I spend a lot of time telling you guys about my financial mistakes and what I’ve learned from them. Fortunately, most of my horrible experiences are in the past (except for my crappy credit score), so it’s easy to look at them objectively. But I’m realizing that your financial past can still come back to haunt you, even when you’ve worked hard to make better choices.
Here’s What Happened
A reader sent me a link to a Youtube video about Montessori schools, letting me know how much the philosophy helped her son, who has Asperger’s (like Jayden). I had a basic understanding of Montessori, but had never really looked into it – I always thought it was a preschool program and nothing more.
So I’m watching the video and Jayden comes into the room. At the end, he asks, “Are there really schools like that?” I told him yes. “Are they just for little kids?” So we googled a little bit and found a brand new Montessori high school on the other side of the state that I didn’t know existed.
Yesterday Jay came home from school talking 200 miles an hour about Montessori. (Apparently he looked it up in class since he’s grounded from the computer here at home.) How it seems perfect for kids who, like him, need hands-on experiences to learn. How he wouldn’t have to struggle with so much book work that seems pointless to him, and he could focus on his interests. I’ll admit – I was kind of tuning him out because I’m so used to his monologues on different topics.
Then he dropped a bomb. “If I could go to that kind of school, I think I wouldn’t feel as hopeless about my life. Maybe I could do well in school and have a career someday. I think we should move so I can go to that high school we saw online.”
First, let me say how shocking it is for an autistic child to even think about moving. Our life centers around sameness and routine – something as trivial as the wrong peanut butter to jelly ratio on a sandwich can ruin the whole day. Any time I’ve mentioned moving or even traveling, Jay had a complete nervous breakdown. For him to suggest moving across the state, away from all his family, I know how much hope he has pinned on Montessori and how miserable he really is at school.
That said, moving across the state would be ridiculously expensive. The cost of living in a large city versus my tiny rural town would be astronomical. And there’s the little problem of tuition – the Montessori school is private, and tuition is $8000 a year. Even if I returned to my former career full-time, there’s NO WAY I could afford all those extra costs on my own.
Mom, Torn in Two
A Montessori school seems like the perfect answer to all the struggles we’ve been dealing with for years. From what I’ve seen, it has the potential to undo all the years of negative school experiences that have caused my son to despise education with every ounce of his being. Public schools are simply not designed for kids who can’t learn by sitting at a desk pushing a pencil.
I never thought I would be in a position where my child needed something and I couldn’t provide it. Since he was born, he has always been my first priority. Even when my spending was out of control, I didn’t buy anything unless I knew he was taken care of first.
I think all mothers deal with guilt where their children are concerned – there are always could haves and what ifs to torture us and keep us awake at night. However, I can’t even express how guilty I feel right now. This is not some random thing that’s out of my control – this is something that could have been prevented.
If only I had gone into a higher-paying career field. If only I hadn’t taken out so many student loans. If only I hadn’t switched jobs last summer, leading to chaos and eventual self-employment. If only I was debt-free and able to fathom the idea of $800 per month for my child to go to an amazing school. I could go on for days (and probably will, inside my head where you guys don’t have to follow along).
Where This Leaves Me
For now, I’ve been spared the agony of crushing Jayden’s soul – we just missed the application deadline for next school year, so the earliest we could even talk about the Montessori high school is next winter. But I don’t see any way that things will change between now and then.
I am absolutely sick when I think of all the money I’ve wasted in the 13 years since Jayden was born. The total probably could have paid 4 years of private school tuition for two kids. Now, because I took so long to get my spending under control, I will never find out if Montessori is the right place for him.
Instead, I have to send him to the public high school in less than 6 months, where he will continue to be depressed, socially isolated, and frustrated by a system that doesn’t address his educational needs. And I feel like I’m throwing him to the wolves. “Sorry, kid, I can’t afford to give you the things you need and deserve. I know the other school could help you become successful, but I don’t have the money. You’ll just have to deal with it.”
Please, Learn From My Failure
You may not have kids, or if you do, your kids may not have special needs. But that doesn’t mean that another person may not depend on you someday. Don’t waste another minute saying, “I can always save money later,” or “I have plenty of time to get my finances straightened out.”
In late 2010 when I realized I needed to get my act together, I patted myself on the back for coming to my senses before my son was old enough to need my help. At the time, I was thinking about cars and college expenses. It never occurred to me that my epiphany had happened too late, and that a situation might arise where he needed something I simply could not provide.
No one has a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s happening tomorrow. But if you prepare for it in advance, tomorrow doesn’t have to feel hopeless. You will NEVER regret making good choices, but (as I’m learning) the wrong choices can impact your life even when you think you’ve recovered from them.