Every family has their own “family lore” – stories handed down from generation to generation. These are generally told around the campfire, on the front porch, or around the dining room table. The good ones are side-splittingly funny; the really great ones are the ones which manage to embarass one or more family members.
Every year, Paul or I will drag out this old chestnut – it never fails to leave friends and family rolling in the aisles:
When Rebecca was a baby, Paul would oftentimes get Sarah and Michelle ready for school in the mornings. Since they were ages 9 and 10 at the time, this consisted of waking them up. telling them to get dressed/ready, and driving them 3 blocks to the school.
Since Paul is equipped with both an X and a Y chromosome, “dressed/ready” meant that neither girl was in pajamas when they left the house. And honestly, between caring for a special-needs newborn and an almost-15-year-old hormone factory who had just started high school, I was grateful for whatever help I could get. Most mornings, I was too busy feeding Rebecca to pay much attention to anything else.
The school year progressed. Halloween and Thanksgiving came and went; Christmas was just around the corner.
We really like the Angel Trees that go up around town every year. Since many of the children who attended the girls’ school were from lower-income families, the school had its own “Angel Tree” each year. We always made sure to donate items to the school every Christmas when the girls were students there.
So you can imagine my confusion when we received a letter from the school that year, informing us that our family had been selected as one of those whose children would be receiving a complete outfit of clothing, donated by the employees of a local business. Would we please send along the appropriate sizes for each child in our family at our earliest convenience?
Confused, I called up the school:
Me: Umm…I think there’s been a mistake. We received this letter telling us that somebody wants to give our kids clothes, but our children have plenty of clothes.
School Counselor: Oh, don’t be embarassed; we do this every year. We know that some families can’t afford to buy new clothes for all of their kids, and the folks at a local company have lots of fun picking things out, wrapping them up, and making Christmas nice for these families.
Me: Yeah – my husband has a good job; we can afford to buy clothes for our kids. I know that there are lots of families who really can’t afford it, and we would like to make sure that those children are the ones who get new clothes.
SC: Ma’am, you really don’t need to be embarassed. We know that a lot of our families can’t afford to buy stuff for all of their kids. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is something nice that these employees like to do – they really look forward to it each year. It makes them feel good.
Me: OK, but you don’t understand. We don’t need charity.
SC: Well, don’t think of it as charity, just think of it as somebody passing along the holiday spirit. We want your kids to have a nice Christmas.
Me: Believe me, our kids always have a nice Christmas – we have enough money to buy them lots of stuff – they have more than they need. We buy them new clothes at the beginning of every school year. Please give these things to a family that needs them.
SC: Well, each year the teachers submit the names of children in their classes who they think could use these things. Really, you don’t need to be embarassed about it – they were just trying to do something nice for your kids.
Me: (sighing) Ma’am, you truly don’t understand. My husband is an engineer. He makes ($xxx) a year. He certainly makes more than our childrens’ teachers do; he probably makes more than the principal does. We really can afford to buy clothes for our children.
SC: (long pause) OK, we’ll take your name off of our list.
After I hung up, it hit me.
The teachers were the ones who had specifically recommended one of our kids for this program. That could only mean one thing…..
And then I thought back to all of the days when Michelle and Sarah would arrive home from school, wearing the same clothes that they had worn to school the day before.
Sometimes, they wore the same thing 3 (or more) days in a row.
Mind you, they took baths at night – they even wore pajamas to bed! – but they each had their own reasons for getting the most out of every ensemble. In Sarah’s case, she had a couple of “favorite outfits”, and she would wear them over and over again until they could stand up on their own in the corner of her room.
Michelle, on the other hand, hated doing laundry and figured that wearing the same outfit several days in a row would ultimately mean fewer clothes to wash/dry/fold (or in her case, shove in the drawer) at the end of the week. She quickly realized that this explanation wouldn’t fly with the parental units, so she nimbly switched to the “I’m doing my part to save the planet by using less water” story (this was the same justification she gave when trying to get out of taking baths and/or brushing her teeth; I have an entire swatch of grey hairs that appeared during this time period).
Since Paul was the one getting them ready in the morning - and “wardrobe” isn’t really his department - he wasn’t paying attention to what they had worn the day before; all he cared about was that they were wearing a proper top and bottom. And shoes. (Some days they had on socks, some days not; I’m just going to
pretend delude myself in thinking assume that they put on clean underwear every day)
No wonder the girls’ teachers thought that we were needy…..