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.