Poor Kids Are Awesome

A few days ago my son, Jack, said “growing up poor was awesome.”

I pressed him to explain what the hell he was talking about.  As far as I’m concerned being poor is not awesome, it’s not even kind-of-cool. Being poor sucks and ranks right up there with having the chicken pox.

First, I want to state, we have never been poor.  When Jack and Mary were little, we were clinging to the lower end of middle class but we were never poor.  Jack and Mary however, love telling stories about their glorious, impoverished, redneck childhood.

When they were little, we never went on vacations. Instead, we spent almost every weekend in the summer playing in the creek not far from the house. I would pack up their friends, Bryce and Kay, some cheap red sodas and crackers.  They would slide around on the little rock water fall for hours and we would catch army’s of crawdads, then then turn them all loose.

One winter we couldn’t afford to go to the skating rink in Little Rock so we tried to make one in the yard with a giant piece of plastic and the garden hose. It didn’t work but we laughed a lot.

All their clothes came from Wal-Mart. Until Jack was in 6th grade. The whole family was ridiculous proud of his first expensive pair of  shoes.  Alex paid $80 for a pair of And One basketball shoes. The entire team was impressed. Back then, it was a really big deal when anyone at Fountain Lake got a new pair of Nikes much less And Ones.

Ok, we were pretty broke most of the time. The kids never qualified for free lunches but I do remember, after church we would roll through the Burger King drive through and get one happy meal. One child got the burger and one got the fries and they split the drink.  A two happy meal day was a really big deal.

At least once a year Alex had to pawn his 9 mm hand gun so we could buy school supplies (those cost 120 for both kids) or buy Christmas presents.  But we always paid off the loan and and got his gun back. Good news now Alex has an arsenal and he hasn’t pawned anything in years.

But all their  friends were in the same shabby economic party barge so they didn’t realize just how broke we were. We had food, electricity and a lot of fun. I grew up wealthy so at least once a week I had a meltdown but the truth is the kids were really, really happy and well adjusted.

The really great thing about kids who grow up on a shoe string….they are  very easy to impress. Great big malls, elaborate Christmas lights, concerts and nice shoes make them so happy.

Kids who grow up with money, in big cities, are rarely in awe…of anything. They’ve already seen better. But poor kids are pretty excited about everything, they’re amazed, the recognize the beauty, they marvel and smile.

My youngest son, Sandor, still says, “Oh my goodness” when we walk into the Hot Springs Mall at Christmas time.  And our Mall is tiny, but Sandor who is nine, thinks its magical. (And yes, he really says “oh my goodness”, he also plays football so don’t make fun of him.) Imagine how he’ll react when he sees Rockefeller Center or Big Ben.

Maybe Jack and Dolly Parton are right. There is a noble magic to growing up almost poor.  I just hope that sense of wonder and awe  stay with my kids for the rest of their lives.

The Power of A Crazy Mom

A cool crazy mom can be a beautiful and terrifying woman. An inspired moment of insanity can remind your children who’s really in charge and that’s a lovely thing. As parents, sometimes we work so hard at remaining sane we forget the importance and power of crazy. As a result four and five year old kids push us around like grocery carts.

We want our children to be happy and healthy and normal and we don’t want them to be spoiled or mean. So we try to be civil and kind and patient…all the time. Maybe that’s not a good thing.  Becaue we don’t want our kids to be nuts so we avoid doing anything that suggests crazy behaviour is ok.

My ex-husband used to call it “the rich glint of lunacy.” I still love that line.

Remember some of the most inspired and brilliant men and women of science, art and literature were toe sucking crazies. So, maybe we shouldn’t down play it’s importance too quickly. But before you start throwing crazy behaviour around like bird seed, remember a little bit goes a long way.  If you’re crazy all the time everyone, including your children, will just shrug, dismiss and avoid you.  They will be unfazed and unimpressed, no matter how off the wall your actions are.  A person who is constantly crazy becomes  boring and bothersome.  (Trust me I know this from first hand experience).

One day I took my children, Jack and Mary, to Burger King. I think Jack was five and Mary was four. We rolled through the drive-in and got two Happy Meals. Back then Happy Meals were a big deal because I was single and really broke. Both the kids were in the back seat. They ripped into the paper bags to check out their toy. ( Nobody opened the toy because I had a rule. They had to eat every bite before they could pull open the plastic bag with the toy inside.)

In the exact same instant, Jack and Mary both started whining and complaining. There was a chorus of “Oh man, what a rip off! We have this toy. This stinks. I hate Burger King.”  This was followed by much sighing and groaning that seemed to go on and on and on.

I could feel my throat constricting with annoynace, disapointment then anger. “Ok, put all the stuff back in the bag,” I said cheerfully. 

“Ok cool!” they started shoving their Happy Meals back together.

“Even the drink?”

“Yup, put it all in the bag,” I smiled into the rear view mirror. “Hand them up to me.”

They put the still warm bags of food into my hand, happy because I was going to return to Burger King and get new toys. A traffic light turned red and I stopped then  I rolled down my window and threw the bags out.

Jack and Mary both gasped but did not speak.

I rolled up the window. “Don’t ever act like that again. Don’t you dare whine about a Happy Meal toy. You understand?”

“Yes ma’am” was all they said and we drove in silence.  Once home, I fixed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

They never whined or complained about a Happy Meal or fast food toy again.

Better still, they shared this story over and over and over  with their younger brother and sister, because it’s kind of scary and thrilling and dramatic. There was no yelling, no abuse, no threatening.. just unmitagated volatility.  And I can not remember a time when any of my children have ever complained or whined about a Happy Meal toy since that summer day nineteen years ago…

Sometimes, a single  act of insanity has lasting power and tells kids there is a line that should not be crossed. And if  they do cross that line, they might be surprised by the results.

Tell me what you think about the story or Happy Meals! Leave a comment or e-mail me at hampoland@gmail.com

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