Last weekend we hosted my brother and his family, my Mom, and my sister and her husband. They all drove an hour or more to come to our little town to attend a “Fireman’s Muster”, which is a crazy competition in which antique fire trucks try to outdo each other in sending streams of water as far as possible.
I was happy to have them all at my house, and excited to cook and to be the hostess at my humble abode. But I was more than a little embarrassed to know that they would be seeing my poor, low income, struggling town when they came here.
You see, my mother lives in an upper middle class community of mostly healthy, mostly solvent, mostly successful professionals. My brother and his family live in one of those historic New England seafaring towns that boast of whaling captains, colonial villages and families Who Came Over On The Mayflower.
My town is poor. We used to be a textile mill town (in the 1890’s) and a woodworking town (in the 1930’s). We have had some dairy farms and some small vegetable farms. But right now, we are a community of lower income, poorly educated, under employed people who are struggling to stay afloat.
I was ashamed to have my family see my environment.
And tonight I attended a birthday party for a friend in our small town. He was turning 50, and a whole group of our friends had gathered to celebrate with him.
As I sipped my wine and nibbled on baked brie, I was somewhat on edge. Most of my friends have children who are attending good colleges, working toward very practical degrees. And in the past few days I have had conversations with friends whose kids are in great schools, or have big money jobs, and when they have asked about my kids, I have felt a little, well, protective. My boys are still figuring it out, and they live in an “interesting” little house with a group of other 20 somethings.
So I stood at the party tonight, feeling defensive about my kids and their life choices.
And here is what has happened to me in the past week. Here is what proves that I am a shallow, conformist, peer pressured jerk.
Last weekend, my sister-in-law spent a couple of hours wandering on her own around my town. When we got together that afternoon, her comment to me was, “What a beautiful little town! The houses are so gorgeous! You must love living in such a quaint and historic place.”
And tonight, at the party for our friend with the highly successful kids, one of those kids asked me, “Have you talked to Matt about going to New York for the Occupy Wall Street anniversary? I sent him a message, because I really want to go with them.” Um. Oh? And his sister said, “When your kids went to Occupy last fall, I was so excited! I told everyone, ‘I know those kids! They are from my town!’
I didn’t know what to say.
The conversation swept around me. The young people from our town were telling each other about where they were when they heard that my three children had been arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in October of last year. I heard about how teachers at our local High School shared the emails and Facebook messages from my kids.
Apparently, they are local heroes.
In our historic and quaint little town.
I guess it takes a different point of view, from a fresh pair of eyes, to make us appreciate what we really have in our lives.
Tonight, I’m incredibly proud of my activist, hippy children. I’m also proud of my beautiful, struggling little town, where friends can gather for a birthday party under the late summer stars.