Every time I post a video of my daughters on Facebook playing the piano or the ukulele, singing, performing dances from West Africa or Puerto Rico, winning ribbons at swim meets, or speaking to a crowd, people compliment us on our "talented," "fabulous," "wonderful," and "amazing," children.
Sure, they are smart, but all children are smart. They are talented, but all children have talents. Nope, my children are not any more special than any other children in the city of Milwaukee. Only difference is my children are privileged and lucky. They have had opportunities that only privilege can buy.
My children have two parents who both work. I have good insurance, affording them any medical care they need, and dental care, including orthodontics at minimal cost. I have paid sick time, so my daughters never go to school with a toothache or stomach ache. Three years ago my daughter had recurrent strep throat. We paid nothing for her to get her tonsils out and since then haven't had a case of strep in the house. Last spring when they got lice I dropped everything, took a day off of work and picked each bug and nit out of their hair before sanitizing the house. I didn't lose a day of wages, I lost seven sick hours. As of today I have 334 sick hours in the bank and I can use them when my children are ill or have appointments to keep them healthy.
My girls are in third and fifth grade and they have never had regular music class at school but their dad has a flexible schedule and for two years he made breakfast for the music teacher so that five days a week we could barter for a half hour of lessons each. What child wouldn't make big musical gains after 15,600 minutes of music lessons?
My girls are in third and fifth grade and they have never had regular physical education classes in school but they started swimming lessons at 6 months old. Yes, for over eight years, they both swam weekly with instructors and then coaches. On days that they aren't swimming they perform with an African dance ensemble.
Two parents that work equals a two income household. Since we both full time work first shift jobs, I'm able to work two night jobs teaching university classes so that we have extra income for things like Girl Scout Camp and trips to California. Those experiences enrich their writing and increase their drive to research new topics and learn about far away places.
One parent always has time to help them with homework, sign their reading calendar, pick them up from lessons, and make a nutritious meal. They never eat the carb loaded breakfast or sodium ridden hot lunch from school, instead they eat homemade organic food from BPA free containers. They don't have to cook themselves dinner or take care of younger siblings while their parents work second or third shift. They have someone tucking them in each night by 9:00 p.m. for a good night's sleep.
When my older daughter wanted to apply for my public district's gifted and talented middle school I was able to contact the enrollment person at her school, print all the necessary forms from the internet, contact her teachers for letters of recommendation and application information, and take the application, in person, to the school office before it closed at 3:30 pm.
She was accepted and now we are excited about the arts, travel, forensics, and other extra curricular opportunities the new school presents but I can't help but feel bad that my child gets to attend one of the few middles schools in the district with those classes. The middle school where I taught five years ago, in the same district, students picked one of the following, physical education, art, or computer lab. If they were not proficient in reading, it was reading intervention class instead. Yes, my daughter will have all the opportunities my husband and I have afforded them and now a special school too.
All children should have opportunities to find joy in learning yet in the schools with the highest poverty we push textbooks and tests instead of the arts and exploration. We purchase licenses for sterile learning intervention programs on computers instead of providing them with school librarians to guide their curiosities.
Of course I also posted my feelings about this on Facebook. I got a lot of sympathetic comments telling me not feel guilty. Of the dozens, one rang true, "Failing to take advantage of the opportunities available to you doesn't help those without such opportunities. In fact, it reduces your opportunities to help those less privileged."
I don't think the guilt will ever completely fade, but that swell in my heart will keep pushing me to keep fighting, and teach my daughters to fight, for fairness and increased opportunities for all children.
For more information on how to support working families in providing opportunities for their children, click here.