Tag Archives: rich

The Harder I Work The Luckier I Get

Not that I expected there to be a part 2 to yesterday’s post but some of your comments got me thinking (a dangerous thing, for sure!)

As TKW pointed out, even though we were now living the big life, frugality was still ingrained in my parents minds. We went from a tiny bungalow in a working class neighborhood to a large 5 bedroom ranch house on an acre lot. Our new subdivision had homes with circular driveways, large ponds, and impeccable landscaping. It was quite a leap for us. I remember thinking we lived in the country (we didn’t) because our mailbox was on fancy post down at street level. The mail truck drove to each home. No more walking mailman sticking our mail in a tiny box to the right of the doorbell.

Maybe it’s genetic (I’m Scot-Irish, like Mel!) or maybe the early example my parents provided made an impression but my shame about the imitation Sir Jac jacket didn’t last long. I let the twitters at school die down, started wearing my beloved jacket again and guessed that all was forgotten. We were now known as “new money.” It was as if  ‘all was well with the world’ now that we had been rightfully labeled.

I’d like to think growing up where I did didn’t change me for the worse. I took some amazing things from my childhood to make me who I am today but there are some attitudes I held I’m not proud of. I remember once in college, talking on the phone to my sister at length. She had a few scholarship offers to some major universities and she needed advice. After I hung up the phone my roommate (who grew up in inner-city Detroit and was the first to attend college in her family) said, “Oh! Your sister is going to college?” with a genuine smile and excitement in her voice. I snootily replied, “Is she going to college? No – WHERE is she going to college.”

And by now, my parents attitudes had changed. It was now important to them that we date only the boys from “good” (financially well off) families. When I told them my plans of majoring in education they scoffed, “Well, you better marry well. You’ll never make any money in THAT profession.” My father (who I adored) actually said, “Why in the world would you want to teach? You’re so bright. You know what they say, Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach.” It was the first time I had ever heard that horrid phrase. I was crushed.

It took moving away from my home state and traveling 1500 miles across the country to cause a major shift in my attitude. 

Driving through West Virginia I saw a shack that looked like it could blow over with the right puff of wind. I wistfully began imagining what it would have looked like when someone lived there. Flowers outside the front stoop, fresh paint on the shutters, no trash littering the yard. Then, to my surprise, a man appeared at the doorway. Shirtless, holding a beer, scratching his belly. A TV was on inside. I was stunned that someone could be living there. That it could possibly have running water and electricity.

In Savannah, while on my way to work one day, I drove past a row of townhouses downtown. Every other one was boarded up. Gang graffiti decorated some of the boards holding it together. I was stuck at a light when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman emerge from one of the buildings, clutching her handbag, dressed beautifully in a pale pink suit, ivory silk blouse, well-worn but tasteful leather pumps. She raced to catch the bus that was stopped just ahead of me.

People actually live this way? Their dwellings could hardly be called homes. I realized even in my family’s poorest of times, when all of us crammed into one bedroom – we were rich.

I ended up teaching at a small private high school. I loved it. I made a modest salary. And that was OK with me. But the way I was treated by some of the parents was horrible. Less than. Below. It was like an amazing social experiment to me – observing these people who lived the way I was raised, but they didn’t know. I felt like a spy on a covert operation. I was just a teacher, aspiring to be just like them, they imagined. I attended a charity fundraiser and happened to be standing next to a parent from our school. We were looking over some of the silent auction items and I made an observation about the quality of a beautiful sweater set, complete with jeweled collar. She turned to me, stunned, and said, “That’s quite observant for someone on a teacher’s salary!”

My daughter went to the same school. One day, she came home and said, “Mommy? Are we poor?” Of course not, I told her. Why do you say that? She said, “Because we only have one TV.” I explained to her that we chose to only have one TV. We chose to live where we did. We loved what we did for a living – excess money is not important. What is important is doing what you love, having good health and a safe, warm place to lay your head at night. It was in that moment that I made sure we started volunteering at the local soup kitchen more regularly so my daughter could see what “poor” truly was.

I’m not sure a 6-yr-old cared about my explanation and soup kitchen example. She was more impressed with the nannies, TV in every room, and gorgeous homes that her friends lived in.

My husband works in health care. He practices Chinese Medicine (yes, I know, voodoo to some of you). I giggle when I hear some of your impressions out there, “He’s not a real doctor.” No, not in the Western sense. And we’ll certainly never live the lifestyle of a Western trained surgeon. But we live a very comfortable life. And I can afford to stay home with my children, which I love being able to do. And my kids can have music lessons and play on sports teams and attend private school.

I’ve ridden the financial roller coaster at various times in my life. And I used to feel guilty whenever I noticed that I was among “the haves.” I used to call myself blessed or lucky. But I am no more blessed or lucky than the man scratching his gut on the porch of that shack. Even being lucky is relative. My parents worked hard to provide the best they could for us. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am. My husband works very hard to afford the things we can afford. 

Samuel Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” We’ve worked hard to get where we are today. And hopefully, our example will encourage our children to do the same.

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Filed under How We Roll, Observations

Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy

Evidently this has been around for about 7 months. But it’s late night tv and I don’t do late night tv. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just can’t keep my eyes open past 10:30pm. And TiVo or DVR? Our DVR is already 91% full with junk we haven’t watched yet but think we’re actually going to make time for. So, no room for late night tv on our DVR.

Comedian Louis C.K. shares his take on our skewed sense of reality. Amazing things are going on all around us and we take them for granted. Along these lines I’m reading a great book called “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.” little heathens

And now that I’m reading this book it annoys me even more when people try to compare the times we’re living in now, this “great” recession, to the Great Depression. I realize times are very tough now. Tougher than we’ve seen it in a very, very long time. But our great country is still, even in these “hard” times, so incredibly blessed. I recently listened to a story on the BBC World News commenting on a woman trying to feed her family in a small village in India. All they had to eat were lentils with water. Every meal. Every day. A segment on 60 Minutes years ago interviewed America’s poor. They interviewed the poor of NYC. America’s poor didn’t have their own health insurance – but they had Medicaid. They couldn’t afford to go out to eat – but they had food stamps. They lived in NY City and they didn’t have a car, but they had cable. Before I’m blasted for my comments let me say I am very aware that people are struggling every day in this country. I’m just saying that maybe, just maybe, there are some of us out there that need to readjust our perception. What IS poor? What IS tragic?

And so you can blast me armed with a little background knowledge let me put it out there that both my husband and I are college educated. But we worked for our education, paying for it through student loans and part-time jobs.  My husband makes enough money so that I can stay home with our children. We have a nice home and two cars. But it wasn’t always this way. And for a while, I was a single mother, teaching at a private school, making just above poverty level. In fact, if my car had been 2 years older I would have qualified for food stamps. But I didn’t feel poor. When I was very young I grew up in a home where all four of us kids slept in the only bedroom and my parents slept on a pull out couch in the living room. We rotated four meals throughout the week: spaghetti, mac and cheese, spanish rice and hotdogs and beans. My grandparents had to help us out periodically and I remember so looking forward to going to their house to be able to eat something different and have fresh fruit! Even then, I didn’t feel poor.  

It’s our perception. The reality hides in Zimbabwe, Somalia, the ghettos of India. What most of us enjoy today many in the world view as a luxury: fresh fruit and vegetables, more than three outfits, two pairs of shoes. A book to read. A television to watch. A refrigerator to keep things fresh.

What we enjoy today IS amazing!

Go here (on YouTube) to see this very funny video. Evidently, if I post it here I’m violating some copyright laws. Oops! (And here I display a Blog With Integrity badge……slinking off very quietly now. Sorry!)

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Filed under Soapbox, Uncategorized