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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Coach Defense.

I have a Kate Spade purse.

I actually have a lot of Kate Spade stuff. My wedding china, my sunglasses, my regular glasses, and I've owned several purses over the years. My son's middle name is Spade, for the love. And yes, that's why.

But I don't own as much as I used to. I've sold a fair amount of it over the last year, along with countless other things of some sort of value, to help my family out when the bills and the paychecks fell in non-congruent patterns and to be able to cover unexpected expenses and because, sometimes, that's all I had to offer in contribution to keeping food on the table and shoes on my kids' feet.

It was hard, actually, the first time I made that choice, because I get unnaturally attached to my things. Everything carries memories with it, and I struggle with letting go of the only tangible reminders of a time or a place or a phase. I knew it was the right choice to make, to sacrifice for my family, so I did it.

I'll also readily admit that as I packaged up that bag, I cried a bit. I thanked the bag for it's service to me while I needed it, the confidence it gave me in carrying it, and the physical representation it had of reminders of and hope for better times. And then I sent it out into the world, to hopefully be loved and treasured by someone else.

The same has been true of the designer jeans I used to wear, the shoes I would wear once or twice out to the clubs or to parties and then put away, the expensive housewares that went unused, jewelry that just sits in my jewelry box.

It never really gets easier for me, these sacrifices, because the relief they provide when I release them is always temporary, while the sting of their loss and what that loss really means, is far more lingering.

I read an article about possessions as promises (hat tip to Sarah) that was more geared to minimalist living, but it rang a truth for me that I hadn't been able to pinpoint before.

Everything you own bears a promise. To quote:

My enthusiasm to acquire this new thing made me think: what are our possessions, really, but a bunch of promises? That dress promises to make us look stylish; that smartphone promises to keep us tech-savvy and connected; that cookbook promises to make us a culinary whiz; that moisturizer promises to take years off our face; that heirloom china promises to help us remember our grandmother.

And for me, the designer handbag promises that things will not always be so hard.

What people of privilege don't seem to grasp about being working poor is that it's not always as simple as it seems. It is not always so black and white, that if you are on assistance or struggling to pay your bills that you are incapable of having nice things. That the stuff that you accumulated however, by saving up or from gifts or hand me downs or whatever, somehow are impossible as soon as you're poor. Or worse yet, that if you didn't have those nice things, you wouldn't be poor in the first place, and that means you're somehow abusing the system.

As I said before, the relief that comes from selling off your valuables is always temporary. It is never a permanent solution. Inevitably, you will run out of things of value to sell. But you will always need food, shelter, clothes, basic medical care, etc.

Selling off all of your things just becomes a visual reminder of your lack, of the shame imparted upon the working classes, or the unfortunate victims of circumstance. It becomes a

Of the societal belief that if you are not financially thriving in America, then you are not deserving of anything.

After Friday's post, a friend of mine responded to Mitt Romney's secret video tape discussion about the people of America. People were less kind to her in the comments and over at BlogHer, where the post was syndicated, which inspired another friend to write about her experiences with government assistance.

The vitriol circled around the concept of a woman in line for assistance with a Coach bag, the very same thing that so infuriated me about that singular tweet. The perpetuation of the Welfare Queen myth, that discredits and shames the real, true experiences of people who actually utilize government assistance in order to survive. Not thrive, survive.

And now, now I am past anger and just heartbroken, because despite our best efforts, it is apparent that in this political climate in this country, my family will never be seen as worthy. My kids will grow up with labels around their necks like nooses, weighing them down from every believing that they have true worth and value just because their parents don't have X amount of money. It is the shame that I carry every time we go to the suburbs for playgroups or parks and other moms talk to me and I reveal where we live, only to quickly namedrop where I grew up, so that I'm not immediately discounted as lesser. It is the heartbreak Kyle feels as he watches his students walk to school from our street, a good couple of miles away, in the same clothes they wore to school the day before, and he whispers to me that child's story, ashamed that there is nothing we can do for them, as our resources are so thin as it is.

It is our life, and I'm tired of walking around our home, calculating the value of that life we've worked so hard to build, to see how much it would sell for on eBay. I am worn down by the judging stares and the tsk-tsks and the pity -- not empathy, just pity -- with which I am greeted so often. I am soul-weary from the years of admitting we need help, that somehow even though we did everything right, everything "they" told us would secure us a good and fruitful life, we are failing at the impossible American Dream.

And yes, I am ashamed for the times I have had to ask for help, or worse yet, accepted it when it appeared unprompted. And I hate that I feel that way, that I am made to feel that way, even when things seem to be getting a little better, because people can't grasp that everybody has worth, everybody has value, and everybody deserves nice things.

So yes, I have a Kate Spade purse, and we're in the process of applying for SSI for my son. We over-qualify for many programs, but not all, which is such a bittersweet revelation in itself.

Not having that purse or my china or my sunglasses (which were an eBay purchase, wedding gifts, and a TJMaxx find over the span of the last five years, because I have to validate that as someone of my financial means in order to be taken seriously, which is disgusting and gut-wrenching that I feel the need to even say anything) would only echo the despair we so often wrestle with at the hands of this false individualistic society, that because we are not affluent, we are worthless.

And I, I refuse to be worthless any longer.