. I hated using food stamps at the grocery store. I hated taking public transportation. But more than anything, I hated being judged by other people because of what I didn't have.

Despite the odds, I lifted myself out of poverty. I graduated from college, married a great guy, worked as an elementary teacher, moved to a decent neighborhood, and gave birth to two beautiful babies. And I have to say, the grass is definitely greener over here. I love my life. But now, in my head, I often find myself stuck between two worlds. I used to be poor, so I can certainly relate to the problems/prejudices these people face. Yet at the same time, I watched my mother squander away her welfare money, with little regard for bettering herself or her children. But despite my mother's actions, I find myself stubbornly sticking up for the trashy people down the street. Maybe their 14 children are playing outside unattended because mom and dad had to work all night? Maybe their roof looks like it is getting ready to cave in because mom and dad can barely afford to put food on the table?

A few days ago, our electricity went out. I wasn't sure if a fuse had blown or if the entire neighborhood's electricity went out. I took the kids to a neighbor's house to ask. The elderly man invited us inside, while he explained what had happened. A squirrel had chewed on an electrical line. Damn squirrels! Anyways, our neighbor began telling me about a borough hall meeting he had attended the night before. Apparently, our city is tearing down a vacant shopping center in the middle of our town. In its place, they are going to build low-income housing. Our neighbor was very upset about this news. And although I hate to admit it, my first reaction was, "uh oh."

Where was this feeling of dread coming from? Trust me - I do not think that I am better than a person with less money. And we are not rich by any means. We clip coupons and skip the name-brand products. We can only afford to eat out once or twice a week. I shop almost exclusively off of clearance racks. But we certainly don't struggle to get by either. We can comfortably afford our mortgage, while still shopping at Whole Foods and Target every week.

Perhaps the "uh ho" feeling regarding the low-income housing is tied to my desire to distance myself from my childhood experiences? Or perhaps I am turning into a pretentious asshole. I don't want to be a pompous jerk, and I do not want to judge other people based on what they have. So Mr. or Mrs. low-income housing, I am officially welcoming you to my neighborhood.

15 comments:

Christy said...

No, I don't think you're one of those people at all! I think you should be so proud of yourself for creating this great life for you and your family, and for writing such an honest post. And good for you for welcoming this new housing development to your town!

Eva said...

I think there's more to it than that. It's just plain bad for you--your safety, your property values, your schools--for low-income housing people to move in. Not wanting your life or your kids' lives, or lifestyles, threatened doesn't make you a bad person.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

You are not a pretentious asshole! You are honest. With others - sure - but more importantly with yourself.

Now is NOT the time to judge others. But it is the time to be smart about money and investments. So it's normal to think "uh oh" when low income housing comes to your neighborhood. It drives down home values. Not a nice thought - but a true one. So it's okay to not be thrilled about low income housing developments.

Low income housing also tends to bring more crime to neighborhoods (more unsupervised teenagers, more people who live on welfare checks and have more time during the day to pursue their side jobs in drug sales, etc.). Again - not a nice thing to talk about. But true.

BUT - there will certainly be be people living in that new development who do the best that they can with what they have. People who want more for their children and dream of them living on the greener side one day. And for sure there will be a least one girl tired of food stamps and unpaid babysitting who will one day move on to bigger and better things.

Danielle said...

I think you are being honest. I grew up poor but we were not trashy and I think there is a difference. My parents still cared about the way the house looked and the way we all looked even when we didn't have a dime to spare. I say good for you for welcoming them into the neighborhood. You can't judge people based on their SES.

Clare said...

what a great blog post, thank you for sharing such an important part of your life with us. I don't blame you for feeling that way about the low income housing. So much negative can come along with it. hopefully it will turn out alright!!

amanda said...

u are far from being a pompous jerk.


i remember when my old school got a new low income apartment building across from their target (mind you our families lived in half million and million dollar homes) people freaked out. it was awful.

but those new students, as much as they had to fight to "fit in" brought a whole new world to all our lives.

Marni's Organized Mess said...

I know those feelings...

Mary said...

I certainly don't think you're a pompous or pretentious asshole. Your reaction is normal and natural.

anymommy said...

Honesty isn't pretentious. You examined your feelings and worked them through. I wish I were always so thoughtful!

Mama Kalila said...

Not a pretentious asshole at all... If you were you wouldn't be second guessing your thoughts on the subject and why. You wouldn't have written this.

Misguided Mommy said...

man. i used to be like you too. i grew up in a trailer with nothing. i've been in the cheese line. we've been on welfare. and chris, i'd be lying if i said, i'd feel a little weird about a low income housing development coming in near me. honestly, i think there are some people who are poor but they try so hard to over come, and then i think there are people who are poor because they are blowing it on drugs, and don't give a shit about finding a job, or creating a better life. when i think projects i always think of the second type of person, i guess because my experience with the family i had living in them, was all drugs, no jobs and lying bullshit.

i'm proud of you for all that you have accomplished though hon!

Dana said...

way to go for welcoming others into your neighborhood!!! you're doing the right thing..

PS- Damn squirrel

dani said...

you are fine, christy!!!
i hope your power has been repaired as well... damn squirrels:D
love,
dani

Rachel said...

I think you have come so far as a person and woman. And despite our financial comfort-i worry too.I think some people are just those type of people-worrying about stuff but I also think your stuff when you were little probably makes it worse as well.

Jiff said...

I would be the same way as your neighbor. Why? Well, one...it brings down your property value. Two, it brings crime.

I too grew up poor, not quite foodstamps poor...but we were just a hair above that. I don't look down on people for not having money or nice clothes... I look down on them for doing/dealing/making drugs, the crime rate they increase, the rundown appearance of where they live (you can live in a shack, but keep it clean...don't have to pile trash everywhere), and the loud obnoxious screaming they do at each other in the middle of the night.