Thursday, March 2, 2006

If it ain't one thing, it's another...

My grandmother used to say that all the time when I was a child. It would seem things were always going wrong for us back then. I'm not sure I knew quite how bad off we were. How poor. How close we were from the "poor house," as my grandmother might have put it.

Trust me when I say I knew we were poor. The other kids at school certainly made me aware of that. And a few years ago, when we went back to my hometown for my mother's funeral, Scott made it painfully clear how poor I was. In fact, I think it was the first time I really knew exactly how poor I was. As we drove through the neighborhood where I lived from my birth until I left for college, Scott said, "Wow! You told me you were poor. You never said you lived in a slum."

I just managed to keep myself in a state of denial I think. I had to in order to maintain any shred of dignity as I walked the halls among the throngs of Izod and Polo clad yuppies-in-training. Somehow, despite burning up inside with humiliation because I felt less than human among what I thought of as rich kids, I managed to hold my own and not drown in my own anger and bitterness. I managed to pretend I was their equal and to be treated nicely by most of them. Because I was in the top 5% of my class academically (#15 out of 425), I managed to earn their respect and pleas for help with homework. I found a comfortable niche with a few other smart kids and lovable oddballs who didn't quite fit in. But in a happy way, not all dark and angsty. More John Hughes, less Columbine, than you might imagine.

Now, when I find myself repeating my grandmother's words, I'm saying it in reference to Brendan catching a cold on the heels of my own recovery from a virus. (And just when we almost have him sleeping through the night in his own bed.) Not because my mom wrecked the car and we can't afford to get it fixed. Or because our crazy white trash neighbors poisoned our dog.

I feel so lucky. How did I get from there to here? And why? Sometimes, I believe I'm the luckiest woman in the world. And I'm so thankful. I really, really am. My life, while it's not exactly what I imagined way back then, is so much nicer and more perfect than my mom's was, or my grandmother's, or anyone that I knew growing up. Well, except that really rich lady I babysat for.

And I love it. I love my life. But I wonder how I keep my son grounded. How do I keep him from turning into one of those kids I both envied and hated in high school?

We try not to spoil him, but by the standards I grew up with, it's already too late. He already has more toys than I had in my whole life and he has the fewest toys of all his friends. Seriously. He eats much better food than I did. And without a doubt lives in a nicer house than I ever imagined, and it's just an ordinary, 30-year old middle-class house in a middle-class subdivision.

I guess someday when he's old enough to understand, I'll sit him down and explain my origins and hope he understands. I'll continue to teach him about acts of charity and have him participate with me as we find ways to help others. Mostly, though, I want to instill in him a sense of respect for his fellow man, no matter how rich or how poor that other person is. In doing so, I hope, somewhere along the line, something my son does will make a difference in the life of someone who could use a hand.

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