The Christmas Eve I was 25 years old, I knelt by the couch, prying Matchbox cars out of their packaging and stuffing them into my almost-2-year-old son's stocking. On the ratty carpet of our tiny rental house, my husband set up a figure-eight of wooden train tracks, right where H would see them when he woke up.
Earlier that night, after tucking H into his crib, I'd driven across town to the lone open grocery store to buy a test. It was just a precaution. Just a little heartburn, a little stomach ache. I was definitely overreacting.
But, sitting at a stoplight halfway to the store, I realized I had no doubt what the test would say.
We were young, a grad student and a security guard, still reeling from the Great Recession, sitting on a pile of student loans, raising a toddler with the help of family and friends. No formal child care. No sick leave. Bare-bones medical insurance.
H was a planned baby, in the way two idealistic 20-somethings make life-rewriting plans without really knowing what they're getting into. I was a newspaper reporter when he was born, and I wrote a piece about how grateful I was that Medicaid saved us when I had complications early in my pregnancy that wiped out our savings. People — not strangers, but people I'd interviewed, people I knew — wrote to declare I did not deserve to have a child if I couldn't pay for it.
And now I was poor and pregnant again.
We'd fretted over the cost of that train set. Bought H the $15 Buzz Lightyear action figure instead of the big one he'd admired in the store, with its working buttons and lights. Topped his stocking off with socks and a toothbrush, because he needed them anyway.
I remember thinking about a certain filthy rich reality TV star. I'd read in a magazine about a gift he'd bought his wife, some piece of extravagant jewelry that cost several times more than my family lived on in a year.
And I was angry, furious, knowing how some people would look at the rich man's gift compared to the beautiful, terrifying, unexpected one I got that Christmas Eve. I knew who they'd think was worthy, and who wasn't.
Every Christmas season, all those feelings come back. During Advent at my church, we sing "The Magnificat" — the verses from the book of Luke where Mary sings in celebration of the impending birth of Jesus.
Mary was young, poor, socially compromised, facing the mother of all unplanned pregnancies. She wasn't feeling too warm about rich people in her time, either.
(God) has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
For Mary, my 25-year-old self and everyone for whom the holiday has ever been as much about fear as joy, I'd like to suggest we honor this ancient Christmas message.
Let's tax the hell out of the rich. Redistribute some unholy wealth. Do God's work of bringing down the powerful from their superyachts and obscenely shaped spaceships and golden thrones (of various types) and making them fund a few good things for the rest of us.
We wouldn't even have to send them away completely empty. Just skim enough off the top of American billionaires' $1.2 trillion of shiny new net worth added in just the past year to help pay for a few extravagant gifts like funding parental leave, or ensuring fair wages for teachers and nurses and grocery store workers, or making sure every person has a safe place to live and enough to eat, or making sure no one goes broke trying to pay for cancer treatment or insulin or a new baby.
I know it's a lot to ask when there are private islands and enormous diamonds to be had, but I feel like we could make it work.
Mary was young, poor, socially compromised, facing the mother of all unplanned pregnancies. She wasn't feeling too warm about rich people.tweet this
Of course I don't know how to make it work. My mighty columnist powers have yet to give me nuanced insight into capital gains taxes and IRS loopholes — but they do give me a platform to call on the plenty of qualified people out there who can figure it out. I want to hear their plans, I want to vote for the people who support them, and I want the people I vote for to be brave enough to try it out.
Is all this radical, idealistic, blindly optimistic, and disregarding of arguments about capitalism and liberty and bootstraps? Sure is.
Indulge me in my wild ideas. Indulge yourself, if you want the same. Make it a prayer and a song; dig in to that feeling of ludicrous hope. Believe in the seemingly impossible. It's Christmas. ♦
Tara Roberts is a writer and college journalism adviser who lives in Moscow with her husband, sons and poodle. Her work has appeared in Moss, Hippocampus and a variety of regional publications. Follow her on Twitter @tarabethidaho.