Living Like Atlas

6.10.09 036

A few days ago I listened to NPR correspondent Pam Fessler’s, “The Other Side Of The Economic Divide”, in which she compares her own lifestyle and outlook with that of the financially burdened population she reports on. At one point, Fessler interviews a woman at a food pantry who recounts encouraging her now-grown children that they could do anything – and warning them that “a baby is a lifetime of aggravation.”

Like Fessler, I’m struck by that line. Not struck in an inquisitive, intellectual way. I feel like I’ve been struck. This description of parenthood as a lasting hardship physically assaults me. In my social circles, babies are blessings. Could poverty really change how I feel and talk about my children?

I often remind students that intellectual pursuits – the kind we follow at the university – are privileges. French thinker René Descartes volunteered for that stint in the Dutch army. Rather than battling, the “father of modern philosophy” lounged in his tent reimagining dreams into scientific thought. He had time. We tend to study the works of old dead white men because they’ve had time to think and write.

But Fessler reminds me that even motherhood – the kind I experience – is a privilege.

I teach at a university. I’m a Lecturer, which is certainly a better paying gig than Adjuncting, but it’s not a tenure-track position. So I’ll probably never make much more than an average administrative assistant. But I’ve got time. Cogito, ergo sum.

Time to think about a world of ideas, and to see the world in my daughters. And to love and celebrate my world and my girls.

When I’m tired or not as present as I’d like to be with my children, it’s because I’m reflecting on a teaching moment found or lost, or thinking about how I’ll engage the next text or class. It’s because I’m just home from my much-appreciated work of sharing ideas with others. Not home from a shift at a factory. Or a slaughterhouse. Or Walmart.

I worry about how I’ll save for my children’s college educations. Not about how I’ll feed them this week.

I have enough time. I have enough money. Because my daughters are a blessing.

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5 thoughts on “Living Like Atlas

  1. I think the concept that a baby is “a life time of aggravation” is entirely self-centered. As an adjunct, who doesn’t make much, I can sympathize with not having a huge paycheck. My husband works construction for his dad and makes enough to support us, but there is no extra money for new cars or vacations to Disney. Some days we scrape to get by. I work hard to budget our money. I shop consignment sales for my kids, I clip coupons, and I can’t remember the last time my husband and I went out for a fancy dinner. Despite it all, I would never consider our choice to have three children a life time sentence to a world of aggravation. In my opinion they are a great gift and a wonderful blessing. In fact, I think the less we have the more aware I am of the blessings in my life that can’t be quantified.

    • Becca,

      Thanks for joining me here! This is just what I was after: the kind of conversations we might have if we’d a little more time in the day. And if we all had offices close to all of our colleagues. And in a place a little noisier than a library. And with a very good, very inexpensive coffeeshop amongst our offices.

      Oh, and if we weren’t always in class . . .

    • People who have to work 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs to feed their families don’t have time to clip coupons or shop around at consignment stores, or even to read and comment on internet blogs. I’m not saying your viewpoint is invalid, I’m just saying there’s always someone who has less than you. Think about their perspective.

      • I agree that I have no concept of what life would be like with multiple jobs, multiple kids, and little help from anyone other than myself. I don’t believe, however, even a life of extreme poverty warrants a mother’s hostility towards her child. I feel terribly sorry for the mother, and worse for her child, who blames her children for their situation or loves them any less because of it. I think there is no denying that motherhood is certainly more stressful for someone with less resources. i even think it’s possible that many of the joys of motherhood that I take for granted might be lost to a single mother working the third shift just so she can keep the power on. Despite that fact, I stand by my original statement that it’s selfish to claim that being a mother results in a lifetime of aggravation. In my opinion, that person needs to change her perspective about what motherhood is and quit viewing her child as a weight around her neck. At its core motherhood requires endless sacrifice and selfless love. No amount of money should change that.

      • I think this is what really strikes me about Pam Fessler’s report: I can’t get into the head space of a woman for whom “a baby is a lifetime of aggravation.” Her perspective is as far away from me as Atlas’s. Hence my title. How about that for a marker of privilege? The interviewee references the miseries of poverty, I reference Greek mythology.

        Like Fortress of Crunchitude, I respect that my privilege makes me a minority. Pieces like this one from NPR drive home the point that poverty means more than living paycheck to paycheck. That poverty is as much a psychology as a circumstance.

        And like Becca, I really can’t conceptualize poverty – real poverty – because I can’t imagine motherhood as something other than the devoted love and joy I know. At the same time, I’m dismayed that a mother would carry her a child like a albatross. Again with the references, sorry.

        At NPR.org, commenters criticize Pam Fessler for not relating to the people she writes about. But I think that’s Fessler’s point. If we’re listening to NPR on poverty or engaging in thoughtful conversations to try to get it, we can’t really get poverty. I want to resist this idea because I want to understandwhere others are coming from, because perhaps that’s a first step in helping us all reach a better place. Or at least a first step in trying to limit the incredible discrepancy between those who have enough and those who don’t. How can we be a better community – or city or republic – if we can’t understand each other?

        While I’m conflicted by the several people and ideas in Fessler’s report, I very much like that she’s got us talking. And I very much appreciate you two for chiming in here. I’m trying, but I can’t figure it out on my own.

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