Thursday, September 26, 2013

Using dollars to make sense

Because I was an American Teen Parent I lived my life out of sync with a majority of Americans my age. I gave birth to my son at 15 before I was married at 21; I went to college at 28 not 18; I chose a career at age 40, not 20; and now, I am retiring at age 55 instead of age 65. All of these milestones are markers of "progress" to those of us born and raised in the United States (US). I won't go into my lecture on the multicultural reality of the US, but if I line my milestones up against the milestones of a “typical” American female of my age, socio-economic group and ethnicity, I look like a real slow learner.

Teen parents are often characterized as intellectually slow, as well as, promiscuous, misdirected, troubled, erratic, irrational, and unable to see or understand "the big picture" or the consequences of our actions. I have to grant validity to that last one. Much work has been done on mapping emotional maturation as it links to chemical changes our brains make at certain points in our chronological aging process (see anything written by Antonio Demasio). In hindsight, I can truly say that I never saw it coming; the chaos my pregnancy caused my family. That could be attributed to a lack of maturity and/or foresight, but it could also be linked to the fact that my family life was already pretty chaotic. Maybe I just saw more of the same.

So, how do I make dollars make sense of my lack of synchronicity with the majority? I don’t. Well, I don’t anymore. Until well into my 30’s I was running full tilt to reach the crest of Life’s Bell Curve. I wanted so badly to be typical that all of my decisions were directed toward that goal. I worked my tail end off thinking that making a certain amount of money each year would catapult me over the out-of-sync years. As you have gleaned from previous posts, that did not happen. When I finally had the job that provided the salary that I “knew” would close my social growth gap, guess what? It didn’t. Thanks to great genes, I had the appearance of being typical but my journey through life up to that point was still very different, if no longer completely out of sync, from my contemporaries.

Because I am a nerd and an English teacher, and because I think of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as a box of Legos made out of words, I looked up the word “sense” to make sure it was the word that would most accurately convey my thinking. The word itself comes from old French and Latin words that indicate the ability to both perceive and feel something. I found this wonderfully synchronous because I am devoting the next 20 years or so to understanding, how these two words work in Teacher Preparation Programs at American colleges and universities. So, the fine line that separates the two fascinates me.

Perceive and feel describe very different activities in the brain. Both are activated, set into motion, in response to the world around us, how we see (or not), hear (or not), touch (or not), taste (or not), and smell (or not, which research is now telling us is more closely related to taste than many of us were aware, so I am not sure where we stand on naming taste as one of the five senses. It may get booted off the list before I finish writing this post just as Pluto just one day stopped being a planet). My thinking is that the ways in which we make sense out of all of the information the world and her inhabitants have to offer is directly linked to the kind of world within which we live. Simply put, dollars influence the kind of world that surrounds us and defines the stimuli available to us. Please go back to my first posting wherein I provide statistical data regarding the ages and socio-economic status of teen parents in America, for data supporting this statement. Or, you can go to South Philly and ask them if North Philly is in the same world.

My dollars brought me St.Anne's Maternity Hospital for Unwed Mothers in Southeast Los Angeles, in the early 1970's. Or rather, the state of California's dollars brought me to Los Angeles on a hot, uncharacteristically sticky, spring day in May, where the state paid for my upkeep until I birthed the baby I would give to the state for adoption, but I broke the contract.

My son was about a month old when I received the bill for the cost of the two months I had spent in St. Anne’s. This was quite a shock. Government representatives and the nuns at St. Anne’s had assured me that I would never be coerced into giving my baby away. Even if it was the “right” thing to do and would be in the best interest of all concerned. A month or so after I made the decision to keep my baby, I was informed by letter that because I had not held up my end of the bargain. I had to repay the dollars spent for my upkeep while at St Anne’s. I called this payment, due on a monthly basis, "repo money." When my son's colic was about to kill me from lack of sleep, fear, anxiety and just plain irritation, I would coo softly to him, "If you don't stop crying I am not going to make your repo payment this month." I always made the payment. For the state of California, it made sense to invest in my baby, but not in me.

I took a little look-see at what made sense for the state of California at the beginning of the most recent economic crisis. I found that Medicare B coverage was discontinued altogether, so it seems that taking care of the elderly did not make sense to the State of California, but the "Department of Social Services [saw just a] decrease of $9.9 million resulting from the federally approved extension of enhanced funding for the Foster Care and Adoption Assistance programs” (p.21). It seems that supporting the source from which future generations spring made sense not only the State of California but to the federal government, as well. Spending their (our) dollars made sense to them because the elderly were no longer viable producers of future generations (at least the women weren’t) but the majority of non-white babies being produced could be repurposed into financially, if not ethnically, viable middle and upper middle class citizens. This last sentence calls in all sorts of arguments that I cannot entertain here, but please feel free to post a response and we can continue this discussion, there.

Back to making dollars make sense in my asynchronous world; as a teen parent, I often shopped at stores that used my dollars to support activities I, personally did not support. I was always curious about what certain companies did with all that money and one day I just made a list of the 3 or 4 companies I could not avoid using like Gas stations and Electric companies; grocery stores and pharmacies, and clothing stores. Bearing in mind that this was back in the plastic age before common folk had computers, I spent a day in the public library looking at old newspapers to see if there were any articles naming these companies as supporters of things like handgun sales, chemical warfare, or deforestation. At 17 these were ideas were words I could recognize by sight but concepts that I knew very little about, so as I researched the companies, I learned a lot about those particular issues. Also, at the same time, my son was having a blast with the Children’s Librarian who was doing some kind of puppet show.

It was at that point that I came to understand that not only did I need to earn that golden salary but also I had to learn where to spend it. In the meanwhile I became as socially and environmentally conscious as my meager welfare or crappy job checks allowed.

As teen parents we frequently shop at stores that are not interested in or share our values. I wanted to use my dollars, or in some cases the State’s dollars (tax payers’ dollars) to not only improve my own standard of living but to help bring about a shift in global thinking. Was this the crusade of one lone and very poor voice? No. It is my opinion that people who have lived their lives out of sync with the norm; people whose values may be very different than what they think their dollar can currently provide them; people who made different choices and in so doing created "family values" that include families of teen parents who love and support their sibling, son, daughter, cousin, or aunt, who lived her life out-of-sync with the typical, those people must use their dollars to make sense out of their worlds. They do not have to be my values, but they should be the values that they believe will support them in the present and their children in the future, and maybe lend a hand to Grandma who’s Medicare B got cut.

I had forgotten about my early efforts at financial environmentalism until about a week ago when I stumbled upon a website called The Grommet. This website is built on the idea of putting your dollars where your values are. I am quoting now from the "Learn More" page on The Grommet website. They write, "Citizen Commerce is about using our collective power to buy products from companies that reflect our values." I so get this.

The state of California has spent billions of dollars housing and feeding women and girls whose babies could go into typical middle/upper middle class homes, not because the state was worried that the child might be raised in poverty but because typical people with typical mainstream values have a greater likelihood of raising children who live their lives “in sync” with those typical middle to upper middle class values. They tend to graduate high school and go to college before getting married and having babies. There are always exceptions. When people like me, teen parents from economically challenged backgrounds or atypical families, provide typical folks with babies to raise as typical people, theoretically, more typical mainstream citizens result. The State of California invests its money in humans who, ideally, will guarantee that there will be a next generation of middle/upper middle class families who will own the state's businesses and vote for the state's leaders.

Teen parents are a risky investment being all promiscuous and misguided and all (this is sarcasm), but our children are not. The way I see it, if Teen Parents become more aware of how and where they spend their money, or the State’s money, the more knowledgeable they become. Knowledge, as every After School Special tells us, is power. The more powerful they become the more say they have over their own lives and the lives of their children. Make no mistake this works the other way round. If Teen Parents are giving their money to drug dealers and liquor stores they are also using their dollars to support their own values, but it so much harder to make sense out of dollars when you are high. That is a lesson for parents of any age.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Zoom-in on:

The 20 seconds it took my mother to say, “no, thank you” to the nun, turn toward me but not look at me, and take her first step towards the door felt like an eternity. It so clearly illustrated our relationship up that point in time. My mother has blue eyes that are difficult to see because she is so short. She does not look up to anyone. When I was 12-years old everyone in the house, step-dad, two younger sisters and a younger brother, forgot my mother’s birthday. That is hurtful. As someone wrote, and I recently read, celebrating birthdays are very important because that tells the person you are happy they were born and that they are in your life. I understood that once my son was born. I call him each year to thank him for being born and being a part of my life. I celebrate his life. Well, the 12 year old that I was did not understand that. My mother did not speak one word for exactly seven days. She spoke to no one in the house, not even to discipline us and when she passed by me she did not look through me. I was not transparent; I was non-existent. This is what I experienced in those few seconds.

The memory of that week of non-existence, the quiet of a household typically filled with noises of all kinds was unnerving and a lot scary. When, as a 15-year old pregnant girl, I was faced, again by that sense on absence it was as if I had been removed by a vacuum in the universe, and was slipping into a deep, dark, black hole. Even though I was prepared for it, it hit me like a flash Flood hits the desert floor. I thought that at the very least I would merit a dirty look, a sneer, sharp words, something to indicate her displeasure of my present condition. I did not even hope for compassion or kindness. True to form, my mother pulled herself up to her full five feet two inches looked right at the nun and said, “no thank you.” I can only imagine the shiver that traveled down the spine of that nun because I know it happened. She was no match for those deceptively soft blue eyes. To this day people with blue eyes frighten me just a little because I have seen those soft sky blue eyes transform in nanoseconds to hard blue ice that cuts through anything that lies within their gaze and erases anything they do not wish to see. On that day, at that time, the nun was the former and I was the latter.

When those 20 seconds passed and my mother had made it to the door, her husband close behind her, after a quick pat and a good bye that was tinged with relief, I looked to the nun to confirm my existence. It was all too possible that I had become a mirage of some kind. One minute there stood a long, lanky, scared and pregnant 15-year old and the next moment; she was gone. The nun did see me but not until I had seen her. Her face was not inscrutable, it was so busy processing a response that I could not quite pinpoint what could have been a look of  pity or maybe disdain, or maybe both mixed in with a bit of resentment, for my mother's gaze might not be strong enough to disappear a nun, but a nun could stand witness to a parent erasing her child. Maybe she had seen the like with hundreds of girls before me, but the ever-changing expressions on her face told me that she was probably new to this line of service. So, feeling a little like Casper, but not so friendly a ghost, I followed the nun when she nodded toward the door and we stepped into the lives of 90 other women and children who had been erased by their families, if not by themselves.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It is all connected but sometimes it is hard to see the wires

It has been three days and I haven't written a word for the blog. I have been doing busy work, which I do not hate as much as I should because it really does keep me from doing things that are important to me, like writing this blog. Writing the blog makes me vulnerable, so I carefully craft each post and quadruple check my grammar. Heaven forbid I should make a grammar error. However, tonight I am going free style. Let's see where we end up

have been thinking. I have been thinking about a TED talk I stumbled upon by a woman named BrenĂ© Brown. She was talking about vulnerability and how it is the motivating factor for creating, innovating and connecting with other people. She says we cannot do these things unless and until (yep, Dr. Phil) we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. So, this is swimming around my brain and today I hear a woman, a female employee of the store I was in, say to another female employee, "I am really worried about how Obama care is going to affect the hours I am getting. I thought I was going to be able to stop selling my plasma (blood) but now I think that I will just have to put up with the cramping in my arms and legs until I can get a better job." That is a picture of vulnerability. To sell my blood or not to sell my blood, that is the question and there is nothing noble about it. Jump to...

It was a hot, hazy, summer afternoon in Los Angeles, we were just coming over the hill that separates LA county from Orange County and the smog lay like a blanket over the tops of the buildings. I was in the back seat. My mother and dad were in the front. He was driving. No one was talking. After getting lost, really just off by a couple of blocks, we pull into the parking lot of St. Anne's Maternity Hospital on Occidental. The building was stucco painted baby shit yellow and it looked more like the back entrance to the place where you get your oil changed. We walked into a very small reception area and the woman behind the glass window acknowledged us. Still, no one is speaking. If this was a movie it would require some awesome cinematography to make it interesting. I was in the "scene" and if I had not been busy telling myself I wasn't scared and I didn't care, I would have been bored.

The receptionist picked up a heavy, black, desktop phone and said something very short and quiet, hung up and returned to her paperwork. In just 2 or 3 minutes a nun walked into the waiting area from a door opposite the receptionist. She nodded at my parents, again, not speaking. She nodded to indicate that she was ready for the hand off.

The nun spoke. She said, "Would you like a short tour"? My mother said, “No, thank you." She then turned to me and said, "See you in a few months." My dad hugged me, told me he loved me and followed my mother out the door to the car. It was the Nun and me. She looked at me kindly yet stern reached out as if she was going to put her hand on my shoulder but stopped just short of actually touching me. Understanding that resistance was truly futile, I shrugged away and cut in front of her to walk back through the door from which she had just emerged, like I knew where I was going. She walked silently behind me for a few steps and then she began pointing out points of interest: here is the chapel, this is the Cafeteria, here is the group room, through those doors is the clinic, let me show you to your room.

I am not Catholic. The one and only time I attended a Catholic mass, as a child, I looked up at the Crucifix and hurled on my black patent leather shoes. My best Friend's mom who did not want to take me in the first place never forgave me. What I saw was terrifying. We were in a room that was vast and echoed, and there was a dead guy hanging on the wall. I knew the story of Christ and upon reflection I figured out that it was a likeness of him on the wall, but hey, I was six years old, somebody could have warned me. After that I steered clear of Catholics and anything Catholic related, so when that nun walked into the reception area my brain froze and then jumped into over drive designing my escape. Each time she pointed out a room I was casing it for an exit. I had nowhere to go but that was just a detail. Again, somebody could have warned me. I believed to my core that the Nuns would exact retribution for my hurling incident. Those nuns have a serious network; I figured they had to have a record of my poor behavior, somewhere.

I had arrived. St. Anne's Maternity hospital held 90 young women ages ranging from 12 to 40. We were all there because we had signed a contract with the State of California that we would sign our children over for adoption, with the exception of one girl. Laura was angelic. Long silky, straight hair (that I coveted) tall, from the back she did not look pregnant at all but that was true of most of us. I learned that many of the girls in St. Anne's had approached their pregnancies the same way I had-denial. We stopped eating, wore baggy shirts and got mad and walked off in a huff if any suggested we had gained weight. The day I walked into St. Anne's at seven months pregnant I weighed 115 pounds. I was, and am, 5'7".

Laura had fallen in love in high school and when her boyfriend who truly loved her told her how much he wanted to join the Navy after graduating High School, she just didn't tell him she was pregnant. She did not want to stand in the way of his dream. They said their goodbyes and made promises to stay true to each other. Once he was on the ship she told her parents she was pregnant and that she would never give her baby away. So, her parents paid the "tuition" St. Anne's required of girls they would house, feed and educate but whose babies they would not be processing. They vowed to never see or speak to her again. They were Catholic.

In her first letter to her boyfriend, Laura told him she was pregnant and why she had not told him earlier and where she was and why. He wrote back swearing that he would come to get her and marry her as soon as he could. I found that highly unlikely but Laura's faith endured and sure enough before the baby was born a sailor showed up to take Laura away. We know this is true because I had found a window in one of the bathrooms that allowed us a view of the parking lot, as well as, the swimming pool the nuns used to sunbathe and swim in, but I will get back to that. 

We piled into the only stall that allowed access to the window with the view and watched as Laura's love tenderly placed her in a car, walked around the back of the car, head down and drove them all away into a future we were left to imagine. With so many other stories, Laura's only came up in conversation when an FOB was “actin a fool” to one of the girls. This occurred daily and there were no secrets in St. Anne's. Everyone, well, almost everyone, lived very public lives. Everyday one girl or another was beaten up, cheated on, lied to, spit on, or just plain `ole ignored. As part of the ritual of gathering in the group room to listen, sympathize and plan retribution, we would also remember how beautiful Laura's handsome FOB sailor had come for her. We really didn't get a good look out of that small window but we knew that Laura's lover would have to be as beautiful as she. We all acted jaded but were really weren't. We all wanted the fairy tale to be true. FOB was shorthand for Father of Baby; this was in the days before "baby daddy" came into common use.

There were only a couple of girls who did not actually know who the FOB was. One of them was my first roommate. There were no private rooms. Every room had two twin-sized beds with dull beige double knit blankets covering sheets that had started out as 100 thread count but had been boiled and bleached down to a 10; they were just short of burlap. The pillow was encased in the same bright white sheet material. The bedclothes always smelled like bleach. The smell never came out of them. There were two brown plywood chest of drawers situated next to each bed. An ongoing competition was to rearrange the furniture in our rooms in the most unique way possible. Props were allowed, so we were always going on walks and sneaking back in with a piece of fabric yanked out of a trash that had been set at the curb, or a handful of weeds that we called flowers. The Nuns only checked rooms once a week, so we could enjoy gathering in each new environment for about five days before it would be returned to its original arrangement. If not by the girls in the room then by housekeeping.

My roommate, Chriztal was a 30-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome. I had never seen a person with Down’s syndrome. Chriztal was very low functioning. She did not know who her FOB was or she never said it. She did not talk much. She could talk she just didn't. So, we made up a backstory for her. Her mother was a “wanna be” movie star who came to LA on the bus of ambition and ended up pregnant from her first call back. Believing that the casting director would marry her and make their daughter a star, she continued the pregnancy and spent all nine months thinking up the best stage name ever. Even after the producer dumped her, even after her child was born with Down’s syndrome, she would not let go of the dream. Marking the father box as unknown, Chriztal’s mother named her baby Chriztal Waterford Lee. This would allow them to play with the arrangement of the names as Chriztal’s career developed. We had no idea what Chriztal’s story was, she wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us. Even when she came back in one day, beat up and reeking of weed, she would only say, "parking lot." 

They parking lot across the street from St. Anne's was a hangout spot for FOBs and neighborhood guys who liked “gettin a little off a preggie." It was bordered on all sides with tall junipers with an opening for a driveway. There was no building it seemed to belong to, so the girls who said they enjoyed anonymous and fairly public sex would stroll on over whenever they got an itch "needed scratchin." Chriz visited the parking almost daily and out of boredom and curiosity a few of us followed her over now and then to see what she was doing because she sure wouldn't tell us. We thought the guy we saw her with was her FOB and maybe he was but what he was doing was pimping Chriz out to the neighborhood boys who liked to "get it on" with a preggie. Those boys hung in the parking lot with candy, cigarettes, Boones Farm, pot and anything else they thought would get them laid, everyday.

Seven seriously angry pregnant girls of all colors marching across a street must be a terrifying vision. When Chriz said, "parking lot." We took it upon our selves to find and punish whoever needed punishing. I never felt that powerful again, in my life. As we crossed the street the boys who were just hanging, kicking rocks, smoking whatever they had, telling lies, looked up like a herd of gazelle and began to back up and spread out as they broke from the herd to seek safety on the other side of the juniper. A few of us broke off and cornered the guy we had seen with Chriz before while a few others just enjoyed scaring the hell out of the other boys. I was one of those girls. Watching those boys stumble backward trying to disappear through the hedge only fueled my need to unleash all the fear and anger I had been carrying around with me for what felt like my whole life. They faster they backed up the louder I got and the more graphic my threats became. So, I did not hear his confession, but the girls who had cornered the suspected FOB reported that in trying to explain what happened to Chriz he let slip that he was making a small profit renting her out to the neighborhood boys. It wasn't him that hurt her and he would "damn sho never" rent her out to that guy again. We ladies could be assured of that. We banned him and any of the others we could identify from the parking lot and for about a week we took turns patrolling to make sure that anyone doing anything in the lot was doing so of their own choice. About a month later we caught Chriz and the possible FOB together in the lot and just gave up trying to protect her. It was too hard to generate that kind of explosive rage on cue, and, as we continued to grow larger we became much less terrifying.

"Parking lot" were the only words I ever heard Chriztal say until she "went up" to deliver her baby. The Nuns allowed us to call her to see how she was. I said, “Chriz, what did you have"? She answered with a tone of surprise, "A baby."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day: An essay written in Gratitude for Crappy Jobs

I am NOT talking about jobs at McDonalds, Taco Bell, KFC, or Sonic. Or, even Chili’s, Olive Garden or Ruby Tuesday. These businesses thrive because they serve the function of were employing college students, and up and comers from low income families. It is possible to make a career in these places but, most likely, it will be a career IN one of those places. The training does not transfer to the next level of the service market.

There are the Wal-Mart, Jiffy Lube, Sears, and JC Penney’s kind of jobs. These jobs also provide brand-name specific training that allows the worker to remain employed by that brand name until retirement, but they also provide training that can be carried across brand names. If a teen parent can manage a home and family, live on the salary of a 30-hour a week job in one of these service brand names, and go to college they may just be able to grasp the next rung up on the ladder of service market providers.

No, I am talking about nursing assistants, beer bar workers, exotic dancers, secretaries in very small companies, factory workers in off brand factories, house cleaners (not housekeepers), day labor in any form of construction work, waitresses, cooks, bus-persons or dishwashers in off brand establishments, entry-level county employees in any department, and any job with the words “group Home” in it. I have held many jobs in this category. They entailed working midnight or swing shifts, cleaning up other peoples’ poo, piss and puke, and allowing people I did not know to verbally abuse me. They often also include Quid Pro Quo situations most frequently known as sexual harassment, but are more often something as stupid as bringing donuts to the right person.

The crappy job market is always thriving because there will always be a layer of American citizens who need someone to help them with basic life skills and there will always be a layer of American citizens who do not want to attend college or are not expected to attend college, like teen parents. As a person who has worked many of these jobs, some simultaneously, I admire the stamina it takes to make them a lifetime career.

I call them crappy jobs because they often involve literal crap. Cleaning bathrooms, changing adult diapers, and wiping down walls in rooms that have held the feces of innumerable occupants. I also call them crappy jobs because they entail dealing with figurative crap. This is the Quid Pro Quo type of crap I have had to take from bosses and supervisors. Typically, figuratively crappy jobs do not involve literal crap, but not always.

Figuratively crappy jobs can do damage. They can be the death of a million small cuts. Each insult, curse word, bad attitude, and just plain ugly person who has to be treated as valuable (to someone) takes a tiny piece of humanity away from the noble worker; make no mistake, these are noble jobs. Really, what is more important to humanity: helping a housewife find dish towels on aisle nine or wiping poo off of someone’s behind because he cannot do it for himself?  However, those millions of small cuts scar, and scar over again. This scar tissue becomes “thick-skin. Thick skin is the only thing that protects the noble worker of a crappy job and allows her to keep the last shreds of her humanity.

Crappy jobs are often found in the newspaper under the heading of “job openings”. They should actually title that column “Somebody’s gotta do it.” “Somebody’s gotta do it” jobs are perfect jobs for teen parents. Why? Well, for me, they made me feel useful. Every day that I went to work there was someone having a worse day than I was. In some cases I was the one with the key to the door in my pocket and that was pretty much all that separated me from them. Moreover, these jobs are noble because someone has to do them

 Working crappy jobs prepared me for college. I was told that as a teen parent I was not suitable for college and especially for the degree I wanted. I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I wanted to cut open brains and find out why they worked in so many different ways in so many different people. But, having gotten pregnant at 15, I was deemed by the society of decent people (whoever they are) as unfit for college and certainly undeserving of such a lofty goal. It took 14 years to develop the thick skin I needed to defy society and go to college full-time. Over those 14 years I had taken a class here and there. Work a midnight shift, come home get the kid up, fed and off to school, sleep until 2:30 pick him up from the bus or school (depending on where we lived) cook dinner, and then sneak off to take a class before I went to work at 11PM and then do it all over again. 

The thick skin I acquired also helped me to fend off cutting words and slit-eyed glare of my college "colleagues” as they often and loudly praised my brave attempt to make myself a “better person.” This left-handed compliment was meant to remind me that I really did not belong in college. I was meant to be a noble worker for life, as my son would be after me. Fortunately, I had so much humanity sucked out of me by those crappy jobs that I figured, “what have I got to lose”? At worst if I just kept my head down and my mouth shut I might be able to squeeze out a college degree that would allow me to get a crappy job with more hours and better pay.

I started my degree work at Riverside Community College and was one of the first students in a pilot program to transferCommunity College students directly into a four-year university. So I went to the University of California, Riverside directly from a two-year college. This is a common practice today but in the late 1980's it was something close to sacrilege. I have written about the Community College faculty member who encouraged me, Dr. David Baker. I actually had the opportunity to thank him just before I finished my Doctoral degree. I told him that his words gave me the push I needed to continue college after I had that 2-year degree. Otherwise, I would have taken another crappy job with just a few more hours and a little bit better pay.

Popular use of the word “noble” in American English means a person or an action that displays characteristics that are honorable and to be emulated. And yet, those of us who work crappy jobs are primarily considered one rung up on the social ladder from those we serve. With nobility comes humility, which so many of us understand as humiliation. With humiliation comes shame, and before you know it we are participating in our own self-directed cycle of not participating in mainstream culture, not earning a living wage, becoming thick-skinned, uncaring and feeling humiliated by the lives we live, instead of recognizing our nobility for doing them. I also want to suggest that you can choose to do something different. 

What I learned in college is that I worked crappy jobs until the day I decided I did not have to (and not to end a sentence in a preposition like I just did). I learned that the one decision that got me pregnant was just one decision in a lifetime of decisions. If you are working at a crappy job as you read this, I hope you will take a moment to acknowledge the nobility of the work you are doing, and consider the possibility that you can choose not to do it.

 In the meantime, if no one else says this to you today, let me thank you for your noble labor in the service of America’s citizens.