“Woah, money won’t do the trick, but it will help. Still, we won’t need it to turn things around.” -The Avett Brothers
When I was twenty-four and pregnant with Luke, I supplemented my crap teaching salary by working after school in a law office for three hours a day. Mostly I greeted anxious clients, made coffee, and filled out applications to boarding schools for my boss’s young daughter. When no one was looking, I would type up assignments for my students or draw in a tiny sketchbook. I was only there for about three weeks when the head secretary (think Joan on Madmen, but with the looks of Alice from the Brady Bunch) told me that I was expected to attend the office Christmas party. Prior to the party, the top lawyer threw a long, white envelope on my desk. My name was scrawled on it in cheap blue pen, an afterthought. Inside, was a Christmas bonus check for a thousand dollars. A THOUSAND. It was not because I was a good receptionist. I actually sucked at it. The good receptionist got five thousand.
I was reminded of this story, I suppose, because money has been so tight for us lately. I was reminded of it when today, my new colleague broke down in tears because she could not afford her necessary prescription, something her former employer covered, and so my dear friend now has to teach while experiencing heavy-duty withdrawal symptoms. I was reminded of it again tonight when my card was declined at the grocery store.
Teaching does not pay well. I knew that going in (trust me, I really knew. Both my parents taught and we were broke enough that on Wednesday nights we would walk to St. Joe’s Hospital because it was $2 dinner night and kids ate free). Teaching, I never look at the clock. That is worth quite a bit, because trust me, I have had those jobs in which every minute feels like a year (the worst of which was at a plastics factory at which for eight hours a day, I trimmed the corners off of laminated menus).
I am grateful for an entire gamut of things, from green olives to a healthy, safe family. I am FULL of thanks. I am grateful that I made kick-ass shakshuka for dinner. Grateful for Fall and that Sean does all the house jobs that I don’t know how to do, like unclog the sink, and stucco the patches in the house. I am grateful to be married to someone who doesn’t have to wear a tie. I could write you a gratitude list that stretches from my bed to a Alaska, but…
But there is something fundamentally wrong when a teacher with her masters degree, who doesn’t have children to support, who works over fifty hours a week, cannot afford her prescription. There is something fundamentally wrong when my dad has to pay my phone bill or buy my groceries or pay for a field trip to a pumpkin farm.
This is what it means to have lost a middle class. It means crying at Walgreens.
We live in a world where a twenty-four year old kid working a temp receptionist job receives a bonus check and teachers get a candle.
In 1991 I worked one college summer as a receptionist for a New York editor. I was scolded for editing what I was transcribing. Apparently, I was just supposed to type it. Editing was the editors job. Who knew? I was later complimented on how keen my editing was and told that I looked like a young Kathleen Turner. I sat at a desk, listened to stories, and typed them. At the end of the week, an accountant would come in and hand me a check for $700. I kid you not, that is pretty much what I make now.
So what to do? I LOVE the teaching part. I LOVE working with kids. I LOVE that my own kids are at my school (minus the part where they make me late for school). I am exhausted and even that is okay because it’s a good exhausted. Does it get to the point where I choose money over passion? My friend did that. Stayed home with her babies and quit teaching because it was more expensive to pay someone to watch her babies than it paid to work. I see Kohl’s is hiring an art manager. I don’t want to be an art manager. Art Manager …. sounds like an oxymoron. Do I keep writing and drawing and creating and then hope that one day it all comes together in one giant explosion of cash?
I once listened to a Deepak Chopra meditation in which he discussed the nature of money. The energy of money is that it likes to be spent. Money, he said, will come from wherever it is right now. That mantra right there has saved me on numerous occasions. I get the law of attraction. I get that if I focus on NOT having money, that what I will get it NO money. How does that switch flip? The flip that I just bask in the joy of creating and teaching and trust that the universe will provide?
I have manifested many miracles. Have you met Quinn? I am now going to manifest bonus checks and $5 prescriptions. In the meantime, I will continue to weave the long list of thank you notes to the universe and continue to imagine the rainbow over Luke’s dorm, a testament to the belief that all things happen at their destined time. A testament to the belief that it’s okay to let someone else drive the bus.
I was listening to Biden talk in the rose garden as I read this post. He’s not running but gave a passionate speech about the middle class and his hopes for the future of our country. Your personal story juxtaposed his larger picture… you too are speaking for millions in this country. So, on top of being an amazing teacher, a phenomenal mother and a prolific artist, i must say, as i have always said, the candidness with which you speak of your life is remarkable and rare and has the powere to change hearts and minds. Keep it up! I think you have a bigger effect than you can possibly know.
By the way, you ARE a manifested miracle!