Today is blog action day on the subject of poverty -- a day where bloggers dedicate their real estate to the subject. I just read two really moving blogs by colleagues Dave and Gina who grew up experiencing poverty. These are brilliant, accomplished people -- so much so that this is something you would have never have known. I adore that they shared their stories. I have no story that compares. I grew up rich.
Not in a wealthy sort of rich way, but rich with love and the messy fabric of life bringing challenge and joy to me daily.
So today, I want to send a big "thank you" to the Universe for blessing me so.
I'm the youngest of 4 children. My dad grew up rich in the wealth sense. My mom grew up as the oldest of 5 kids with parents who experienced boom and bust (my grandfather was a stock broker turned jukebox repairman due to the depression).
Each of us 4 Benjamin kids were born about 18 months apart. My dad was an insurance sales manager until a merger happened and he found himself out of a job, with a new big mortgage, in a new town, and a wife who had been raising babies for the past 6 years. He was, and still is, the uber optimist. It was mom's idea to sell the wedding silver and her diamond ring and figure a way to get back to work. I was about 3 at the time.
I remember her being a substitute teacher -- at times in an inner city school -- and being a clerk at a book shop. She took the bus to the city and or walked the 4 miles to the town school. She never once complained. She learned to include us all in what had to be done. It was my job, once I turned about 8, to put in the potatoes every night an hour before dinner time. Then, put the frozen mixed veggies on the stove and the meat in the oven -- timed just right so we could all eat together every night. It was my sister's job to clean the house. My brothers' job to put out the trash. We all did our own laundry since the day we could turn the knobs. We cleaned our own rooms, and made our own money to buy our clothes, our friends birthday gifts and everything else that wasn't food.
My first job was as a regular babysitter. I was 9. I babysat every Saturday night from then on. My second was as a maid at my neighbor's house. I was 12. My third job came when I turned 14, as a scooper in an ice-cream shop that I could walk to. My brother and sister also worked there. My oldest brother flipped burgers at an Abdow's Big Boy.
Working and contributing was all so natural; none of us thought twice about it. (I later learned one of my life-long friends was always jealous of me in jr. high because I had the latest cords from The Gap. I never felt stylish but I guess my baby sitting and maid money made me stylish enough.)
My mother put herself through night school for her master's degree.She then got a more secure full-time, and later tenured job as a school librarian. My dad went into business for himself as a manufacturers' rep for greeting card lines. -- Many of the greeting cards were religious. The nuns loved him!
My dadcoached my brothers' baseball, basketball and football teams. We all went to every game. My wealthy grandparents came to the Sunday football games. Grampa was a doctor. (We never saw a real hospital or went to a doctor when we were sick. We'd call him on the phone; he lived an hour away. We got our shots on Christmas.)
I asked my brother once why my mom didn't know the names of my friends or what boy I had a crush on, and such, like my friends' moms. He said,
"Polly, mom is a very intelligent woman. She can sense when you need her. She'll be there for you, if you do."
That made all the world of sense to me.
On Saturdays we got to lounge around and watch cartoons and eat donuts from the donut shop. On Sundays it was all about church, work, and ball games.
When I got to high school, mom finally got a full-time regular librarian job, only it was over an hour away. She commuted until it got to be too much for her. They decided to move just before my senior year in high school. In what was one of the hardest decisions they made as parents, they moved without me; letting me stay behind to be with my friends knowing these girls would be my life long friends. (They were right!) I lived with my friend and her family ... and learned what I had been missing! My own stereo. A car to share with my best friend. A queen sized bed just for me. A fancy house. A maid. A stay-at-home mom who cooked dinner every night.
My parents were jealous and afraid I might like this more lux life better. No need. Nothing could compare with the love and richness I felt -- and still feel -- when I am with them and the rest of my family.
I put myself through college for the first 2 years. Student loads, a small scholarship. I went across country to St. Louis University because we knew a Jesuit there and my mom asked me to apply.
Mom decided to get involved in my personal life 2 weeks before I headed back to St. Louis to attend my junior year. She was concerned that I'd end up marrying a doctor from St. Louis and she'd never see me again. She knew I was dating someone in the Boston area and she thought he was a pretty good scoop.
Ends up, that guy, Kurt Pearson, and I got engaged that year. I spent it, my junior year, going to Boston College in the evening program -- because it was cheaper than the day program and would allow me to work during the day. I had two jobs. One at the Bank of Boston where they paid me a great hourly wage as a secretary floating from bank branch to bank branch -- I learned the city from this job! Thanks Bank of Boston now Bank of America! The other job was working in Boston's Faneuil Hall managing a dress boutique named "The Sandpiper of Manchester by the Sea."
We got married the summer heading into my senior year. I moved into his house and finished my inexpensive night school studies closer to his house, at Assumption College.
I'm proud to say that I still graduated in 4 years, and carried honors-worthy grades at each of the 3 colleges I attended.
I'm also proud of the guy I married -- his family owned that ice cream shop I started scooping in at age 14 -- and the family we now have.
When people say to me, "My, you work full-time and have 3 kids. How do you do it?" My answer is always the same. I smile and say, "life is certainly rich."
Pictured; my family on our 20th anniversary in July of 2007. Margo, then 5, Kurt 51, Sophie 12, Oscar 2, and me, 41 -- wearing my original wedding dress for kicks.