What makes it most difficult is the same thing that I’m sure makes it most difficult for any family; the killer combination of money and time and not having enough of either… you know, the age old battle. Only for us, it feels like we have an unmatched sense of priority toward the two which makes it all the more difficult to figure out.
We’re consistently at odds, trying to figure out: which is the bigger priority right now? Expense, or experience? He stands firmly on the side of money ALWAYS being the biggest priority, whereas I take an “all things in moderation” sort of stance. I don’t feel like we’re being bad parents by not running our savings into the ground for a family vacation all of our children won‘t even remember in a year and a half, but the thought of spending money just for the fun of it doesn’t give me an aneurism.
I bring this up because we’ve been talking Disney World recently. We have three kids at 3 very different ages. Going now means that two of the three children we have won’t remember most of the trip past the age of maybe three and seven. Going in even just a few years means that Mary will have forever missed the opportunity to see Disney World through “kid-colored glasses,” begging the question, will it ever be fully worth it to go?
To first understand what a big deal this is for us, you have to first know something about Spencer… He’s an absolute mastermind at saving money. But asking him to part with any significant amount of it, especially “just for fun” is IM-freaking-POSSIBLE.
Spencer and I live so far within our means that we’re regularly made fun of for it, even by our own parents. We make a good deal more than the house we live in or the way my husband frets over every expense would lend one to believe. Spencer isn’t happy unless four hundred dollars a month is being poured into a savings fund that is untouchable under any circumstances and we’re paying a significant amount more than we’re expected to toward the principal of the mortgage on our house. To put it gently, my husband is the penny-pinchin’est son of a mother you will ever meet in your life. And it drives everyone nuts. If it weren’t for my putting up an argument about it each year, things like birthday gifts and Easter baskets would be sternly deemed a totally unnecessary expense - he takes it that far.
To be fair, him being as disciplined with our money as he is will be the reason we retire early (God willing) and the way in which we’ll have the house paid off before Scarlett gets to college. It’s what we have to thank for the fact that after his unexpected accident, we lived for three months without an income and had to change nothing about the way that we live. Not even Christmas. But Mother of God, it sure can be a buzz kill sometimes, too!
I love the fact that he’s as responsible as he is. I do. Where our beliefs differ is in the priority that experiencing life to it’s fullest extent actually is, especially when we’re talking dollar signs. Is it really worth setting our retirement fund back four grand for a family vacation all of our kids will never simultaneously be at an ideal age to ever even go on? Honestly, probably not. (After all neither one of us went as kids and we’re not completely dysfunctional.) But when you’re dealing with someone who puts so little stock into holidays as you do that he refers to even holiday expenses like Valentine’s Day as a “consumer circle jerk,” it can be really hard to lend a sympathetic ear to his opinions on monetary priority when it comes to fun.
(Spencer is a very fun guy, don’t get me wrong. He’s just a very firm believer in the philosophy that fun should not cost a cent.)
I feel like I’m always saying, They’re KIDS, for Pete’s sake! Buy the damned Easter grass and stop being such a cry baby about it, would you?? While he feels like he’s always saying, Why wouldn’t a teenage girl want to repurpose a potato sack into an outfit for the school dance? Doesn’t she feel like a sheep walking through those overpriced shopping malls with her friends?! I know I did, even at her age! (Which, bless his soul, is probably true.) In the end, both of us are left wondering why we never get through to the other when it comes to this One. Blasted. Thing.
“I want to experience things,” I finally leveled with him the other day. “It’s not just about the kids. Life is short… We learned a hard lesson in that this year. Look, we knew when we decided to have kids that we wouldn’t be traveling the world anytime soon, but I want to look back on the time that we had together whenever it’s over and say that we lived a life worth passing onto our children. If the world isn’t worth exploring or enjoying, why did we ever bring our kids into it?”
Then of course, yesterday, (because that’s just the way the Universe works when you put your life into writing) I was hit over the head with one of those moral revelations that put it all into perspective for me.
Yesterday my friend went into labor and invited me to be a part of the delivery. Coincidentally it was the same day that Spencer was scheduled to have a blood clot filter (or as he put it: “something that looked like a device from Total Recall”) removed from the center of his body through a vein in his neck -- a follow-up procedure from his accident 6 months ago. Both events were taking place at the same hospital. After his procedure and somewhere around my very pregnant friend stalling at 3 and a half centimeters, I met Spencer for All-You-Can-Eat Tacos at Don Pablos… Just the two of us. It was one of those very, very rare occasions where the kids were at my moms until the next day, Mary was still at school (Thank You, Detention), and we actually had a little time to kill. For the first time in what felt like way too long we had a lot of exciting things to talk about beside the monopolizing stuff we can’t agree on.
By the time I’d gotten back to the hospital to be with my friend, he’d rented a special movie (too scary to ever watch with me and the little ones around) for just he and Mary, his first true love, to enjoy. When I got back home around midnight, Mary was sprawled out next to her dad on my side of the bed, the two of them fast asleep.
I couldn’t help but feel like maybe it was a bit of a God-Wink. A little something to remind me that the fact that we chose this path together doesn’t have to mean that we’ll never bond the way we could have if we didn’t. Our children aren’t going to grow up not knowing that we love them unconditionally because we chose to save for their college education instead of fly them first class to an Orlando resort before they hit their teens. Spencer and I haven’t come to some miraculous, foolproof epiphany about how to splurge and when to save 100% of the time. But yesterday I was reminded that even if our family scrapbook is filled with more pictures of peanut butter pinecones, lunch dates over nachos, and anecdotes about a father-daughter movie-night than airplane tickets, it’ll be no less worth looking back on.
There is no shame, after all, in celebrating a simple life.
(At least until we retire in Honolulu.) (KIDDING.)
(My ass is definitely retiring in Disney World.)