Thursday, September 4, 2014

What is enough?

I dreamt last night that I had a large sum of cash; so big it would not fit in my hand. I remember feeling anxious that I did not know what to do with it. It sorta flopped all over the place in the way I imagine such a volume might. Bills scattering around my feet. I felt clumsy with so much. I know I had a conversation where I told the nondescript presence that I did not need this much but only needed enough.

I woke this morning wondering what enough is?

This seems to be a life long question for me. When I was a child I knew that we were poor. Not poor in the we don't have enough money to buy food. Poor in the way that it was a struggle to manage unforseen expenses. Poor in the way that all my classmates knew I got free lunch. Poor in the way that my mother could not afford the more expensive shoes or the shirts and socks for our school uniform mid school year. Five turtle necks, five pair of knee socks, let the hem out on the one uniform in September; make them last for 9 months no matter how much the sleeves shorten or the elastic wore out on the socks.

My mother worked full time as a diet techniciam at the local hospital. My dad did not pay child support. My mom supported two children. I have these memories of her sitting at the kitchen table with a coke, a cigarette and this wide ruled pad of paper. She excelled in addition and subtraction. We knew better than to bother her at these times.

I remember her bitterness after a visit to the welfare office when the worker asked her where my brother and I got our new winter jackets. My grandparents had bought them. I remember her honest fretting when our medicaid got cut during the Reagan years.We stopped going to the dentist after that. I remember trips to the surplus food store. It was a real treat to get a whole big box of orange cheese.

I remember her pride at paying off the lay away on our bedroom furniture.

From my childhood recollections I think, well, I knew we were poor but we had enough. My mom had pride but she did not let that get in the way of what she needed to do to take care of her kids. We received some services: foodstamps, medicaid, section 8. My mom had family to help out. My grandparents provided more than I am even aware off. My aunt was the cool aunt who gave us extras. Extended family were always giving us bags of produce from their garden. Their were friends who provided childcare.

Is this enough? Sure we were provided for. My mom went through a lot of stress. She put up with a job that was a constant headache. I seem to remember she also put up with some sexual harrassment. She was lonely and bitter at my father for leaving her for another woman. She was angry to be the only parent too. Though she would never admit it.

Oddly, it was never a driving motivation for me to have more than my mother. Perhaps if it were then I would probably have finished college. I would have followed my grandmothers advice and found “ a good factory job.” Regardless, I really have no regrets. I always had a job, I always paid my rent and I always ate.

And often I struggled.

After I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I started reading about the simplicity movement. If I couldn't find a job that would pay me a bazillion dollars I could at least need fewer of those dollars to get by. I livd in Portland. I had cheap rent, no car, a garden. I had pretty low overhead. If I couldn't have a bazillion dollars I could at least have some time to do the things that brought meaning to my life. I read Duane Elgin, Joe and Vicki Robinson and the Nearings. I grew a garden, learned to knit, used my library librally

I did not have a lot of money but I did have the other important thing. Time and better health as my MS symptoms receded.

And then I married. Marriage does provide one thing, some economic security. I worked at home growing our food. I provided an economic benefit to our household. And now,well, we eat, I can pay my mortgage. Compared to 2 years ago when I was not working, unhappily married and shell shocked by the impending changes. We get by. But still we struggle. Not enough work, not enough pay. I find ways to need less money but still sometimes the car does not understand this.

Today, there are workers from all over the country who work for fast food restaurants striking for a living wage. If you are going to work real hard shouldn't you be assured that you income covers your basic expenses. Shouldn't a job provided enough?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back, I've always loved your writing and am in not the same boat but the sailing same seas of MS, motherhood, and tight budgets. I remember toothbrushes loosing their bristles and old boy jeans as a child. Best wishes!