The real stuff about our money conversation since we adopted The Cherubs has nothing to do with budgets. It has to do with the long process of realizing what makes the kids feel safe, and me figuring out how to be the kind of Mom they trust to take care of them. I realized how this all connected AS I wrote this post, so it winds around a bit. Thanks in advance for your patience.
Let me start by saying, I had no idea that public school was so expensive. I mentioned this in yesterday’s post, as I remembered how alarmed I was to discover that every single after school activity The Cherubs signed up for cost somewhere between $35-$350. We had not planned for that kind of cash outlay, and it really threw us for a loop there in the beginning. Thankfully, every investment has been more than worth it. If I have unexpected expenses for my kids, that means I have kids. The miracle of that isn’t lost on me.
As I thought more about this, I realized that my frustration about the “cost of school” isn’t really about money. That’s just an easy thing to point to. My true frustration is the amount of time and attention the school wants from me, and the surprising things I’m learning about what makes my kids feel safe.
I have 6.5 hours/5x a week when I’m not responsible for keeping the kids alive or responding to their immediate needs. Anything requiring focus needs to happen during these hours. On good weeks, I have a routine.
I feel like the school conspires to wreck my routine, every. single. week.
I’ll confess, I want to cry each time they email me ANOTHER reminder to log into the special parent portal to read the “virtual backpack” of flyers that used to come home with kids in actual backpacks. If you plan to fly my child to London Tuesday and need me to send her that morning with a check for $1300 & a pair of wellies, PLEASE don’t hide that information behind a password I forgot back in September?
I flat out don’t want to attend the online, audio-only training required to access my kids’ report cards. If I send them in with a piece of paper, will you print me a copy? Even a hand-written scrawl, something like, On track to graduate with his class would be fine.
Just this week, I’ll miss two different things, one at each of the kids schools: I couldn’t attend last night’s mandatory meeting to tell me that if I sign my kid up for a sport, he’s supposed to come to practice. And I can’t make tonight’s event where parents will learn about the curriculum. But since I’m neither qualified nor inclined to homeschool, my absence is probably a win for both of us, because what would be my option if I didn’t like it?
(On a total side note…Telling the kids we might try homeschooling turned out to be a MIRACLE CURE for lackadaisical academic effort! I mentioned this once as a joke, describing my unique educational program of memoir writing & baton twirling. Both kids BUCKLED RIGHT DOWN and got to work. It was incredible.)
And the only thing that has ever made me wonder if I might be a horrible parent is my knee-jerk reaction to the weekly PTO emails. I don’t want to sell wrapping paper, calendars, candles, half-full buckets of cookie dough, or candy bars. It all feels a bit like multi-level marketing, but without the teamwork, parties, or profit. I think a dance would be a disaster for my child at this stage of her development, so you probably don’t want me planning one. And since I’m just learning to feed my family, you don’t want me baking special treats for the teachers.
Digging down, I see that my frustration isn’t even about time. It’s about feeling caught in this wave of demands and finding it hard to get my feet planted back on the ground. I use up so many no’s each day with the kids (they are BOLD askers…either one of them could have a brilliant career in sales), it’s hard to have to spend so many more on the school, when I’m really so grateful for all they do.
And here’s the other thing I don’t know how to explain to the school: Not only do I want to be doing work that isn’t just about housekeeping, school & parenting, it’s a key part of earning my kids’ trust.
For my kids, a stay-at-home mom isn’t a wonderful gift of love. It’s a woman with too much time on her hands, time they can’t account for. They don’t trust me if I can’t say what I did all day, because they’ve had experiences where grown-ups get into trouble when the kids aren’t around to keep an eye on them. #2 Cherub in particular was angry that first summer when she learned I wasn’t churning out a steady stream of books to be published. “But you said you’re an author!” she demanded. “Why aren’t you author-ing?” To her, author-ing isn’t just writing a bit every day. It’s generating tangible, revenue-producing products. It’s getting paid for your work. And you know what? She has a point.
One day I received a check for $98 for copies of my book that sold. I made a small joke about bringing home the big bucks, but then I looked up and saw pure relief on my kids’ faces. So you CAN earn money, their expressions said. Later, one of them said faux-casually, If something happened to Dad, you could make more money with your books, right? And then I realized what their real question is: Can you REALLY take care of us, or will we be on our own again?
What I thought I was doing so sacrificially was making my kids feel incredibly unsafe.
A lot of what I do is unpaid work (see: church planting), and it’s a gift to have that option. But because of the Cherubs’ obvious concern, now I’m doubling down on writing, too. I’m not sure I can generate books at QUITE the pace #2 expects. But I can pick up production. And I can do smaller things, too. For example, now my links here on the blog (for books & other stuff) are Amazon affiliate links. Which means if you click through and order – either what I posted or something else – I get a tiny bit of credit. It doesn’t cost you anything. But over time, I hope it lets me say to the kids, “Hey, my blog earned enough today to get the special hair styling goop you asked for!”
For all the talk you hear about parenting & self-sacrifice, I think self-definition is equally important. There are simply too many options vying for our time to not have some sort of internal guidelines that automate some of the decision making process. I’ve felt especially awkward about the whole “I’m not someone who does PTO” thing, because I have friends and family members who contribute huge amounts of time & energy to their kids’ schools through these committees. But then I step back and realize, they’re making choices, too. When they say yes to the PTO, it means they’re saying no to something else, just like I am. Maybe what their kids need is a mom who is in the school, who knows what’s going on. We’re all making choices based on different circumstances, most of which aren’t observable from the outside. This has helped me more than I can describe. It’s one of those rare areas of life where pretty much whichever you choose (so long as it’s not illegal)? That’s okay.