When You Become Your Mother

canstockphoto3193594It’s an odd little thing in our family. All the women, were they men, would be suspected of bomb-plotting or weird porn habits or at least highly awkward social skills. The highly awkward social skills is an actual genetic trait in our family, apparently. A distaste for technology, reclusive living, books or dogs as best friends – classic signs that you will be my mother. Add in a British accent, a predilection for salacious crime novels, a subtle, disapproving pursing of the lips and you will be my grandmother.

For years, I lived blithely with the delusion that I was none of those things. After all, I didn’t marry or have kids young. I joined the Army, set out on my own, made friends along the way, got a college degree, drove in the big cities, married a man who wasn’t abusive, had a kid who wasn’t a surprise or a burden – I was as different as could be. Except I loved my books and my disapproving lip pursing. I could tell myself that mostly, I wasn’t them.

canstockphoto11189770And what was so wrong with alienating all your children, living in seclusion, having awkward exchanges with people who laughed uncomfortably at your dry humor? Why shouldn’t oddly-named dogs and weighty tomes be your friends? Because any child knows that whatever your parentage is, it is completely messed up and you never want to be whatever that is. I’ve met the rare people who adore their parents and I do my best to avoid them at parties.

Over the last year, I’ve had occasion for more social interaction than I think should be necessary for human existence. My façade is slipping. I’ve become slightly more brusque and thoughts that I’d normally keep to myself are leaking out all over the place. I’m alienating people. Isolation is starting to hold appeal. I might adopt a dog and name it Herbal Tea. I have a bestie that is about 530 pages long.

Conversations with my mother have changed. I’ve apologized a lot, because now I get it. There were years when I mocked and teased her about the pack of dogs she had in tow or the fact that she wouldn’t be discovered, if she died, until the smell wafted down the street and one of her dogs wandered down the sidewalk with a pelvic bone. Seriously, we both think that idea is funny. Birds of a feather make macabre jokes together and all that.

Now that I’ve come to this knowledge, I feel that it should bring a certain level of empowerment and freedom. No longer constrained by who I think I should be, I can comfortably settle into who I am. My daughter has already begun to mock me. I’m so proud.

General Baby Mama

I’m finally writing an angry post. I cannot take one more article, political ad or urban legend recitation about “baby mamas” or “welfare queens” and all the economic elitist, racist and sexist implications of those pejorative terms, although politicians like to couch them in more polite terminology . I just read yet another whiny article/blog about how the middle class are disadvantaged to the point that they can’t have additional children and that welfare mothers are populating the planet.

During Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign, he introduced the term “welfare queen” to suggest that there were legions of manipulative, fraudulent mothers sitting vigil at the public trough, while popping out babies like “octo-mom” Pez dispensers. The Republicans are dragging out that tired old specter and Democrats are shamefully staying mum. It’s akin to bullying – picking a target the least likely to fight back, with a lot of bystanders too engrossed in the scene to intervene. It’s disgusting.

One could argue about the poor having too many children, but that is a slippery slope. If only financially stable people can have kids, then maybe it will only be people with a college education and then maybe people with no genetic anomalies, like faulty eyesight – you can see the creepy direction in which this train of thought is headed.

Regardless of what know-it-all pundits say, the reality is that leaving impoverished people with no legitimate means of support, for whatever reason, be it the recession job environment, lack of education, mental illness or the need for childcare in order to find work – the lack of a safety net does NO ONE any good.

In the 1970s my mother had to file for assistance for her children, due to the steadily developing alcoholism of her husband and lack of seasonal work in construction. We hungrily ate our government cheese and bought bread and milk with food stamps. It shamed her, but her children were her priority. She struggled to become a member of the working poor as soon as it was humanly possibly. Her incentive was her own pride.

We’ve all heard the urban legends about widespread welfare fraud and abuse. There are some spectacular stories reported on, but the majority of people will not be able to make a living, much less a profit staying on assistance.

The scapegoating of the poor is not a new concept, but it always boggles the mind how deftly politicians have focused on the splinter, when a two by four is sitting right in front of us. The 2012 budget contains 12% spending on welfare programs, half of what is intended for the military budget at 24%, which apparently has gotten carte blanche from the American public.

We’re still in Afghanistan, Iraq and really, who knows where else at this point. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 12 years and will be there for another two at least. When people say they support the troops, what do they mean? Most of us have very little idea of what the damned plan is and it’s barely even covered in the news anymore. The military-industrial complex is not only sitting at the public trough, but lobbying Congress at every turn and no one says “boo” about it. Meanwhile, in addition to the 6,591 men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, 633,000+ have service-related disabilities (mental and/or physical) and return home in need of assistance.

I’m struggling to understand exactly what we are doing abroad now. I’m an Army veteran from a different era and the military today has so many more challenges facing it. I want it funded, but I want to know the plan. Bigger is not better. BETTER is better. I was delighted that just last month they finally began field testing female-specific body armor for women in combat. That is money well spent. However, $70 billion dollars wasted by the Pentagon over the course of two years, with cost overruns, poor management and premature testing on various projects – not so much.

The circular logic of politicians is astonishing. In the midst of a slow recovery, they think that welfare reform is the issue du jour, all the while insisting on more military buildup and holding onto their corporate welfare for dear life. And for all those damned family values that both parties prattle on about, why do they think encouraging single mothers to drop their kids off at the crappy daycare (the only kind they can afford) and go off to their shitty minimum wage job is going to improve our country? Where’s the logic in that?

Politicians need to stop acting like we’re so stupid that they, their ads, or their mouthpieces sound remotely believable. Or even slightly decent. You’re not. Pick on somebody your own size. Preferably someone wearing stars or gold cufflinks, not nursing bras or pullups.