On Sunday the whole fam jam went to Costco, part of a special day pass dealie. We found it overwhelming and expensive in the end, but, of course, we nabbed some great deals. Miss Red got a case of the gimmies in the toy aisle, and when it was all said and done, we were relieved to leave behind the SUV-sized carts and hurried shoppers.
While we were there I grabbed a winter coat for our little lady. She has a few winter coats that are 4T, and while they fit her, they remain a smidge too big and will most likely fit more when it’s still snowing in April (sorry, folks, we do live in Wisconsin). So I found a non-obnoxious purple coat in 3T and threw it in the cart. At the time, I was more annoyed that I hadn’t found one second-hand, but didn’t think much beyond that.
It wasn’t until Monday, back at work, that I realized how nonchalantly I tossed the coat into the cart, adding it to the toilet paper, carrots, diced tomatoes and cereal. A $20 coat. No big deal, right?
Yet, I was transported back to my childhood and the first 10 years or so of my life. Up until middle school my grandparents or great-grandparents purchased my winter coats for me. My grandmother, who has a full-fledged shopping addiction, thought nothing of buying me a ton of clothes, such a every color of a turtleneck in my size. They outfitted me for much of my childhood, until I moved to Milwaukee. At that time I moved in with my mom and soon-to-be stepdad. Money was tight, no doubt. I remember going shopping for back to school clothes and getting two pairs of pants. Two. And one fall, in fourth or fifth grade, the check from my great-grandparents hadn’t come yet for my winter coat, so I went to school in an old coat of my mom’s for a while. It was a white, shaggy coat, clearly not intended for a child, and I was mocked.
All day Monday I was thrown back into that very real time of my life where we really didn’t have very much money. There was always food on the table and our essentials were taken care of, but something like a winter coat made a difference in a budget.
There are people now, all over the world, participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement. There are various reasons why people are camping out: disgust at corporate greed, lack of health care, to be part of a movement, to instill democracy, to protest rising costs of education… the list goes on. I get it. I see how bad things have gotten, and I’m only 33. I see how different life might be for our daughter, and we think nothing of buying a $20 coat, when that, at one time, meant everything to my parents.
What was the difference between wearing my mom’s coat and me tossing one for Miss Red on the Costco pile? Well, there are many factors, and I’m sure my parents – all four of them – would have input, but I can say that education was a key factor in what changed. My parents finishing their education and me having access to great schools, including UW-Madison.
Where are we now? We’re comfortably middle class, but that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We live in a 1,200-square foot house on a wonderfully quirky street, but for many people it would be too lacking, too little, too quirky. What does middle class mean for me? For me, it’s the amazing luxury that a $20 winter jacket for my daughter is a simple reality, a reality most of the world doesn’t have.