Things Money Can Buy
By Sarah Winfrey
He came home that Friday night to his heavily pregnant wife. That was me, the heavily pregnant wife. He made some comment about the layoffs at work. The layoffs we’d been promised at least twice would not affect us.
“Do you know who is getting laid off yet?” I asked. In passing.
“Well, I know one of them.”
He didn’t answer and I finally looked up from whatever held my attention so closely. I met his eyes and I knew.
“Me,” he said, though he didn’t have to.
We’d planned our entrance into parenthood with a meticulousness that, in retrospect, probably boded disaster. My husband had heard it was best to wait at least 2 years after marrying to begin trying to conceive, so as to consolidate our emotional bond. We did that.
We also planned which doctors we’d use, how we’d get to the hospital (with alternate routes in case of emergency or traffic), and which baby products were worth buying at a premium.
We had it all covered, everything but this.
It would have been one thing if he had lost his job when it was just the two of us, to scramble a little, to work part-time and freelance and live off our savings until we had something official again. Who knows? We might even have decided to take off and travel around the world, to pursue the thing we’d spent so many years dreaming about.
When I became pregnant, knowing our daughter grew inside of me and seeing her tiny heartbeat on the ultrasound, we began to dream new dreams. A home with a yard, family that lived close, and friends who knew us like family. And stability.
Stability is a strange thing to dream about. Most people pit stability against dreams, like you have to choose one or the other. But we began to dream of the things that meant her life would be safe: steady income, health insurance, and childcare such that she would know who was going to be there for her, and when, and why.
Of all the dreams that came along with that first baby, stability was the one we thought we’d be able to provide. And then we couldn’t.
With the loss of my husband’s regular income, we felt like we couldn’t give our daughter anything. This child, the one we would have given anything for, was going to come into a world where nothing was certain.
My dad worked for the same company, albeit in different locations, for my entire life. Even as a small child, I took it for granted that money would continue to come in, that there would always be enough for whatever I needed. Because the family could count on his steady income, I took things for granted that other kids didn’t even have.
I lived in a home my parents owned.
I got new clothes with the changing seasons.
I got to travel all over the country and try things like paragliding and snorkeling.
Was there privilege in that? Yes. But there was also stability.
Even when hard things happened, like when we moved three times in three-and-a-half years, life didn’t fall apart completely.
That’s what I wanted to give my baby.
Instead, I found myself afraid of the way she would grow up. What would it mean for her if we couldn’t buy her new clothes when she outgrew the old ones? What would happen if we never owned a home? If we had to forego something she really needed because of money?
After my husband lost his job, we tried to figure out what life would look like as we moved forward. We talked about income, about needs vs. wants, and we talked about dreams.
We found that some of the things we dreamed of giving her, the things that meant “stability,” centered on less material aspects of life.
“I want to teach her to ask good questions,” I told my husband over bottles of cider one evening. “And to know that the questions you ask in life are more important than the answers you get.”
He nodded. “I want her to know that we know her, inside and out. And to know that she’s always got people on her side,” he said.
“I want to love her well.”
I don’t remember which one of us said that, but it came from both our hearts.
That proved to be the first of many conversations about money and about what we want to give our kids.
We’ve talked, too, about what the loss of that job meant for us. Looking back, we see how not being able to provide her with financial stability threw us even further into darkness than the job loss itself.
But she brought us light too: loving our baby girl made our priorities clearer and helped us focus on moving forward despite our loss. Loving her still centers us, even when it doesn’t make sense of everything.
Just the other day, my daughter, that baby now a five-year-old, got angry with me because her brother got something new and she didn’t. I looked at my husband for reassurance.
“She knows she’s loved,” he said, like he’s said so many times over the years.
She knows she’s loved.
It would be nice to say that my husband’s job loss and our daughter’s first years helped us to refocus, to realize that loving our daughter would be enough. The truth, though, is more complicated.
We have loved her. We always will. And because we love her, we want to give her many things, including some that money can buy.
Sarah Winfrey helps moms who struggle with motherhood make peace with both their mothering and their struggle. She writes about mothering and spirituality at sarahwinfrey.com.