Piggy and I have a general policy against giving childrearing advice.
It’s not because we don’t have opinions on the subject. Trust and believe: we have opinions on every subject. For example…
- Opinions on land use in Paraguay? The Bitches say: Keep the grazing cattle in the Chaco region. Although we are Team Yerba Mate, everyone knows that the climate is just too arid—although better land management practices are needed to prevent desertification.
- Thoughts on the performance of the current mayor of Fair Haven, Vermont? The Bitches say: We strongly approve of Lincoln, the Nubian goat. Eating the paperwork itself may be the best way to combat bureaucratic creep. Honestly, Lincoln the Goat 2020.
- Was Paris wrong to give the Golden Apple of Discord to Aphrodite? The Bitches say: Absolutely! Athena clearly offered him wisdom because she could see he was sorely lacking in sense. Women are not prizes, Paris, so stop using your magical fruit like a fistful of arcade tickets you’re hot to trade in!
See? We’re a bottomless pit of opinions!
But because we don’t have children ourselves, we try to keep our big mouths shut on the subject. Especially when talking to actual-factual parents. We’ve lived the experience of mansplaining; we can only imagine that DINKsplaining is similarly annoying.
But today we wanted to explore an interesting topic for our readers who are becoming, thinking of becoming, or trying to become parents:
Think back to the times your parents “splurged” on you. In hindsight, you probably know which things you truly enjoyed, versus stuff you just put up with.
So which expenses were worth it? Which ones weren’t? If you could go back in time, what would you tell them to stop doing, or do more of?
“Zaddy, the polo ponies got into mumsie’s begonias again!”
Before we get started…
I was lucky to be born to (upper?) middle-class parents who funneled a lot of that down to fun, nice things for their kids. Their eagerness to spend has been a blessing and a curse. I got a great education and a generally cushy existence. But the good times weren’t consistent. Sometimes there was no money for groceries until payday. I had more than a few angry bill collectors demand that I put my mommy and daddy on the phone. Shit got realer and realer as I got older, and my family’s financial situation drastically changed with the times. That’s probably a pretty relatable dichotomy for a whole lot of young Americans. Too much and not enough.
I don’t want this article to come across as ignoring or complaining about those comparative advantages. But I’m feeling extremely navel-gazey today, so we’re going to do a WHOLE LOT of talking about riding ponies, playing tennis, and other rarefied nonsense. My hope is that it’s relatable and light, but if you are easily triggered by expressions of privilege, maybe best to read this one first.
Okay? We good? Good.
Worth it: Activities I liked
This is me. Really! Respect that barrette.
I was, and still am, a Horse Girl. I basically shot out of the womb with the Polly Pocket Bluebird Stable-On-The-Go clutched in my bitty baby fingers. My bedroom was a museum of Breyer horses, each with a telenovela’s worth of dramatic headcanon. I think the suddenness and severity of my Horse Girl symptoms confused my parents. Luckily my grandpa got it. He took me to ride horses starting when I was six.
Looking at photos of me riding, I look soooooo preposterous toddled up in the saddle. My chonky baby legs splayed so wide across the enormous beast’s back that they couldn’t even dangle my feet down to stirrups! Who authorized this?!
But I was always grinning when I was riding. I loved every second of it, and still do. I’m sure it was an enormous expense for my grandparents, but I got my (err, their) money’s worth.
Not worth it: Activities I didn’t like
I stopped riding around the time my parents divorced. I moved away from my grandpa. And my parent’s financial situation was a typical post-divorce shit show. But after a twenty year break, I just started riding again. And my instructor told me I was one of her favorite students.
When I asked her why (yes I was fishing for compliments, what of it?), she said, “Because you actually want to be here.”
Most of the people who ride at the barn are kids. And most of the kids at the barn don’t want to be there. Their parents want them to be there.
Parents push their kids into actives for all sorts of reasons.
And I think those reasons are benevolent (or at least neutral) far more often than they are abusive.
“I want my kid to develop their coordination / cooperation / grace / problem-solving / perseverance / confidence / athleticism / language / musicality / poise / social skills…” There’s enormous pressure on parents to provide an upbringing chock full of enough cosmopolitan experiences to satisfy a Medici princeling.
My mind is boggled when I think of how much money my parents spent in pursuit of my well-roundedness. To the best of my memory, these are the activities I was enrolled in as a child:
- Horseback riding
- Tae Kwon Do
- Altar service
- Community theatre
- Marching band
- Summer camp
- Girl Scouts
I bolded the four I actually liked, and would do all over again. The rest are things my parents wanted me to do, for whatever reason.
My attitude towards each ranged from tepid (loved swimming, just not competitively) to boiling resentment (footage of my basketball coach could’ve been used to make a stirring safety video titled How to Identify Lunatic Rageaholics That Should Never Be Allowed Near Children, Volume One).
Worth it: Activities that shaped character
Learning to ride horses was the single most formative experience of my young life. Realizing as a forty-pound child that I could control a thousand-pound animal opened a door in my mind that could never be shut again. I knew what it felt like to be powerful. To be listened to and respected.
If beasts could learn to obey me, men would too.
Oh, are you blinded? Is the sun glinting off of my sword-lesbian sword too much for you? Well, you get no reprieve, because Piggy’s analogous beloved sport was fencing. And I can damn well tell you she was in it for the rush of power, too. Hide your girlfriends, weaklings! The Bitches are armed and dangerous; we read too many young adult fantasy novels and we have glutes sculpted of Valerian steel.
I really believe that the right activity can imbue you with positive qualities, help you mature faster, and build lifelong skills that aren’t always immediately, obviously valuable, but come the fuck in handy later.
Not worth it: Activities that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough as I was
Building character is a double-edged sword. Doing an activity you don’t like can still teach you solid life lessons. (That terrifying basketball coach didn’t imbue me with speed, agility, or teamwork—but he sure as fuck taught me what kind of person I didn’t want to be around!)
But it’s funny looking back at this list. My parents knew I was intellectually gifted. But most of the things they wanted me to try were sports and team activities. I think they were aiming to open me up to new things? But it definitely made me think that my most sterling qualities were the “wrong” qualities.
I did theatre stuff for a long time, and would’ve sworn that I loved it. But actually, looking back, what I loved was being surrounded by people with a creative, intellectual bent. I hated the way my soccer coaches and golf instructors looked at me, perplexed and exasperated by my disinterest and lack of progress. I thirsted for the validation of being around people who also weren’t good at soccer and didn’t give a shit about golf.
Even as a child, I could tell the difference between growing and going through the motions. One was intoxicating; the other was demoralizing af.
Worth it: Activities I could choose
I remember getting enrolling in a Christian summer school thing that allowed kids to select their own classes. Like college for pious babies. The two class I remember enrolling in were:
Two words: Sword. Lesbian.
For anyone who knows me now, they will recognize how on-brand those choices were. My parents never would’ve thought to sign me up for either of those classes. They were really leaning into the preppy sports thing. The freedom to choose definitely broadened my horizons.
Contrary to my long list of planned activities, I also had a lot of freedom as a child. I explored my town on my little purple mountain bike. I’d pedal to the store, to my grandparents’ house, to school, to the library, to my neighbor friends, and to babysitting gigs.
During a brief stint of mania, I even roused myself before dawn for daily Mass before school started. I thought I wanted to become a nun, but actually I was just becoming an atheist. CHECK THE BIO. I DON’T DO HALF MEASURES, GUYS!
I can only assume my parents were baffled and disturbed by this habit. (Lol, “habit.”) But they let me do my thing, and it was out of my system after a few weeks.
Not worth it: Activities I wasn’t allowed to quit
My other basketball coach (not the rageaholic, a different one) had a daughter on the team. When she missed a basket, he’d frown and pull her away from the team to run drills one-on-one on the far side of the court. He’d make her repeat the shot again, and again, and again, until she could get it right three times in a row.
Every time this happened, it cast a freezing pall over the team. We’d dart our eyes over at her to see her crying, struggling to jump higher, aim faster. If he’d physically slapped her right in front of us, I don’t think we would’ve felt any less horrified. It was one hell of an emotional slap.
It goes without saying that she wasn’t allowed to quit the team. I know that she tried.
I wonder how much she likes basketball today.
You know what’s underrated? The freedom to experiment and quit. Sports, hobbies, and activities are among the biggest blocks a child has for building their own identity. Before we get into sex, gender, careers, travel, and social autonomy, all we really have are our interests.
Any of y’all have that one aunt who buys you purple things because you said that it was your favorite color once, fifteen years ago? Mmhmm. It’s not fun. It doesn’t make you feel very understood as you grow and change.
Worth it: Once in a lifetime experiences
When she was a child, Piggy’s grandmother took her and her brother to Italy to spend time with their extended family. Describing the experience now, her eyes mist over. “Mama mia,” she whispers, “that-a was a spicy meat-a-ball…”
Those trips sparked several important lifelong interests for her: traveling abroad, learning to speak other languages, connecting with family, and
telling everyone to stop doing that, you’re messing up the sauce cooking.
That experience was well worth the money her parents spent. And international travel is never cheap, unfortunately. (Unless you, like Piggy, have saved up enough credit card points to fly to Costa Rica and Portugal in a single year like that lucky bitch did in 2018.)
Not worth it: Paying through the nose for kid-centric vacations
I have an extremely murky memory of going on a Disney Cruise when I was, like, three? Five? Seven?
Literally the only thing I remember from the entire trip was a moment that I must’ve spent with some kind of on-site babysitter. She gave the kids crayons and asked them to draw the ship. I drew it from my imagination, with dolphins frolicking in the waves, and little lowercase Ms for seagulls. (Free pro-tip right there, that’s how you draw birds good.)
I remember this unknown adult being completely shook by the goodness of my drawing, and holding it up to show to the whole group.
… I legit remember nothing else. So instead of paying for flights and a cruise, my parents could’ve just given me some paper and acted astounded by my lowercase M drawing skills.
Marketers frame Disney vacations and their ilk to parents as experiences so magical you would be A Terrible Parent if you deprived your kids of this wholly formative experience. But I actually don’t remember it. And my face is blotchy from crying in half of these photos because I am a little kid who likes regularly scheduled snacks and naps much more than “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” I won’t remember.
And Disney ain’t once-in-a-lifetime. Shit, I have adult friends who go once a year. They get wicked drunk at Epcot, aka an awesome thing kids can’t do.
I retroactively proclaim myself worthless of expenditures of travel money until I was at least thirteen. The exception was sleep-away camp, which was excellent training for being away from home.
Not worth it: “The best” school
I went to a private Catholic school for my first six years. Their curriculum was rigorous. I was an excellent student. I had good teachers. Their programs were nicely funded, and my class size was tiny. Academically, I was absolutely set up for success. It was definitely the best school in the area.
Yet I remember those years as a greasy smear of miserable memories I’d rather forget. The culture at the school was vicious. With only fifty children in each grade, I couldn’t avoid the people I didn’t like, or look for new friends. There was a crystal-clear social hierarchy, and each child devoured the next one down the chain, like a grade school ouroboros.
The school was tiny and homogenous. Life was hell for anyone who was different. Punching down was a learned survival mechanism. I loathed it.
Knowing that my parents paid a premium to send me to this place sends a chill up my stingy spine.
Worth it: A school that’s a good fit
After six years of this, my parents gave up and suggested a transfer. I pounced at the chance. This bitch had nothing to lose.
I moved to a local public magnet school. And it truly felt like trading the Dursley’s house for Hogwarts.
There were gay kids, black kids, poor kids, disabled kids, and fat kids—but they were allowed to walk around freely, instead of cringing around in a constant apology for their deviancy.
Seeing a broader range of personhood, I realized that I could flourish here. Over were the days of being pounded into a pleasingly unnatural shape. I belonged. I made a fuck ton of friends across a broad spectrum of social groups, and I freaking loved it.
In my parent’s case, I think it was much cheaper for them to send me to a public school. But if the reverse had been true, it would’ve been well worth it to give me a chance to start over in a school with arguably weaker academics, but a much stronger cultural fit.
Worth it: Pets
Both Piggy and I grew up with pets, and we both immediately agreed that it was one of the best things our parents did for us. Her childhood dog, Ginger the Jack Russel Terrier, was loyal and intrepid and nosy and fierce. Mine, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Lucy, was dopey and sappy and lazy and protective.
Both of us know well the feeling of a pet’s love. Being with them felt like sitting next to a warm fire. I still remember crying into Lucy’s neck about the baby problems babies have. She was entirely too dumb to understand what I was upset about, but she understood that her job was to radiate a stalwart love so strong it drowned out my sadness. She was the only creature on this earth who was always on my side, no matter what.
I’m sure our parents didn’t love dealing with the vet bill from a face full of porcupine quills (Ginger) and the angry calls from the golf course telling us our dog had chased balls into the pond again (Lucy). But whatever the pets cost, they were worth it.
Not worth it: Purebred pets
Listen, we loved those dogs, but we weren’t fox hunting and shooting ducks over a fucking moor. We were kids running around in our backyards. Any old mutt would’ve sufficed.
Piggy and I are both solidly pro-mutt. Even responsible, caring breeders add to the pet overpopulation problem, and the continued fascination with a bizarre Victorian sensibility about “breeds” that absolutely came from the same tradition as eugenics perpetuates the market demand that makes puppy mills an attractive business model <gasp> what a long sentence!
Working dogs aside, dafuq, go to a shelter and pick us up One Brown Dog to Go, Please!
Worth it: Busy parents
A friend of mine once expressed crushing sadness over sending her children to daycare and babysitters. “I don’t want them to think their mama doesn’t love them,” she told me, through tears. “All I want to do is spend time with them. We just can’t afford it.”
It made me think of all the times I’d spent in daycare and after-school programs, or with babysitters and camp counselors. And honestly?
I loved it.
One of my very earliest memories is of a woman named Irene. She was my babysitter, and she was so kind. She had a really, really good collection of My Little Pony VHS tapes. As I recall, her chicken nuggets were incredibly good—though they were probably just frozen, I was easily impressed. I loved going to Irene’s house.
I remember being thrilled the days my mother told me to stay at school until 5 p.m. The after-school program was free-form, so I got to do whatever I wanted. Our after-school program had an astonishing Perler Bead supply, and a Super Nintendo, and I got to eat motherfucking Dunkaroos. Instead of teachers, I got to hang out with college students who were cool and pretty and funny and smart. Man, it rocked. I could never understand why my mother tried to arrange her schedule so that I wouldn’t get to go.
Much later in life, both Piggy and I would rely on childcare as our first jobs. And we were totally dedicated to our kids.
As a nanny in college, Piggy was asked to role play as Ursula the Sea Witch to her charge’s Ariel every damn day. And boy, she came through with a consistently devastating performance. Her kid was addicted to her. She cried almost every day when Piggy left the house.
At the camp I worked at, I was like a benevolent trickster god. It was a right of passage to catch me cheating at Mancala. I made the kids move the four-square court so that the King spot was over the back of one of those giant bouncy purple dinosaurs, and I ruled the court from his back, making up absurd rules with an iron fist, delighting when the kids would band together to take me down. Every day was Salute Your Shorts, pretty much.
I understand why a parent would prefer to spend as much time with their children as possible. Them things grow up fast! But in our childhood experiences, the more trustworthy, fun, loving adults present in our lives, the better. I loved having those supplementary caregivers in my life, and through them learned how to become one.
So what was worth it for you?
I’m really curious to know what your parents splurged on for you. When was it worth it? When should they have just saved their money? If you could go back in time and say “this, not this,” what would you say? And for those of you who have kids, how do you deal with the pressure to give them the whole world?
Tell us about it all in the comments below!
P.S.: This article was a little more personal that the ones I usually write! Did you like it? Are you into this soul-bearing shit, or nah? ALSO SHOULD PIGGY POST HER EMBARRASSING BABY PHOTOS AS A PATREON EXCLUSIVE?!? You guys, trust me, you want them, they’re solid gold, she looked like a fucking demon until she turned about ten, I am breathless laughing remembering it.
P.P.S.: Piggy here. She’s not kidding. My eyes were as black as my soul even from infancy.