It was a special moment three years ago, the evening my wife informed me that we were about to become parents -- at least, I'm assuming that somewhere in the world, somebody was having a special moment. In our house, I had a chance to create a magical memory, and I blew it.
My wife, Susan, did her part. When I came home late in the evening after a long day, clutching a sack of sandwiches from Arby's, I was ambushed by candles aglow, soft music, and a congratulatory card. But instead of doing a dance of joy upon being told of the blessed event, I just stared at my wife, slack-jawed, looking like someone who just learned his million-dollar lotto ticket had been accidentally mixed into the Alpo and served to the dog. I hate to admit it, but my first thought was: How can we possibly afford a baby?
Two children later, I realize that nobody is truly financially prepared to have a child, save for Bill Gates, Julia Roberts, and a few lucky others. What surprises me is that it isn't just a matter of how much money you have (or don't have, in our case); it's also a matter of how you spend it. I wouldn't be surprised if even Gates, who's so rich he could afford to send 226,777 kids to Harvard, has heated debates with his wife on how to spend money on their children.
From the moment we learned of our impending parenthood, Susan went on daily shopping trips, returning each time with Santa-like bags filled with toys, gadgets, and diapering gear. I tried to point out that getting all this gear was what baby showers are for, which is why I helpfully compiled a list of 400 guests, including our postal carrier and some nice folks I met in an elevator. But in the end, my ambitions were thwarted with a more modest affair. Thankfully, my parents sprang for a crib; my in-laws bought us a dresser and rocker. But for the most part, like many parents, we were on our own. Susan tried to ease my nerves by promising, "I'm going to breastfeed. Think of all the money we'll save on formula!" But my relief was premature. Nursing was tough for her, and I'm guessing that ever since Isabelle and, later, Lorelei arrived, we've averaged $13,726.92 on formula a month. (Of course, my wife would say -- as she has a billion times -- that I'm exaggerating.)
Sometimes it's been scary, lurching from paycheck to paycheck, trying to keep up with bills while paying for some of the extras in life. For example, Susan insisted that the girls would benefit from a zoo membership, never mind that Lorelei's so young I could cut out pictures of animals from magazines and she would probably get the same idea. Then there's all the clothes and accessories my wife buys for the girls. I don't see the need for 17 pink hair bows; Susan does. Nor do I get why anyone younger than 25 would need a purse, let alone three. And our daughters each have more shoes than Carrie Bradshaw. Susan boasts that she saves money by buying these items at a neighborhood consignment store, where brand-name outfits often sell for a few bucks -- but the bargain isn't such a bargain if you're patronizing the shop so often that the employees start inviting you to use their lakeside cottage.
My argument is that we should save our money for the necessities. But Susan believes that sometimes it's necessary to visit museums or to have a toy that rattles, lights up, and talks. She imagines a world where our girls always have a zoo membership, a pretty wardrobe, and even a family vacation every once in a while. Susan wants a roof over our heads, but she also wants a happy home underneath it. If she thinks of herself as the CEO (chief executive officer) of the family, concerned primarily with company morale, then I'm the CFO (chief financial officer), focused on the bottom line.
And we're probably both right. When I recently sprang for tickets to Sesame Street Live, certain that Isabelle would be enthralled, I was informed that our younger daughter, Lorelei, couldn't sit on our laps. If we wanted our 9-month-old to come, we had to pay for a seat that she'd likely never sit in to watch a performance she'd likely never remember. Even my wife agreed we could have the grandparents babysit her. But in the end, I couldn't do it. This was a family event, after all, and she is a big part of the family, no matter how little she is or how much she costs.
In fact, I often wish I could go back in time to that night when my wife first gave me the news that our lives were about to change forever. If I could do it over, I would kiss my wife and tap dance on the kitchen counter. Because once I overcame my fear of going broke, I realized that we were richer than ever.
Geoff Williams is a freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.