What living in poverty is like in BC, and why it matters

…you don’t want to go there

Jacqueline McAdam, a smart woman whom I really should get to know better, posted the following question on Facebook today: “Did you know?  B.C. has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line. Why do you think this is?”

The cynical answer is that the low income cut-off is relative, and kids in poverty in Canada would be considered wealthy in the world’s poorer nations. But that is a red herring – I know because I have raised three kids for several years, well below the poverty line.

Sure, we usually had enough food on the table (with a visit to the Food Bank now and then) and they had coats and shoes (thanks, Value Village and St. Vinnie’s). We even have a bunch of computers (thanks, grandparents, uncles and aunties). But in reality, it means that my kids missed out on the opportunities I had growing up. And they are potentially missing out on a promising future. All of them have tested “highly superior” in their intellect, but other disabilities have kept them back and I can’t afford tutoring. IEPs don’t get implemented and I can’t afford DragonSpeak software. I have no money put aside for their higher education. No money for my own retirement, so I guess I’ll be living in their basement.

The WHY is that Canadians don’t really believe in equality of opportunity or of access. We give lip service to it and make the poor jump through all kinds of hoops in order to access what others take for granted.

Am I resilient? You bet your ass I am. I have worked very hard to make my kids feel like they don’t miss out. But I know the truth: they DO miss out, they HAVE missed out, and I’m doing all I can to make sure that they WON’T miss out for much longer.

I’ve just surprised myself by “coming out” as a person who has lived below the poverty line for significant portions of my kids’ lives.  We look and act so darn middle class.  But don’t be fooled: we are the 1 in 5.  I think it’s time for former-middle-class Canadians like me to speak out and say WE ARE CHEATING OUR KIDS by allowing systemic poverty to continue. Not everyone is as lucky as me to have the background to experience *temporary* poverty and then get out of it again. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have it as a life-long experience. Thanks,Jacqueline (quietly steps off soapbox) 

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I was a teenage fundamentalist – kind of.

“So today at school, Mom, I was telling Jacob about Adam and Eve, and he was rolling around on the ground laughing.”
12-year-old Stephen and I are in the car, heading home for dinner.  It’s a great time to talk about our day.  Lately, he’s been telling his Grade 7 buddies stories from the Old Testament.

“Jacob goes, ‘So they eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and the best they can do is figure out they’re NAKED?  They get knowledge of CLOTHES??’ ”

Stevie is just as irreverent as Jacob – that people would actually take this “Bible stuff” as literal truth is a completely foreign concept to him.  And yet, I still have a guilty twinge at all this mirth at the Bible’s expense.  I know that no bolt of lightning will slice through the roof of the car to smite us, but it’s still weird for me not to treat the Bible as a – no, THE Holy Book – the literal Word Of God.  I grew up with literal bible believers, went to school with them, hung out at their youth groups.  I was a teenage fundamentalist – or at least doing my best to play the part.

Kelowna, BC, is a pocket of religiosity in an increasingly secular Canada.  The churches are big, especially the evangelical ones.  In my teenage years of the late 1970s, Kelowna was smaller, more remote, less sophisticated.  It was a bit like the town in the movie Footloose, where youth weren’t allowed to dance, so some of them snuck out to do more risky things, like drink in the bush.  As an insecure, bookish teenage girl, I knew I didn’t want to go to those parties.  Why stand by a smoky fire in the cold, just to get drunk, throw up, ride in a pickup truck with a driver almost as drunk as you are, and risk ending up in the hospital, where my mom (the emergency nurse) would probably disown me?   Or risk getting arrested and fingerprinted by my dad, the cop?  Let’s not even entertain the thought that I might end up dead, or worse – pregnant.  So if I were to have any social life at all, I should probably hang out with those nice kids, the Christians.

My best friend, Lori, beat me to Christianity by a few weeks when we were both 14.  She had gone with her mother to a Pentecostal women’s dinner, and came home speaking in tongues.  Church was suddenly the best place ever, particularly the Young People’s group, which had older teenagers and really nice leaders that treated you like a real person and listened to what you had to say.  What’s more, Jesus was real, and Lori had given her heart to Him.

When Lori asked me if I would come with her to the Presbyterian Young People’s I was happy to go along.  Bible study was actually a natural fit for a book reader like me; we looked in-depth at individual verses, like “If I have the tongue of men and angels, but have not love, I am nothing”.  We sang songs like “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”, only the words were changed to be more Christian.  We had intense conversations about the nature of evil.  Christianity was actually getting me to THINK.  I have the Presbyterian Church to thank for that.  And it’s a good thing, too, because the Cool Church was one of the big churches down the road, and things were a little different there.

At the Cool Church, they showed films about the Rapture, and how scary it would be to be left behind while the plague of locusts rained down on apartments and cars.   Kids from the Cool Church played Led Zeppelin songs backwards so we could hear Robert Plant sing “My Sweet Satan” and be thrillingly horrified.   At the Cool Church, they lifted their hands and spoke in tongues after just about every song.   The Cool Church had about 70 teenagers in their youth group, and concerts, and really good looking guys.  And those really good looking guys hugged everybody, even me.

I tried being baptized in the Holy Spirit, but he was stingy with me – my speaking-in-tongues attempts just came out like “Hey, Shondala shondala”, and felt completely stupid.   I also had trouble believing that everybody was born in sin, and doomed to hell unless they believed in Jesus Christ As Their Lord And Saviour.  I mean, I came from a family full of dead people.  My older brother died as a baby.  My mother was in a car accident when she was 13, and it killed most of her family.  Would Oma, Opa, Hans, Leen, and my baby big brother Stephen be in hell because they weren’t Christians?  Still I straddled these two worlds of Christianity – one cerebral and folky, the other glitzy and mind-bogglingly scary and literal… because either you were in or you were out.  I wanted to be in.

My whole social life came to revolve around being a Christian.  I sang and played piano in the church young people’s music group, Koinonia.  We actually made matching skirts and toured churches around the Interior.  A few times a year, we went to a retreat where we’d study the Bible and impress each other with the verses we’d memorized.  We’d sing and sing, and have our own dances, and flirt, and laugh, and stay up all night, lying in big puppy piles and listening to Christian rock… or the B-52s and the Moody Blues.  I got to know the Bible very, very well.  And I still had trouble with this whole “saved” thing.  At least with the Presbyterians, who believed in Predestination, being saved was all up to the Grace of God.  It was up to Him who was in and who was out, and God’s Grace was surely enough to be merciful to a few innocent babies and grandparents I’d never met.  And Gandhi, I decided after watching the movie about him.

As I was thinking my way into ever-more-liberal Christianity, and heading off to university, some of my high-school friends who stayed in town were dating the guys from the Cool Church, and going to Bible School.  I could feel the gap widening between myself and them.  One Christmas I came home, and the drummer from Koinonia announced that he was throwing out all his rock albums because the rock beat is from the Devil.  Right.   Another friend stopped cutting her hair or wearing makeup, because long hair is a woman’s adornment, and pleases the Lord, and her husband.  We lost touch.

When I was 21, I took a wonderful course in “The Bible and English Literary Tradition”, which finally opened the doors and let me breathe, and figure things out for myself.  We discussed allegory, Dante, Milton, Mithraism and pan-Hellenic gnostic sects.  We looked at the puzzle of Paul the Apostle, and how messiahs and virgin birth stories existed in many faiths.  We were introduced to Northrop Frye’s The Great Code, and the work of the Jesus Seminar.  Wow, I thought.  A group of Christian scholars that actually respects Jesus enough to try and figure out what really belongs to him, and what is just stuff that grew up around his reputation!   By this time, I knew much of the Bible by heart, and knew that many parts of it just didn’t hang together well enough to take literally.   It had to be a series of documents that reflected their time, written by people who created God in their image.  I no longer wanted to be in at all costs.  I just wanted to find out what was real.

The rest of my story is about leaving and coming back to my faith, as an adult.  I may get to writing that down, eventually.  For now, let’s go back to the car, with Stephen, because I think it’s important that as Canadians of European descent, my kids know the biblical references in their cultural background – the stories in the Bible, the basics of mainstream Christianity, and where people have made God in their own image.  I want them always to be able to know what they believe, and why.  Even if it’s just to say “I don’t know the answer.”

I know that Christianity comes in many flavours, including Quaker.  We don’t have to accept – or reject – all of it, in order to be “in” or “out”.  I find that even though I count myself among the Universalist Friends, I understand both historical and current Christocentric Quakers.  Their turns of biblical phrase often resonate with me deeply.  I can laugh with my kids at the absurdity of taking creation myths literally, and be thankful that I know the stories anyway.  I’m thankful that I grew up Christian, even though I’ve left both the extreme and the mainstream forms for a version that is both more open and more challenging.  As a Friend, I can  

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The Importance of “fit”

I’m sitting at my computer desk, in the little alcove next to the dining room table. It’s 2 pm on a Tuesday, so usually I’m not even home right now. But by mutual agreement, I’m telecommuting for the last two weeks of my work at my place of employment.

Why am I leaving when my employer is poised to do some great things in the next couple of years? Long story short, it’s a matter of “fit”. I have some terrific skills that the company has needed, and that I love to share. It’s my passion to write, to learn, and to communicate what I have learned on this wonderful medium called the Internet. I can find my way like a pro around the different social media platforms, and can quickly determine why one communications approach might work better for a client than another.

However, I need to do more of the things that I’m good at, and less of the things I’m not cut out for, like tracking hundreds of URLs on a spreadsheet (though everyone agrees it’s a pretty darn good document!) I want to work for clients who are as excited about projects as we have been where I’ve been working. As the owner and I agreed, it seems a poor fit to turn a marketer, communicator and teacher into an administrator at the expense of using her skills. There is a place for administration in every job. It’s like putting the dishes away in the kitchen after preparing dinner. But to extend this metaphor a bit, I want to be the one making the dirty dishes and creating something fantastic as well as cleaning them up.

So – here’s a toast to the gang I am leaving behind. And here’s to finding some hungry people to feed, and doing my very best to satisfy them. 

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Passing along the joy of music

This weekend, I picked up a pretty nice guitar for my kids.  I feel quite fortunate in how this guitar came into our life, an “anonymous” donation following a silent auction when I watched the price climb higher than I could afford to bid at the time. You know who you are…. thank you!!

It’s been in Daniel’s hands for the last couple of hours, and he’s already learned a few chords, and sounds not bad for the first day.  Ben was playing it earlier today, and looked very natural with it strapped around him, leaning back in the hammock and noodling around on the frets until he found a sound that worked for him.   They each have their own approaches, and I want them to discover for themselves, in their own way, how it works.

They seem to have acquired the “music bug” from me – we’ve been singing in the car together for years and lately, we can even make three-part harmonies work.  Both Daniel and Ben have taken up the saxophone for band, and Stephen sings like an angel.  But I’ve never pushed them to practice, and never put them in formal music lessons.  I went down that road myself when I was a kid, and as much as I loved music, I really didn’t enjoy lessons all that much. And I certainly hated practicing – I would much rather “play”.

This attitude followed me into motherhood.  With two ADHD boys (out of three boys altogether), I was afraid that forcing the discipline of practice on the kids would make music into just another “chore”.  I figured if it was really important to them, they would find music and it would draw them in.

I’m pleased to report that, thanks to modern technology, this approach is working!  The boys are used to finding out pretty much everything they want to know on the Internet, so the first thing Daniel did when he picked up the guitar was pick up the netbook as well, and look for the chords for his favourite song.  We have lyrics and charts galore at our disposal, and videos of the best musicians for technique.   We can listen and play stuff back until we’ve got the sound “right”.  We can even record our efforts and see how they sound.

Now Daniel would like to learn more about composition.  He’s got ideas in his head that he can’t get out… yet.  But I figure the answer is probably here online somewhere.

What discoveries are happening in your home that have been made easier with computers? 

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