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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spread, Baby, Spread!

Never in a million years did I think that I would become so familiar with the Health Sciences Centre and adjacent Children’s Hospital that I would be able to direct you to bathrooms and tell you which elevator to take up to the 2nd floor. Even the colourful murals painted on the trying-to-cover-up-the-pink-1960s-paint walls scattered throughout Children’s Hospital have become as recognizable as the tattered pages of Ellie’s favourite Eric Carle book.

I lived in this province for 24 years before moving to Alabama, and I don’t ever remember setting foot into the kaleidoscope halls of the Children’s Hospital. And then came our sweet Ellie…

Believe it or not, this isn’t a “poor me” post about how a parent shouldn’t know a Children’s Hospital parkade like the back of their hand. Or how unfair it is that we have to drive the 60 miles one-way several times per month in order to see therapists and doctors poke, prod and push our daughter to do things that “every” other child can do effortlessly.

Nope, that’s a post for a different day!

The reason I bring up our lifesaver, Children’s Hospital, and the even bigger Health Sciences Centre (Children’s is only a small part of the monstrous hospital), is because of what I noticed there yesterday.

Those who are familiar with “The City” know that the Hospital is in a not-so-nice part of town. I wouldn’t ever suggest saving a couple of bucks by parking on a side street and walking 6 blocks to the main hospital doors. Especially at night. It’s not a safe area.

But, you sure could buy a cheap house within walking distance to the Hospital! In other words, as is often the case, crime and poverty marry themselves in this part of the city.

On our drive to Children’s, we pass by an elementary school just a block from the hospital. Yesterday, we drove by the school during recess. The school yard was bouncing with activity, as the precious kids chased balls and each other. Two hundred cute, laughing, active kids. Just like your kids; just like Ellie (minus the “running” part).

And then, when the light turned green again, and we continued our drive, the scenery returned back to dilapidated buildings, overgrown yards, and shopping-cart lawn ornaments. I thought about how, when the school bell rings at 4:00, one of those spirited kids would most likely be going home to one of these houses. Would there be food on her supper table? Who knows. Would someone be at home, waiting for her and helping with her times table homework? Who knows.

I felt guilty. And sad. Guilty because here I was, driving my nice car into the underground parking lot at Children’s Hospital, where my Gymboree-clad daughter would receive awesome medical care. Even in a universal healthcare system, SOMEONE still needs to access the treatment for sick and disabled kids. SOMEONE still needs to take time off from work in order to transport the child to and from therapy every other week. Even without two hours of driving, it’s still an hour-and-a-half commitment every other Friday. When faced with the decision between showing up at a physical therapy appointment and keeping your job, which pays to feed your children, you’ll probably choose the latter. I would.

But, I don’t have to make that choice.

In part, because I grew up in a home where my parents loved me, supported me and encouraged me to be great. I watched my parents work hard and learned from them. My parents kept tabs on me and made sure I went to school. I was surrounded by friends who grew up in similar homes. I was born with Caucasian skin. I didn’t have to quit school at the age of 15 in order to feed my siblings. I was encouraged to go to college.

After feeling sad and guilty about the situation, my emotions changed to that of frustration. All this political talk about “socialism” and “giving your hard-earned money to those who’ll just smoke it away” makes my blood boil. I am so very grateful that I have hard-earned money to give! I am so grateful that the moment I was born into my white, well-off family, my ability to achieve my goals and become a productive member of society increased 100 fold.

Those kids playing kick-ball in the soccer field of their inner city school deserve that chance as much as I do. I truly believe that my financial success in life (not to be confused with happiness) is 50% circumstance and 50% hard work and will. I also believe that the single mother who’s putting in 50 hours per week at McDonald’s works harder than I do. And yet, she makes one-quarter of my wage. Do I want my tax money going to programs that help her out and “share my wealth”? Absolutely. Because those are her kids running around that playground.

And what if her kid is the only one on the playground using a walker because he has cerebral palsy? That mom needs more support, financially and emotionally, than I do. I don’t have to decide between therapy and food. When I’m in a bind, I have a laundry list of people who will happily take Ellie to her appointments. I WANT my “hard-earned” money to be spread around. I want this mom to breathe a sigh of relief when her case worker tells her that she’ll find somebody to bring her child to therapy.

Of course, I realize that there are some bad apples who may be recipients of my wealth. I get that, and it frustrates me too. But, those apples are not the majority. And I’d rather some of my money go to them than none of my money going to those who need it and use it wisely.

So, the more certain politicians talk about “spreading the wealth around” as if it’s something terrible, the more spreading I want to happen! The more we spread, the more likely these kids will be given the same kind of chances for greatness as my precious Ellie.