Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Parking Issue and a Lesson Learned

Yesterday, on my only day off, when I had this huge list of things to accomplish, the public works department through a big kink -in -the -chain at me. Leaf Removal. Seriously! It is January, and they are worried about removing leaves???

Our house is on the corner of two rather heavily-traveled city streets. We have no off-street parking. I usually can find a spot that is either on the street directly in front of the house, or on the intersecting street that runs parallel to the side of the house. Thursday night, coming home from work was no exception. BUT...

There are these ominous-looking red and white signs on each street saying that there was to be no parking between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM on Friday for leaf-removal. No biggie. I go ahead and park there anyway, as there are no other spots. I figure I will set my alarm for the morning to get up at 7:30 after everyone with normal jobs has left for work. There will be plenty of parking then, right? Wrong! Friday morning, there are no places to park, because there is only one side of one street on which to park for a 4-block grid of the city. In other words: Everybody was parked as tightly as they could in front of my house. The only exception was my neighbor who lives across the street and is a Covington police officer. He boldly left the police Suburban, light bar and all, parked on the street illegally. No one was brave enough to ticket that car!

We had no idea what to do with my car. My very shiny new conspicuous orange car. Still with Indiana plates long after the 30-day deadline because A) I have had the work schedule from hell since we moved, and B) it has been the holiday season, so the limited time I did have to go and take care of this wasn't always the time the license branch was open. Of course, though John has lived in a city before, he has never lived someplace quite so urban. He is completely flabbergasted/ pissed-off by this. Our only option was to hurry and leave the house before they started doing whatever it was they were going to do. After all, I had errands to run, and didn't know how long it would take me. Maybe someone would move before we got home.

I drive to the college to pick up my parking decal (Which boldly states University of Cincinnati Student. WOOOHOOO!), then we head to human resources at work to talk tuition reimbursement. This is where I find out that, if I pull an Andrea this semester and keep up my 4.0 GPA, the hospital will cut me a check for $3K in March at quarter's end. Aside from the pesky getting-into-med-school issue, what better incentive to study and keep my grades up???

The whole fam then decides we are hungry. Being the crafty mom that I am, I see this as an opportunity to kill time while the parking saga unfolds at home. I, armed with my copy of Twilight, head to the nearest Mickey D's with the biggest Playland that I can find. My intention is to stay there and let Evan play for awhile. The next item on my list of things to accomplish was getting groceries. John would have to carry the groceries four blocks from car to house if I didn't wait until we had a better place to park, so I was trying to stall. This is where I had a very interesting social encounter: a lesson in socioeconomic status.

You see, my kiddo has mainly lived in rural areas. Small towns where everyone knows everyone else. He has been adored all of his life by family and friends alike. As a result, he is confident and out-going. He has never had a reason not to be. Everyone loves Evan. Strangers have even bought him candy while waiting in line at stores, for crying out loud. But here is the thing: we live on the cusp of a very wealthy neighborhood. A neighborhood where they will look at you like you are a pile of garbage if your expensive Nikes have a scuff on the toe or your jeans are a little too frayed or, heaven forbid, have the wrong label on them. We have been a low-income family before, mainly while I was finishing college the first time. Evan has nice things, but he is a boy. He scuffs his shoes as soon as they are put on his feet. The hems of his jeans get frayed where he walks on them. Being the detail-oriented person I am, I don't pay attention to the fact that his clothing is expensive as hell. I notice these details. This is probably some huge indication of my abnormal psyche, but is true nonetheless. Being in a wealthy metropolitan area just feeds this flaw in an unhealthy way. People are unfriendly and keep to themsleves, and while is probably more related to city life, I see it as some sort of sign that we just don't measure up. I think this is just a remnant of the poor lifestyle we used to have. So...

Here we are at McD's in a snobby neighborhood. In my flawed mind, we do not fit in. I feel conspicuously out of place, though in truth we probably would have been a few years back, but are no longer. I am uncomfortable, and Evan's outgoing style of interacting with others is drawing even more attention to us. I could see the other parents sizing us up as we walk through the door with our tray of breakfast fare. I am wearing a UC sweatshirt, have no makeup on, and my hair is pulled into a sloppy topnot to get it off of my face and neck. I am assessing my flaws as I am sure they are. I see appraising eyes lingering on my expensive handbag, the prominent Versace label on my glasses, the clothing my son and husband are wearing. It makes me self conscious when everyone stares, and I am wondering if other parents feel this way ever. But then something magical happens...
About 10 little voices squealing "Hi Evaaaaaaaannnnn!" The progeny of these uppity people just happen to be my son's little classmates. At his private school. The entire mood changes. I stop being the mother in the sloppy college sweatshirt with the unkempt hair. I am now The Parent Who Can Afford To Send Her Child To Private School. They stop wondering if my purse is a knock-off. The frayed jeans are no longer an issue. We are one of them. The pinched appraising looks are replaced with warm smiles as our children play together. Only I can tell that the smiles are not genuine because they were noticeably absent when we walked into the room. Regardless, I am no longer feeling self-conscious. If anything, I become ashamed of myself and am extrapolating many lessons from the experience. I am no longer worrying about waht they were thinking. I am more appalled by their behavior than anything, and at myself for even caring. We eat our breakfast and Evan plays while I read and John watches the television. When it is time to go, the blatantly stare as we make our way to our shiny new car. I can already hear the invitations for playdates and social functions which I will turn down. The whole experience is disgusting.
I learned many things. We are no longer the poor family who does not measure up. With my education and hard work, I changed that. Great. But more importantly, why did I want to be one of them in the first place? I have always been the type to strike up a conversation with anyone. People are people, regardless of clothing brand or income level or skin color. Why would I even worry about what others thought of me, of us? And why would I even want to fit in with these fake, insincere, judgemental people? Lesson learned.

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