Over the holidays, DH’s newly retired parents kept talking about how truly blessed they are. None of their kids are in jail. All are gainfully employed. They themselves have more money than they ever dreamed and will actually be able to increase their quality of life in retirement (or rather, FIL now has both time and money for all those hunting trips he’s been wanting to do), at least while the stock market is booming. (A couple of weeks ago, FIL called up to ask DH to ask me whether or not it was ok to have 90% stocks/10% bonds…)
DH’s relative that we’ve talked about before is not doing so well. He’s got arthritis, which makes being a construction worker difficult. His oldest two both had children as teenagers (the oldest is living at home with her toddler, the second moved West with her two kids to live with the biological mother who abandoned her as a baby). His wife is recovering from brain cancer. His third attempted suicide via electricity socket recently and is depressed because he’s too blind to legally drive. His fourth has gotten in with a bad crowd and started stealing from family and was recently on suicide watch at a hospital. We didn’t hear much about the fifth this time around except that she was driving the oldest’s car when it got totaled by an uninsured driver (which means the relative is now chauffeuring everybody around). Also one of his two much younger brothers (his brothers are the same age as his oldest daughters) has been jailed for possession of stolen materials.
Focusing a bit on that third kid– he graduated from high school last year and the plan was to take the year off working (he’s washing dishes at a restaurant) and then spend the next year at community college. Community college is about an hour away, so he would have to be driven. He’s really depressed that he will never be able to drive and it’s not clear that he’s actually going to do community college next year, or ever. He’s smart and has the grades and GPA to go to the flagship school or one of the closer regionals. The flagship’s admission deadline has come and gone and the closer regionals have passed their priority deadlines but still have rolling admissions. Over break, he and DH talked about careers and DH tried to convince him to just fill out one of the two page regional applications for either of the closest schools (while DH was there to pay the $40 admission fee), but no luck.
And the thing is, this kid has never been anywhere with public transportation (or even taxis!). He has no idea what it’s like to be someplace where you can take yourself where you need to go without having to depend on the kindness of someone else to drive you. It would be best for him to skip community college and to just go straight to a 4 year college with an extensive bus system and counselors. He should be eligible for plenty of need-based financial aid and what’s left we can pay. But… he doesn’t know that’s best. He doesn’t know what is best and his parents don’t have 4-year college degrees (his mom never finished high school) and his dad has been on his own since 16, so they’re letting him do what he wants since he’s officially an adult.
Growing up I knew I wanted to be upper-middle-class because I knew people whose parents were upper-middle-class and I had an aunt and uncle who were judges, and I thought, I want that. I want to not have to worry about money and to have the temperature always set to something comfortable. DH never had those thoughts, but his parents were doing pretty well compared to everyone else in his family, and at boarding school he learned a lot about what all was out there. And his mother had a wide variety of experiences growing up and she told me this most recent trip that she always thought it important to make sure her kids saw places outside the small town, so they went to camps (or in DH’s case, boarding school) and visited relatives (from her side of the family) up north and so on. She also took them to get professional career testing before college and told them not going was not an option (for DH she also controlled where he was allowed to apply), just as her father had told her that not going to college was not an option.
Going back to DH’s family’s place at Christmas does tend to make one feel #blessed because it reminds us how well we’re doing and how well DH’s immediate family is doing. It also forces the comparison of how hard it is for so much of America to get ahead outside of our highly educated McMansion-owning bubble. DH’s relative is plenty smart, but his life diverged dramatically from DH’s at 16 when he got married and left home and had two kids. But there were also a lot of factors that led up to that point and after– his parents also had two kids by age 18. Our kids’ lives will diverge even more dramatically. His kids are not our kids, and we don’t know how to help, or if we even can help. So, we will continue to feel #blessed and to keep things in perspective while doing what we can to make it easier for poor kids more generally to get ahead. We have our oxygen masks on, but there are still a lot of people out there who need assistance with theirs, and even more who don’t have access to oxygen masks at all.