Today’s post is thinly disguised as an educational exposition on poverty. In reality, it’s just a parental vent as I try to choose humour instead of violence.
There is a common instinct amongst people who are living in poverty, and due to how deeply it is entrenched, it is also frequently exhibited by people who have come out of poverty. It goes something like this: “If there’s the slightest possibility that whatever I see in front of me might be available for me to have/take/use/consume/keep/hoard/waste, then I must pounce on it immediately and claim it as mine.” There is no consideration for the next person’s possible needs. There is no consideration of saving for the next day. And thoughts such as “I don’t actually need this” or “This isn’t even healthy for me” are so far from reality, it’s laughable.
I’ve seen it in Ethiopia. I’ve seen it in many urban ministries in different cities in Canada. I’ve discussed it with others who work with people in poverty. It’s real. It’s a debilitating mindset, I know, and I shouldn’t be making light of it. Except that it’s alive and well in my son (who hasn’t been living in poverty for almost five years now) and I either have to laugh about it or…well, the alternative isn’t pretty. I choose laughter. (Ahhh, laughter. That sounds like such a healthier word choice than mockery or sarcasm. Almost medicinal, wouldn’t you say?)
Before I launch into my personal tirade, I’ll give you an example from a teacher friend of ours in Ethiopia. He taught grades seven and eight in a school down the road from where we lived in Addis Ababa. He found that every time he had extra pens out on his desk, every student that came by would ask for one. If they saw that there were pens available, they suddenly “needed” a pen. But if he kept the extra pens in a drawer, out of sight, every student was mysteriously able to procure a pen from their own backpack, desk or pocket.
Visible abundance triggers perceived need.
This is what we’re trying to parent (abominably, since we have made zero progress in five years). Allow me to share three specific examples, at least one of which we deal with on a daily basis. The stories you are about to read are real and require no exaggeration.
Story One: The Pizza
T (removing 4 leftover pieces of pizza from fridge): Mom, can I have this pizza in my lunch?
Me: You may have one piece and leave some for the other 3 children.
T (yelling): Fine then! I won’t have any! (slams pizza container on counter and stomps away)
Me: Yes! I get pizza for lunch!
Story Two: The Chips
T (immediately after supper): Can I have some chips? I’m still hungry.
Me: No, you can have some fruit or more vegetables. There are bananas, kiwis, apples, carrots, peppers or cucumber. (This selection varies from day to day, but that is literally what was available for last night’s episode.)
T: That stuff doesn’t fill me up! I’m a teenager; I have to eat more now, you know.
Me: I DO know! You should eat more fruits and vegetables. In fact, those foods are actually supposed to fill up about half of your daily diet. You don’t eat nearly that much.
T: I don’t eat nearly enough of anything! Why can’t you just let me eat stuff that actually fills me up? Why can’t I just have chips?
Me (walking away and resuming daily mantra of Biblical parenting advice): Don’t argue with a fool. Don’t argue with a fool. Don’t argue with a fool.
Story Three: The Cheese
The cheese. Holy Hannah, the cheese! I cannot wrap my mind around the ginormous chunks of cheddar he tries to pile onto a sandwich. There is no self-restraint. There is no consideration of the five other people in the family who might also want to partake of that half-kilo right there in his grimy grip! No wonder 10% of my weekly grocery budget is spent on cheese. Seriously. Ten percent! Oh for the days when peanut butter was allowed at school!
New mantra: Homeschooling just for the sake of having PB&J is not worth the trauma we would all endure. Say it again, Anita. Homeschooling = trauma for you AND your obviously as-yet trauma-free cherubs. Just let him eat the blasted cheese!
(Side note: I am pro homeschooling and think it would be very beneficial for my children. The problem lies with who their teacher would be. No good could come of that.)
Story Four: The Ketchup
Nope. Do not even get me started. The ketchup battle is just unfathomable for anyone who hasn’t personally had to parent through this poverty mindset. Either you already know from experience or you just won’t believe me.
There you go. Now you all know to keep your pens in a drawer and pre-slice the cheese. Class dismissed.