As the sun touched the old faded blue farmhouse in Sherwood, Oregon, I would awaken. Only a few hours before had my mother returned home from waiting tables and my father had left for his job as a maintenance man. My mother rushed the five of us, still living at home, around the house getting ready for school sharing the one tiny bathroom on the main floor.
My family was a part of the working poor and even though both of my parents put in an honest day’s work we qualified for and received the free lunch at school. At Hopkins Elementary School each classroom had a board that hung our lunch cards neatly in rows. Those kids who received free lunch had cards that were white and those whose families paid for their lunch had yellow cards. The cafeteria staff would punch a hole in your card and you would place it back into your classroom’s board.
Today, during a speech at the CPAC confab in Washington, Congressman Paul Ryan was recounting an anecdote he heard when he said “…a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper bag, just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
What I am afraid Mr. Ryan doesn’t understand is that I never felt uncared for or unloved. Did I feel embarrassed and ashamed some days that my lunch card was a different color and the other kids knew my family was poor because we couldn’t afford to pay for my lunch. Yes. Uncared for? Never. Did I wish that there were days I could bring in a brown paper bag filled with food from my home that my mother made? Sure. Fish Fridays were never my favorite. But I was happy to know that my parents worked hard to take care of me and provide me with a loving home. I learned more from my parents by watching them work day in and day out, never complaining, doing their best, hoping that one day they would break free of the chains of poverty.
What I think Mr. Ryan does not understand is what it means to be a part of the working poor. Where you spend your days working multiple jobs, making lousy pay, coming home tired, and not being able to put a decent meal on the table for your family. What we on the left do understand is that we must strengthen our families by treating them with respect. That means paying a living wage so parents can afford to feed their families.
I was able to make it out of poverty because I joined the U.S Army. Which is another government program. The Army me taught me many things and reinforced those I learned from my parents that through hard work, determination, and fighting for what we believe in together we can do anything. Mr. Ryan, so if my parents didn’t care for me because I didn’t get a sack lunch, does that mean you don’t care for America because you didn’t serve?
Instead of telling the left what they don’t understand maybe you should instead look to the people you represent and the rest of the nation to tell them that you do understand and that by raising the minimum wage to a living wage more parents can provide basic essentials to their children and not rely on free lunch.
UPDATE: Turns out Congressman Ryan lied about the entire anecdote too.