While waiting to pick up pH from camp, I stood under the shade of a tree and read. I was early; I have to navigate three freeways to get there, so leaving when I do, as it approaches rush hour, I’m going to be insanely early or right on time or late. Yesterday and today it was insanely early. That’s fine. Quiet time to read, no stress about getting there? Sure. I’ll take it.

About ten minutes after I got there, a guy in a fancy car showed up with a toddler. There’s a steep slope from the parking lot to the shady area, and as the little guy struggled, his dad–who had been looking my way–said, “Hey, buddy, you look like you’ve been drinking. You been drinking too much, buddy? You look drunk.” (He didn’t help him up, either.)

My thoughts:

  1. What a douchebag.
  2.  That poor kid doesn’t have a chance.
  3. Why would you want a two year old to know what a drunk looks like? Why would you even use the word “drunk” in front of a kid?
  4. How do I even respond to that? Should I? This is Portland and I’m not the douchebag police.

Background: I often feel guilty I can’t provide pH with more opportunities. We have enough to live on and have a few extras, but still, I miss my house and garden and dogs and income and good credit score. Bankruptcy does a number on your self-esteem, especially if you’re the one with the huge, non-dischargeable debts.


(Not my actual old house.)

When pH asks why we don’t or can’t have X, Y, or Z, or when she begs to have a dog, I enter my shame spiral. I hate that I am raising my child in the same sort of genteel poverty I was raised in. I know which fork to use but don’t eat at the sort of places where you need more than one. (Probably best, considering I’d be allergic to half the menu.)

I never schedule playdates here because I am embarrassed of where we live–but then I hate myself for the embarrassment. I hate that I don’t always appreciate all the things we do have (which is why I have a daily gratitude journal). We are in a (small, dingy) condo full of books, puzzles, games, a piano, workspaces, toys. She has college+ educated parents. When she asks questions about how or why, we can answer them. She does not go hungry and she wears nice clothes (because I am a demon at the Hanna Andersson outlet sales, when you can do things like buy a winter coat for $10) and shoes that fit. She has piano lessons. We have museum memberships. All of these things are wonderful.

So naturally I hate, too, that I’m not content.

It’s all very circular and tedious, but such is the shame cycle. For the longest time, I could reassure myself if my worst problem was money, I had a very blessed life, indeed. And then it got more complicated, and money was only part of it, the smallest part of it. I know I’m doing the best I can with what I can. I do as much contract work as I’m offered, however painful, I scour the job ads, and I hope (not confidently) for a miracle, or since I don’t believe in miracles, then an occurrence of fabulous luck that looks like a miracle.

I forget money doesn’t fix everything, that there are lots of kids with wealthy parents who will make fun of them for walking like drunks. (Mine mocked me for other things, like errors in diction and grammar. Trust me: you don’t have to go on for 10 minutes about a mispronounced word, parents. I catch on quickly.)

The time will come when pH goes to therapy as an adult (it is the duty of every parent, isn’t it, to give the kids something to go into therapy for? Yes? No? I’m doing this incorrectly?) but at least she won’t be reporting to her psychiatrist that I mocked her for walking like a drunk.

Some days it’s those small things that end up in the gratitude journal, those small things that make me feel better. I have to admit that giving bad dad a dirty look (and not letting him cut in front of me in line) helped, too. (Also, a quiet prayer to the FSM that the X5 gets a flat on the way home.)