Tonight we had roast beef.
I was determined to roast SOMETHING, seeing as it was a damp chillier than I would like day, and these are the days when roasting something seems appropriate.
Dinner went how it usually does: the table is always a little bit sticky, food or drink is always in some form of falling to the kitchen floor, and I don’t sit down very much.
After dinner I was racing to clean up (I run a very tight ship in the evenings around here) and Katia and Hunter were playing around me. As Ron entered the kitchen from the back porch, Katia blocked him like the Grumpy Old Troll from DORA THE EXPLORER who lives under "the bridge":
“You can’t come through unless you have money.”
To which my husband replied, “I don’t need money to come through here.”
“You can’t come through unless you have MONEY.”
Well, suffice it to say, if this were truly the case, my husband and I would be separated by a kitchen length and a tiny three year old for years, because neither of us have any money.
I could see the gears turning in my husband’s head.
“No one needs any money to come through here.”
“Sure you do. You need some money.”
“Anyone can come through here. It doesn’t matter if they have money or not.”
And I could see gears turning in my daughter’s head, too, trying to figure out exactly what my husband was really talking about. She’s a sensitive three. While she doesn’t always understand the plurality of a situation, she is in tune enough to realize plurality does indeed exist.
“Daddy means any one can walk through here.”
I didn’t want to use the term rich, because the can of worms that could open would be just too large to put back together as I was trying to wipe gravy, cucumber, and ice cream off the tile floor. But the moment felt charged and deserving of more time than someone who is wiping gravy, and cucumber and ice cream before dreaded bedtime would probably have at her disposal.
And I guess the moment was charged by the fact that this is most definitely America, and it is an America where the promise of prosperity has withered before everyone’s eyes, including those who can shop at Whole Foods, buy enough to last a week without having to go to a Stop and Shop and STILL not blink at the bill.
I think the promise was already pretty crinkly for me, since my family experienced its own “recession” in 1989, when my parents separated and there wasn’t enough money for my mother and my sisters to live “on our own”. I watch the Today show do spots on multi generational households and think, yeah, that was us, but without the camera crew, the experience was one that felt more as if we were the homeless relatives come to stay during the 1930s, than one filled with festive family dinners and walks with Grandma and Grandpa through the subdivision. While we’d always been scholarship kids at each of our private schools, my sister’s and I did not feel the real blister of “no money” until those years in the late eighties and early nineties when we all of a sudden qualified for food stamps (which we used) and free school lunch (which, being fifteen, I would have rather eaten my own hand off than used) and shopping for school supplies became the dreaded ordeal it remained for all of us for decades to come.
When we finally were able to move out of my grandparent’s house, while I was elated, I was all of a sudden hyper aware of how much things cost. How much food costs, how the phone bill costs, how much furniture costs. I can say that while many kids my age were hoping for a new car for graduation, what made my heart sore was the rental couch my mother got so guests could have somewhere to sit for my graduation party. You mean we can keep it? we asked my mom. Yes, we can KEEP IT. And for one of the first times in three years, we felt as if we were finally part of the American Dream once again. And this couch, let me say, was ugly. A strange multi colored, fabric-pill-intentionally sewn in the material type of late eighties masterpiece. We kept it for nearly a decade, we were so proud.
So, I sit back with wonder as I watch people who can afford couches talk about clipping coupons. I am guessing they are the same people who, when and if laid off, take some time to work on their resumes, maybe spend some time working on that novel they started in college. They live on their unemployment and don’t worry too much because they have Cobra and they can always sell something like their house if it gets too bad. And they believe this is what it is to be poor. They are between the having and the not having. But it is the not having that I think is still foreign to most.
Because what eventually ends up happening when you are part of those who do not have is you begin to feel as though you do not deserve.
I just spent over a year talking myself up and down and up and down about buying a bookcase and a desk. I am chagrined to say that while I am a writer for a living, I have written my last handful of plays sitting on our couch (which we bought in cash. Outright. We’ll not mention it is now threadbare and desperately needs a steam clean. I am still just very proud I have two 2! Couches no matter how stained they are). And I must admit that in a way, what I was doing, was telling myself I do deserve a bookcase and a desk. Perhaps this is materialistic but also, perhaps, this is the by product of living amidst capitalism, amidst kids at those private schools whose parents never worried about if they had enough gas to get to work or enough in the bank to renew their license even. I am pretty sure those kids, all grown up, do not talk themselves into buying things this way because they do not worry that they do not deserve.
And I know this is why my husband was refusing to let this money thing go.
While we may not have all of these things and assumptions those who do enjoy, what we are able to give our daughter (and her brother, too) is the sense that each one of us deserves because we are human. Period. End of story and let me walk across the freakin kitchen before I give you a time out.