"Try to make it real. Compared to what?" -Les McCann and Eddie Harries
My two oldest children have moved out on their own recently, one to Austin and one to Seattle, making the contrast for the lifestyle they had with us, and the lifestyle they now must provide for themselves, starkly apparent. My son was living at home, while very actively looking for work for ten months, before he found his current job -it was discouraging, but not the financial crisis if he'd been on his own. As our children living with us, they had access to health care and dental care. Living on their own they don't, and when it's been available to them through their work, they couldn't afford to buy it. Living here they had the use of our cars (not that driving a Plymouth Acclaim with sheep bumper stickers on it gave anyone a thrill), and all the usual basic things we take for granted -clean laundry, a heated house, a safe bed with plenty of blankets, and plenty of food.
Last visit my son said to me, "You know a couple of weeks ago I did something, maybe I shouldn't have, but well..." These are the sort of lead-ins that cause moms to hold their breath and really, really hope that what follows is not too dreadful. My son works the night shift at a seafood warehouse and gets off work in the wee hours. He lives in the International District of Seattle (its pretty 'sketch', pronounced his sister), where he is on a first name basis with the local dealers, knows which teen prostitutes work which areas and who their pimps are, and he recognizes the homeless men that live nearby under the freeway overpass, and sometimes gives them food and change. I try to not let it keep me awake at nights. He said he was getting off work, "and it was one of those nights when it was really, really cold." As he was going into his apartment he was approached by a homeless man, a young guy about his own age, who said he didn't want money or food, but if at all possible, he really, really could use a blanket. My son started to walk away from the situation, but he said he just couldn't. He told the guy to wait, went up to his apartment, took the new comforter he'd recently bought off his bed, and went back and gave it to the guy.
As a teen in the seventies, I remember talking with my grandmother about The Depression and asking her how bad it had been. "Oh honey, it wasn't so bad for us. We were on a farm and so we had enough food and we got by okay, not like some folks. We sometimes couldn't get gasoline and that sort of things, but we were all right." Now with unemployment being what it is (30% for the 18-25 year olds) there are many that are not doing all right -and not necessarily through any fault of their own. My kids have a safety net; if they aren't able to work and provide for themselves, neither of them will go hungry, or be out on the street (or working the street). We've told our daughter we'll pay for a plane ticket from Austin, if necessary. It will be okay, no matter what happens. I am proud of both of them: who they are, what they are doing, and how they are facing the challenges of not having, and how they appreciate and make work what they do have. Unlike another mother's son, cold and without a blanket on the streets of Seattle (and those other mothers' daughters), our kids can always come back to the farm if need be, where there is plenty of food and plenty of warm blankets.