Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just Providing the Basics

CNN reports that the cost of raising a child has risen to $226,000. They report:

The cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged $226,920 last year (not including college), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up nearly 40% -- or more than $60,000 -- from 10 years ago. Just one year of spending on a child can cost up to $13,830 in 2010, compared to $9,860 a decade ago.

Read the entire report here.

"Forget designer strollers and organic baby formula," the story reads. "Just providing a child with the basics has become more than most parents can afford."

Just providing a child with the basics . . .  Hmmmm. Here Kelly's scepticism begins to creep in. My scepticism turns to cynicism as we enter Thanksgiving week, a week during which we will eat ourselves into a stupor, a week that will be punctuated with a shopping frenzy that news outlets are predicting will be one for the record books.

Just providing a child with the basics . . .

What are these basics? Let's consider during Thanksgiving week how these basics might vary from family to family, from county to county, from country to country.

I have spent a good chunk of the last month de-cluttering our house. I have had moments during my cleaning sprees that have left me disgusted with our excess. The toys! The games! The Legos! The clothes! I am blessed to get loads of hand-me-downs for several children. My neighbor and I have had baby girls in alternating years. The clothes comes and the clothes go. They are well used. When I see baby Kaitlin in a shirt my precious Ainsey once wore, gosh, my day is made.

We embrace simplicity to some degree. But there's still so much stuff, so very much stuff. I took in a recent load of hand-me-downs determined to keep only the items we would really use. I separated everything into piles. I perused the keep pile again and weeded out still more items. When I folded and put Ainsley's clothes away, she had seventeen pairs of pants. Seventeen pairs of pants! 

And I think about that article discussing middle-class parents who are concerned about just providing the basics . . .

One of my prime motivations in this recent purge is Christmas. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I have magical memories of Christmas growing up with generous, generous parents. I want my children to know the excitement and beauty of Christmas. But Christmas means stuff and lots of it. So, practical woman that I am, I purge in preparation for the onslaught.

Sometimes I look at the bags destined for Goodwill or the landfill and wonder why we live the way we do. And I wonder what God thinks of it all.

Just  providing the basics . . .

I once went to confession after watching a documentary about starvation in Africa. To view children with swollen bellies and babies dying of diseases that five dollars worth of antibiotics would cure, well, it's more than I can take. How will I stand before God and justify this life of ease, I asked the priest. How can I live like this when a mother in Darfur lives like that?

The priest didn't shower me with platitudes or provide any tidy answers. He did point out, and rightly so, that the God of the universe ordained that I be born at this time, in this century, this gender, this race. There are many, many ways we can reach out to poor among us as well as the poor far away. It is our Gospel duty to do so.

But I can't read a report like CNN's without a jaundiced attitude.

Just providing the basics . . .

No doubt highly credentialed statisticians took a robust sampling of families, duly recorded their findings, and divided by the correct number. Few of these "middle-income, two-parent famil(ies)" have an inkling of what the basics are. I don't have an inkling of what the basics are.

I spent four summers working with the Missionaries of Charity in rural Kentucky. I remember two little sisters who would come to camp everyday. They had one pair of sneakers and a pair of patent leather dress shoes between them. They alternated who got stuck playing on the playground in dress shoes and who got the comfy tennies. One of the girls usually didn't have on underwear. We had a boy -- I think he was about twelve -- who had one pair of pants that would have fit a grown man. He would run the bases in baseball holding up his over-sized jeans.

I spent another summer with the nuns working in the Bronx and living in Harlem. As we prayed with the children one morning, a little girl -- obviously a very recent immigrant --thanked God that she and her family no longer lived in Jamaica. One day I walked her home to her apartment in the South Bronx. Graffiti covered every wall, windows were smashed, and the entire structure reeked of urine.

What was life like in Kingston? I don't have an inkling, not an inkling.

Just providing the basics . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your priest's comment is very helpful. All we can do is start where we are, and make the best decisions we can. As for the "cost" of raising children: I sometimes look at people who don't have children and have more holidays, more hobbies, more time than I do. Sometimes I think, gosh my husband and I go out for a meal together (lunch) once a year! The true cost of having children is probably best calculated in numbers of grey hairs and sleepless nights. But how could one ever, ever calculate the incredible GAIN and blessing and spiritual growth that having children brings? I personally would never want to trade places with those who seem to have more freedom because they don't have the responsibility of children. (And of course I know some of them may dearly have wanted to have children, and not been as lucky as I have been.)