Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What money can't buy

It never occurred to me until recently that my parents didn't have a lot of money.

It wasn't that we were ever poor, per se. We always had food on the table and clothes on our back. My dad always worked full-time, and my mom almost always was working most days of the week. In fact, my parents, in what I come to realize more and more each year is amazing kindness, often were offering support to those friends of our even worse off than us-- like how they bought my best friend her prom dress after her father handed her a $20 bill.

This holiday, the Duke and his brother drove me back to my home town on their way back to see their family, stopping to spend the night at my family home. It is not that I wasn't aware that we grew up differently on the surface, they in a residential suburb of a big city, in a home with a big garage and soft carpets, me in a small town and smaller home filled with random antiques and curiosities. But, still, we'd grown up with the same morals, and the same sense of needing to work for your accomplishments, so the contrast never really stood out to me.

On their continued drive, the Duke's brother remarked to him that he had a newfound respect for me, seeing that I had accomplished so much coming from such a different environment. At first, this seemed a little absurd to me. My parents were always wonderfully supportive of me, always believed in me. How was I at all disadvantaged? But, with a little thought, I realized that, unlike a good chunk of my peers in graduate school, I came from a family in which no one went to graduate school. In fact, no one in my family went to college.

This same revelation hit me again while flipping through the program of the conference I recently attended. In the first section, there were several pages dedicated to the winners of the prestigious diversity awards, an award I had never considered applying to, since, as a Caucasian heterosexual woman of European background, I had never considered myself as fitting into the category of "population typically underrepresented in graduate school". I then noticed that "first generation college student" was also lumped into this category. I think I actually commented to my friend about how I found this odd and incongruent for me, as despite technically fitting into this category, I didn't feel as though I matcged the label of "underrepresented population". She told me that I should give myself more credit.

The thing is, I never thought of myself as having to bear a burden to go to university (well, except for financially, as I have paid for all nine years of university without help from anyone except scholarships, grants, and some student loans). It was just something I always wanted to do, and I did it. Nothing about my parents' lack of university diplomas felt like it slowed me down at all.

The other day, I was reminiscing with the Duke about how, at around the age of 9, I had desperately wanted to go to an autograph session with one of my favourite hockey players in a city an hour away on the weekend. I had been heartbroken when my parents had flat-out refused. The Duke asked me why they had declined, and I told them that this question had perplexed me greatly for years to come, as it seemed so out of character, and I was never really given a point blank answer.

Suddenly, I had a bit of an epiphany-- they didn't have the money to take me there. Then, all the pieces started to fall into place. The truck that was always breaking down when I was little. My mom's telling me that if I wanted Calvin Klein jeans, she couldn't buy me any back to school apparel. The girl who asked if I was poor because of my clothing. My sadness at not being able to participate in the summer theatre programs due to the triple-figured fees required, and the fact that, at the age of 12, I knew better than to ask. My paying rent for living at home in my first two years of college. Having to leave our rental house behind, in part because it was being torn down for subdivisions. My mom coming home, distraught, saying she'd been laid off.


The fact that I only realized this at 27, to me, testifies to me the important aspect of all this, though-- that it didn't matter at all. My parents loved me unconditionally, supported even my most ridiculous phases, and made for a beautifully memorable childhood and adolescence. On top of that, they took in troubled foster kids, and let friends live in our basement or even in a tent in our backyard in tough times. They taught my about morality, kindness, empathy and self-sufficiency. All of these are infinitely more valuable than a college fund or those designer jeans.

28 comments:

Sassy said...

That is wonderful. I have some similar memories, although mostly from when I was younger, as my parents financial situation improved exponentially as I grew up. Or so I have grown to realise. :-)

Crushed said...

I would agree, the support your parents give you in terms of being there for you is significantly more important than material wealth.

You were lucky, in the ways that really matter.

Mandy said...

We come from very similar backgrounds -- I started working when I was 13 and always had my own money, put myself through school, and don't regret a second of it. I wouldnt trade my up bringing for any materialistic goods.

Blaez said...

you brought tears to my eyes.

when i was growing up it was just me and my dad. i knew that we were not a typical family and my dad worked 3 jobs (at once) to keep our home and me in clothes and food on the table. i was left to my own devices alot and had a lack of parenting pretty much all the time.

i've paid rent to my dad after highschool and i supported me and him while going to highschool and working a fulltime job after school when he became disabled when I was 15. I can tell how embarassed he was to state our only income was what i was bringing in afterschool flippin burgers.

Our histories make us who you are. I'm proud that you went to college. I had the chance with scholarships and dropped out. I am happy to say that my baby sister Raquel is a 1st gen college student and she is graduating this may. I couldn't be more proud of her!

Where was I going with this? I don't remember... I'm sorry. But I hope some of this is interesting...

Blaez said...

ps, for those that might be confused, he had a wife for 2 years when i was in grammer school and they had a daughter... she took her daughter when they divorced. so add child support to the mix... ack!

Dan said...

Your background is similar to mine. No one on either side of the family had even graduated college before me. My dad hadn't even graduated high school. We literally lived on the wrong side of the tracks. And to this day, I am still the only one with a PhD.

We were poor, but like you, I never really realized it until much later. I got my first paycheck at age 12 and assumed everyone did. I felt sorry for those that didn't work because I wondered how they could afford to go to the movies, etc.

In the typical blindness of youth, I assumed that everyone was happy at home like we were. It was only later that I put the hints together to realize how some classmates were abused and maltreated at home. So like Mandy, I wouldn't trade my upbringing and childhood for anything.

Our parents did a good job!

Meri said...

This is a wonderful post.

Katelin said...

what a great post. i definitely can relate to this in that my family is definitely not on the high end of life but somehow i've made it through and never really realized it. that is always the biggest testament to your upbringing i think, if that makes any sense at all.

ablogofherown.wordpress.com said...

This was wonderful.
Your parents certainly did an amazing job. :-)

[F]oxymoron said...

This is an awesome post.

The older I become, the more I realize how oblivious I was to certain fiscal matters while growing up. I agree with you though... it is funny how you remember everything BUT the money issues when you grow up in a family that is heavily influenced by having NO money :)

insomniaclolita said...

amazing. the important thing is you get the supports, loves, and they raised you very well.

Jane said...

Your parents sound lovely.

My parents although they weren't fantastically rich, probably gave me more than I ever asked for.

I'm just realizing how blessed I was.

Hope said...

This was such a wonderful post. As if I didn't have enough reasons to respect and admire you already.

You rock, Princess. You really do.

Princess Extraordinaire said...

Your parents being there for you with regard to their love and support is inifinitely better then being financially flush....I am glad they were such a presence in your life.

Tough Girl 101 said...

Your story gives me faith that i can possibly have a kid that turns out okay.

The Odd Duck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
theoddduckling said...

Tears Ma'am.

Jacqueline said...

Your parents sound like wonderful people.

Surfergrrl said...

damn that got me teary-eyed. very sweet

EF said...

Although we knew it, I loved that our huge family functioned without much wealth...a true testament to parents. Now I can appreciate what they did for us...hence no tons of pets that we all wanted.

the frog princess said...

I feel the same way to a degree. Even though I know we weren't poor, my family definitely struggled at time when I was a kid--I remember in particular the look of pain that flashed across my parent's faces when they wrote the obscenely large check for my cheerleading uniform--and how very guilty I felt one semester later when I tentatively asked them if it was okay for me to quit, feeling guilty after they'd spent all that money.

(Fortunately, they said "yes"... and I did wear those sneakers for about 6 years, so I suppose we got our money's worth :) )

On one hand, I never really felt "deprived," but on the other, I wonder if that's what fuels my constantly purchasing frivolous things now, because the money is mine...

Yoda said...

While members of my family were all highly educated, when I was growing up, even the educated earned a pittance in India.

In fact, till I was 6 or something, we lived in a ONE bedroom flat. Of course, that was simply normal in India during those times ... I appreciate all the values they instilled in me.

Larissa said...

My family didn't have a lot of money either. But my parents taught me the value of generosity and serving others, which I am so grateful for!

jojo said...

Wow, that really struck a chord. With lots of people apparently. When you mentioned friends living in the basement, I almost started to wonder if you were a long lost sister or something. My parents always had some less fortunate friend or acquaintance living in the basement.

I had a wonderful childhood, but like you, I knew better than to ask for expensive things. I didn't want to make my parents feel bad for not being able to buy them.

I think I turned out great, partly because of the work ethic I learned and partly because I was truly loved.

Meghan said...

Great post, makes you think. I never realized we didn't have tons of money until during college when my friends parents paid their way through and I did mine w/student loans and bartending.

chasinglibby said...

lovely. it comes to be in bits and pieces, too - all the wonderful things my parents have done and continue to do for me.

Joy @ Big Time Fancy said...

Your parents sound WONDERFUL.

Mrs4444 said...

Sometimes, the greatest gifts do not come in the shiniest of packages with the greatest of fanfare. Glad you had such an important asset.