Two weeks ago we hosted Samuel’s 5th birthday party at our house. I was so nervous about it. Every other birthday party we had gone to since moving to Memphis must have cost $1,000, between the locations, food and activities. We could not afford to even consider competing with that, and I kept telling myself that even if we could, we shouldn’t. Samuel was fine with having the party at his house after we told him we couldn’t afford his first idea, the zoo. He was excited, really. That party went well. I was a little nervous people wouldn’t come based upon where we live, which is a perfectly nice neighborhood, but still a few economic rungs below the houses near the preschool.
Let me put it this way: with just Josh working full time, and given the insane cost of our health insurance, we are barely earning a middle class income. I am not deluded. College professors at the start of their career don’t make much, especially given their education. I earned more at 22 years old working for a start up in Boston. If money had been a priority for me, I would not have gotten PhD.
Yet when I am surrounded by the wealthy parents at the preschool, I struggle with embarrassment. I love our neighborhood, and I am proud we bought an old house in an old neighborhood. But we can’t afford as much as they can. I am not just talking about the clothes and the cars and the boots and the makeup and the hair coloring and the houses and the personal trainers and the yoga classes and the vacations….Ok, I will stop that. More seriously, I feel badly about not being able to afford the music lessons, sports, dance classes, and other various activities the other parents can for their kids.
I shouldn’t feel this way. Samuel and Jonah will have so many opportunities that so many other children in the world will never experience. But they could have so much more, if only I had made different choices. I feel guilty that I am still trying to figure out what to do, still trying to figure out my own dreams when I want to be giving them every opportunity to discover theirs. I worry that they’re going to be limited by my own failures.
At the same time, I want to give myself a break, to tell myself I am doing enough. We are in this place because at every turn over the past six years, I put family first. We moved to Memphis to provide a good Jewish education and community for the boys. I am behind where I always thought I would be by now financially and professionally but given the market and opportunities we faced I don’t know how, short of sacrificing even more time with Samuel or deciding not to have Jonah at all, it could be different. So I should feel good, about our choices, and content that we are finally settled.
Reason tells me this, now could someone please tell my confidence?