What money can’t buy

Reposted from here.

It never occurred to me until recently that my parents didn’t have a lot of money.

It wasn’t that we were ever poor, per se. We always had food on the table and clothes on our back. My dad always worked full-time, and my mom almost always was working most days of the week. In fact, my parents, in what I come to realize more and more each year is amazing kindness, often were offering support to those friends of our even worse off than us– like how they bought my best friend her prom dress after her father handed her a $20 bill.

These past holidays, my boyfriend and his brother drove me back to my home town on their way back to see their family, stopping to spend the night at my family home. It is not that I wasn’t aware that we grew up differently on the surface, they in a residential suburb of a big city, in a home with a big garage and soft carpets, me in a small town and smaller home filled with random antiques and curiosities. But, still, we’d grown up with the same morals, and the same sense of needing to work for your accomplishments, so the contrast never really stood out to me.

On their continued drive, my boyfriend’s brother remarked to him that he had a newfound respect for me, seeing that I had accomplished so much coming from such a different environment. At first, this seemed a little absurd to me. My parents were always wonderfully supportive of me, always believed in me. How was I at all disadvantaged? But, with a little thought, I realized that, unlike a good chunk of my peers in graduate school, I came from a family in which no one went to graduate school. In fact, no one in my family went to college. My mother never finished high school.

This same revelation hit me again while flipping through the program of the conference I recently attended. In the first section, there were several pages dedicated to the winners of the prestigious diversity awards, an award I had never considered applying to, since, as a Caucasian heterosexual woman of European background, I had never considered myself as fitting into the category of “population typically underrepresented in graduate school”. I then noticed that “first generation college student” was also lumped into this category. I think I actually commented to my friend about how I found this odd and incongruent for me, as despite technically fitting into this category, I didn’t feel as though I matched the label of “underrepresented population”. She told me that I should give myself more credit.

The thing is, I never thought of myself as having to bear a burden to go to university (well, except for financially, as I have paid for all nine years of university without help from anyone except scholarships, grants, and some student loans). It was just something I always wanted to do, and I did it. Nothing about my parents’ lack of university diplomas felt like it slowed me down at all.

The other day, I was reminiscing with my guy about how, at around the age of 9, I had desperately wanted to go to an autograph session with one of my favourite hockey players in a city an hour away on the weekend. I had been heartbroken when my parents had flat-out refused. He asked me why they had declined, and I told them that this question had perplexed me greatly for years to come, as it seemed so out of character, and I was never really given a point blank answer.

Suddenly, I had a bit of an epiphany– they didn’t have the money to take me there. Then, all the pieces started to fall into place. The truck that was always breaking down when I was little. My mom’s telling me that if I wanted Calvin Klein jeans, she couldn’t buy me any back to school apparel. The girl who asked if I was poor because of my clothing. My sadness at not being able to participate in the summer theatre programs due to the triple-figured fees required, and the fact that, at the age of 12, I knew better than to ask. My paying rent for living at home in my first two years of college. Having to leave our rental house behind, in part because it was being torn down for subdivisions. My mom coming home, distraught, saying she’d been laid off.

The fact that I only realized this at 27, to me, testifies to me the important aspect of all this, though– that it didn’t matter at all. My parents loved me unconditionally, supported even my most ridiculous phases, and made for a beautifully memorable childhood and adolescence. On top of that, they took in troubled foster kids, and let friends live in our basement or even in a tent in our backyard in tough times. They taught my about morality, kindness, empathy and self-sufficiency. All of these are infinitely more valuable than a college fund or those designer jeans.

17 Responses to “What money can’t buy”

  1. sparklytosingle says:

    What a great post. This goes to show that it doesn’t take money to raise good kids, it takes love and solid parenting skills. Seems like you turned out just fine.

  2. Carrie says:

    All very true. This made me well up a bit actually, thinking about my own mum. She’s amazing really, I don’t at all know how she raised two kids alone on her wages. And she’ll say silly things like how we couldn’t have so-and-so, and me and my brother just shake our heads. We didn’t want it or need it, we had absolutely everything we needed, and that was all that mattered.

  3. Smilf says:

    Wow. This post made me get tears in my eyes because you have no idea how much this sounds just like me. I too never realized it until I got to be about 26 or 27 - all that my parents gave up over the years for me but yet they had nothing, the fact that I always had less than the other kids in material things, etc. I think growing up like that gives you such a great perspective on things and it truly makes me appreciate everything that I am able to have now so much more than if I had it forever.

  4. miss rambles says:

    this is such a wonderful post!parts of it are like my own life and i can soooo relate but like you i know there is more to life than designer jeans and that is lesson that costs nothing and lasts forever.

    well done to your parents!and congrats to you for never letting what you lacked hold you back or ever hold it against your parents

  5. Therapeutic Ramblings says:

    Great post.

    My folks always provided for us, and I never realized that there were times they scraped by. Later they were very successful, but we didn’t do big vacations….instead they’d use their vacation time to travel with my lacrosse team around the country, send me to places that they only dreamed about growing up, etc. I don’t think I could ever pay them back….but they don’t care, because it was never about money to them.

  6. Jurgen Nation says:

    This is such an amazing piece; it is written with such tenderness and it just brings the reader right into it with you. Wow. I have really missed your writing.

  7. Miss says:

    Wow…great blog you have here.
    Amazing story too…thanks for sharing

  8. LiLu says:

    This post is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, hon. My parents definitely said no sometimes because they had no choice… and I didn’t realize it until I read THIS.

    FTW. :-)

  9. Carrie says:

    Has this place come to a standstill for a reason? I noticed your forum has been spammed to death.

    It’s a shame if it’s not going to be updated regularly any more, I enjoyed reading.

  10. siddharth sareen says:

    :) it made me tear up some. have a wonderful life! guess you already do.

  11. zoogie says:

    Your blog is full of viruses. My AVG flags a bunch on this page alone.

  12. Suebob says:

    Your “About me” got plagiarized: http://mommyoutnumbered.blogspot.com

  13. Amanda says:

    I love this. This very nearly describes my childhood as well. I too didn’t realize that my family was poor or that that put me at a disadvantage until my mid-twenties (a few years ago…lol). Good writing. Thanks for sharing!

  14. David says:

    I won’t complain about this post because it is beautiful and good and full of love but in general I would like to say that it should be considered impolite to talk about ones family life in public.
    Many, maybe most people have happy lives and family they love.
    Not everyone.
    This is maybe the greatest pain of my adult life. Hearing people talk about how their parents cared for them may be the worst pain possible.
    As an adult I rejoice that life will never be as dark or horrid as it was when I was small and helpless. I work hard to smile when I hear a person bragging about a parent or sibling but honestly for some of us there is no greater pain than to be reminded of those things that many of us can never have.
    Family love is not universal. My parents hated their kids and let them know it, never let them forget it. I tried to be a good parent but failed. of course I had no idea what I was doing and was to selfish and weak to learn. My grown kids don’t speak to me. Why should they?
    When the Buddha says “Attachment is suffering.” I say, “Yeah, of course, like Mother.”

  15. Emily says:

    This is a perfect story. It tells a lot about upbringing kids. I have four and I was one of five and I think I know what is it to have kids or to grow up like one of several. I am a doctor now, with significant international recognition and many signficant research discoveries that are and will make change and improvent in life of many people. I am not telling you my name. It does not matter. What matters is that my parents were not able or willing to support me most of the time. They were fine as long as it was free (elementary education), but as soon as money was needed they aboneded me. They did not care if I wanted to educated or not. Exceptional circumstances enabled me to continue my education and today I look back and think how extraordinary this was. However, at the time, I only seeked to be helped by God. This is the help and support I got in all possible ways. I am who I am only because God made many miracles for me and I was able to get one of the best educations one could hope for and, after that, most unusual and wonderful post-graduate educaton and experiences one would not even think about. I do not care what Buddha says as I continue to be attached to God. His love and help make my life what it is today (in any possible way).

  16. Kat says:

    Cute story - has me thinking of similar happenings to yours when I was a kid. It stands out now the times my folks did have money spare and when they didn’t. Don’t think of it at the time!

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