“I know it’s hard and it looks impossible,” Claire* said when she found out I was pregnant, “but everything will turn out right.”
When the words hit the air, I immediately agreed and yet rebelled against her sentiments. I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from exposing my biggest fear: that I wasn’t affluent enough to be worthy of motherhood. It was a doubt that only made itself known when my hormones reached critical mass, and it easily subsided after Rob calmed me down. But still, it was there, crouched between my mother’s knack for shopping and hording and my father’s materialistic bravado. Any second, I feared, it would bite me in the ass.
I looked at her, a 28 year old mom to a ‘tween. She’d been a teenage mom. She knew all about hardships and needing faith and worrying about money.
She was so confident. Not just in me and my dormant maternal abilities, but in motherhood itself, in the power of loving someone more than you’d ever thought possible, in higher powers set in place to make things right, in humanity, and in life. Despite (or because of?) all she’d seen, she held on to a naive optimism that seemed too Hallmark card for me to take stock in. I craved the comfort of cold, hard facts. I wanted a fat paycheck arriving in my bank account every other week. I wanted to afford every pair of obscenely-priced jeans and every state-of-the-art video game console that my son would grow up to deserve. I wanted something more than financial security; I wanted financial superiority.
“The money part,” she said, eyeing me with an air of been-there-done-that, “that’s what you worry about.”
I nodded and winced, all the while suppressing a biting remark.
“Believe me when I say, you find a way to get the money you need when you have a child to take care of.”
I looked away. “Sure, I’ll have enough to get by,” I’d wanted to say. “But is that enough?” Instead, I let my mind cloud over with plans for my baby shower, and I let out a heavy sigh.
I’d anticipated the gift since the moment Sully* had told me about it. When I opened it at my baby shower (along with the several other boxes of gifts that she so generously gave us), I felt giddy in a way that only good quality merch can make you feel. And maybe it was because I’d planned on being a Johnson’s & Johnson’s mom (out of sheer convenience and familiarity), or because I swore up and down I wouldn’t follow baby trends, or because I was afraid that going organic would mean that I’d somehow betray a part of my own childhood, but I felt hip and naughty for loving the gift.
Yeah, that’s right. Throw in a negligee with that head-to-toe wash, and I would’ve felt damn sexy.
Seriously though, a part of me felt guilty for accepting such an expensive gift. I felt overwhelmed with Sully’s generosity, yet allowed only my appreciation to show.
And show it did. My appreciation beamed out of my pores like sunshine, and shot out of my fingers and toes. It wasn’t just that my friend was generous, it was that all of my friends and family were amazingly supportive and generous: despite the facts that times were tough, that some of them had either lost their jobs or were in danger of losing their jobs, that the prospects for making money were slim, and that they had bills to pay, they still made me and my family a priority. They showed us love. So. Much. Love. (I have framed cards of congratulations to prove it. And they make me cry every time I read them.)
We ended up receiving every possible baby necessity as a gift. An amazing crib, an adorable stroller, oodles and oodles of toys and clothes, a one-year membership to an organic diaper delivery service, bathtub and products, several breast pumps, our dream playpen, bottles and bottle equipment – the whole nine yards and then some. (Seriously, you should’ve seen Rob and I when we opened the baby wipe warmer. We were confuzzled because we didn’t realize such a thing existed.) We didn’t need to buy anything for Riley until he started eating solids. No bullshit. Read that again and feel the amazement creeping in.
We are fucking fortunate to have such fabulous friends and family.
Despite all of my gripes, the truth is, my parents did a good job with me and my brother. They kept us safe, healthy, and happy, and they took care of us the best way they knew how. Never mind that that meant working around the clock to buy us the latest jeans and video games, and that we hardly saw them except during dinner. Never mind that my brother has never had a sentimental or meaningful conversation with either of our parents. Never mind that a lot of what our parents taught us about life, love, and money matters was ill-advised and wrong. Their intentions were good. They did their best. That’s all that any parent can really do.
I love my parents and I appreciate all they’ve done for us, but when I decided to become a mom, I knew one thing for certain: I would spend as much time as possible with my kids. If that meant working less hours so that I could take them to museums or parks, then so be it. If that meant sleeping less so that we could spend more time together, or carving time out of my yoga routine or writer’s circle, then so be it. If that meant forgoing social time, then so be it. I gladly make sacrifices so that my child knows me, and doesn’t just know of me. I know that in no time at all, he’ll have his own social life, his own classes, and his own romantic relationships, and before that happens, I want to create a legacy that is not limited to shopping trips, restaurants, and outlet excursions.
Those are my priorities. I believe that quality time between members of a family matters more than the money said family might have for, say, going to Disney World or owning luxury vehicles. Just as long as there’s a cushion of savings, everything’s all right.
Should I feel guilty for wanting a close-knit family instead of wanting to give my kids every imaginable extravagance?
There is a conversation I had with Marjorie* right before I left New York City. She was driving her BMW from her Midtown penthouse apartment to her mom’s house in Queens. We hadn’t spoken in many months and there was a lot to catch up on. I’d missed her engagement and wedding while in my own whirlwind of life-altering events. Apparently, I’d missed her social climbing, too, and happily listened as she described the huge rock she sported on her left ring finger.
We talked about pleasantries and mutual friends, then having nothing left to add to our conversation, I turned to an old conversational stand-by. “Are you and your hubby planning on joining us in the p-‘hood?”
“No,” she’d quickly answered. “We’re waiting to save more money.”
I shrugged even though she couldn’t see me, and answered, “Oh, okay. Good for you guys.”
Hurriedly she added, “It’s not enough, ya know?” Her voice was a conspiratorial whisper. “There’s always more that a kid wants. I didn’t grow up with a lot, so I want to make sure that my kids have everything.”
Is it really that simple?, I wondered. Is everything defined in material terms? Is there a compromise between the two? How are people who have their roots firmly planted in the lower- or middle-classes supposed to navigate through the parental minefield of haves and have-mores?
Ten years ago, I was 15 years old and in the Philippines, and as I walked with my aunts down the street, a woman came up and greeted us. My aunts explained that I’m their balikbayan pamangkin (niece from the States), and the woman commented on how pretty I was. I thanked her, and the next thing she asked was, “Are you interested in adopting a baby?”
I didn’t know what she meant. I had never heard the Tagalog word for adopt, and I was confused. It’s not like we were in her living room and she’d offered us lemonade. We were in the street and she’d offered me a baby.
My aunts laughed and explained that no, I was their 15-year old niece. I had lots of time to be making my own babies.
The subject of adoption has creeped up yet again into my life, and it’s forced me to think about how easy it is to adopt in the Philippines. People here literally give their kids away. For the most part, there is no legal paperwork involved. There is little exchange of money, except if the adoptive parents agree to pay for a mother’s prenatal care. It’s just part of the culture. Some parents simply can’t afford children. There is no abortion. There are no foster programs. But there are affluent individuals and there are orphanages. To many parents, the former seems like a better choice.
I read this article, and it made me wonder yet again about the cost of parenthood. What is best for a child? Can anyone ever really know, definitively and truly, the answer to that question? Is it subjective? Is money really the answer? Or is there more? And if money isn’t the answer, why do we plan so much before having kids?