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Essays

The Never-Ending Wreckage of Growing Up Poor

Today you’d probably lump me in with the middle class, but I carry some residue of having grown up poor. I work with people who work hard to help the poor, but have not themselves ever been poor. There are things they don’t understand. People who grew up with money tend to think that poverty is …

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Feeling Naked

When I was six years old, some moms took a bunch of us kids to the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk, which was (in my pre-Disneyland years) my actual, best place in the whole world. Somewhere in the half-mile of noisy carnival rides and smells there was, in those days, a Fun House that had …

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How to Parent CALMLY (and Raise Happier Kids) When You Have Childhood PTSD

So many readers have written to me sharing their worries — and their success stories — around raising happy, healthy children despite having their own PTSD from childhood. The fear that we’ll hurt the kids can hold us back from setting limits, yet losing control of kids’ behavior can escalate discipline into a recipe for …

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Growing Up “Hippie Poor” vs. “Hillbilly Poor”:

Recently I finished J.D. Vance’s excellent Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, a book that’s part sociological analysis about poor white Americans, and part memoir about growing up with a drug-addicted mother and all the crappy crap that goes with that. I come from the opposite corner of the socioeconomic spectrum (well, the …

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Charm School for Feral Girls

One afternoon in the sixth grade, all the girls in my class were sent to the cafeteria for a special, one-time class whose topic was a secret. We’d already had the men-stroo-ation talk, so why the mystery? The lunchroom chairs were arranged in rows. The teacher of the class was the mother of one of our classmates, who stood before …

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Poor Girl’s First Real Job (Ten Things I Learned as an Admin Assistant)

When I was sixteen I interviewed for a job at McDonald’s and didn’t get it. Before that I’d worked as a phone solicitor and before that, a babysitter, yard worker, necklace stringer and flower-seller, and I raised and sold baby rabbits, and made nachos to sell at fairs.  When I was in college I worked …

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