Going into the play date, I knew we both lived off Slaughter Lane. So when their mom mentioned car trouble, I offered to pick up these kinder and 1st grade siblings who line up perfectly with my own kids of the same age. Only when I plugged the address into Google Maps did I realize they lived on EAST Slaughter Lane. It’s a big city and this road pretty much runs the length of it. And while Austin is the land of plenty, but for the most part, anything EAST is poor or poorer.
I drove across the bottom of Austin, eyes peeled for a big apartment complex because their address contained Apt. 254. Only when I turned into a sea of modular homes did I realize we were in a mobile home community. I weaved my way through dumpy double-wides and several very well taken care of ones. Driveways were populated with everything from shiny rimmed Mercedes to minivans to old Ford trucks on blocks. This was only my second time in a mobile home community. Early in college I accompanied my great uncle to visit my dad’s sister. And she lived in, you guessed it, a double-wide. My dad’s family came from nothing. And while my dad hit it big in oil (and then later lost much of that), my aunt was still living the way she grew up. I spent the night in that home. It was clean and well cared for, but these people were poor. I was 18 at the time.
Fast forward 20 years and I pulled up to my second double-wide. When I pulled into their driveway, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that she hadn’t dropped them off at our house. We live in a nice neighborhood. It’s not a wealthy neighborhood, but it is a desirable one and we were happy to be able to move there seven years ago.
And while we did move to our neighborhood for one of the best public elementary schools in AISD, we ultimately took a chance on a new classical charter school that opened when our oldest was entering kinder. That’s how we are friends with these two adorable East Austin siblings; charter schools don’t have neighborhood boundaries. Something I love about our school is that there are wealthy kids, average kids, poor kids and very poor kids. Some kids get vouchers for uniforms and eat breakfast and lunch at school because that may be the only food they get. I like this. Spence and I grew up in very diverse schools and we want our kids to know that there is more to the world than this privileged bubble we live in. I taught at a private classical charter school before having children and I liked it (it sort of felt like summer camp, but you geek out on a subject…English for me). But these schools are usually Christian and very expensive. While we are Christian, we are not wealthy. So when we saw that we could get this kind of education tuition-free, we jumped on it.
Our charter school is the opposite of our church and West Austin as a whole, where we often feel bottom rung. Lexuses and Teslas fill most parking lots and the amount of private school tuition paid doled out annually in this city could run several African villages. But I want in. I want the right car and the right clothes, the right education for my children and the right vacations. I want money and all the comforts it brings. We are fine, but we are not rich. But somewhere deep down, I believe money will give me all I need. So I was instantly put in my place when I stepped onto the linoleum floor to collect our little friends from the other side of town.
I almost felt ashamed when I looked around, trying to find some sort of decorating theme. We really do have so much, but I measure myself against the most advantaged people in Central Texas, so clearly, I’m going to come up short every time. I complain about my 8-year-old Highlander, our old carpet and tile, our dated paint and furniture, then I take one trip across the city and walk back into my finely furnished mansion. I’ve been so busy wanting that I totally forgot to be grateful for how much I have.
The play date was sweet. We baked cookies, I fed them lunch, they jumped on the trampoline and closed out the date with a Nerf war. Three hours in, my daughter’s friend said she missed her mom and wanted to go home. So we packed up and headed back east, to the land of little.
We dropped off our friends and as we were leaving the mobile home community my daughter said, “Mommy, can we live here?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought for sure they would make a comment about how this neighborhood (if you can even call it that) was not very nice. I thought they may ask if their friends were poor. Nope! They want to live there because it feels like it’s out in the country.
As we drove back towards abundance, it hit me like a ton of bricks. What my kids really care about. What they see. What I really care about. And what I see. And as I caught a glimpse of my fashionable sunglasses in my rear view mirror, I was so convicted. I’m a wannabe. I love bargain hunting and finding high end clothes at a fraction of the cost for my kids and myself. I have plenty of Lulu, OV, Madewell and Free People that I’ve scored at a fraction of its original cost, which may convince you that I could afford to actually shop there. Nope. My kids have North Face and Patagonia, Ugg boots and Smocked dresses that we could never afford that were either given to us or scored second-hand. But I guess I want you to think we can afford that because I’m out there looking for it and wearing it. I put my best labels forward because then maybe I’ll be acceptable.
This explains my unending love for even playing fields of places like camp (where everyone lives in the same neighborhood) and our charter school (where everyone is wearing the same uniform and you don’t know whose were purchased with vouchers). These scenarios expand our vision and expose us to all kinds of people we may otherwise never know; spoiled snobs, salt-of-the-earth-ers, have-nothings. Because I don’t want to live in a bubble with narrow focus, I continue to pray that God will please help me zoom out. May I never lose perspective and may my vision be double-wide.