Surrounded by Affluence

My scratched minivan waits in line every morning in front of Kate's school amid the Lexuses, BMWs, and Hummers, an outcast. I do not mind. It is reliable and accepts the fifty-plus miles I put on it each day without complaint. We are an average, middle-class family. We live in a nice neighborhood, in a nice house that feels a little cramped at times. We do not mind. Luxury vehicles, second homes, exotic vacations, and black tie cocktail parties are foreign to me. I do not mind. We are happy and healthy. That is all we ask for.

One day a letter came home from Kate's school. It explained a wonderful program for preschoolers who are at risk for academic failure due to low income. The program is funded through the state, and children whose families meet the requirements are eligible to attend preschool for free. I read the letter, then tossed it, as it did not pertain to us.

The next day when I pulled up to Kate's school, the office manager flagged me down. "Did you get the letter I sent home yesterday?" she asked cheerfully. "Yes, I did," I answered somewhat quizzically, not fully understanding why she was asking me. "You can send Annie here. For free!" Free? Why would I be able to send her here for free? And then it dawns on me. She thinks we are a low-income family. She thinks we cannot afford to send Annie to preschool. She thinks that my child is destined for failure because we are poor.

Flustered, I stumbled over my answer, "Oh, no, we don't qualify for that program." I failed to mention that Annie is enrolled in a different preschool, one that is around the corner from our house. That we send her there because it's close to home, so she will make friends in the neighborhood. So we can carpool. Because the twenty minute drive each way to Kate's school really sucks, and I won't be able to do it next year once Kate starts kindergarten. That I wanted Annie to attend the same school for two years instead of having to move her next year. That if Kate didn't have an IEP she would have gone to the school close to home. That this is really none of her business. "Oh? You were one of the families we were thinking of. You know, that could use a little help." This time my answer was more firm, "No, we don't meet the criteria. We are doing just fine, but thank you for thinking of us." I drove away, leaving her red-faced and speechless.

I hope she learned a lesson that morning, that it is wrong to make assumptions about people. That driving a minivan does not mean that someone requires financial assisstance. That being surrounded by people who have too much, does not make a person poor. That there are families out there who need help, but we are not one of them.



"Kate, are you my friend?" asked a little girl in Kate's prekindergarten class.

"Yes," Kate responded promptly.

"Kate, are you my friend?" the little girl persisted.

"Yes," Kate repeated.

"Kate, are you my friend and nobody else's friend? My best friend?" the little girl asked.

Kate gave her a puzzled look, not understanding the exclusion that goes along with being a best friend. "I friends with everybody. All everybody are friends," Kate answered.

Satisfied with her answer, the little girl took Kate's hand and the two of them bounced toward the playground. Friends.


Dancing Queen

Each day she asks if it is Tuesday. Tuesday is Dance Class Day. Dance Class Day is a special day. A holiday. Every Tuesday she dresses herself in pink from head to toe. Clutching her pink bag, she bounces into the dance studio, pony tail bobbing.

I watch from afar. She does not speak to the other girls as she takes her place at the very end of the row. She stands a little too close to the girl on her right. The music starts. She bumps into the girl. The girl does not seem to mind. Her eyes burn with intensity as she watches the teacher. Shuffle-hop-step. It takes her a moment to process the move and execute it, but she does it. The rest of the class has already moved on to the next foot, then on to the next step.

I watch from afar, and I fret. Her processing and motor planning issues are evident. It is difficult for her to coordinate her arms and legs. She is always behind.

Then I see it. That smile. Stretched from ear to ear. And I relax. Keep dancing, sweet girl.


A Walk in My Shoes

Last night I came home to two orange girls. Orange ink from a stamp pad covered their hands, feet, and faces. Handprints covered the kitchen table and chairs. Footprints danced around the kitchen floor. A sheepish looking husband was found on the couch, not moving a muscle for fear of waking a slumbering Little Fella on his chest. "Sorry," he managed apologetically. I shot him a dirty look, let out a loud sigh, and quickly busied myself in the clean-up process before the girls inflicted any more damage. "I don't know how you do it," he said.

With those words, my irritation vanished. During the hour or so I was out of the house, he got a glimpse of what my life is like on a daily basis. And now he understands.

So, dear husband, now you understand the mountain of laundry, the unmade bed, the empty refrigerator, the stack of unopened mail, messy rooms, my short fuse, uncooked dinners, why I fall asleep on the couch at 8:30, why sometimes I just need to sit next to you without saying a word and just enjoy the quiet. Thank you for taking this walk in my shoes. And thank you for understanding.