Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Response to "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense"

Several of my friends have posted this article on Facebook about why poor people make bad decisions.

There is so much backwards thinking in that article, but most of it boils down to this: Her premise is wrong. It's not being "poor" that causes people to make bad decisions.

You know that lie that people buy into that if they could just earn more money to buy more things, that *THEN* they'd be happy? She's bought into the same lie. Except that she's also bought into the lie that she can't ever earn enough or save enough to buy more things. Lie A + Lie B = one depressed, hopeless, bad decision-making person. She thinks that money buys happiness, and that because she doesn't have money, she can't ever be happy. So why not go out and blow some of the money you do have on cigarettes?

Except money doesn't buy happiness. And lack of money doesn't mean you can't be happy. And yes, you can change your situation.

For a genealogy project, my son interviewed an elderly relative, in her 80's, about what life was like when she was a child. She was poor. No hot water and her teenage brother picked coal from the mountain in order to heat the house poor. What struck me about that interview was that she kept saying, "We had it good." She talked about homemade candy distributed to neighbors on Christmas eve, community bonfires, running out to see her brother every day when he came home from work. She had a happy childhood.

I know a lot of people in the homeschool community who are living on single incomes, probably incomes comparable to what the author of this article is talking about, so that one parent can stay home with the children full time.

And they're living full, joyful lives.

They cook from scratch, they do their own home repairs, they buy Christmas presents, clothing, and toys used.

And they are happy.

They might not be able to afford vacations, but they take long hikes with their kids, learning about wild edibles, hunt for fossils, and bring along guidebooks in case they run into a plant or insect they don't recognize. They pack lunches and go on bike rides. They lay out under the stars with their kids and talk way into the night. They make their own playdough and spend hours making playdough train tracks and snakes and tunnels out of cardboard boxes that they push their cars and trains through.

They might not be able to afford cable tv, but it hardly costs anything to pop their own popcorn (air popped, not microwave bags--they're too expensive and not very healthy, either) and watch movies together, read a book as a family, or play Monopoly.

Because giving their children an awesome life is a priority, they don't go to a bar when they get an extra ten bucks. Instead, they save for a zoo membership or a children's museum membership so they can take their kids somewhere cool as many times as they want.

Sure, they get tired. Because even if their family membership lets them go to the zoo for free, zoo food is expensive! So mom stays up late the night before baking homemade bread to make low-cost, healthy sandwiches. She fills bottles and canteens with water and catches up on laundry so they have enough clean laundry to pack extra clothes. Almost every time she sits down to watch a movie, she's peeling potatoes or apples while she watches. Dinner takes twice as long to make because she has little helpers, and she considers food prep time to be a valuable learning experience and bonding time for her and her children. She spends time preparing healthy snacks instead of buying processed junk food, not only because junk food is expensive, but because she knows it's not good for her children and knows that in the long run, in can mean more trips to the doctor's office, which are expensive and can be often avoided by a healthy lifestyle.

I feed 7 people in my home for $250 a month. I cook almost everything from scratch and shop at surplus stores. I know I'm not the only one. I also know there are some doing it for less than I am. Yet I have noticed when I go into the homes of some of those very low-income people, the food in the oven makes their homes smell like heaven. And their kids are laughing and playing and they've spent all day with their mom and they are *HAPPY*.

I have no idea what the side rant about the roaches in this article is all about. I am cooking and preparing food all the time. Dishes are constantly being washed, but very rarely are all dishes caught up, because as soon as one project stops another one starts. Yet we don't have bugs. Not even when dirty dishes sit in the sink overnight. Yes, you have to do your dishes. But if you're cooking as frugally as possible, you will have to do the dishes because you'll need them to be clean in order to start the next project. No, cooking does *NOT* attract roaches. If you really do have roaches, you need to find the source and get rid of it, then do some deep cleaning. No, it's not hopeless and yes, you can get rid of them. Sure, it will take a ton of hard work, but it can be done. Just like you can create an awesome life for yourself.

Yes, I know many of our poor are single mothers. I'm not saying it doesn't suck to be a low-income single mom trying to do it all yourself: Earn a living, make a home, be a mother. All by yourself. Even if you're not a single mom, what is up with parents saying, "Well, now you're 18, and you're on your own! We're not responsible for you anymore. Good luck! I struggled when my babies were little and now you will too! Ha ha!" (Please, when you find yourself a grandparent, think back to how hard it was to be a young parent. Every parent and their children can benefit from much attention and help from truly GRAND parents. Be grand.)

This is why we live in a multi-generational home. So that my daughter who is a single mother of two doesn't have to go to work and leave her kids with strangers and see them only an hour a day, just to barely afford to pay her bills and keep food on her roach-infested table. My daughter did one semester of college and even though she had straight A's, when she saw how high her student loans were going to be, she quit. She doesn't want to go to college and then be obligated to work in order to pay loans off. Because working means not spending all day with her kids, and that's not what she wants. It's not what I want for her. Or for my grand kids. She is instead working on developing her online thrift storeso she can stay home with them. Sure, she could go out and get a part time job. But she saves as much as she'd earn by staying home and breastfeeding, cloth diapering, shopping frugally, helping with food prep, and doing cool projects with her kids.

If you're going to college and working two jobs and only seeing your kids an hour a day, something needs to give. Consider whether that college debt is really worth it. Consider whether you could quit one of those jobs and save as much or more than you earn at that job. And for heaven's sake, you don't need to have taken Home Ec to know how to cook. You google what you need to know, you search pinterest, you go to the public library and you check out cookbooks, you go to sites like What I Didn't Buy Today. Because you're not helpless and your situation isn't hopeless.

The "helpless and hopeless" and "I'm poor so I can't buy crap so therefore I can't have a happy life" victim mentality is the problem. So is the "If someone doesn't take me by the hand and show me what to do, I won't figure it out for myself" mentality. Not how much money you have. Because you can take any situation and find joy in it. You can make the best of any situation.

Actually, she sums it up in the article herself. "You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food."

Except here's the flaw in that thinking: Worthwhile is not dependent on having money. You are worthwhile because you're alive. Go celebrate that fact by taking your child outside and going dandelion hunting. Did you know you can eat dandelions? They're highly nutritious. Coat them in pancake batter and fry them. Make dandelion chains. Put some in a small glass for a pretty centerpiece on the table. Make a salad from the greens. And if you must drink, make dandelion wine.

Life is good. With or without a lot of money.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Playing with the children is not optional

There was excitement in the air today.

Just as I was saying that something I sold on ebay was paid for and I needed to get it shipped before the post office closed, Alisha said, "I made my first sale!"

She has been trying so hard to make her online thrift store successful. Today, she made her first sale to a person she didn't know.

So we were both getting orders ready, and Tripp went crazy. Now, Tripp is an awesome kid. But sometimes I think she should have named him Wild and Crazy. Because as we were running around getting our orders ready, with this total "Woo Hoo! Success!" vibe in the air, Tripp decided to join in the excited atmosphere and whip board games off the shelf and THROW them in the air. Like they were confetti at a wild party. Within minutes, we had Dominos, 3 versions of Yahtzee, Battleship, Thomas the Tank Engine Tic Tac Toe, Scrabble and Mancala scattered throughout the living room. We kept saying, "Tripp! Stop! We have to do this!"

Until finally, I realized that I was the one who had to stop. I went to Tripp, carried him out to his blocks, and started building a road. And pushing cars through the road. And looking at the little Zebra in his Peek a Blocks with him. I said to Alisha, "You get yours done, I'll play with him. When you're finished, we'll switch." Deep breaths.

Sometimes, you just have to step back and trust that All Is Well and it will all work out. Which it did. We went to the post office, the boys fell asleep in the car, and I sat in the car while Alisha cleaned up the living room.

We have so many projects going on. Trips to take, food to prepare, homeschool activities to plan, businesses to run, writing projects to complete... It can get overwhelming if we don't step at a time. Once I started playing blocks with him, the crazy throwing of board games stopped. He needed attention. And taking care of the children isn't something that should get done after everything else, if and when you have time. It is at the top of the To Do list. It is a Must Do. I met his needs FIRST and THEN everything else fell in place. Not only because it's easier to get through the day when there aren't Scrabble tiles and Yahtzee tiles raining down on you, but because these little people are important and honoring their needs is the right thing to do.


I used to dream of being the kind of grandma who baked cookies with her grandchildren. Today, as I cut up pumpkin to make puree, my 2 year old grandson was right beside me, very excitedly yelling “pumpkin!” (Except it sounded like, “Gumpy!”) He watched me take the seeds out of the “gumpy” (but declined to get his fingers messy and do any himself).

Even Storm, only 5 months old, got in on the action.

And I thought, “Here I am, living that dream of being a hands-on Grandma.” In my imaginations, I didn’t bake and cook with them EVERY day. Frequently, but not every day. But I’m so glad I get to do it. I enjoy them more than I can say.

The flip side is that I intended to do all kinds of projects today, and what I actually accomplished was...making pumpkin puree and making dinner. I cleaned up messes, took them out to play in the snow, held them while Alisha took a shower, and did laundry.

I got frustrated that I didn’t get to tackle more of my many planned projects because slowing down and going at the kids’ pace so they can be involved in your life is, well, slower.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because going full circle back to my third paragraph, I enjoy them more than I can say. (And sometimes, in the moment, when I think I'm finally going to get caught up on the dishes and the toddler pushes the chair up to the sink and says, "Please" and takes over my dishwater with his matchbox cars, I have to remind myself of that).

Usually, I stay up later than Alisha and the kids, and sleep in later than them. That gives me time to spend with my teens, who also stay up late. It also gives me time to catch up on things that went a little slower during the day because of my delightful helpers.

So tonight, Alisha took the boys up to bed, and I sat back on the couch, feet up, getting into “Grand kids are in bed so now I can relax” mode, and Tripp came down the steps. Wearing his robe and nothing else. “Hi, Tripp,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Lunch,” he said.

“Lunch? You want to eat lunch?”

“Yes!” he said.

“Right now? You want lunch right now?”

“Yes!” he said.

“Do you want mashed potatoes and sauerkraut?”

“Yes!” he said.

And so I made him lunch. Even though I Did. Not. Want. To. Get. Off. That. Couch. Because I am blessed that he’s here, and that I get to be so involved in his life. And because how cool is it that a tiny little guy can go get his grandma for “lunch” any time he wants?