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Archive for the ‘Intersectionality’ Category

Today, I gave my mom flowers and a card, and then I took her to a movie. My mom is awesome, and we had fun. And seeing her ignited some thoughts in my mind, so I’d like to share them with you.

There is a pervasive and stubborn attitude that persists in our society that often coincides with privilege of different kinds, and it is the attitude that those who are disadvantaged simply need to try harder. Hearing this point of view, most often from financially stable, white, able-bodied, male conservatives, frustrates me intensely. On a personal level, a lot of this frustration comes from being my mother’s daughter.

My mom is the most beautiful, wonderful person I know. She’s always been utterly selfless. She works at Burger King, and the work is terrible and the people are nasty and her bosses are rude but she never complains. She’s been there something like 10 years now, and she comes home with burns on her hands and arms and she takes the bus two hours each way to and from my parents’ home just to go work there. She is put to work on the front register even though she has hearing problems and has trouble taking people’s orders sometimes. But unlike most of the snotty kids she works with, she never complains, is always friendly, and works really, really hard. Even when I go to visit her there sometimes she ends up ignoring me because she’s too busy helping other people out. She also works a second job, which involves helping a woman she doesn’t like with housework and yardwork.

Her day tends to go like this: she gets up around 7am, has to get showered and dressed for work and pack up her bag. She doesn’t eat breakfast, she just has some coffee, and then she walks a few blocks to the bus stop and takes the bus to the next stop where she catches another one. Then she takes that bus into town, and by the time she gets there it’s about time for her to get into work and she’s been on the bus for two hours. She usually buys a dollar menu item for 50 cents with her employee discount to have something to eat if (and only if) she has the extra cash after bus money. She punches in, sometimes early if her boss asks her to, and works for a 6 hour shift. I’ve gone in to see her as she’s getting off enough times to realize that she often punches out early so she won’t go over 6 hours without a lunch break, but she still stays to finish up with whatever needs to be restocked and cleaned in her area. I’ve tried to tell her not to do that, but she waves me off saying she just needs to finish her work but she will get in trouble if she goes over her hours. She usually leaves around quarter after 4 and walks a few blocks to where the soup kitchen is and has dinner there. When she finishes there she often goes to see the other woman she works for to do more work, just to try and get some more money for the rent. After the two hour bus ride home (when she often has more bags with her than when she left in the morning because dad had her pick up groceries or something) she only has the energy to just fall asleep in front of the tv, unless dad asks her to clean the litter box or do laundry or walk to the store and get him something. Then she gets up and does it again. She has Sundays off from Burger King, and she used to go visit her sister on weekends but now she spends most of them coming back to town again to work all day at her second job.

All the while she does this, my dad dictates what happens to her money. He is in charge of the bills and doesn’t share the process of paying them with her, nor does he tell her exactly how much each one is. He keeps her in the dark and just takes her money and says he needs it all for the bills. He used to do this to me too, and even though he spends what my mom once estimated to be at least $100 a week on pot, he is even more honest with her about his habits than with me because he knows she just won’t do anything about it. When mom or I have ever tried to say anything, he could make us shut up really easily by yelling at us and physically threatening us. Mom doesn’t even try to argue anymore, because he has fooled her into believing that he really “needs” it. And he sits around all day, doing nothing, and she works her two jobs and has no time to do anything, ever, for herself, because deep down she loves him and is willing to sacrifice her own time–all of it–to support him. I’ve learned to be cynical and doubt everything he says, but she sees the best in everybody, so she believes him.

He threatened once to push her down a flight of stairs when she was pregnant with me because he wanted her to abort me. He made her get an abortion when she was pregnant before me. And even with those threats, she kept me and had me. Everything she’s ever done has been for me, or for other people. I finally convinced her once that he didn’t care about her, and she left, but then dad just kept using pot and we couldn’t even pay our rent or our electric bill. I couldn’t tell him to stop because he would just threaten me, and I couldn’t leave because I had no money and no where to go. And I had to keep asking her for money on his behalf, and even as this went on my boyfriend shamed me for it and even his mom found out and tried to shame me for it and I felt so guilty. I considered suicide at this point in my life because I felt like I could hardly bear turning around and asking my mom to let her abuser take her money again, just like he had before she managed to get away. They said my dad needed to hit rock bottom to change and it wasn’t fair to make his problems my mom’s since she had finally gotten out of there, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice because it wasn’t just dad on the line, it was me. If he lost the apartment, he was homeless, and so was I. Eventually we had to ask her to come back, and she did because even though he wasn’t around to abuse her, she felt so lost and sad without a family. She wanted to be with us and take care of us so badly that she was actually happy to have us ask her back, because she loved us so much.

When my mom was a baby, she got an infection in her ears that left her barely able to hear. As she grew up, she couldn’t hear her teachers in class very well, and she couldn’t hear other kids talking to her. She missed out on a lot of socialization and learning that is so crucial to kids, and even now she’s terribly sweet but really socially awkward at times. Her dad (who from what I’ve gathered over the years was quite like my dad) was convinced that she, like my uncle, was mentally retarded and so her hearing problems were ignored for a long time and were attributed to her being “dumb”. It wasn’t until high school that she had operations done on her ears to improve her hearing. Sometimes she still tells the story of coming home after an operation and being able to hear the rain hit the tin roof for first time ever. By that time, though, she had missed a lot of development that a kid needs, and her grades in school were iffy. She couldn’t get any scholarships for college, and only ended up being able to afford a couple classes before she had to stop going altogether. Her hearing issues are still very pronounced, even today.

My mom isn’t particularly bright by most societal standards, but I think she very well could have been if her hearing had been helped sooner. More importantly, my mom is the most selfless, hard-working person I know. She’s a bit meek, and doesn’t stand up for herself or rock the boat, but everyone who gets to know her loves her because she’s so sweet and so generous. When people act like those who are poor need to just “try harder” and “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” or imply that they’re just too lazy to “better” themselves, they are ignoring the fact that my mom is ALREADY better than they are. My mom has worked harder her whole life than most people can even imagine, and she rarely complains for a second that she doesn’t have shit to show for it. They ignore the people like my mother who work so hard just to scrape by. They ignore people like my mother who have gotten a raw deal their whole lives. They ignore people like my mother who have been abused and browbeaten. They ignore people like my mother who have just kept on being ignored their whole life. And that makes me sick.

So, I guess what I wanted to say with all of this is that my mom is the best. I hope she enjoyed spending Mother’s Day with me, and I hope the assholes of the world might consider cutting her a better break, as well as all those people who have met unfortunate circumstances. Most importantly, they need to shut the hell up acting like the cards that people have been dealt are their own fault. Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.

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