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Women & Children Last 

Government budget-makers always value us least, but we can and will defy them

The Journal recently reported that McKinleyville Middle School's art program and perhaps music program are set to expire due the state's financial muddle. What kind of society have we devolved to when the very programs designed to tap into what makes us human are seen as disposable? When only the children of the wealthy have access to art, music, theater and other creative endeavors? Students with neither school programs nor parents who can afford private lessons must leave their pursuits by the wayside -- a lousy place for dreams.

So what to do? The usual letters to elected officials, including local school boards, help -- community outcry proves effective from time to time, as the recent resuscitation of HSU's nursing program shows. (Listen, children! With enough luck and hard work, you, too, can aspire to a future of being an underappreciated, struggling artist or musician!) On a more personal level: Look to thrift stores, Craigslist and musically inclined friends for instrument acquisition. The Morris Graves Museum of Art hosts Second Saturday Family Arts Day with hands-on crafts, storytelling and performances. Check calendar listings for free music and arts events; find something that fits your child's interests. Talk to your child's teachers about inviting local artists, actors and musicians into the classroom. Embrace the DIY aesthetic! Visit Booklegger or the Humboldt County Library for instructional and inspirational books. Maybe you can't provide week-in, week-out instruction, but you can still deliver opportunities and a home in which the arts are valued.

Because not having money to throw at your child's interest hurts. Being a parent often results in a keen awareness of all that you don't have, from enough patience to enough cash. When the kids are little, most of the income discrepancy between them and their peers can be mitigated by paying attention, spending time playing outside and a keen eye for deals at the thrift stores. As they get older and more aware of what passes for "normal" in their friends' lives, the frustration of not being able to provide a similar lifestyle may begin to cut more sharply than before. Yes, you want to think you've escaped the "keeping up with the Joneses" cliché, but if your kid is buddies with the Joneses' kid, you may find yourself wondering why you didn't go to school for a more lucrative career or why past generations didn't have the foresight to leave you better financially endowed.

A few years ago, I received a significant raise to $375 per week. Not too long after, I ended up with a second job making about $200 per week. Within six months, I'd gone from making less than $15,000 per year to making almost $30,000 -- which to me, given my ridiculous choice to study journalism of all things, was huge. Not only could I now pay almost all the bills each month, but that first winter, I was able to do something amazing: Take my family on a snowboarding trip. Granted, I'd acquired free lift tickets and a friend tipped us to a cheap hotel, but I paid for that hotel room, for the gas to get there, for the rental equipment and even snowboard lessons. I felt triumphant. But with so many of the kids' friends making those sorts of trips every other weekend, I soon found myself having to explain why we couldn't. Suddenly I felt poor all over again.

First-world problem? Sure. Certainly if we only compare ourselves to people who have less, an appreciation for what we do have becomes obvious. But we don't live in a world with only the folks on the street -- we live in one where our kids want to know why they can't do or can't have all that their friends have. I may not feel guilty over bypassing video games and such, but I would love to swoop the family up for more serious travel. I would feel greatly fulfilled if I could promise them money for college would be waiting. I tire of explaining why we can't do things.

To their credit -- I should emphasize this -- my kids have never complained, never said they feel impoverished, and they normally show appreciation for the not-terrible lifestyle we are able to provide. Life is pretty good at the end of the day, and most of the time I think they know it. But it doesn't keep me from wanting to give them more.

This is the part where I make the obligatory and true statement that money isn't everything. I know well-off families who deal with far heavier burdens than I. The best things we can give our children involve love, support and a solid home. Money makes it easier, but making a family work takes far more than cash. With the ongoing hard times and pending further brutal state budget cuts, we must take refuge in what we can provide. You don't need much money to take walks on the beach, hikes through the redwoods, strolls in the Marsh or a trip to the river. You can dance with your kids at Farmers' Market and summertime festivals. Frisbees are still cheap, as are crayons.

A final serious word about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent budget proposal: Assemblymember Noreen Evans has noted on her California Budget blog ( how the proposed cuts will hit women and children first and hardest. That's a blow not only for individuals who will bear the burden of greater suffering, but to society as whole. Last year, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, in the New York Times Magazine, acknowledged the connection between providing aid to women and effectively fighting global poverty has been recognized by "everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff" -- which is why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. Yet the same pundits who espouse the importance of the family advocate against much-needed financial support to struggling mothers and their children. They're wrong. Struggling moms? You are not part of the problem. You are the potential solution. 

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Jennifer Savage

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