About once or twice a month, though, we sit and look at each other and realize it wouldn't take much to sink this ship. It weighs heavily on Noah. And me, well, I just get angry. We don't have any credit cards. We don't have a car payment. We don't even have television. There is no place else to trim the budget, but the cost of each category keeps going up. When we first got married, we budgeted $60 a week for groceries. Now, $100 a week is a stretch. When we first got married, we could fill our gas tank on $20. Now, I'm not even sure how much it would take to fill the tank—probably closer to $50.
It doesn't seem right, or fair, or American that a small family—one full-time worker who puts his life on the line for the community, one part-time-working stay-at-home mother, and a toddler who lives on juice and air—struggles to pay for necessities. Worries that someone might get sick because our small emergency fund wouldn't cover the cost of cotton balls on a hospital bill anymore.
Yesterday, on the anniversary of 9/11, I went to a blogger brunch at our city's recently expanded Ronald McDonald House. Through the generosity of donors—nearly $4 million of generosity—and the volunteer services of architects at Calloway Johnson Moore & West, contractor Frank L. Blum, and designers Linda G. Bettis, Rebecca DeBruhl, Gair Jewell and Sarah Young, the RMH addition doubled the number of families it can accommodate.
One of the living areas.
The dining room.
One of the 35 bedrooms.
(You can see more photos from the Ronald McDonald house in my Flickr Photostream)
Aside from providing better-than-hotel rooms and living spaces for families with children in the hospital, as well as free dinners and in-hospital family rooms with food and Internet access, the RMH staffs counselors who meet with the families, visit bedside, and connect them with other counselors in their home areas when they leave. For these services, they charge $5 per night. But if a family can't pay, they still won't be turned away. Now more than ever, we were told, families are unable to afford the meager donation.
Non-profits like the Ronald McDonald house signify something important, that a charitable view toward others exists in this country. RMH recognizes the sad truth that on top of the pain and anxiety and worry of having a sick child, most people can't afford to have a sick child. Because regardless of health-care reform or health insurance, there is a financial penalty given to those on leave from work, away from home, facing the most difficult time in life. There shouldn't be, but there is.
I try not to feel bitterness. I have a comfortable if small home, a large yard for my son and dogs to play in, a vehicle to take us where we need to go, and our health. We are educated. We have generous families who live nearby and with whom we spend a lot of time.We have the American Dream. But we are reminded daily how insecure that dream is in this day and age: through the rising price of a mortgage weighted heavier with taxes each year to cover our state's budget deficit; through inflexible and exorbitant student loans and tuition; through the knowledge that an illness, even if it didn't take the worst toll, would take a fatal financial one; through the potential that a car accident could put our freedom of transportation out of commission.
I don't think that's how the dream is supposed to end. I can't remember Walt and June worrying over how to apportion Walt's paycheck so they don't slip into the red, or how to pay for Wally and the Beav's All-American College Experience. But I guess a lot of things have changed since the twin towers went down. I do believe the American Dream is one of them.
I hope the new iteration of the American Dream preserves some of the old sentiments—that good things should come to those who work—but makes room for new realities—that honest work might not be enough anymore. I hope the new American Dream reinterprets wealth, that a modest home and fiscal responsibility are the new model for prosperity. And I hope the new American Dream honors generosity, recognizes that charities like Ronald McDonald House are essential to the fabric of society. Finally, I hope we as a country begin to recognize that need should not be equated with irresponsibility, nor should abundance be equated with virtue.
It's been quite awhile since I've heard the pull-yourself-up-and-out philosophy being touted as the American Way. And I'm glad. Because sometimes you can tug and tug at your own bootstraps, only to discover that the boots don't fit.