This morning I went through my kids’ old Keen sandals and New Balance sneakers and Stride Rite shoes to donate to a shoe drive for kids in Upstate New York. My mom knew of a shoe drive for kids who don’t have shoes to wear to school. What a contrast: no shoes or cast off shoes vs. quality, (pretty expensive) shoes that every kid in my affluent Boston suburb will wear on the first day of school. This example illustrates how different life is where I live now vs. where I used to live.
I was the daughter of teen parents. I lived in a small trailer home from age 6 months-12 years on 20 acres of land in a very rural area in Upstate New York. I had plenty to eat, my mom sewed me nice clothes, our home was warm and I was brought up with a love of reading. The kids on my school bus route weren’t so lucky, they lived in run down trailer parks and small houses with junk throughout the yard. They ate free breakfast at school because they would go to school hungry otherwise. Some wore dirty clothes. Some had rotting teeth because their parents couldn’t afford dental care. Some were overweight because their parents didn’t know much about good nutrition. Some were in the lowest reading groups because they had learning issues or because their parents didn’t read to them at night or help them with their homework.
When I was about to enter high school, we moved to a big, brand new Colonial on lakefront property in a college town in Upstate New York, just a few miles away. Different school system. And what a difference in my classmates: children of doctors, lawyers, college professors, business owners and skilled tradesmen: wearing Benetton rugby shirts, Guess jeans and CB ski jackets. Not everyone had all of these things by any means, but there was a higher income level and a higher priority on education from the parents of these kids. After graduation, I went to the state college at home, joined a sorority full of affluent girls from Long Island (who made fun of the redneck townies). I moved to Boston in 1994 and have lived and worked here ever since.
A few years ago, when visiting my parents, my husband and I drove through my old bus route from elementary school and the extreme poverty just floored me. I am so far removed from this landscape now. But my parents aren’t- my mom works with charities and schools filled with kids who don’t have shoes to wear to school. Or who will likely repeat the cycle of poverty that many of my elementary school classmates are repeating.
I feel like I am surrounded by Republicans and Democrats who are so far removed from knowing anyone that really struggles. Hearing about cutting social programs bothers me, but what bothers me more is the lack of empathy for the less fortunate. Or the utter cluelessness, to put it more bluntly. There are plenty of people who take advantage of welfare or government “handouts” and the system needs fixing, but there are also plenty of children who deserve the same opportunities that our children enjoy. Even if they are poor.
The problem is that it isn’t the super rich that aren’t in touch with how the rest of the country lives, it is the comfortable, upper middle class who aren’t in touch. And I am one of them. Are you?