If you can’t afford kids keep your legs closed, zip your pants, or invest in good contraception! That was the moral of Part 1 of this post. Now I feel it’s only fair that I share my story. I grew up in West Baltimore City. For those of you who know anything about that area I shouldn’t even have to go into any details. For those of you who are naively unaware I will continue. It is an area, like most of the Baltimore ghetto, beset with drugs, crimes, poverty, and all manner of bad stuff. It is not pretty. There are no picket fences. No front yards and few trees. It’s pretty much just a cement jungle with broken glass on the pavement and syringes on the ground.
If you walk by you’ll see people on the steps of their row houses braiding hair, playing their music loudly, drinking 40s, smoking blunts, gambling etc. You’ll see folk walking by swearing on their chirp phones. You’ll see kids disheveled and dirty, playing in the street unsupervised. These same kids will often be calling each other (insert obscenity here). You’ll see the check cashing places, the liquor stores, and the lottery kiosks. You’ll see Korean owned businesses and restaurants, drug deals, and signs that read “we accept independence cards here.” See I know first hand how ugly poverty is. I spent 16 years of my life in West Baltimore neighborhoods. I spent 16 years of my life on welfare. I could tell you stories of not having heat in the house during blizzards and subzero temperatures. I could tell you stories about how an abandoned house three doors down from mine was used to (ahem) make drugs and how one day they almost burned my house down when those chemical caught fire. Or how an eight-year-old little boy was killed across the street from my house, or how we lived in fear that the government would take our subsidized housing away or that the food stamps would be cut. I could tell you stories of drunks cursing each other out in the street and going to bed with helicopter flying over my head. I can tell you about how now, almost seven years later, I still drop to the floor when I hear a loud sound. Does that seem like a nice place to raise a child? Oh and I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of the richest poor kids in my neighborhood and this was my experience!
Growing up I didn’t know any one who graduated college. No one in my family had a career—something for me to aspire to. I never took dance lessons or went to camp. I was 21 years old before I made it to Disney World; I was an adult before I traveled outside of the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia area. When I had difficulty in school I could never afford a tutor to help me. I never took a family vacation. I never got on an airplane or traveled outside of the country. My experience was limited to the poisonous environment in which I grew up. I remember the first time I went to a casual dinning restaurant like the ones I frequent now. I was a teenager and I thought that I was eating at a “fancy restaurant.” I never had a dishwasher and until I was practically grown we hung our clothes outside to dry or on ropes that hung across the hallway. What the heck was a dryer? I didn’t get one of those until I was 15. I didn’t have a computer until I was 14 and that was a used one. The things that I now take advantage of, like driving in a decent car, and having a checking and savings account instead of relying on money orders and check cashing places, are things that I couldn’t even fathom when I was younger. Some of my friends who themselves are privileged can’t believe that I hadn’t done certain things before (swimming/mini golf—the list is pretty long). I just smile. You can’t do something or even want to do something you were never exposed to.
I remember all these things too well and I’m not ashamed. I’m not ashamed to tell people where I am from, but I am ashamed of some of the garbage that I’ve seen. I’ve since graduated from college; magna cum laude I might add, with a ton of graduate research under my belt! As I write this I’m planning to go back to school to earn an advanced degree. I’ve been truly blessed. Yet, I realized that even my minor successes were not earned without tons of grief and struggle: unnecessary grief and struggle that had a lot to do with my earlier socio-economic status. I don’t write things like “poor people shouldn’t have children” because I am some middle class snob who’s forgotten where she came from. I don’t write such posts because I am sitting in my nice house, in my nice neighborhood blissfully unaware. To the contrary, I frequently go to the hood because that’s where the majority of my family still resides.
I write things like this because I AM aware. Because I know the statistics. Because I’ve seen the ugly. Because poor is a horrible state to grow up in. Because unlike adults, children don’t get to choose their standard of living. Because it’s dreadfully unfair to bring a child into the world with nothing to offer him—not a college fund or savings--nothing but more poverty and struggle! I’m not quixotic. I don’t believe poverty is ever going to be alleviated, even though I do believe that no one should be poor in a nation such as ours. Yet we have to play the cards we are dealt.
I am still poor, or BROKE might be the better term to use. I make a meager eight bucks and hour skewering fruit and answering phones. I live at home, because I can’t afford to move out. Sometimes I can’t even afford groceries! (I swear I had more money when I was in college, but I’ll talk more about that later). Other times I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to pay the few bills that I have acquired. So would I have a child now? I’m almost tempted to swear to underscore my point. NO WAY! I can barely take care of my cat! And that is my point. We need commercials, music videos, non-profit organizations, government programs dedicated to telling people that having a child is a big responsibility and it takes planning—particularly financial planning! It seems obvious, but we live in a world where people screw around without regard for consequence.
I half wish the government would go back to sterilizing folk or at least implement mandatory contraception (I’ll talk more about government regulated pregnancies in future posts). Maybe we would be a better society if we had to be licensed to have children, just liked we are licensed to have a car—and that such a privilege could be revoked. Or perhaps my ideas are a little too extreme for the more sensitive of you who read my blog. But something should be done! And so I end this post just like I began it, saying emphatically and unapologetically that if you can’t afford to have children (i.e. provide them with a good standard of living) you should keep it in your pants, or shut your legs, or otherwise invest in good contraception! Yeah I said it!