There are two ways to handle being broke when you have kids:
Act like everything is fine.
Embrace the suckage.
I try to do both.
By most standards, we don’t have much: Like many families, we count our shekels. We budget for stickers and new shoes. But we have enough: we find spare coins for popsicles in the summer, and marshmallows to add to our hot cocoa when winter rolls around. Life is expensive in Israel. And most people struggle to some degree.
By most standards, we don’t have much: We don’t have a car, but there is a bus. And when the weather is gentle, we can walk — and wow, it’s fun sometimes to walk through the fields and past the eucalyptus trees, down the road, to our little house.
But one of the magical things about living in this small village in Israel is I know we’ll never starve. There are too many people here who will have our back. And my dad, too – my wonderful, kind and generous father.
All we have to do is ask.
Problem is, it sucks to ask.
So, I’ve adopted this new philosophy: Expect nothing, but take what’s offered graciously. Say thank you. And always remember how people were kind to you.
And it’s funny how things work out – usually, just at the moment it’s needed, help comes.
“Mama, we need a new desk,” my daughter said a few months ago while her knees hit her chin as she crouched over the little play table in the corner. And she was right. She would be starting second grade soon, my son, first. How could I expect them to love learning in a space like that?
I checked my bank balance, and there was no way we could afford a new table, but just as I closed my laptop with a sigh, there was a knock on the door.
“Shalom…. I came to say goodbye, we’re moving,” our next-door neighbour said. “I’m leaving several pieces of furniture here — do you want them?”
And guess what: One of the items was a gorgeous wooden table. Perfect size for homework and creating art.
Or the time the village carpenter gave us a stunning antique cabinet he had restored free of charge along with the bookshelf we bought from him.
Or the bag of clothes another family drops off for us every year.
Or the family that invited us to to eat with them in a restaurant then quietly paid the bill without telling me.
We are so lucky.
But at first I was ashamed to talk about this with my kids — after all, I’m their mom. I should be this warrior mother-earth goddess who has her shit together and never needs help.
But then I realized that’s bullshit – and a terrible way to see the world. By accepting help, and by talking with my kids about it, I can help teach them to be kinder people when they grow up.
Basically, being broke right now will help make my kids mensches.
So, each time something wonderful like this happens, I try to embrace it. And I tell my kids: “We wouldn’t have this without help. And one day, when you’re big, you’ll remember and you’ll be able to help others, too.”
“That Spiderman shirt you love, baby? You have that because someone gave it to you when they outgrew it. So when you’re big and you have kids, and they outgrow their clothes, you can give them away to a family nearby who needs a little help.”
“Ok. But what if I want to keep the Spiderman shirts? Can I give them Captain America, instead?”
We’re lucky that we remember how it feels to be helped by others almost every day:
Living here without a car is another challenge — sometimes, we get rides, but sometimes, we have to walk. And there are hot, sullen days when we are shlepping down the road, the kids dragging their bags, and me dragging the kids dragging their bags.
Usually around this time, my daughter whines “my toenail hurts!” and then my son says “No, MY toenail hurts,”
AND then I get annoyed so I kick a big old rock, and then MY toenail hurts, too, dammit.
And if we’re lucky, someone pulls over – someone we know – and tells us to hop in.
And when we get home, I tell my kids “when you’re grownup, if you see a mother struggling to get home with her children, stop and offer them a ride.”
“But we shouldn’t talk to strangers!” my son says.
“It isn’t safe.” my daughter adds.
“I’m not saying you offer random people a ride home, bebes. I’m talking about a family like us – a mom, children… Remember how it feels to be tired? Remember how much it sucks to want to go home but need to walk in the hot sun?”
Because sometimes we DO have to walk home without help — sometimes we struggle with our bags, and with our baggage… sometimes there’s no way home, but through all the dross and all the drama of a day that drags on far too long… And, yeah, we always make it, and it makes us appreciate the sweet times when people stop and help us home all the more. And it reminds us that it sucks to have no car and want to go home.
“We’re lucky, Mama. We’re lucky when people help us. And we’ll remember how it feels.”
And we are lucky that we have a chance to see the world this way. And the chance to remember the kindness of our friends and neighbours so one day we can make life easier for others.
And this is an invaluable lesson.