Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alumni magazine thoughts...

I got the alumni magazine from my grad school the other day. I read a bit of it while waiting for dinner to cook.

I was struck by an article about a woman who provides dental-care for low-income children. That is commendable. But that wasn't what struck me about the article. What struck me were two comments she made:

First: when she was handing out free toothbrushes to children, a girl came back the next day to ask for another. Because, she said, her father took hers.

Now, I know there are probably different motives that could lead to a father taking his daughter's free toothbrush ("not wanting to take charity" being one). But I'm going to assume that he took it as he did not have one of his own.

Okay, that's sad. But. How much does a toothbrush cost? (Honestly, I don't remember: I bought a multipack a year or so back, and also, my dentist hands them out at the every-six-months checkup, so it's been a little while since I bought one). But I'm guessing they're under $5? Maybe $3?

While I suppose there are people out there for whom $3 is a really big deal...sometimes I wonder if some of what we are told is abject poverty where someone cannot get the basic necessities of life, is actually a difference in priorities. I know I have a lot of students who claim they are "too poor" to buy the textbooks listed for my class, but then they whip out a fancier newer cell phone than what I choose to have, and start texting on it. If you can afford the latest iPhone and a data plan and apps and many text messages, you can afford textbooks...maybe not both...but you have to decide what's more important. (Yes, I get that for some people a cell phone is a necessity. Well, I have one with a very basic plan that's like $25 a month. My cell phone does two things: It makes and receives calls, and it can receive and send texts. It has no apps, it has no camera, it has no games...)

I don't know but I admit I kind of object to someone claiming they need me to "find a cheaper textbook option" or not use a textbook at all, when they are spending money on something that I have chosen not to buy for myself....

I realize that sounds heartless, but you know, my mom grew up poor. Her family didn't take much assistance (towards the end of my grandmother's life, she did accept some of the "commodity food" that was given out, to make ends meet). But my mother's parents set their priorities: first priority, keep a roof over their heads. Second priority, see that the kids had nutritious food. Third priority, see that the kids were clean and equipped for school, and that they went to school. Toothbrushes and soap and that one good solid pair of shoes came before entertainment.... Growing up, my brother and I were considerably better off but still we got that same mentality taught to us: No, we won't take a vacation at Disneyland because the car needs to be fixed so your dad can get to work. No, we won't go out to eat every week because it's more economical to prepare food at home...

The other thing that struck me was the dentist's  comment that she sometimes saw children with sippy cups full of Mountain Dew, and whose breakfast was a bag of chips. This kind of thing makes me crazy. It's that kind of thing that will eventually lead the health fanatics like Bloomberg to ban sugar and salt and everything else: because some people can't take the responsibility to feed their kids properly. (Oh, I SUPPOSE some people are ignorant enough to think that Mountain Dew is equal in nutrition to milk...) And yes, again: maybe people can't afford better. But that's why we have WIC! I have a friend who was on WIC for a while (long story....her husband left her, she had some health issues...). Yes, it was a pain in the neck to figure out what was eligible and buy just those items - but she did it. And she and her kids got basic nutrition as a result.

Yes, all those things take effort. It takes effort to go and apply for aid if you need aid. It takes effort to look at your paycheck and go, "Dang, I only have $50 this week to spend on food for my family, how am I going to make that work?" But I'm starting to get tired of the people who seem to me not to want to put any effort in, and who just take the easiest road out. Because I know people who are faced with problems in life, and instead of sitting down and going "I need someone to fix this for me" they say, "Now what do I need to do to start getting this fixed?"

It strikes me that maybe the way out of poverty, or if not "poverty," having a lower socioeconomic status than you really want, is partly related to an ability to delay gratification (like: "No, we can't go to Disneyland this year because") or to prioritize things ("We need to buy you good sturdy school shoes. I'm sorry we can't get the fancy tennis shoes right now.")  But it seems that that's a hard lesson....and a lesson that may not be being reinforced in our culture like it should be.

Another thought on the "Mountain Dew in a sippy cup...." I remember seeing a young boy, maybe 18 months, whose parents gave him a Pepsi....and he freaked out after drinking it, got very hyper, they had to pick him up and carry him out of the restaurant because he got so disruptive. I wonder how many of our kids have caffeine (and possibly, high-sugar) habits as a result of heavy soda consumption, and that's affecting them in ways that might just be diagnosed as ADHD? When I was in charge of helping organize the meals for youth group, I PLEADED with people NOT to bring caffeinated pop, as some of the kids were clearly sensitive to caffeine but didn't have he self-control/ didn't want to look "weird" to the other kids by declining the caffeinated pop in favor of water or a caffeine-free alternative. There were always a few people whose behavior seemed worse to me on nights when they had caffeine as opposed to nights they did not. Now, I may be prejudiced in that, as I know I am quite sensitive to caffeine (I don't really get hyper, but I get shaky and anxious) and I also know my parents were very strict about no caffeinated pop for my brother or me until we were over 16 or so. But it does make me wonder what a couple of full-caffeine sodas a day might be doing to the brains and emotions of kids who are not fully grown yet.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was raised to be a responsible person, and it frustrates me to see people who are not responsible, and then in some cases, others are expected to pick up the slack/help out/put up with the consequences of bad behavior/whatever.

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