They are endless. Starting the first week of school, I am met with catalogs of Innisbrook crap to hawk to friends and family. Overpriced wrapping paper and stale chocolates. Great. Then there are holiday wreaths and plants. Most recently, Jack's school chose buckets of frozen cookie dough to sell which promptly added six pounds to my ass.
My husband also contributes to my aggravation by subscribing to every magazine, purchasing every case of chocolate, and buying fistfuls of raffle tickets from any kid that asks. Any kid. Even the ones selling regular M&M's (no fund raising label) in the middle of the street with an old baseball cap telling naive motorists it's for "their team."
When I was a child ("here we go" say my friends who know my school-of-hard-knocks approach), I couldn't join a lot of stuff because we just didn't have the money. It made me understand that if I wanted things later in life, I'd have to work for them. Not anymore. Now it's society's moral obligation to make sure Junior experiences the joy of t-ball. And doesn't he deserve a trophy for trying? Let's hear it for Junior!
As far as school improvements, well I believe some of the greatest minds out there did just fine without access to computer labs and smart boards (I still don't know what those are, but apparently my oldest son's school purchased some with last year's fundraiser). I respect the dedicated moms out there who work every angle to make sure their kid's school is outfitted with computers, science labs, and George Jetson-like technology, but honestly, I just can't afford all this stuff. My own computer is 10 years old, but I'm supposed to make sure my 7 year old has the very best?
Then there are the hidden fundraisers that aren't marketed that way, but you know some of the proceeds are going back to the school. Buy your kid's artwork on a mug for only $25! Be sure to get 3 sheets of school pictures for $120! The pressure to purchase these items is extremely high as you've got a little 5-year old holding up the order form asking, "don't you want my drawing on a ceramic tile, mommy? It's only $50."
At the end of last year during Illinois' cycle of massive cuts in education, I received several letters home from the three schools I have utilized. The gist of each one:
- We are losing a valuable teaching position! Please write a check for $200 and maybe we can save it!
- Parents may need to pay for all day kindergarten next year - please send a deposit today to hold your spot!
- Our school (preschool) may loose funding for non-poverty kids to attend, please indicate if you'd pay $4000 for tuition ASAP.
Now these requests were actually very heartfelt letters sent from the administration, and I certainly felt their plight. I also value the fine educations they have provided for my children thus far. But to get hit up with doomsday scenarios and pleas for money right as I was sending out checks for car insurance, life insurance, and the mortgage...well, the checkbook was already running on fumes.
There are also the teacher costs throughout the year. Miss Kindergarten is getting married! Let's throw her a shower! Teacher appreciation week! Everyone contribute! Christmas is here - let's show the teacher how much we love her!
For the record, I give very generously to all the boys' teachers during Christmas. If I have anything at the end of the year, I'll throw something in an envelope then as well. Yet this is at my discretion. There's something that bothers me about the "group effort" of teacher appreciation. I feel the parent-teacher relationship is kind of private, like one's relationship with God. If I feel a teacher really gave her all that year, I will be extremely good to her. If at parent-teach conference, I get the feeling the teacher doesn't even know which kid is mine, I feel a twenty dollar Target gift certificate will do.
In addition to notices sent home on Market Day, Book Fairs, and Craft Day, there are letters sent home requesting supplies - Kleenex tissues, Bounty paper towels, Clorox Wipes, etc. Why does the school get to request name brand stuff while I'm buying generic? Thank goodness I have a kind friend who always buys double of whatever is requested because I think she knows I've taken a principled stand on this one. I could never contribute to an agenda that demands Dixie brand cups...I mean, have you met me? The generic is 50% less.
Sometimes I make the mistake of griping to private school parents. Try having to pay for all that PLUS tuition! Living in a community where many are deeply committed to a Catholic School education, I am aware of the sacrifice these parents have got to be making. I just don't know how they do it. We use the public schools, rarely vacation, and buy everything on sale. How are my neighbors able to afford food while paying $5,000/year for each kid? And let's be honest. This is Beverly. Not too many people have under 3 kids. Irish Catholics and all.
Which leads me to Friday night. My older son's school was sponsoring a gala at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was $200 a couple. At first, I was thinking about it. Then I started doing the math. It was a cash bar, so downtown prices with tips would probably put us at $60 for our bar bill. $70 for a babysitter. $20 to park. The event quickly out-priced us, yet that didn't stop the pressure from parents:
"It's for the kids."
"It's only once a year."
"Think about what you spend on other things that are less important."
Well, we do spend a lot on other things - music lessons, chess, swimming. And next year, I will have 3 kids in 3 different schools. We may live in a nice house and the kids may wear Gymboree (bought either used on ebay or on clearance with an additional 20% off coupon), but I am tired of giving. I feel like Shel Silverstein's Giving Tree. I'm just a used up old stump.
So in a very foul mood, I headed to the grocery store Friday night to buy milk instead of attending the gala. The cashier looked at me cheerily and asked, "would you like to make a donation to help find a cure for breast cancer?"
The Giving Tree stump could only drop her shoulders, nod, and watch her $2.99 milk bill jump to $3.99 with donation.