I was raised one of many children in a poor household. Money was a concern at all times. We did not take extended vacations. I have not been to Disney World. My clothes were hand-me-downs and second hand. My resources were limited at times. We lived in a fairly wealthy area, and my teachers assumed that we would have internet access at home, even in 2001. We did not.
Much of my clothing fit poorly. I was acutely aware of that.
I got my first job at fourteen. I worked for a butcher on Saturdays from 8-6. I babysat on Mondays from 4-9. I cleaned the neighbor’s house on Tuesdays for two hours after school. I got a full-time babysitting job in the summer. I used that money to pay for trips to the movies and clothing so I felt better about me.
This is not a complaint, I assure you. I was raised poor but loved. My parents had little, but they gave everything. We did not travel far, but we spent at least one day at the shore every summer. Sometimes that was literally a day. We would wake before 6:00 and cram into a single minivan, children illegally sitting on the floor to fit. We would drive the three hours to the ocean, spend the morning in the sun, eat sandy sandwiches for lunch, shower off in the locker rooms of the public park, eat pizza at Dad’s favorite place, hit up the boardwalk for cheap rides and kitschy stores, and pile our sunburned selves back into the van just as the sun began to set for the ride back home. My parents could not afford much, but they could do that. There was always cake on birthdays and presents under the Christmas tree.
They had little to give, and they gave it.
We were lucky. We were loved. Other kids had things and parents who fought bitterly. Not all, of course. But we knew what we had.
We had each other. We had laughter and song and built-in friends. We had playing school on the back porch. We had an exercise trampoline in the basement. We had fires in the backyard. We had everything we needed and just enough of what we could want. Tastes of wants. Not enough to be gorged on our wants, but enough to be satisfied in knowing what they tasted like.
My parents are the working poor. They work hard. They instilled in me the value of hard work. But their hard work will not result in their getting ahead.
Saint Daddy and I are not part of the working poor. Our children wear mostly hand-me-downs, but I am more selective about what is acceptably secondhand. They also have access to more of their wants than I did as a child.
Part of this is because of my awareness as a child of not having what the other kids had. I want my kids to have everything and to feel no shame.
Sunshine is in kindergarten, and I recently became acquainted with this event known as the One Hundredth Day of School. I did not know this was a thing until this year. Specifically, I did not know that this was a thing until the Tuesday before the Monday that marked the One Hundredth Day of School when Sunshine came home with a letter from her teacher letting me know that she could wear a special homemade shirt to mark the occasion.
I took the letter to Saint Daddy where he sat in his office, finishing his work for the day. “Look! A project for me!” Because Sunshine is five, she is unlikely to be able to figure out a way to put one hundred items on a shirt. Not to mention the fact that Sunshine cannot drive herself to the store for materials. Oh yes, we had plans for both Saturday and Sunday that weekend. And, oh yes, I had two assignments due for my grad class that same Monday.
Piece of cake!
Sometimes, I think about my mom with her multitudes of children, her night shift job, her limited means, and her exhaustion. She would not have made me a shirt. She may have stopped at AC Moore to pick up a $3 t-shirt for me to decorate, but it most likely would have been puffy paint polka dots that I did myself.
But Sunshine’s teacher sent a link to a Pinterest album for ideas.
A Pinterest album!
Have you seen Pinterest?!?
Puffy paint polka dots would stick out like a sore thumb in 2019.
What would people think?
What if I am that mom? What if Sunshine is that kid?
No, I could not allow it.
“Sunshine, what would you like on your special shirt?”
Bows. Like JoJo.
Saint Daddy took to Amazon as I put Grumpy and Sleepy to bed that night. I told him to look for craft bows. He ordered them along with special fabric glue for my hot glue gun and a white shirt.
Sunshine and I discussed design. She wanted her shirt to say 100, which is one of her favorite numbers. The other being her current age.
I told Saint Daddy that I would figure out how to make it when the weekend arrived. I always figure it out. I would spend part of a morning doing it. Maybe Saturday. Although Sunshine has ballet. Or Sunday. Although I run six miles on Sunday mornings. I would figure it out.
I always do.
And I did. Sunshine loved it.
Over the next week or so, I watched other moms figure out the One Hundredth Day of School. There were capes and costumes, children dressed as their one hundred year old selves. Stress and questions. Where to buy? What do do? How much to spend?
To not be that mom. To not let our kids be those kids.
The mom who does not care enough to buy craft bows and hot glue. The mom who forgot. The mom who does not have it together for her kids. The mom who is not able to figure it out.
The ones whose parents are not paying attention. The poor ones. The misfits. The struggling ones. The ones who are different. The ones who have to sit around feeling self-conscious in their regular clothes on a special day.
And, like, what does it matter?
Would Sunshine be any less wonderful on the One Hundredth Day if I sent her in her usual uniform?
Who is to say?
I cannot answer this question.
But I see you, momma. I see you with your hot glue gun and your Cricut machine, working long hours, with no need for one more thing, but doing it anyway. I see you with paint under your fingernails and a smiling kid. I see what you did when you post your pictures to your Instagram. Your kids are happy because they did the thing, but I know. I know you are the one who really did the thing.
You would not be less of an amazing momma without that cape on your baby’s back, but you still pulled it off and I am impressed.
Until the next time you will decide to be supermom to not be that mom.
We are in this together.