Once upon a time, outside of a Red Lobster that we didn’t have the money to go to but I just couldn’t consider cooking dinner after the preliminary news from the specialist, my primary care physician told me over the phone that the brain tumor in my head might actually kill me that night. I sobbed into the phone and saw my month-old daughter through the window, sobbing herself at the table because she hadn’t been breastfed in ten minutes, and she needed her mama. That second and every second thereafter.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but during that time, I didn’t find religion. Surprisingly, I was more clear about my beliefs of ~nothingness~ after death than I have been before or after. But one thing came into sharp focus: I had not sufficiently prioritized time with family. “If I live through this,” I said, perhaps melodramatically, “can we please plan a time to be together every summer?”
Spoiler alert: I lived! And each summer since, we have found a VRBO big enough to hold us on a lake somewhere in the United States and spent a magical week together. Some of my siblings have opted out for what can only be described as “incredibly good reasons,” but many of us are there.
The first summer, we were coming off of (need I mention the cost?) brain surgery, we were about a year past inviting my mother-in-law to be wholly dependent on us (to the tune of about $1000 a month, which we emphatically did not have), my husband had gained his first real salaried job but was only starting out, and we had three kids and a mountain of debt. I had started freelancing but was probably making about $400 a month, nothing like what I’m managing now, so there was no way we could afford something like this. We did it anyway. We put the $1000 or so to rent the house on a credit card and crossed our fingers that it would work out. It was fiscally irresponsible and 100% the right choice.
The next year, we had stabilized some, but our mountain of debt was still mountainous. I managed to make the $1000 or so to cover the cost by freelancing while we were there, so we could pay off the week’s worth of lodging almost immediately. I would have done it regardless.
This year, we pre-paid the $1000 (we still have a mountain of debt), and we also pre-paid $1000 for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s share (they make something like $200 a month, so…let’s be real about what it might mean to gather up that much money). We are in a much, much better financial situation (although I still haven’t paid off that surgery), but we are also keeping things pretty tight as we try to make up for the years of near-poverty, the support of an older generation, the student loan debts, and the family-of-five-which-is-actually-a-pretty-big-freaking-family.
Budget budget budget budget budget. Except I bought matching water shoes for all the cousins that we will be there – eight kids – and finger paints and bracelet kits and temporary hair dye. And I just finished spending a bit over $100 on Walmart.com buying more-or-less matching pajamas (it’s quite difficult to find exactly matching pajamas for a 9-year-old girly girl and a 7-month-old boy who seems to be into trucks and every possibility in between). And it’s over budget and it’s not a good idea and we have so much to pay off and I don’t give a rat’s ass.
This summer, my children will attend a week-long matching pajama party with my sisters’ children, and maybe that will push FI back by a decade or two, but by then isn’t the world going to be burning to pieces anyway? So I’m not sad, not even a little.