So Nick has finished his first year of High School and is on holiday for six weeks. It has been a year of ups and downs, but as sometimes happens when you face things and don’t give up on them, it has turned out to be a good year.
Nick’s former primary school is known by locals as the Yuppie School. A very eighties description, to be sure, but in many ways it fits. If I were to use one word to capture the flavour of that former school it would be homogeneous. In a socioeconomic sense, mostly. Middle class, homeowners, two cars, lots of holidays away to fancy places. It was a little microcosm of the way life should be right on the edges of the city.
Nick’s High School is a microcosm of the way life actually is – for many, many people. When you hear the words economic downturn, it is a state that affects a large percentage of families at his school.
Shoes with holes in them. No money for lunch. No money for pens or pencils. No money for excursions. If you are struggling in a subject you don’t get a tutor, you just stay at the bottom of the class.
Seeing this, acknowledging this, feeling empathy for this has been really good for Nick.
And for me.
I struggle too, although things are getting better.
In Nick’s last year of primary school an excursion was organised to one of the local snowfields. It would have cost around $250 plus extras like ski hire, snow gear and so on. I just couldn’t afford it. I was honest with his teacher about why he couldn’t go and she looked at me like I had been caught putting lit cigarettes out on his arms or something. She gave me such a hard time about it that I told no one else I was skint. I made up some stupid story that sounded totally lame and unconvincing, but I was so upset and humiliated by her reaction I could come up with nothing else.
Nick was the only one in his year who didn’t go to the snowfields. The only one. I still feel bad about it. But speaking to some of the parents at his new school has helped me a lot. Through no fault of our own some of us are following very tight budgets. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Our kids still have everything they need, and if they can’t have the extras they can’t have them – and there’s no shame in that.
Now comes the part that made me proud. Nick is a gamer. He loves his videogames. He saves every cent he gets in order to buy new games. He had saved over a hundred dollars and had his heart set on a new game. But he spent all the money buying presents for some of his friends at school.
Harry’s Mum has been ill all year. Money is really tight for them and Harry admitted to Nick that he probably wouldn’t get any Christmas presents this year. So Nick used his savings to buy him a present. Harry was so overcome he burst into tears. Nick experienced that rare moment where a lightbulb goes on and you realise there is a great deal of truth in the saying :
It is better to give than receive.
I felt really good, Mum, he said. I felt really good.
His other friend, Karen, lives in the housing commission estate near the school. This girl is going places. She got eight Academic Excellence awards. I was blown away when I met her – the type of person who you immediately feel better for knowing.
Sadly, her building is being pulled down and she is being relocated way out west, so Nick won’t see her next year.
(As an aside can I say that the Department of Housing should be ashamed of itself for not finding accommodation in the local area for this excellent student and her mother so she can still attend the school at which she’s done so well. Any available housing has probably gone to a junkie who’s going to rip out all the fixtures and fittings to sell for drugs. And spend his spare time breaking into his neighbours houses…)
Nick bought Karen a present too. She was surprised and touched. She hopes she can move back into the area when they are seniors. I hope so too.
When you think you know everything about everything life comes along and teaches you a thing or two. Things are put very firmly into perspective.
I didn’t expect that out of the blue my games-obsessed son would give up the chance of a new game so friends who might normally have received nothing could have a Christmas gift. And that he would not expect a gift in return.
Christmas really is about the giving. And sometimes the giving provides you with more good cheer than you thought it ever could.
It’s good to be reminded of that.
* Image by Damon Hart-Davis