Today I ate lunch with my first grader and her classmates. This is something I do often and I truly enjoy the time I get to spend with her. Also, talking to first graders about anything is quite fun. However, one of her classmates began telling us how he and his parents are currently living with friends because they have no house. Another student, asked if he was poor. It kinda stunned me because she asked so matter of factly, but I don’t believe she meant any harm. He responded that no, they had a little bit of money and the kids all went on finishing up their lunches. I asked the girl what poor meant. She told me it was when you didn’t have a house or money. I’ve been thinking about this all day. I wanted to tell her that just because you don’t have those things doesn’t make you poor. That having love and being together mean more than that. But I stopped myself. I’m not sure that was the time or place or that I could’ve even explained it to her.
When I was growing up, I never thought I was poor. Especially in primary school because I could always ask my dad for money and he would give me a few bucks to spend at the supply store there inside the school. I have such fond memories of buying pencils and folders there and to this day, I still get a lot of enjoyment out of buying office supplies. Anyways, one day, I found out I was poor. It’s not something I realized on my own. I was told by a girl at a birthday party. I remember this so vividly. We were telling each other where we lived and I told them I lived in a trailer park. This girl laughed at me and asked me if I was poor. I was shocked and humiliated because of what she was asking and how she was asking it. I immediately knew it was bad. What I realized that day, in 2nd grade, was that where you live can define you. From that day on, I didn’t tell anyone where I lived. I developed shame for where I lived. I started hearing things about “white trash” and “trailer park trash” and how bad it was to live in a place like that. I never asked my mom about it, but I did begin a campaign to get my parents to buy a “real” house. They never did. So, I continued to hide where I lived.
Looking back, I think I told 4 people in high school where I lived. They were all very close friends to me, which is the only reason I told them. Growing up where I did certainly contributed to my viewpoint on things. It makes me want to tell those first graders that it will all be ok. That things like that don’t define us if we don’t let them. I don’t want them to struggle with it as I have my entire life.
Y’all might have noticed the trend of the “tiny houses” that are popping up everywhere. There are shows on TV about them and they’re wildly popular. I think that’s ironic looking back on how living in a trailer was looked down upon so much. Things change I suppose.