I found myself on the phone for a very long time tonight. Normally I avoid the phone like the plague; calls go unanswered and unreturned, unless I can convince Michael to take care of them. Tonight was a little different for a number of reasons, and I found myself ranting in harmony with the person on the other end about poverty, and parenting, and parenting while in poverty.
It sucks, y’all. It just sucks. I don’t really have some eloquent way to present my feelings on this subject, because they all come down to, “It fucking sucks.” It sucks because people treat you like shit when you’re poor, but they treat you like double shit when you’re a poor parent. It sucks because when you’re a poor parent, every single cent goes to the child — which is not something you ever regret or resent, but it is something that makes your own life very barren. You never have anything pretty. You never do anything fun. You never eat food that is really, really good. You are never, for a minute, free of crushing stress. You are never free of guilt.
It sucks too because when you’re a parent, you are somehow expected not to have negative feelings. If you say things like, “It sucks to never have pretty things,” you are castigated for… what? I don’t exactly know. People say things like, “Well, then you shouldn’t have had a child!” As if that’s the point. As if that’s the problem. As if you are such a piece of shit that you might really have been suggesting that you resent your own child. As if you are too stupid to know that kids cost money, or too irresponsible to put them first. As if you just up and decided to be poor.
I am not stupid, or resentful, or irresponsible. I am just tired, and overwhelmed. I am just sad. I just hate living in an ugly apartment, scrambling to pay the bills, always frantic that my efforts will not be deemed good enough and my child will be taken away. I now have a friend whose child was taken away, just because she (the friend) is poor. That’s the only reason. When you’re poor, it becomes okay for people to use everything, even your child, as a weapon against you. When you’re poor, it becomes okay to call you lazy, to call you names, to treat you with contempt. When you’re poor, it is always your fault.
I hate it. I hate knowing that I can’t buy Christmas presents for Connor this year. I am the most anti-Christmas person you will ever meet. This has destroyed relationships for me before, and yet I still feel like complete and utter shit because I can’t spend even a dollar on some piece of shit Matchbox car to give to my son on December 25th. I certainly can’t buy him the big remote-control monster truck he wants, or the blue helicopter, or the books, or the train set, or the backpack, or the goldfish. Or anything. I haven’t yet been able to buy him a coat, so we don’t go anywhere when it’s cold. My husband and I spend two weeks out of every month without food so that we can afford a full month’s worth of food for Connor, and even then we can’t always buy things he likes. We can’t take him anywhere fun, because we can’t afford gas and we can’t afford to live within walking distance of fun kid stuff.
“Well, just get a damn job, then!” Sure, okay. I will rearrange the economy of this entire town so that there will be a job available to me that meshes with my husband’s schedule (we can’t afford daycare), is something I’m qualified to do, and is within walking distance. I will give up the dream I’ve had since I was two of building a writing career. Obviously, since I chose to have a child, I gave up all my other choices forever. This is what I chose, right? When I chose to have my (bright, beautiful, worthy) son, I also chose to never wear nice clothes or eat good food. I chose to be treated like shit by people who have never known anything but luxury. I chose to have my situation reduced into ridiculously simple formulas and platitudes, like, “If you just get yourself out there, you can do better!” or, “If you’d start saving your money, you’d never find yourself strapped!”
I kind of want to end this with a big “fuck you,” but that’s not even the point. The point is just that it sucks, and I hate knowing that it’s happening to other people too. I hate knowing that a wonderful kid was taken from an equally wonderful mom because of money. I hate that being a good parent is synonymous solely with material goods, like this: # of fancy toys * proportion of designer outfits/size of bedroom = parenting status. I hate thinking this could happen to me, and I really fucking hate knowing nobody will listen when I say that poor parents are just as good as rich parents.