I just about lost it the last time we were in Target and almost had to leave. Granted, I'm pregnant and a sap of growing baby and emotions, but still. The hot prickle in the back of my throat and tears welling in my eyes were embarrassing and hard to hide.
It happened near the shoes, when a girl put two pairs she wanted in the basket, and I saw her mother doing math in her head and putting one pair back. And I ached for the mom the way I ached for my own mom when I understood the pinch of our tight budget--somewhere around the fourth grade. Growing up, I didn't realize that we were poor until it was brought to my attention that other kids went shopping for summer clothes instead of making cut-offs from their pants. There were more money realizations I had near the end of fourth and beginning of fifth grade thanks to my peers, but the most powerful realization of all was the one that came on my own. This one poked at my desires and reminded me that I was an extra body to clothe and mouth to feed.
I saw how hard my parents worked, and I knew without a doubt that I was loved, but I also became increasingly self-conscious and began inwardly comparing myself to others in my class. When it came time to go shopping for school clothes and supplies, I tried to be more careful about what we spent while still trying to find clothes my peers would not take notice of in a negative way. And the trip ended in tears, my mom and I both too frustrated to be in the mall another minute. On the ride home I felt guilty for asking for what I knew my parents couldn't give, for asking for more than what their best already was.
Now that I am a parent, I see myself repeating the pattern. He's far too young to understand how tight our budget is, how much I worry about money, or that it's been made tighter by my decision to stay home with him. He doesn't know that I cut my own hair and clip coupons and decide what to put back before leaving the store. He doesn't know that neither my husband or I consider these things sacrifices in the face of the blessing of being a parent. He doesn't know the ache I feel for what I don't give him and wish I could.
I wish I could give him more books, beautiful hand crafted wooden Waldorf style toys, summer vacations to the beach, more trips to visit grandparents. I feel guilt for the amount of time I don't give him my full presence, or for the time I rush him when we're out on walks, or for the days when I am so tired-pregnant tired-that I don't give him the energy and attention I know I should.
But I hope that he will be able to see me like I see my own mother. Who sometimes lost her temper, who didn't often cook meals from scratch, who was sometimes frustrated by how thinly spread she was between working and parenting. Even so, I see her with so much gratitude and never doubt that she gave what she could. Everything she did give was given with love. I hope my son (and his brother or sister) know that I am human, but beyond the mistakes I will inevitably make, love is something that is freely given from us. And I hope that love will make what may be little in the eyes of the world, seem like just enough.