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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The things that change a child

I am sitting here watching Cinderella Man. I'm sure most of the western hemisphere has seen it so I won't bore you with the details. What struck me more than anything is their poverty.

I forget sometimes how poor I used to be. The fact that while I was in high school and lived with my father who was firmly in the middle to upper class helped to dull the memories of the years just prior to that, the years from the time my parents divorced until I hit 9th grade which was about 7 years or so.

What I remember the most is the fear. My mother and I lived for 4 of those years in what could only be described as a barrio in Covina, CA. In the years since I exited CA, the town that we lived in as well as much of the surrounding areas have given themselves over almost entirely to gangs and bad neighborhoods. Well, this one was well on its way while I was there back in the late 1980s. The apartment building I was in was a four-plex. We were on the top floor in the front. I was a latch key kid from age of 10 because my mom did not have anyone to stay with me from the end of school until she got home. We were at various times without a car. We walked to the grocery to get the food that we could afford. One year, and I will never forget this, we had to drag our Christmas tree home down the street from the front of the grocery store because the car was broken again. But we had a tree. The problem was that my mom kept losing jobs. They would do a layoff and since she was the last hired, she was the first to go. I remember this one Friday night her coming home to tell me she had been laid off again and I got so afraid. What if our landlord kicked us out? I knew my dad paid child support but it did not even cover the rent. What were we gonna do? I don't recall what job it was or how long she was out of work, but that night is forever sewn into my memory bank because it helped to shape me.

Finances terrify me. Loss of work makes me so afraid. Leaving my job after the storm without a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks was the biggest leap of faith I think I have ever taken. I look around now and I am stunned and humbled and blessed when I see all that we have. Because I KNOW how easily it can all go. I remember our second hand furniture and I remember never feeling comfortable having kids come over because I was ashamed. I was ashamed of our apartment and our neighborhood and how scary it was. We had to literally live behind closed doors because to open the door and let a breeze in through the screen or to let the windows open is to invite trouble. There were drugs all around me, but I know now that I was not terribly aware of it. I lived in books and stories. I got swept up by the Sweet Valley High series of books and that is where my chosen home was. Thankfully, because I think that helped me to keep some innocence and sanity.

One of the ideas that literally just came to me in the last year or so is why my father did not do more. He was legally obligated to pay my mother $300 a month in child support, but he knew how we lived. He picked me up every other Friday night for the weekend. I guess because I was clean and the clothes I had on were always clean, he was able to turn a blind eye to what was my reality for 26 days a month. I don't understand how he did not voluntarily give us more. There is a very good chance that he may have tried and my mom said absolutely not, but I'll never know because I am definitely not gonna ask.

My hubs and I make a nice living. When I see our tax returns every year, I am pleasantly surprised by what we earn. But the hubs will never get it. He will never get how close I was to welfare. How I lived my life in a neighborhood that looked just like the movie "Colors." He lived in a nice little home and his dad made a nice living and there was always work and the bills were always paid and there was always food. Unless you live that existence for a while as a child when you are truly powerless and have to rely on the adults around you and even now the adults look terrified, you can never really understand how hard it is to relinquish control. That is a part of me that he just will never get. I do know that I have equipped myself as an adult to hopefully never be in that position again. That is my way of dealing. I have made sure that even if the hubs lost his jobs tomorrow, I could go out and get a better paying job than I have now and be okay. That has to always be an option for me. I always have to know that my future is in my hands, not the hands of anyone else. Out of that fear came resilience and drive. I guess that is a good thing, but it was a long, scary road to go down. It is a road that will never leave me. It is a road that no child should ever have to go down.

Elizabeth at 10:03 PM



at 10:59 PM Blogger TBG said...

I was never poor growing up but my mom was in her early 20's when she was single with 2 little ones, she had no child support and had dropped out of college, her husband had left her and the kids. She at one point was on welfare. She will never ever forget it. Neither will my brother or sister. She eventually married my dad and he did extremely well. She was definitly the woman behind his success.

I always had a reality of that you could always lose it all and never to take it for granted. I still look at it that way and am grateful for all that I have!

at 11:10 PM Blogger Katie T said...

Although I don't know you and you don't know me - when I read your blog I felt like you were writing directly out of a page in my life...
That struggle and that fear is something that is forever with you and you've done good to make it a stepping stone for your success. It does make you more appreciate of what you have.

at 11:10 PM Blogger MMC said...

hugs. I can so relate.

My parents divorced when I was less than a year old, and my dad was supposed to pay $300/mo. in cs for both of us. Sometimes he paid, many times he didn't. Not because he couldn't, but because he had other things he'd rather do with that money. We never went without essentials b/c of my grandparents, but I always knew where the $ came from. I never asked for a dime, and had jobs from the time I was 12. When I was in HS the state took him to court for back cs, and I will never forget him whipping out the checkbook and writing a check for $5600 then and there. People think kids don't understand, but oh, they do.

And Choc. Soup is a kids store, clothes, etc. Cute stuff.

at 8:16 AM Blogger The Kept Woman said...

We were never destitute growing up or anywhere near but my parents did scrimp and save. I thank them to this day for instilling financial awareness in me but I still have an extreme phobia of becoming homesless.

at 8:52 AM Blogger liberalbanana said...

I'm glad that you made it out of those times with a good head on your shoulders. You learned from it and now, if you have your own family, your kids won't have to have those same fears. And you can be in control now! Good for you.

at 9:51 AM Blogger Tammy said...

What a great post. We grew up pretty much the same way. We always lived paycheck to paycheck and I even remember my mom scraping together change to go to the store to get eggs and milk. Hopefully, my children will never have to witness that.

I lost my brothers as a teenager. The hubbs will never understand the pain I felt and still feel to this day - along with the constant fear that someone else I love will be ripped away from me. He's never lived it. I'm glad for him, but I do wish he could sympathize more.

Sorry. Didn't mean to hijack your blog. :)

at 10:08 AM Blogger Shell said...

My Dad didn't make a lot of money but what he did make he put into a good house in a good neighborhood. We went to the schools in my small town and everything was fine growing up. We never took vacations, had designer clothes or shoes or anything like that but at the time I didn't know what I was missing so it was fine.

I was about 2 1/2 years ago unemployed for about a year and a half before I got the job where I'm at now. That was the most difficult thing I ever went through. I hated going to the pawn shop and selling jewelry I bought when I was younger with money just so I could eat or pay the electric bill. It was horrible. I don't ever want to do that again.

at 10:46 AM Blogger Peanutt said...

Wow, that was a great post! I'm sorry for the hardships you had to endure when you were growing up! My girlfriend just got a divorce and her children now have to worry about losing the roof over her head b/c her ex doesn't pay her anything and it seems as if he doesn't care either...how someone can be like that I will never know...and its sad to see so I just help her out in any way I can. I'm glad you have a good life now!!!!

at 10:54 AM Blogger Fuzzball said...

I am so proud of you and I'm proud that you're my friend.

at 12:37 PM Blogger Shan said...

Wow. Even though my situation growing up was not as extreme as yours, I can still relate. My parents did not handle finances well, and the large majority of their fights were about money. It used to worry me sooooo much as a child, and to this day, I still worry about their finances. Like you, my husband's family never had problems like that growing up, so he will never fully understand my worries (past or present). Also like you though, I am so thankful for all my husband and I have, and for the fact that we don't have to worry how each and every single bill will get paid. It's definitely a nice feeling, considering all the uneasiness I've felt in the past.

at 2:42 PM Blogger Pissy Britches said...

I hear you girl.
My childhood was very similar.
My mom never had a dime extra for anything b/c she couldn't get my Dad to pay child support and he was so poor I can't even explain. I always thought as a child that growing up and trying to make it on my own would be the hardest thing EVER and that I would always be poor.
To my suprise my life has not turned out that way but I know it is b/c of the choices that I made to make it happen and I also know it could be taken away anyday.
I will never forget what it was like to have nothing.

at 3:11 PM Blogger Dixie said...

Sounds alot like my story. Only my dad didn't pay child support. Which would be part of the reason why I won't speak to him. I remember nights going to bed without supper. It deffinately molds you as a person. Teaches you not to take things for granted, that is for sure.

at 6:29 PM Blogger Nap Queen said...

Damn, you have been through so much. You should be very proud of yourself and how you turned out. Good for you :) I'm happy to "know" you!

at 5:07 PM Blogger patti_cake said...

Damn that was a very powerful post. I especially like how books influenced your life


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