She was the first one out of her classroom at preschool pickup yesterday, and I could tell by her face that something wasn’t right.
“Olivia, what’s wrong?” I asked her.
“I’m the only one not staying!” she cried. Then she burst into tears.
My heart sank. I hugged my little girl and felt my own tears starting to form. I looked over at the classroom doorway, where her two teachers were standing, watching us. It turns out she wasn’t just the first one out; she was the only one out.
I did the only thing I know how to do in those situations; I distracted her with the promise of something fun.
“Remember we’re going to the park for a picnic lunch? Which park do you want to go to?”
That did the trick. She seemed to forget that she wasn’t staying past the regular pickup time. I couldn’t forget it, though. It’s a good thing I was wearing sunglasses because the tears had started to pool in my eyes. I let them fall while buckling the kids into their car seats.
Olivia was supposed to stay past the regular pickup time, like she always did. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she stayed an extra two hours for enrichment. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she left at noon, the regular pickup time.
But we can’t afford it anymore. We can’t afford enrichment or for her to attend five days a week. So I sat in the preschool director’s office this morning and we worked out a new schedule for just three days a week. The director reassured me that she has other parents change their kids’ schedules because, you know, life happens. I sat in her office for another 45 minutes after that and had a mini, non-professional therapy session.
It felt good to talk about it, especially with someone who’s seen a lot of families and kids and life throughout the years. I have a few girlfriends whom I talk to, but I haven’t shared how completely broke we are. It’s embarrassing. It’s degrading. It’s humiliating. I feel like there’s a stigma surrounding people who don’t make much money, that they’re either not smart or they don’t work hard enough.
Neither case is true with Ryan. Maybe the timing isn’t right. Maybe he didn’t pick the right industry to serve. Maybe he’s under too much pressure since I’m not working. Maybe I expect too much from him with the kids. I don’t know why. I just know it hasn’t happened for us yet.
It’s frustrating for me to see how much time he puts in to see it not pay off. It’s even more frustrating to see others “make it” with seemingly half the effort. How many people do you know who put in very little effort at something they aren’t even that good at, but they seem to land on their feet every single time? I can list several off the top of my head.
I’m not saying that I want those people to fail so we can succeed. I want to believe in the abundance mentality, the concept that “there are enough resources and successes to share with others” that Stephen Covey wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But where is our share?
I know, I know. Life isn’t fair. That still doesn’t change the fact that our situation is tough. I mean, gosh, one little victory would go a long way over here.
I’m not throwing all this up to bad luck, either. I admit that we’ve made a lot of poor decisions along the way. We should’ve cut back our expenses a long time ago, but neither of us thought we’d be in this situation four years after we started. We should’ve sought out therapy, both together and separately, when Ryan first left his old company. I should’ve started helping him with the business sooner, even if just in an oversight role, something like an inspector general.
And, of course, there’s the big, big question: Should I get a job? Probably. Should I have gotten a job a long time ago? Probably times ten. But at the same time, the best I can hope to make isn’t going to cover much for a family of four in Southern California after paying for daycare. Ryan and I also both agree that me working causes a lot more problems than it solves. When I was pregnant with Olivia, I think he wanted me to keep my job, though he always said it was up to me. But after she was born, he realized how much more freedom he had with his own career if I stayed home.
I am also kind of terrible at the whole work-life balance thing. I was bad at it when we didn’t even have kids. And while I knew that I wanted to stay home with my children to nurture and teach them, at least in their early years, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to juggle both a job and being a mom like other women can. I knew that if I didn’t feel like I was performing to the absolute best of my ability in either job, it would break me mentally, emotionally and physically. (The joke’s on me, though, because I still don’t feel like I’m crushing it as a mom even though I’m not working.)
But what to do about Olivia? I have no idea.
Today is Wednesday, and she will go to school for three hours like she’s done pretty much every week since August. But I’m dreading tomorrow, because I’ll have to tell her that she’s not going to school on Thursdays anymore. I know that she’ll cry, and she’ll tell me how much she’ll miss her friends and enrichment. She’ll ask me to find out the science experiment so we can do it at home. She’ll ask me why she can’t go to school on Thursdays anymore.
She loves school and she loves her friends, and we’re taking them away from her. It’s not like we’re removing her iPad or her TV time; we’re pulling back on her learning and her sense of belonging. It crushes me as a mother.
I’m still not sure what I’ll tell her about school. She might understand the concept of not being able to afford something, but that’s not a burden she needs at five years old. I guess I know what I’ll spend today figuring out.