Growing up poor. It's an experience that shapes your life. That's what could best describe it, when I reflect back for a bit at my own childhood.
For much of my own childhood, my brother and I were simply that: growing up what others would deem poor.
As the Christmas week finally kicks in, it is funny what memories from times past come to revisit you. Today, I am remembering what it is to be growing up classed as poor.
I am remembering because of the power of social media. It is indeed quite a force to be reckoned with, this thing called social media.
Lit against the light of your computer, laptop screen or phone, you get to read other people's posted text messages, requesting a gift or two for a local family in need. There are multiple requests being posted up for donations of gifts for a needy child. Poor little souls all needing gifts. One, then two, sometimes even four.
It is quite heartening to read the reply comments. The comments with offers of clothing, a new-to-them toy, an edible sweet treat or a colourful trinket. Something, anything that someone has kindly remembered they have spare.
Suddenly Christmas morning will no longer be so dismal, so empty. There is the promise of a parcel or two for that particular poor family's child. Let's hope they also have an actual tree.
Growing up poor. It isn't fun growing up classed as poor. It is something that rubs off on you as a small impressionable child. It rubs off on you and it's effect lingers for a bit, when experienced within any given life time.
There are all sorts of definitions for the term poverty. It depends of course, on who is formulating those definitions.
There are multiple debates held as to what best defines child poverty.
I would hazard a guess that those who engage most in arguing over what best defines child poverty, may not necessarily have experienced it, in it's full emotional measure, as it is seen and known through the eyes and ears of a child.
Growing up poor shapes your experience of Christmas. A new set of pyjamas, underwear, a pair of socks are not received as begrudgingly as they might be in a more well-off household. The soft flannel or crisp cool cotton of nightwear fabric gets rubbed and fingered and valued for being new to the very grateful wearer.
One of the best presents I ever remembering receiving, was as a young adult, and it was a requested garden spade.
Yes, a garden spade.
My grandfather had obviously done his usual careful research and had then gone out and purchased for me the best spade he and my grandmother could afford to gift to me that particular Christmas.
I had requested the gift of that spade. To see it there beside the Christmas tree, ready, wrapped and waiting to be handed over to me, caused a lot of pleasure that Christmas.
That spade represented a rite of adult passage, looking back. To now have ownership of my own garden spade meant I could get on and do what I wanted, what I most desired, what I most needed..... and that was to get on and become one of the next generation of able gardeners in a family of gardeners.
I would repeatedly know that possessing the ownership of a garden spade meant my life's path could, and would, be forever altered and changed.
Growing up under the mantle of being classed as poor, I knew firsthand if I could dig over some dirt no matter where I ever was, I could feed myself.
I could grow and provide food for both myself and whoever was in my current household.
Having watched my own mother again and again break hardened ground with a faithful garden spade, I repeatedly received the message to my impressionable child soul that a garden spade would be one of the very, very best tools to ever possess as an adult.
I learnt that one of the basic necessities of life could be best achieved with some sweat put into action. I learnt very quickly, being able to put food on the family kitchen table via some actions at the end of a spade could keep poverty a little further at bay.
I hate poverty. I loathe it.
It is a black, hungry dog that nibbles at the heels of small children and makes them realise they are different from their schoolmates.
It reminds them they are different, in the form of the clothes that they wear, the way their hair is cut, the toys and trinkets they have. It is there often lurking around the food they hurriedly gobble.
Growing up poor. It's rough on children. It's tough on single parents who are genuinely trying to make a life that is better, securer and changed for their children. Growing up poor, bites most harshly and most often at Christmas.
The commercialism, the materialism of Christmas knocks again and again at the doors of our poorer homes, demanding entrance and notice. All the while encouraging stress and deeper difference, as the calendar marks off each of the coming days of Christmas.
Just how many lights? Just how much tinsel? Just how much of this, that and the other could elevate us out of the pit of feeling extra particularly poor at Christmas?
How many food parcels? How many gift baskets? How many petrol vouchers would help us feel somewhat less poor when we are daily approaching this feast-time called Christmas?
Growing up classed as poor taught me this most important lesson: none of it.
None of it?
Yes. None of it.
We are only as poor as we feel. We only as poor as we choose to see ourselves poor. We are only as poor as we choose to cloak ourselves in a desire to repeatedly acquire, to have and to possess.
Choose your battles, and one of the biggest in life can be against being and feeling ever so unpleasantly poor.
You can make steps to conquer it best when you realise just what few blessings you actually do already possess.
You can conquer it best when you teach your children to have a focus on people and not possessions.
You can grab it by the horns and call it out of it's position of over-riding dominance when you keep Christmas simple and less about more.
You can choose to steer a path away from it when you look at what you do have, and make the most of it to bless others.
You can simply declare yourself far richer than you ever thought possible because you choose to exercise gratitude and lightly hold onto the stewardship of any extra that comes to rest at your door.
Growing up poor? Or growing up rich? The choice is most evident at Christmas.