“You’re lucky to be able to stay home with your kids. We could never afford that! We’ll both be working until the day we die and still not have our debt paid off,” she laughed. “Must be nice!”
She wasn’t trying to be rude. If anything, she was just making friendly conversation. I don’t know her at all. We had only just met moments before. She dropped an envelope while walking into the post office. My 5-year-old son picked it up and handed it to her. She flashed him a bright and genuine smile.
“Well thank you handsome,” she said, patting him on the head. “Shouldn’t you be in school today?” We explained that he attends preschool 3 days per week and the rest of the time he’s “Mommy’s little helper.” That lead to a casual conversation while we waited in line, mostly about stay-at-home mom life and debt. She expressed how much she’d really like to be at home with her kids, but it just isn’t financially feasible.
I’m going to be brutally transparent. I judged the shit out of that lady. I’m not proud of it. But it’s true. Her outfit was worth more than my family’s entire combined wardrobe. Her fingers sparkled with precious stones and she had freshly manicured nails to match. The maintenance on her haircut and color probably equates to that of my monthly grocery expenditures and she drove away in a $60 to 70-thousand-dollar SUV.
Let’s get one thing straight. I couldn’t give a flying fig about who does what with their money or their lifestyle. If one desires the very best of every material possession and is willing to work for it, then who am I to judge? I have a deep-seeded respect for those willing to work hard for what they want in life, whether it’s wealth, health, spiritual depth or otherwise. We all have our own definition of success. And our level of success is typically a reflection of our ambition, our focus, and the energy we pour into our personal goals. Some of the greatest people I know work around the clock to afford a high-end lifestyle. They do it willingly, because that’s what they want and that’s what they value. Live and let live. So, let me be clear. I do not take issue with the fact that this woman visibly prefers the finer things. Had we spent our encounter bitching about the weather, her face would have literally been forgotten the moment she walked out the door. I’m not an observant person to begin with and the attire and/or hair maintenance regimens of complete strangers do not interest me on any level. But today I was apparently hyper-sensitive and hyper-judgmental. Here’s why.
I’d completely understand if she explained to me that her standard of living and personal desire for lavishness simply does not allow for her to be happy as a stay-at-home mom. Her life, her choice. To see a woman who knows what she wants in life is a breath of fresh air in my opinion. Onward! But no. It didn’t go down that way. Instead, she made the following statement:
“You’re so lucky to be able to stay home.”
Had she said, “you’re so privileged to be able to stay home,” I could probably get on board with that particular word. My husband and I were both raised in loving homes in safe communities. We had relatively peaceful, traumatic-free childhoods. We were encouraged to further our education after high school and we’ve always had a loving support system, even into adulthood. All of those factors undoubtedly contribute to the likelihood of financial stability in a person’s future. In other words, we were at an advantage from birth. So, yes. My privilege has greatly influenced my ability to be a full-time stay-at-home parent.
But toss out the word privilege and replace it with the word luck. As in, “you’re so lucky to be able to stay home.” Her statement takes on an entirely different nuance. It suggests that staying home with my children is just some random opportunity that fell into my lap. Like it was bestowed upon me because somewhere along the way we stumbled upon this “there-for-the-taking” jackpot. And now I’m just miraculously living the highlife, footloose and fancy free, going on ice cream playdates with no decisions to be made or bills to be paid. That’s not exactly how I would describe my situation. So, I decided to write her a letter stating all of the things I wish I had said (but never actually would) during our brief encounter.
Dear random lady at the post office with the pretty nails, trendy haircut and the massive amount of debt who really just wants to be at home with her children,
Life as a stay-at-home parent is way less about luck and way more about choice. Here are some things you should know…
First. I have two words for you. THRIFT STORE. Every item of clothing on my person, from my bag to my belt and my jacket to my jeans probably cost me a whole $10 bucks. Outside of my undies and typically my shoes, I buy all secondhand clothing. Granted. I’m no fashion guru. But lucky for me, I can throw together a frock and make it rock when I need to. Cha-ChiNG!
Next. My vehicle is old. I don’t have a car payment. Which is why I will drive it until the end of days. Or at least until it collapses into the earth beneath me. Which in all truthfulness, could happen sooner than later. Never, ever stick your hand between the seats. Ever. Things appear to be sanitary on the surface, semi-clean even. But trust me when I tell you, there’s literally 10 years worth of spilled juice, raisins and God only knows what else lurking, growing, breeding in that dark crevice. We’re not meant to visit that space with our naked human fingers. Remember that. Also, if you see me wearing a poncho it’s because my sunroof leaks. I refuse to shell out the dough to have it “fixed” again. Here’s an interesting tidbit about that obnoxious clicking sound every time I turn the steering wheel. If we raise the volume up loud enough on the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 version of China Cat Sunflower, you can barely hear it anymore! Cool, right? I just need to “replace the axle grease that’s packed into the rubber boot which seals the CV joint.” I know this because my mechanic was going to charge me roughly fifty-two thousand dollars to make that happen the other day. No worries. The automobile is still safe to drive. The lack of axle grease will not cause us to careen off the interstate and die a fiery death. (Trust me, I asked.) The bad news? If I don’t have it fixed soon then I’ll be forced to pay him seventy-five billion dollars to replace the entire boot instead of just the axle grease. So… Lucky me.
Let’s talk about frugality. I know a thing or two about that. Just ask my houseguests about my off-brand toilet paper selection. Don’t waste your breath trying to convince me that purchasing the name-brand, quilted toilet paper that rivals the thickness of a subzero, down-filled sleeping bag actually SAVES ME MONEY. I’m not buying it. What I AM BUYING is the 50-roll value pack of single ply 1000 sheet generic toilet paper that costs a whopping $4 bucks and virtually disintegrates the moment you lay eyes on it. I’m somehow saving money. I guarantee it. Don’t ask me to prove it. Some things, I just know. This is one of them.
Now, about dinner. I cook almost every night. If I’m not cooking, we’re most likely eating leftovers. Would the kids rather be going out for pizza, eating dinner at the Mexican joint or hitting one of the many local sushi restaurants? Yep. But guess what? They’d also like to have things like shampoo and conditioner, running water, electricity and a home to live in. It’s called compromise. Not to mention, few things are more depressing than giving away hard-earned cash to sit and watch your 5-year-old stare at his food. He touches it a lot. And he talks about it a great deal. Yet he seldom actually takes a bite. Then we box it up (in Styrofoam containers, of course) and bring it home, where it sits for days, haunting me every time I open the refrigerator door. Basically, all I see is a waste of $8 dollars and the demise of our beloved planet earth. It’s just not really worth it.
Again, not luck. Choices.
Each year I sweat over gardens filled with leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and all sorts of other deliciously healthy fare. It’s fun and it keeps me connected to the earth. But it also provides my family with nutrient dense, real food at a fraction of the price we pay at local farm markets or grocery stores. I don’t know if you’ve gathered this yet, but I’m into budgeting. (Surprise!) Here’s the deal, canning my own tomato sauce, pickles and peppers, growing my own salads and potatoes, preserving my own blueberries and figs, saves me money. And as a perk, it tastes better too! We also raise chickens and turkeys for fresh eggs and to supplement our meat.
** YES. I realize most people don’t choose to slaughter their own poultry to save a buck. I get it. I accept it. Please. I beg of you. Refrain from listing the plethora of reasons why I’m the devil in the comment section. That’s a different blog post and a different debate meant for a different day. Thanks in advance. **
Suffice to say, every penny counts. If we’re saving a little bank while feeding our people and also getting free entertainment by watching these fluffy gals waltz around the property being all sassy, cute and psychotic then, well… Consider me lucky.
What else? Oh yeah. There was that time I went back to work for a year. You see, many years ago when our first two kids were just toddlers, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom. My husband owned his own business. Suddenly our health insurance cost more than our mortgage payment each month. Clearly, we needed two incomes. Turns out, my entire paycheck went to childcare and health insurance. My husband and I were like ships in the night and our marriage suffered greatly. We were struggling emotionally and financially. Our spirits were crushed and our kids were basically being raised by everyone but the two of us. Things got dicey. So, we ultimately did what we needed to do in order to salvage our marriage and to raise our children the way we believed was best. We sold almost everything we owned. Our business, our house, our furniture, etc. We packed up our entire family and moved 14 hours away from the only life we’d ever known to start all over again in a totally unfamiliar town surrounded by complete strangers. Let me assure you, it wasn’t luck that landed us in that situation. It was our choice. A choice that changed our future entirely. A choice that will go down as one of the most difficult decisions we have ever made. A choice that ended up being the best thing we’ve ever done for our family.
Random lady at the post office, I can relate to you. Not to your pretty nails or your trendy haircut (you look gorgeous, by the way) but definitely to your struggle with debt and to your craving to be home with your children. I know that feeling. It is torture. I hope you are investing your energy into the lifestyle that you most desire. You mentioned that it “must be nice” to be home with my children. Yes. It is nice. Very nice, actually. That’s why I rely on my ability to make thoughtful and sometimes tough choices rather than dumb luck to maintain this lifestyle we’ve created.
Maybe someday you’ll stumble upon this blog post and realize how beyond grateful you are for your own life choices. Or maybe you’ll find inspiration to go after a life that you never really knew you wanted to live until now. Either way, make good choices.
The random, not-so-lucky, stay-at-home mom at the post office with the cute kid and the car that smells like sweaty soccer cleats and bayou sludge.