Independant Thinker from Interdependent Roots

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This article from Vox has raised some interesting thoughts this morning.


I graduated with a bachelor’s degree this last spring, three weeks before I turned 21. That’s a pretty big deal. Neither of my parents have a bachelor’s degree. My mom worked through for an associate degree in business and got it about a year before I graduated high school. My dad was a banker for 13 years, until I was in first or second grade, but when he lost his job he started working at a grocery store, the same one that my Mom and he met at while working as teens. The same one that he works at to this day while my mother works at the same store in another city. My Gramma never got her degree, though she as a secretary and a kindergarten teacher for a short time.

Both of my grandfathers have bachelors and one of them has a masters Both of them have a degree in history and my Dad’s father has an extra degree in math, yet both worked in hard labour jobs, electric, steel, whatever put food on the table. I grew up in a non-denominational church. And even though I went to a liberal college I found myself having more conservative view than my peers and my parents. A point that seems to cause some uneasiness between my father and I.

Growing up my parents made $300 too much to qualify for food stamps, though we really needed the help. If they cut back hours to not make that extra $300, they would have received $300 worth of help in food stamps.

There were 6 of us in a four bedroom house with one bathroom. You couldn’t lock the door to the bathroom when you were taking a shower, only if you were using the toilet. If you did lock the door Mom or Dad wouldn’t be able to finish getting ready for work and would end up being late, or your other three siblings wouldn’t be able to get ready for school and then you would all be running late.

There would be entire weeks where I didn’t see one of my parents because their work schedule clashed with my school schedule. Dad would give up coming to band concerts or plays so that he could work overtime and make sure the house payment was made. In so many ways I still resent that. I’m crying, or trying not to cry as I type this.

My father is a borderline hoarder, and if it wasn’t for my mother he could probably be a whole season of Hoarders by himself.

Our house was always messy. There would be a giant laundry pile in the hall that you had to climb over because none of us wanted to do it. It would only get done when Mom got pissed off enough to do it herself, staying up late or spending her entire day off doing the laundry for 6 people. The dishes would pile up because no one wanted to do them.

The dog, who died when I was in 7th grade, was so allergic to fleas she didn’t have any hair behind her rib cage. I remember watching in utter disgust as masses of fleas moved across her skin. No matter how many baths she had, no matter what kind of medicine we gave her, we just couldn’t get rid of them. She slept in my bedroom because I was the only kid who would pet her and tell her I loved her still and my schedule was probably the most predictable at the time, so she knew she could count on me. I feel so bad for what we put that dog through because we couldn’t afford to really take care of her.

My parents would have trouble just trying to keep us in clothes that weren’t always running away from our ankles. It’s the reason why now that I buy my own clothes I don’t like to wear anything that shows my ankles. Because anything that short reminds me of when I had no choice but to wear clothes where my ankles showed.

We were always clean and presentable at school, Dad would sew bright patches of fabric onto our clothes to hide holes and he did it so well that teachers complimented us on it, thinking that our parent’s had bought the clothes that way. When we got new clothes, we all got them, but they were never in style. I remember feeling very out-of-place.

When I was in high school I suggested once that I might take a year off before going to college and I was given looks of shock and horror and my grandfather shook his head at me as if I’d just told him I wanted to dye my hair orange and pierce my eyebrows.

They knew that putting off college wold make it harder to ever go back. As it turned out, going to college was the best choice I could have ever made. I may have lived like we were from a poor family, but according to our income we were “lower-middle class” – still middle class, and that was enough for people to assume I had it easy.

The article that inspired this, I find the views of different classes towards college interesting. When I came to college it was not with the mindset they establish for poorer students. I came with a desire to get away. But if anything, the distance from my family allowed me to get closer to my God, and to become more appreciative of them, even if I still have my issues with some of them.

For me, college was the way I was going to finally figure out who I was outside of my three siblings and my parents. Outside of that tiny house. (In reality, it wasn’t tiny, but with 6 people, it wasn’t huge.) College was a place I could embrace my introverted nature without fear. And where I could explore the occasional extroverted activity without fear of being suddenly relabeled and expected to be extroverted all the time.

The first night I was there my roommate told me I could “turn out the lights if you want to.” Those words, if I wanted to, sent me into a fit of laughter that had me on the ground for about an hour. She thought she’d broken me, and in a ways he had. For once, it was my choice. it wasn’t governed by someone else. It was my choice to do something. I didn’t have to turn them out because my mom or dad told me to, because my siblings across the hall were trying to sleep and my light was keeping them up, I could turn them off because I wanted to.

I’ve always been strong-willed, as a result I didn’t have the same problems other people with backgrounds like mine had. I went straight int a humanities field, even though I didn’t think it would make me a lot of money or get me the best job. My college career was about what I wanted, for the first time ever, I was able to think independently without someone else telling me I should be thinking interdependently.

Yes, some of my motives were that I want to give a better life to any children I might have, that I would love to be able to take care of my parents when they get old, and make a better life for myself than what I started out with, but those weren’t at the forefront of my mind. What I wanted was to explore what makes me happy.

That’s where my real challenge comes in. I’ve been criticized for the fact that I’m looking for the job that will make me happy. ‘When I was your age, we took whatever job we could get and were grateful for food on the table and a roof over our heads.’ (An amalgamation of things that have been said to me.) It’s hard to overcome something like interdependent thinking when it’s how families think, and ou come from a background where your family is conditioned to think that way.

Not that interdependent thinking is bad, just that it wasn’t the way for me. If I thought interdependently, as it is assumed I should, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I would not be the writer that I am, or can be when I’m not rambling.

The real trick, that I’m finding anyway, is not to think independently as opposed to thinking interdependently, but to intertwine my independent thinking with my interdependent thinking. It’s all well and good to think for yourself, but sometimes you need to think about the people around you as well.

My parent’s house still has issues, but it looks better. It probably won’t be what it should be until my brothers move out and Mom and Dad don’t have to take care of them anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but I can attest that your background makes your college experience different. My mindset was of someone with a different background than my own. I was lucky. But at the same time I was given that background, I still met resistance because people want to keep you where you’re at. My biggest struggle in life has always been in getting people to let go of me where I’m at, and getting them to let me in where I want to be.

I still live at home, now with my grandparents. I work a working class job that makes less than $20k a year. But I’m writing and I’m happyish. I don’t know how some people manage to be truly happy in a job like mine, but they do it everyday. It’s why it’s sometimes hard for people to accept that you want to move on to “better things.”

The whole point I’m trying to make is that it’s not just colleges that discriminate against class. It’s the classes themselves. When you try to move up in life, even though people are encouraging you to do it, there will always be that resistance as they try to keep you with them for a little longer, afraid you’ll leave them behind and never come back. And it’s not an invalid fear.

Sometimes, the challenges you face are societal. Sometimes, they aren’t. It’s important to examine your challenges and figure out where they’re really coming from. It’s also important too look at your background and realize that in one way or another it will present a challenge. But that’s just the way life goes.

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M.K.Harlan is a Ball State Alumna with a degree in English-Creative Writing. Along with writing she enjoys painting, drawing, photography, and spending time with her dog.

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