This is not a happy or fun post. And it gives away too much, which is sometimes not a bad thing. But still, you've been warned.
Last week in our school teacher meeting we had to have some required-by-law presentations on difficult subjects, one being family homelessness.
I got through the legal info okay. It wasn't too hard to sit outside of myself and listen to what-ifs and rules. But then my principal showed us a video of elementary kids being interviewed. She is a kind person, and this was supposed to make hunger and poverty and homelessness "real" to a group of middle class, mostly priviledged teachers...to help them understand their students.
And then there's me. I had to sit and watch this. Well, I didn't really watch. I averted my eyes but kept myself facing the screen, so it would appear that I was watching. I sang the ABCs in my head, and when that didn't work well enough, I counted from 100 backwards and visualized the numbers in rainbow colors. When that didn't work either, I played Sia's Cheap Thrills video in my head. Anything, anything, to not have to hear these kids talk. It almost worked.
Empathy is nice and all but how can you understand when you don't understand?
My parents were not losers. And they weren't on welfare, or into crime. We were just poor. We were the have-nots. I don't know all the details about the whys of my childhood, and my memories are prismed though a child's looking glass. Which is the great gift of childhood, if you ask me.
We moved around a lot. We lived in motels in California for a couple of years. During that time, I didn't have a "home" like regular kids. I didn't have a room with care-bear bedding, or a place to put my treasures. I didn't have a yard with a swing or a bicycle to ride. I didn't have great clothes. I didn't have enough to eat.
I remember feeling dizzy at school and being sent to the nurse, who thought my hunger was the flu. I didn't tell, because hungry kids do NOT tell. I remember when the free lunch form was finally processed and it was like winning a prize. I remember for dinner when we would alternate between pinto bean soup and potato soup throughout the week, and it was the most delicious soup and I was SO grateful to eat it. My mom would shoplift packages of ham to add to that soup, and she thought we didn't know that secret but I did. I was the only one old enough to understand that, and it left guilty knots in my tummy, but I ate it anyway. I remember once during a school break that the food ran out and we had to wait 2 days until my dad's payday. He came straight home from work with McDonald's and it was like heaven and I was so happy I cried.
This part of my life didn't last forever. It is a long-ago memory sandwiched between happier times. But it shaped me. It turned me into a person who has to play Cheap Thrills inside her head when well-meaning people play documentary interviews about kids talking about hunger and poverty and homelessness, so we can understand.