November 9, 2011 by Kat Richter
I’ve never been married (or given birth) but from what I understand, you’re not supposed to badmouth your spouse in front of your kids.
For this reason, when my preschoolers turned to me to ask, “Miss Kat, you’re not coming on our field trip?” I couldn’t tell them the truth. I couldn’t tell them that I wanted to come, that indeed I had planned to come and even knew exactly what I’d purchase from the gift shop on my way out because the truth would have made have made my supervisor look bad. And, as I’ve just said, you’re not supposed to badmouth your spouse (or your supervisor) in front of your kids.
The non-profit for which I teach creative movement five mornings a week is, like most non-profits, experiencing the ill-effects of the country’s economic disparity. As such, my fellow teaching artists and I were informed last Wednesday that we were “welcome” to come on Friday’s field trip but that there was “no money” for it.
“No money?” I asked. “What do you mean? We won’t be getting paid?”
This sort of thing happens all the time so it wasn’t so much an objection on my part as it was a request for clarification.
“No… Well, I don’t know actually,” my supervisor replied. “I’ll have to look into that. What I meant is that there is no money to pay for your admission. So if you want to come, you’ll have to pay for yourself.”
Now don’t get me wrong: I put in all sorts of extra hours without compensation all the time because I love what I do and I love my kids. I’m constantly on the lookout for new music, new books, new costumes, new stickers, new prizes and new gender-neutral, ethnically diverse décor for the dance studio. Even my mother has taken to calling me when she’s out to ask, “I’m at the bookstore/Dollar Store/ Target. Do you think your kids would like Valentine’s Day tattoos/wooden nutcrackers/glow in the dark bracelets and if so, how many do you need?”
But this? Basically I would have to pay to come into work on Friday, and might not get paid for the privilege of doing so.
This was worse than usual. In fact, this was too much, especially when you factor in how long it takes me to get to work. So I made other plans. But what can you say when your kids are looking up at you with those hopeful little eyes, wanting to know why you’re not coming on their field trip?
I felt like the worst teacher in the world. I wanted to tell them that it wasn’t my fault—that I have no control over the budget—but I didn’t, because marriages fail when partners aren’t on the same page and I’m pretty sure that working relationships aren’t all that different.
“You guys are gonna have so much fun!” I replied, dodging the question and doling out even more stickers than usual. “I’ll see you on Monday!”
Granted, it would have been way more fun to badmouth my supervisor (My Name is Earl has done wonders for my repertoire of trailer trash insults) but that would have been bad parenting. And I’m more mature than that.