Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All That Glitters: Notes from Under the Poverty Line

Many people often assume that folks must be rich if they have a Nantucket zip code.  This assumption is one of our local inside jokes.  Because we know that nothing could be further from the truth.  For most who live year round on this summer resort island thirty miles out to sea, life is hard.  With the highest grossing branch of Stop & Shop supermarkets in the entire country, and the additional shipping costs of many of our resources that put a high premium on everything from screws to fuel, we must support a very high cost of living.  Most people work a few jobs just to get by.  And if you want to go anywhere else, well, you start adding the cost of planes and boats and rental cars to the cost of travel, and you are talking about putting down a lot of loot.

Year round life on Nantucket takes a certain person.  A certain character.  If you aren’t that person when you get here, the winters will season you fast.  We are physically disconnected from the mainland, and we don’t have any traffic lights.  The cobblestones streets, the dirt roads and the uninterrupted stretches of beach and the abundant nature conservancy give it a real old world feel.  On warm, rainy nights down by the docks you can still smell the whale oil.  We are rich in quaintness and breathtaking views and a tight knit sense of community that’s rendered from our common isolation.  We have what is I believe one of the very first Historic District Commissions ever established in the country.  We have an annual town meeting.  To live here is to have a sense of reverence for the past.  It is quintessentially nostalgic.

Now that I am a mom, I am realizing how much the simplicity of life here is an asset.  I have been losing sleep worrying about how I’m going to support my son and give him a good life, a life that isn’t merely rich in love but also rich in the opportunities and experiences that can come from having means.   You know, the ski trips and the summer camps and that trip to Alaska you always wanted to take.  Not to mention music lessons and colleges and medicines should he god forbid become ill.  You all know the hankering, nagging fears.  You twitch with them at night the way your kids twitch with growing pains.  If you're lucky, you remember to close the window as the birds start to sing so you can catch a little more shuteye.     

Thank god I did get that shut eye.  Because I can relax a little today, and look around and see the abundance all around me.  New summer blossoms have left bursts of color all around our yard.  There are new sprouts from the vegetable seeds we recently put in our garden.  We have farms and fisheries right here.  We have talented artisans and musicians and teachers and businesswomen and men.  We have so much here at our disposal.  So much at hand. 

So while we may live hard we do live rich. I remind myself that it’s not all about fast tracking my toddler to the Ivy Leagues. What I give him just in being here day to day, sharing moments together like when a bee sips from the lavender, or the way the sun and rain left bright blossoms smattering the green like exclamation marks. So I guess whether I am rich or whether I’m poor is a matter of perspective. We don’t go out much, or drive fancy cars or talk on “smart” phones. But we can lull our little one to sleep at night with the sounds of the ocean and the wind in the trees. We can show him how he can dance along the tightropes of stars through his dreams.


Amber @ Au Coeur said...

I think about this often as we, too, could be considered low-income. I grew up with material privilege and summer vacations to exotic and exciting places. We lived in houses easily 4 times the size of the one we live in now...and yet I spent my childhood in day cares from 7-5:30, only seeing my parents for an couple of hours each evening before going to bed. I had a lot of emotional and behavioral issues even through high school that would have been solved (or at least considerably lessened) by the increased presence of a parent in my daily life. I don't want that for Nora, so we choose "poverty" and less financial comfort . If I could choose a different childhood, I would. It's not about material things or even grand "experiences" that makes for a happy, healthy family.

Rachel Dowling said...

Thank you for sharing this, Amber. It is powerful the way we revisit our own childhoods when we become parents trying to shape a happy childhood for our own kids. We look at both the good and bad and try to make our own choices about what we want to keep, and what we can just as soon let go of. Even though my mom stayed home with us while she worked as a free-lance writer, and then put us into a parent-run cooperative day-care, the stability of the family was thrown under the bus of my father's drinking and emerging bi-polar illness. Divorce at five, and then my dad's death at eleven. Perhaps had my mother been supported to try to nurse us longer than six weeks, had her generation of mother's known more about co-sleeping and baby wearing and swaddling, we kids might have built a better defense against all the eventual upheaval.