Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Welfare, explained through memes.

GAH! So it's not even halfway through my first cup of coffee when I see it. You know, one of the many memes floating around that says something like "Government Assistance: You may think it comes from rich people, but it comes from people who work 70 hours a week and still can't afford to buy what you can. You're welcome." I'm gonna just let that sit there, while I try and figure out just who this is aimed at. Who is being "your welcomed"? Those on government assistance? Oh, well I guess that includes everyone, because everyone pays taxes so everyone can enjoy the services a government provides. Who works 70 hours a week? Those lucky to have a job. People on government assistance, meanwhile, either just lost a job where they worked 70 hours a week, or are desperately seeking employment so they too can work 70 hours a week. (I won't even get into how ludicrous it is that anyone should have to work 70 hours a week to make ends meet, but that's a whole other blog) And the rich, who the meme says isn't paying their share to those on government assistance? Well, actually, that is damned straight the truth. That's the whole point, I guess, that those with immense amounts of disposable income aren't required to give a fair proportion of it to those with NO disposable income.  

The reason people have to work 70 hours a week has very little to do with paying for those on government assistance. Maybe if those who were so certain that they were being cheated out of their hard earned money looked a little closer, they would see that the percentage of their pay that went towards "welfare" is sickeningly little, when compared to what goes towards the defense budget or tax subsidies for the super rich. If you consider TARP (if you don't know what TARP is, google is your friend) being considered a form of welfare, and most do, then only 9 cents out of every tax dollar goes toward providing welfare services to those who can't provide for themselves. If you don't, the figure increases all the way up to ... 12 cents. The other $ .88 or 88% of your taxes go support the operations of the government or defense. You ultimately get the Social Security and Medicare back. What should be obvious to all, and I mean all, even those who complain the loudest, is that the amount of your taxes paid each year that go toward helping the temporarily helpless is pathetically small! To listen to the Conservative rhetoric regarding this issue however, you would think that if we could somehow cut this portion of expenditures out of the budget, you could cut the tax rate in half; not.

Another thing that really irritates me is that those who complain the loudest about their tax pennies going towards welfare are most likely also the same ones who proclaim to be God-fearing good Christians. I want to implore you to stop. Just stop. You actually suck at Christianity if you flinch at your taxes going to the poor. Period. You have completely missed the whole entire boat of what Christianity is if you feel that way, and should immediately turn in your Jesus card. Right now. I'll wait.

Here's the thing: these memes are posted by people who are my friends. That's why I see them. And I know these are good people, which is why I can't just "un-friend" them and only be "friends" with people who see things exactly the same way I do. But I can't for the life of me just sit idly by and not try to educate them to the reality. The reality is, if the super rich weren't given (by our legislators who are coincidentally bought and paid for by the super rich) every loop hole and tax haven known to man, they WOULD be the ones funding welfare, which, in my honest opinion, is AS IT SHOULD BE. Believe me when I say, it really isn't you or me or my 70+ hours a week working husband who is paying for welfare, the fact is, social welfare programs have been, and will continue to be, the most slashed and underfunded programs out there, followed closely by education. Isn't that something? But Wall St bailouts abound, Banks are rescued because they are "too big to fail", the defense budget is bloated beyond three times what any other nation's is, and we still have children in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA who are starving. Those lazy, grubbing little welfare scum.

I guess I just want my friends to understand, or at least humor the thought, that no one is immune to poverty and it's awful consequences. Everyone is just one instance of bad luck away from needing government assistance in America. And why is that? It's because in America, so much emphasis, so much celebration and glory is attributed to wealth. It's indisputably the main goal for the majority of Americans: wealth. And when that is the ultimate goal, the ones who fail to partake in the cut-throat climb are going to be left behind, and either we, as a society, take care of them, or they die. What kind of civilized nation are we? Would we actually so belittle and dehumanize the poor for their situation in life that we would let them die? Is this 1500's feudal Europe?  Aren't we better than that?  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Many Mothers.

Aware of Mother's Day this coming weekend, I've been reflecting on the many women in my life who have acted as mother-figures. I'm sure we all have several of those women who in some way took on the role of adviser, mentor, nurturer, supporter, throughout our lives. Any childhood has the capacity to have been fractured in some way, and in my own childhood, that came from the combination of divorce and my mother's alcoholism. I've spent close to 33 years formulating my vision of my mother as a whole, and still, I feel as if I've only scratched the surface. Maybe we all feel that way. But whatever the whole picture is, she was flawed, and her mothering style left gaping holes which others, thank God, stepped in to fill, either because I sought them out to do so, or they saw the need and did so anonymously and without being asked.

I think my first "surrogate Mom" that I can recall was my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Horowitz. If memory serves me correctly, (another thing I've realized lately, coming from an alcoholic childhood, is that some swaths of memory seem almost made-up, they're so fuzzy and soft that perhaps the reality was too hard, and so I created some nicer memories out of necessity) even her first name was the same as my actual mother's, Nancy. Nancy Horowitz, in my memory, was the first woman besides my Mom who singled me out as someone special, and talented. She made me feel like I was special in a good way, like I had something inside that was unique and good, maybe even great. She showed me how to fall in love with words, how words could create whatever lovely existence or reality I wanted. Through her guidance, I could make my life better by simply imagining it to be, and putting the words in my mind down on paper. She made me feel loved, and good.

Other friends' Moms also stepped in to make me feel mothered in ways I just couldn't find at home. I remember a particular set of two girlfriends, Tina and Sam, whose Mom's seemed to sense that I needed some extra acceptance and nurturing. Sam's Mom especially seemed to make it a point to invite me along on their family trips and vacations. To me, she was a vision of glowing golden warmth and vitality. In her I saw what I decided was what an ideal Mom should be; she projected joy and love for her own kids in a way that was different from my own Mom, and it felt safer and less likely to shift suddenly. I think I felt a measure of awe that her kids didn't seem to have to earn her love, it was just always there, heaped upon them for the simple reason that she felt it and she gave it because they were her children. That was one of the first times I witnessed real, unconditional, motherly love.

One substitute Mom seemed to have been rather reluctantly, and innocently ill-prepared, nudged into their role. That person was, of course, my step-mom. Obviously, the only more complicated relationship with a woman that I had was with my "real" Mom, and I could probably write a whole book on the difficulty, felt from both sides, of what accepting a new reality, a new mother-force in my life, was like. I can only say what it was like for me, it was confusing and hard, there was no instruction book or how-to guide on what to feel or how to know what I meant to her. All I knew was that this was who my father had fallen in love with and chosen to spend his life with. I wasn't sure what that meant for me. We had gone to the requisite divorce therapist, but knowing that it was "not my fault" didn't translate to what I was supposed to feel or how I was going to be inserted, already with personality formed, into this other woman's life. Or, if that insertion was going to be welcomed. I didn't know if I was an added bonus, or an added burden. After all, all she knew was that this was the man she had fallen in love with, and he had two daughters with a broken Mom. As I sit here sifting through the memories of that time, I have to say, I am only now seeing what a leap of faith she must have felt that she was making. What a risk that was, to knowingly choose to become the dreaded "step-mom".  To say our relationship had its ups and downs is a laughable understatement. She would have had to have a PhD in child psychology to have been ready for the new life she suddenly found herself in. But she stayed, she made a life of her own with my father, and with me.

 It took me many years to truly accept her, and what she gave of herself. My mother got the credit of being the Mom, the kisser goodnighter, the tucker inner, the Mommy memory I created through both intentional, and subconscious, deletion and addition of qualities and memories desirable, and not. When your own Mom is the best and worst thing about your childhood, the one who took her place, in your other parents life, is shouldered with the task of holding the broken pieces later and attempting to make whole the shattered mess. Out of choice. Out of love. Imperfect, and perhaps unexpected and ill-fitting, as it may be at times.
And for that, I am so grateful that she stayed, when for so long I only wanted her to leave. That is love.

So, as it was, I staggered into young adulthood with few skills or tools for living a purposeful or goal driven life. I guess I sort of just felt as though I barely survived my childhood, with my awkward and furious grabs at motherly love. The combination of feeling motherless and the desire to be mothered led me to become reckless, but desperate for approval.

I myself showered love and care on anyone. I would "take care" of whatever wayward friends needed a couch to sleep on, laundered their days lived-in clothes, made them meals, drove them wherever their ill-considered plans took them. But through all of this, it was me who needed care. As much as I told myself I was independent, strong, a survivor, I was really just a child who needed guidance. I self-medicated, and ran with the absolute wrong crowd, but through it all, I kept reading, devouring books, and kept imagining and writing a better life for myself. The guidance that Mrs. Horowitz had given me in 7th grade had carried through, and still, deep inside me, I knew and believed that I was special. Somewhere, in my heart, I knew that I was smart, I knew I had purpose, I knew I was meant for something. I just had to keep going.

Enter "Mama Joyce". I think it was an immediate connection, and I actually think that I immediately started calling her Mama Joyce. Joyce was (and is) that kind of person who just exudes competency and safety; I felt, always felt, that Joyce was a beacon in the storm. She had been through more than her fair share of tragedies, but she just kept keeping on. She was still able to see the good in the World, the beauty in music and friends, the humor in circumstances. She taught me so much, where do I even begin? She foremost taught me personal responsibility. That my life is just that....mine. No one elses decisions or actions have any effect whatsoever if I don't allow it. The past is the past, I don't live there anymore. It's my job to be a good human being. It's no one elses' responsibility, it's mine and mine alone. If I continued to look back at all of life's transgressions against me, I was missing the chance to have a good one now. I was raised with empathy and compassion, but sometimes those qualities turned to inward self-pity. Mama Joyce picked me up, shook me off, and said "Okay, you've had a good cry. Now move along." And for that I can never express enough gratitude.
From all these Moms, and my own, I blended together the lessons and gifts they taught and gave. I try to leave out the things that still hurt, but if there's one thing I've learned, mothering means making mistakes. Making mistakes, but owning them and trying to make them right. 
Oh, Moms of the world, whether you have children or not, Thank You. Thank you for giving love, however you express it. Thank you for spotting those kids who need you. Thank you for nurturing dreams and bestowing self-esteem on those who might not see it at first. Thank you for picking up fragments and providing the glue to make something strong and useful. Thank you teachers and friends, parents who choose to love children they didn't bear, stalwart models of survival and joy. Thank you thank you all my many "moms", Happy Mothers Day.You made me the Mother I am.