Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Mommy, They Must Be Smart with Their Money."

I was driving my seven year old, Chloe, to school one morning last week, when she had a revelation.

"Mommy, I know why the (anonymous family) live in that nice, big house and why they have so many nice, expensive things! It's cause they were smart with their money!"

We have spent time teaching the value of money to our daughter. We have used that phrase, being "smart with your money." But also, she hears and sees way more than we explain in words. She has become thrifty. A saver. She wants to buy her own things, even sneakers. Recently she bought a Mini Wii for the family, with birthday, Christmas, and allowance money she had saved up for almost two years. This is a kid who told me at Christmastime that she didn't want anything, that she already had enough toys and really didn't need anything, that I could just give her "whatever" and she would be happy. (What?!) I had to explain to her this weekend when I bought her sneakers, that moms are supposed to buy their kids' basic shoes, and it's OK for her to accept them. (She'd said, "It's OK mom, I don't really need those sneakers that much, how much are they?") She asks if we can "afford" certain things. We did not mean to make her be this thrifty and careful. But I now know how impressionable a young child can be about money. We've just always been very truthful with her, and our kids do not get everything they want. That is not a bad thing.

But the conversation we had on the way to school that morning has stuck with me for days. I paused, and wondered if I could possibly explain to her in the five minutes we had left in the car together, that appearances often do not tell the whole story. That people with "nice, expensive things," might actually be foolish with their money, racking up horrible credit card debt. Or maybe they lost a beloved family member who left them an inheritance along with an empty place in their heart. Or maybe they have relatives that bought those expensive things for them at Christmas. Maybe they are savvy and bought those things second-hand at an auction or off craigslist for a song. Or just maybe they are in fact, smart with their money, and they are blessed to be able to have the costly things that they have. It is not a bad thing, to be blessed with the nice things God has given to us.

"Well, honey, they night have some nice expensive things, but that does not necessarily mean they are smart with their money. And Chloe, just because we don't have the big house and expensive things they have...well, that does not mean we were not smart with our money. There are circumstances and choices involved."

I began to sum up for her that when her dad and I met, we each had a decent income and were doing pretty well financially. She was shocked. She cannot imagine her mom working and bringing home a paycheck. She's never seen it. I reminded her that I was a teacher, and daddy owned a jewelry store business. I told her how when Lilli was born, everything changed. We had an enormous amount of medical bills. Lilli was really sick. Her dad changed jobs because of the situation. Twice. (I did not bother trying to explain the whole insurance issue to her.) That the reason we moved here was so he could become a chiropractor, because it helps Lilli with her seizures, and it helped me. I told her how I resigned to stay home with Lilli, and baby Chloe. Our circumstances changed drastically, and we could not help a lot of it. We made choices based on what we thought would be best. We had a child with special needs and we had to change everything in order to help her as much as possible. I could not quickly explain to her the lifelong financial effect of having a child with special needs.

"One day, when you're older, you'll understand why mommy and daddy have made the choices we made," I told her. I explained about me not working. "Lilli needed me to stay home with her and help her. And, I got to stay home with you and Lilli when you were babies, and I was glad about that. Lots of mommies don't get to stay home with their children. They have to work." I was trying to put a positive spin on this conversation, because it seemed a little gloomy.

"Was I a cute baby?" she piped up.

"Yes, you were super cute." Oh my, was she even listening? Perhaps this was too deep for a seven year old at 7:30 in the morning. 

I kissed her goodbye, and drove away from the school. Unexpected tears suddenly welled up and a sob came out of nowhere. I drove home thinking about all that we had been through, and just felt sorry for our young couple selves, who had been blindly thrown into these trying circumstances ten years ago. A storm we never saw coming. One that we are still in, in many ways. But there are breaks in the clouds, and beautiful streams of sunlight and rainbows throughout. Blessings I never would have appreciated before. Wisdom I never would have gained. A strong marriage that looks nothing like the naive young love it was when we first walked down the aisle over 12 years ago. Perspective of what is truly important in life. We have always been able to make ends meet. Sometimes just barely, and sometimes with the help of others who we know God used to provide us with exactly what we needed. And through accepting the gifts of others, we have learned much about ourselves and our ugly pride, and what it means to be gracious. I have struggled with comparing ourselves with others over the years, and learned much from it. I have learned what it feels like to be judged, and recognized that I was judging others, based on material things. You can never, ever judge a person's life based on what you see, or what they have. You do not know their story. You do not know their circumstances. How can I teach my young daughter all that I have learned?

I walked in the door with red, puffy eyes. Jasen was standing in the kitchen, and he immediately said with concern, "What's wrong?"

I told him what Chloe had said about the family with nice, expensive things and a big house, and how I had failed in my attempt to explain to her that there are always unseen circumstances and choices.

Jasen took me in his arms and hugged me, and said, "And did you tell her that we are rich? Cause we are."

I love my husband so much for saying exactly the right thing. We are so rich and blessed in so many ways. I would happily sit on this sagging, covered, 23 year old couch for another 23 years, focusing on our marriage and our children and knowing that the most important things in life do not have a price tag. And one day when she is much older, I hope that Chloe reads this and knows it too.