Mary Claire and George on the First Day of School
Happy to be going back to school!
Not so happy to be going back to school!
Not so happy to be going back to school!

August has become the new December around here. But instead of buying Christmas presents and wrapping paper and tree decorations, we’re shelling out cash for 8,423 (sharpened!) pencils; folders in green, purple, red, yellow, and blue — with pockets; 84 boxes of tissues; 28 book covers; all the paper in the world; pens in black, blue, red, and magenta; 39 dry erase markers; binders, binders, and more binders (do you KNOW how expensive binders are??); glue; colored pencils; laptop cases… I need a nap just trying to remember it all. As an added bonus this year, both our high school boys are in Honors and AP math and science courses that require $130 graphing calculators. Two of them. Hooray for Texas Instruments! We can’t forget, either, all the pens I need to purchase for myself so I can complete ALL THE REQUIRED PAPERWORK. Reams and reams of it every day.

And it’s not just one trip to the store, it’s the Before-School trip, then the Here’s-the-Additional-List-for-Every-Class trip, then the Restocking-Supplies trip, then the Here-Are-the-Uniform-Requirements-for-All-Your-Extracurriculars-trip, then the Oops-We-Forgot-We-Need-Two-More-Flash-Drives-BY-TOMORROW trip, then the GET-ME-TO-THE-LIQUOR-STORE-NOW trip. There are also instruments to rent, athletic passes to purchase, picture packages that require pre-payment, laptop rental fees, lunch accounts to fund. And we haven’t even begun to discuss all the clothes. THE CLOTHES. Why do these kids continue growing like weeds?? George’s size 16s from last year are now affectionately known as his “Booty Shorts” because they’re officially tight enough to cut off the circulation to his legs. And the shoes? Oh, the shoes… Now that they’re all wearing adult sizes, the shoe expenses are downright daunting. Oh, and don’t forget band boosters, orchestra boosters, choir boosters, athletic boosters, ALL THE BOOSTERS.

In addition to our Back to School fun, within the past ten days, the Volvo breathed its last breath, the dishwasher gave up the ghost, the fuel pump went out on the Tahoe (again!), and my dryer decided she was ready to retire. Sam’s computer hard drive needed to be replaced, and lacrosse tournament fees had to be paid. And my sweet little Mac? She’s crying out for help, her breathing is ragged and labored. I’m begging — BEGGING — her to hold on, to fight the good fight.

Yes, I have been in the fetal position more than once in the past couple of weeks.

The average American household income is $69, 821. And even this number is skewed a bit because it includes the wealthiest-of-the-wealthy 1% of our population. In reality, that number is closer to $50,000. Our family of six makes substantially more than that, and we still have trouble making ends meet at times. Between the two of us, Chris and I have four degrees. (YES, Chris’s degrees substantially outnumber mine. Don’t think that doesn’t make the highly-competitive side of me wince a little every time I think about it.) We are well-educated, well-employed, well-insured, and stretched to the outer precipice of our financial limits.

Americans who can’t claim the same advantages, HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Please, please, please don’t make this a conversation about government handouts and those who take what they don’t deserve and those who need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with it. OF COURSE there are people who abuse the system. There always will be. But I know far too many hard-working, lower-income families who hold down three, four jobs to keep the lights on and to keep food on the table to believe there isn’t a bigger problem in this country. We get to decide between paying for landscaping or doing it ourselves. Others have much, much bigger decisions to make. (And just to clarify, Chris would NEVER pay for landscaping: “Why would I pay someone else to do a job I’m perfectly capable of doing myself?”)

In our higher-income range, we still have to think about whether or not the kids REALLY need braces, whether or not it’s safe for them to rest and eat chicken soup in lieu of seeing a doctor, whether those six-month dental check-ups can be stretched to 12, whether they can see well enough with their old glasses to push the purchase of a new pair into the next year.

And sending four kids to college? I can’t even think about it too much. I simply have to know that we will get it done, come hell or high water… or crippling amounts of student loans.

I wouldn’t trade my kids, my life, this experience for anything in the world. I am blessed beyond belief with abundance and laughter and love (and sharpened pencils). This is simply an acknowledgement that sometimes it takes all we have just to keep the train on the rails. Sometimes — when we’re mere moments away from tumbling over the cliff — the only thing we can focus on is one foot in front of the other. To those who are hanging on by a thread today — be it an emotional, financial, or mental thread — with my empty checkbook clenched tightly in my highly-held fist, I salute you. I may not be able to give you a loan, but I can offer a hug. And an extra green folder if you need one. XO

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7 Responses

  1. Love this! This year I cheated a bit. I trusted my two remaining high school kids with my bank card and told them to go get their supplies. Nobody came home with a Coach purse, so we’re all good.

    A good reminder not to take our blessings for granted.
    I have asked myself the same question. How are others making it? Yes, we’d save money if we didn’t live out in the country in a 100 year old farm house. I get that. It’s a lifestyle choice for us. There are times when it is paycheck to paycheck. And I cannot express how grateful I am for good insurance. It has made our summer of “tune-ups” possible. But even still, we have 4 digit medical pills needing to be paid and we’re juggling what is the most critical to pay vs what we can hold off for another month without getting a nasty phone call.

  2. Ack! My kids are little.. I am sooo not looking forward to that!! In our state we’re not supposed to pay out of pocket for supplies.. We only had to pay for a backpack and a lunch box since they will bring lunch from home.. I have no idea how we’d do it as the kids get older and would need anything more costly O.O

  3. I hear ya (and raise you a college-aged boy with tuition, rent, books, food, and general apartment necessities in to the mix). This year, I refused to buy a “new” box of colored pencils for my third child, explaining that we have enough barely-if-ever-used pencils scattered throughout the house to fill our requirements as well as the rest of the class! (After a few tears, and proof, she begrudgingly agreed!) Ugh, give me strength! (See you at Staples!)

  4. We are in the same boat!! On July 12th we had to have a repairman come and fix our water softener system. A few hours and a few hundred dollars later, it was fixed. Then an hour after that, the sump pump died. On my husband’s return trip from buying said sump pump, the car refused to drive over 30 mph! Then this month we had to repair the clothes dryer and replace a vehicle’s windshield. Currently, the other vehicle’s driver side window gets stuck in the down position and the brakes are squealing!!! Being a responsible home/vehicle owner stinks!! Thanks for the chuckle,and for reminding me that we are not alone. ☺

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