My husband and I have recently started helping the janitors at our church/school by cleaning the buildings two nights a week to give them a break and to earn a little extra money for our family. Tonight, my husband and son (who really usually do all the work!) were at a basketball game, so I began to clean the building by myself while Miriam and Anna were at the game as well. While running the vacuum cleaner, I had a flashback to approximately 1987:
I was 16 or 17 years old – and my dad had recently lost his job. Thankfully he had a military retirement coming in to at least cover our mortgage and the necessary bills, but there wasn’t much left over for anything else. I understand that much more poignantly now – but at the time, I was a Senior in high school – and I just didn’t care or think about my family’s financial situation. I wanted to be like my friends – have the same name brand stuff they had and wanted to participate in all the fun activities that our school and church offered – trips to amusement parks, cheerleading, etc (all of which, of course, cost MONEY!!). My parents sent my brother and me to a private, Christian school – and that in and of itself probably took up quite a chunk of income to pay the tuition. But I had no idea. Clueless. Too wrapped up in my own wants and life to fully understand what my dad’s unemployment meant.
Many of the families that also sent their children to our school had “money” – and it was the age of name brands like Aigner shoes and purses, “jelly” shoes, and Ralph Lauren or Izod polo shirts- oh, and the NIKE tennis shoes. I wanted them all – and I know NOW how bad my mom must have felt for me when I asked for these things. For the most part, we got our clothes at Kmart or my German grandparents bought me school clothes and shoes when I visited them in the summers. I was not ever dressed like the popular kids even though I desperately wanted to be. My mom permed my hair while they went to the salon, and I shared make-up and sometimes shoes or clothes with my mom. I got panty hose for Christmas because I wanted the more expensive “Sheer Energy” brand and that was how my parents could justify buying them.
It was my Senior year that I (finally) made the cheerleading squad. I wanted it SO BAD and had tried out for several years and never made it again after a year on the junior varsity squad in 9th grade. I know my parents weren’t really in favor of me being on the squad, but I know I didn’t care what they wanted. It was about ME – and that uniform, the shoes (Converse tennis shoes with interchangeable COLOR emblems on the sides!!), the stunts, the hours of practice after school, belonging to THE squad. I had no idea what those uniforms (3 tops and 2 skirts plus a informal soccer cheer uniform!) cost … I had no idea what the road trips and overnight tournament cost … and nope, I didn’t care.
To make ends meet until he could get a better job, my dad worked helping the janitor of our church/school at the time. I clearly remember an incident of pure humiliation for me when the ball teams and cheerleaders returned from an away ballgame late one night on the big, yellow school bus. As we got off, there was my dad, pushing a janitor cart, wearing his old polyester work clothes, and when I walked away with my friends, he sternly called my name – my REAL name – my given, formal name – the name NO ONE called me unless I was in trouble. Never in my life was I so humiliated (so I thought) than as a 17 year old cheerleader with a janitor for a dad …
Even now, as I recount this night – over 25 years ago – I cringe at my pure selfishness of being so incredibly self-absorbed and ugly towards my dad, a former Army warrant officer & unemployed administrator of a law firm, who was working as a janitor so I could go on road trips and participate in activities with my friends and most of all, attend a Christian school. If I could go back to my bratty 17 year old self, I think I’d slap me silly or give me a stern lecture on the shallowness of my attitude.
Today I am thankful for parents who sacrificed so much so that I could have a Christian education.
Today I am the parent who struggles when my children ask for something I can’t afford. And not that God hasn’t provided the needs we have – but there are those things my children would like to have …
I thank God my children are not materialistic, and I realize we are not the only family who has to live frugally in this day and economy. And yet there are the moments when my self-absorbed, former-17-year-old-cheerleader self realizes my son is probably the only boy on our basketball team who is wearing shoes we bought at Payless instead of Nike or name brand, real-deal basketball court shoes. But I am so thankful that my son doesn’t care. He is just as happy with those cheap shoes -and thrilled to just be playing ball.
I am thankful my children are NOT like me in 1987 and scorn their parents who push a janitor cart at the school/church to make ends meet – and by God’s grace, I am thankful I am no longer like me in 1987 either!!