I have had a lot less time to do anything last week than I originally anticipated. All week last week I attended seminars for work. Show up, sit, drink lots of coffee, listen to speakers, keep going to the bathroom because I don’t agree with what they’re saying and don’t want to listen, go home, sleep and start all over the next day. By now, a week later, I have a lot to catch up on (reading blogs, writing posts for LRT, commenting, getting a kitten today, my daughter coming home tomorrow. . .)
I enjoyed only one of the five days of the seminar. The day that I enjoyed was a seminar on understanding poverty. The woman talked about the general culture of poverty, the middle class, and the wealthy. It was interesting and she very easily applied the subject to how we can use the information at work. (*side note: only thing missing was the “system” – the system that put people in poverty and keeps them there**)
I won’t bore you with all of the work information that we discussed; there were things that I took away from it personally, but there were a couple of ideas that really shook me up inside. For this you’ll need a little bit of background first.
My mom came from poverty. When I say poverty, I mean, she didn’t know if she was going to have food to eat every single day – something that I take for granted. The daily wages that was earned was spent on food. If the family didn’t earn money that day, the family didn’t eat. My mom comes from a family with six children and used to tell me stories about how the food would be gone the second it hit the table and if you didn’t snatch it up, you didn’t eat. There was no being picky because if you were, well, you didn’t eat. A common story that I heard growing up was the rule that there was not to be even any grain of rice left in your bowl. It was considered a waste. To this day, it makes no sense to my mom to waste even one grain of rice, and you don’t want to know how many times I have heard that same lecture when there was one or more grains of rice left on my nearly-empty plate.
My mom was the second youngest child in the family. The only reason my mom and youngest uncle got to go to school is because my oldest aunts and uncles banned together and set up a deal where the four of them would work and take care of what the family needed including paying for school for my mom and uncle. All my mom and youngest uncle had to do was go to school. Keep in mind that most, if not all, if my other aunts and uncles are also of school age. These aren’t 30 year olds making this deal, it’s teenagers, maybe one older than teenage or one younger, but for the most part they were of school age (I don’t know the exact ages of my aunts and uncles, but they were fairly close in age; my oldest aunt being maybe 10 years older than my mom which would have put her at high school age at the time). I am starting to cry just thinking about this because I know that the decision to let go of two incomes could not have been easy. Everything they did, everything that every person in the family did, was specifically for the family.
It’s no secret that my mom and I did not get along while I was growing up. We fought all the time, about just about everything. Fought means that there was yelling and screaming and crying and at times there were objects thrown, etc. Our fights were very raw and very emotional. I’ve spent most of my adult life repairing that relationship. It’s not that we didn’t love each other, it’s that we disagreed and quite frankly we’re stubborn people.
Growing up we’d frequently get into these arguments. The next day, without fail, sometimes on that same day, my mom would take me out shopping to buy me something. When I was a teenager I was insulted that my mom would do this. First off, a lot of the times I was still mad over the argument. I also thought that it was a way for my mom to avoid any issues we had with each other. Often I thought that she was trying to buy her way into making me shut up about whatever it was we fought about.
One of the concepts that our lecturer spoke about was buying things as a way of showing love. I think a comparison would be the story, “The Gift of the Magi” where they didn’t have much money but in order to show their love they both bought each other a gift. They bought the gifts out of love to show their love even though they didn’t have a lot of money. It is done out of love and that is what is key.
Do you see it? My mom was showing her love. After the fighting and the emotional toll, my mom was trying to prove to me that she loves me. That’s not to say that she bought me stuff all the time. Trust me she knew the word “no,” but there were key times in my life, moments where she was showing her love.
There was one other thing that hit me pretty hard, although that first one outright made me cry. There was the idea of communal property and communal money that our speaker touched on. For example, when my aunts and uncles and grandfather and greatgrandmother worked and brought home money – that money was for use for the whole family, to buy the family’s food or other needs. I have more examples even of my husband and his family, but it’s private and I didn’t really want to password protect this post.
When you make money, it is not your money. That money, and all money made in the family, belongs to the family. My mom has always sent money back to Vietnam to her brothers and sisters. It just was. I know that it is because they don’t have as much money as we do, but it honestly never felt like we sent money to help them out. When my mom always talked to us about sending the money, it was because they are family. They are family – and that is what you do when you are family. In fact, my oldest uncle, who is visiting from Vietnam, will be going back home to his family in two days and I, along with my mom and aunts and cousins, will be sending him with money (and gifts) for him, for his family, and for the rest of our family in Vietnam. I think that it is not as extreme as it once was, but the practice of communal money is still there.
One of the things that I and my fellow coworkers liked was the lack of judgment. I know too much to listen to someone that thinks that people are poor because they’re not smart enough, or don’t work hard enough, or don’t think positively enough (that was what the speaker the day before was preaching), or don’t believe in themselves (same butthead speaker from the day before this one good one). Certainly not all people who are living in poverty or middle class or are wealthy behave in the exact same way, but the day and its discussions were interesting. These things are not good or bad, they are just a part of people’s lives. I remember how I was pretty resentful when my mom used to have me put half my paycheck in the bank – this all happened when I was a teenager and up through my early 20s. However, at this point, looking back, I’m more appreciative that my mom’s priority was teaching me that family comes first over my own needs.