The majority of children today do not know what it’s like growing up without clothes, toys, or the bare essentials. They are often spoiled with their $180 Nike shoes or $300 Xboxes. Children do not need those things. We were disciplined if we acted out over being denied something we wanted, especially if it were pricey.
We didn’t have a video game of our own. We didn’t have a TV in our rooms, either. I felt very fortunate that my father bought himself an Atari 2600 (you read that right; himself). I was lucky he allowed me to play his Space Invader game one hour at a time most days. It was more than my younger brothers were allowed, as they were not to touch it at all.
Due to circumstances beyond her control, my mother was an (unwilling) non-existent parent in my life leaving only my father to care for me since the tender age of ten. Unlike children now-a-day, I only had two sources for new clothes. The first source was my older brother Terry, who gave me $100 a year to buy school clothes.
This money was spent on a new coat, pair of shoes, two pairs of pants, three shirts and if I had any left over, I could buy undergarments, such as panties, bra, or socks. Once the money was spent, it was gone so I had to be frugal with what I had. This continued well into my high school years, too, so even though the cost of living increased and shoes were more expensive, my only allotment was $100. It was all he could spare.
The other source for new clothes, that were not really new at all, came from a thrift shop. My Aunt Shirley worked as a manager at the Salvation Army and when clothes didn’t sell, she would bag them up and bring them to our house. Whatever clothes fit we could keep. The clothes that didn’t fit were returned to Salvation Army for another attempt at selling. In all of the years that I lived with my father, he never, not once, ever bought me an article of clothing; not even a sock.
When it came time for school shopping, he would tell me, “Call your brother and see if he has any money.” If it were during the school year, he would say, “I’ll call Aunt Shirley and see if she can help.”
School parties were an automatic no-go. I never had any party dresses or money to buy one. Spending days at the mall was also unheard of due to lack of funds. There were many things I did not have for personal pleasure or even for school because my father wouldn’t buy them. However, I wasn’t alone. Many of my peers were living under the same poverty conditions that I was. For us, it was just a part of life.
It wasn’t until I moved south that I saw my first pair of Jordache and Chic Jeans. It was my junior year in high school and a few of the girls were wearing them.
Although, by this time, I was already conditioned not to expect more than what we could afford which was close to nothing. I had already developed the attitude that if I were going to wear someone’s name on my derriere, it was going to be my own. I didn’t pin my hopes on a new prom dress, either, or even entertain the idea of going to prom. I had a few prom date offers, but since I knew my father would never buy the gown, I turned down the few boys who asked me to prom.
I remember my cosmetology teacher taking me into her office for a private conversation. She motioned for me to have a seat as she closed the door.
She began with, “You are such a smart girl, very quick witted and you have a wonderful sense of humor, but you’ll never be a popular girl if you don’t start wearing Jordache Jeans, or even Chic Jeans.”
“What makes you think I want to be a popular girl?” I asked, as I tried to figure out what of my actions made her think that being popular was a priority to me.
“Well, everyone wants to be popular and well liked,” she explained. “No one is going to like you if you don’t start wearing name brand clothing.”
“Are you going to buy them?” I asked quite irritated.
She did not know my situation at home. It was bad enough we students had to come to school and cope with peer pressure from our peers, especially those of us who lived in poverty. And now we (or I) had to deal with peer pressure from my teacher. I was livid!
I stood from my chair and looked down at her as she remained seated and said, “If people choose to dislike me because my family can’t afford to buy me the expensive name brand clothes, then that is their problem. Personally, I do not care to associate with people who are shallow and superficial and base their relationships on income or clothing. So if someone is coming to you with these complaints, tell them I said to pony up with the money for me to buy these things or they can kiss my ass! Either way works fine for me!”
I realized as I stormed out of the office that I could have been suspended for cussing at a teacher, but I also realized that she would have to explain herself to the principal. Knowing that she was an alcoholic and had witnessed her sipping from a bottle of vodka she kept in her desk drawer, as well as being drunk while trying to teach the class, I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to report me. Still, I went home and warned my father and told him what happened. He didn’t care.
As an adult, I reflect back to those days. When buying for my own children, I bought what I could afford. I didn’t make them do without, but I certainly did not buy the name brands they felt they needed, especially my daughter. I tried, through example, to show them we can still have nice things without having to mortgage the house to get them.
A part of me feels I failed because my daughter, now an adult herself, strives to buy the more expensive things. When she was a teenager, she was so embarrassed to be in Walmart that she hid behind clothing racks in case someone she knew from school saw her there.
“Well, if they see you here and you’re not supposed to be, then ask them what they are doing here,” I insisted.
I cannot see myself acting that way at all. I was more appreciative of what little I had since I had so little to begin with. I also cannot see myself demanding my father spend over $100 on a pair of shoes for me and then throwing a temper tantrum if I didn’t get them. Then again, I cannot see myself getting away with throwing a temper tantrum period.
Yes, I grew up fearing my parent. I feared that if I did not respect him in his house he would tear my butt up. I feared that if I got out of line and misbehaved, I would get my butt tore up then, too. However, I surely did not need a teddy bear at night to help me understand and cope with not getting a new anything and I certainly did not feel my father didn’t love me because he disciplined me.
As a result, I grew up knowing that we have to work hard for the worldly possessions we want to have, unlike the children today who are learning selfishness and narcissism by getting things at their every whim. Parents need to sit up and pay attention before it’s too late…or is it already?