Dumpster Diving: An Observation on Class in Children’s Books
When my sister and I were kids, we used to play next to (and sometimes on) the dumpsters in the parking lot while my mother cleaned offices. At the age of twenty-two, my mom was a single parent of two small children, putting herself through college while working as a waitress and cleaning lady. We were on food stamps and participated in WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). I had free lunch at school. Welfare paid for our childcare so my mom could work and take classes, and somehow, we managed to squeak by.
Eventually my mom graduated and took a job as a teacher, and things improved. They improved even more when she remarried and we became a two-income household. My lunches went from free to reduced-price. And by high school I paid top dollar for my soggy pizza and curly fries and had an allowance of three dollars a week. Which wasn’t half bad in the 1980s, all things considered.
I was a smart kid and did well at school. I got a generous financial-aid package to attend Harvard and found myself living in the Yard, taking classes from future and former US Cabinet officials when I was the age my mom had been when she was cleaning offices and struggling to put food on the table. I was surrounded by private school kids and legacy students. To say I experienced culture shock is putting it mildly.