A coffee shop is easily one of my favourite places to be. It could be the ambience of the chilled out music, the quirky décor, warm sweet smells and big comfy chairs. Or it could be the company. I’ve always loved a good heart to heart, a good laugh, a good friend.
I love my people. Being with my people is what gives me pulse. Add in a delicious cuppa or a hot chocolate made from real steamed milk (is there any other kind?) and I’ve got me a perfect afternoon.
Have I spent five entire dollars on a single hot drink in my day? You bet I have. And I’ve done it more than once because good drinks are delicious and I like to invest in my relationships. Who wants canned whip cream that melts into oil within moments? Literally no one does.
You know what else I just love? Travel. I love new places. I love new smells. I love new food. I love new people. I love learning about new things I never knew existed. I love being surprised by the unexpected and not knowing what treasures we might find on tomorrows adventure. I lived in England for 2 years in my early 20’s and it’s shaped me into the adventure-loving creature I am today. I learned more on my overseas adventure in 2 years than I think I learned in my first 18 years of life. I began to mingle with folks outside of my culture and socioeconomic status. I learned things about people that blew my little mind. It became more and more apparent that the life I lived for my first 18 years was not what these people considered to be normal- even if it was my normal.
When I was 17 I moved in with my aunt in the last semester of my highschool career, and only then did I begin to realize what the life of an average middle class teen looked like. I was no longer answering the phone to creditors. I didn’t have to worry about when payday was. I didn’t have to step foot into a food bank unless I was volunteering there. I just went to school, came home, occasionally worked at my part time job and banked the money I made there- in my own pocket. It was peaceful, and it was the first time in my life I had felt that way at home. This was privilege- although the word meant nothing to me at the time.
I knew what the word evicted meant before I knew what the word mortgage meant. Mortgages were only for rich people. I lived in more than 15 homes by the time I was 18. For the first few years of my marriage it was a bit of a joke when we would drive around different places because I would often find myself saying “hey- I used to live there” and my husband would just shake his head in disbelief.
As a young girl I knew how to budget for groceries, and how to add up the total before we got to the till- because goodness forbid we were wrong and had to put something back. More embarrassing than that was thinking we had enough and getting the dreaded “declined” message from the debit card. We were incredibly talented at stretching the dollar mind you. Cheap snacks were my thing. And I’ll tell you what- I still have a deep love and feelings of nostalgia when I treat myself to plain pasta with butter for a snack.
Sample day was one of the best days of the month. What’s sample day you ask? The day that Sunny D (or some other awesome company) decides they want you to try their products so every mailbox get a little jug. My brother and I would run as fast as we could throughout the subdivision collecting all the samples we could. They were fantastic and probably the only time we ever had Sunny D. They weren’t the most honest days of my life.
The other best day of the month was couch dive day. Back in the 90’s everyone kept their money in their giant pockets right? Well our family did, which meant that all (some of) the monies would fall into the cracks of the couch without us noticing. When we needed bread or milk or some other necessity and had no money left for the month we would just ransack the couch and if we found 5 bucks it was literally the best. I loved couch dive day.
There are things that poor families and children go through that ‘average” (rich as I saw them) families just never have to think about; money for school trips, participation in pizza day, access to sports, everything about Christmas, not fitting in because your clothes are so out of date no one wants to be your friend, having to explain to your friends why you can’t attend their birthday, having to explain to your friends (who you just made) why you’re moving-again. As a child and a teen I only saw these things from my perspective. As an adult and a mother, I have a new set of eyes.
I have been to Paris, London, New York, Boston, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Venice, Montreal, Disney World, Jasper and many other amazing cities that are too many to count. I’ve done many of these trips on a tight budget- but I did them. I frequently go grocery shopping without even checking the total on my receipt until I get home. I eat at restaurants sometimes where I can’t understand half of what the menu says, and I tip because I can- not just because I have to. We have two cars. One is on it’s way out, and the other needs a lots of maintenance- but we have two cars. Sometimes I justify expensive purchases for my family because ‘it’s worth the money’, completely forgetting that it’s only worth it because I have the money to afford it. Obviously a family with less would think a better quality product is ‘worth’ the money if they actually had that money.
I by no means am trying to brag. My life is in no way perfect.
All I know is that every morning when I wake up and look at my life I am absolutely amazed that considering where I came from, this is where I now find myself. I never forget where I came from. It is carried with me every single day. It’s embedded into how I perceive and interact with the world around me. It has made me who I am and I choose to use my life’s experiences for good.
It took me years to realize that when I met someone new they didn’t see a tattered, awkward, poor little girl who didn’t understand the world. It took me years to realize that middle class people weren’t evil. It is by no fault or merit of our own that we are where we are- especially when it comes to socioeconomic status.
A few years ago a good friend and I had been out for lunch, we were driving home talking about life and we passed The Cash Store, which is a place you can go to borrow money until payday at an extremely high interest rate. My earnest, loving, generous, loyal, well-educated friend asked me “in what situation would someone actually have to use a place like that?”. I realized in that moment that despite the beautiful loving home she was raised in, despite her university degree, despite her love for people and care for those who are affected by the woes of the world- her life experiences and middle class bubble had blinded her to the very real and very practical difficulties in the lives of those in our very own community- of people like me not so many years ago. Like many of the people I socialize with today, places like this were foreign to her. This is not her fault. When we grow up with enough, imagining having literally nothing is impossible, just like when you grow up without- imagining a life where you don’t have to worry about your next meal is just as difficult.
So many of us forget that there is need right here in our own backyards. There are abusive relationships, mental health issues, lack of support for mental health, drugs, poor choices, bad luck, a lack of advocacy, unemployment, and a cycle of poverty that is just about impossible to break. Often, it’s not what you know- it’s who you know. And you can’t get to know people who will get you places if you only grow up around people who are down and out.
All throughout my adulthood I see people getting ahead because they are in the right circles, and know the right people. And I get it, I’ve struggled to get a job before and would have taken any opportunity to get in if I knew the right person- but I think it’s easy to think that we’ve all arrived here because we have worked so hard. I’ve worked hard. I have always saved my money. I didn’t have a time in my 20’s where I was irresponsible. I didn’t blow my time or money. I’ve worked 2 jobs and put myself through college while keeping our house afloat when my husband couldn’t work. Many of my friends are the same. They have worked their butts off. But that doesn’t mean that those who are without did not work hard. Sometimes we just land on luck, good fortune or meet the right people. Remember that.
I am a firm believer in using your story for good. I am firm believer that we can use the “who we know” for good. We can use our circles of influence to spark change. We can inform our people of the injustices in the world that make us tick. We are meant to have passion. Whoever you are, and wherever you are in your life you have the ability to influence others. Whether you were raised in a healthy home and your parents gave you a head start or you’re a single mom who has been trampled on by the world and are just scraping by. You can affect change whether you’re a single childless 40 something, a divorced empty nester or a 15 year old introvert. It is our duty to make the world better.
We don’t all need to have the same passion. But we do need to pursue goodness, pursue love, and pursue a better life for those struggling in the world.
If you know me you’ll have heard me talk about The Shoebox Project- which is a charity that provides women in need with a gift during the holiday season. The community is encouraged to go and fill a shoebox with little luxuries and necessities any woman would love, pack it in a beautifully wrapped shoebox, include a note of encouragement and drop it off at one of our local drop off locations. We then deliver them to local shelters for women fleeing domestic abuse, women in homeless shelters, pregnancy care centres, and other organizations who service women in need. The women who receive these boxes often have no one. They are in the dark hours of life. They have seen and experienced trauma in their lives. They are the ones in our community who are often living under the poverty line, trying to provide for their children, and sacrificing everything to better themselves. Every box we collect locally is given to a local woman. I am the local area coordinator for the Halidimand-Norfolk counties and this season is the highlight of my year.
I love to think that we can be a glimmer of hope and a ray of light in the difficult times of others. It feels extra special that we are giving to our local community and building each other up.
This November, I ask you to consider filling a shoebox for a woman in need. If you don’t live in Haldimand-Norfolk, you can give to your own local chapter.
If shopping, wrapping, packing and giving gifts aren’t your thing, find your thing. Maybe it’s international child sponsorship. Maybe it’s visiting the elderly at nursing homes. Maybe it’s sewing beanies for children going through chemo. Maybe it’s cooking meals for families going through tough times. Find your thing. What makes your heart beat faster? What fills your cup? What has happened in your life that has made you care more about something than other people care about it? Pick that thing.
Let’s use our stories for good. It doesn’t matter where you came from. Use your now.
Be the change.
For more information on The Shoebox Project visit www.shoeboxproject.com