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.


Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

I am stunned by this incident. It is shocking that someone would make those assumptions and it is a shame that we are judged by the car we drive and the clothes we wear.

I am wondering whether the director still thinks she was right and that your are just being "proud".

The title of this post is perfect!!

kristen said...

You really touched on an important point here: "being surrounded by people who have too much does not make a person poor."

How right you are. That whole exchange must have been so unnerving. I'm sorry you had to experience that, but wow, what a wake up call for that school. Sadly, they probably still don't get it.

Delilah said...

Lori and Kristen- The whole experience has been very unnerving. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, especially every time I am there, which is twice each day.

It's also disturbing because I feel like their perception of me is different from how I see myself.

Christine said...

Ha! We don't even drive a minivan. That would be a step up for us! We have a beat-up old station wagon and NO SECOND CAR! I'm sure there are people who would make similar assumptions about us -- but I think it is more about how and what we choose to spend our money on.

Still, I would have been pretty put out if that had happened to me. But I think you handled it so well.

Delilah said...

Right you are, Christine. Spending money on other things is more important to us than spending money on a car.