Earlier this week I received two letters from the college that Miss F attends, both about upcoming educational trips. One was fairly standard, a day trip to a nearby animal facility where there would be a chance for students to participate in animal related activities and listen to experts in the field blah blah blah. All perfectly normal and necessitating nothing more strenuous than paying a small sum of money and making sure Miss F reaches college on time and takes either a packed lunch or money to buy something there. But the other letter…
Well, the other letter I had to read twice because I couldn’t quite believe it the first time. Your child is being offered a unique opportunity – ok, that’s nice – to travel to a world class animal observation and experimental field study site – ooh, that sounds exciting – where they will get the chance to study a wide range of animals in their natural environment – brilliant – and work alongside experts who have been conducting long term observation and interactive studies – amazing, where do I sign her up – the trip is for two weeks – wow, that’s a long time – and will take place during the summer holiday in 2021 – umm, that’s a bit of a wait and it’s technically after she’s left college but I suppose that doesn’t matter – to show interest in your child going on the field trip to Honduras – ok, that’s… wait… what… where?! – please complete the attached form and enclose a non-refundable deposit of £150 to be deducted from the total cost of the trip which is £2700 – how much?!
Yep, that’s right, £2700. Ok, that does cover all travel, accommodation, food and activities, but that is a huge sum of money however you look at it, and then there will be her shots, clothes and spending money on top of that. I thought about this trip for the rest of the day until Miss F got home from college. I’ve always been a firm believer in trying to send her on as many school trips as I could possibly manage. When she was in primary school, of course, they were much simpler, tending to be day trips to somewhere local and only costing a nominal sum. In her last year of primary school, at age ten, she went away for four days to a youth centre place where they all slept in dorms and their days were filled with activities. It cost about £150, if I remember rightly, and she was desperate to go so the money was found and off she went.
I quite enjoyed my four days alone, and while she was gone I completely gutted her bedroom, redecorated it and transformed it from a Barbie pink hell to a grown up girls room complete with the birdcage wallpaper she’d seen in a local shop and fallen in love with. I think she enjoyed that trip, apart from being homesick and not liking the food.
In middle school, the trips got more complicated, more expensive and more fraught with tension. Who would she sit with on the coach? If it was for longer than a day, what would the sleeping arrangements be like? Who would she be sharing a room with? Would it be her friends? Would they all still be friends at the end of trip? What would the food be like? I remember a four-day trip to Cromer – a seaside town not too far away – that all ended in tears when a friendship group exploded under pressure and everyone got hit by the shrapnel.
One February, when I think Miss F was probably about twelve or so, an email came through from her school on a day I happened to be at home. There were an unexpected four seats available for a trip to see Mathilda in the West End and were any children in her year interested in going? It was for the year above hers, but there had been four last minute cancellations and as the trip was in two-days-time, it would literally be the first four parents to get to the bursar’s office next day with cash who would get the tickets. The cost was for £40, this would cover travel and tickets. Not bad for a West End show, but it left me in a quandary.
I knew Miss F would love to go and I really wanted her to go, BUT I didn’t have £40 cash I could lay my hands on before the next morning. I was up to the max on my overdraft limit and although I was being paid the next day, it wouldn’t be in time for me to get the cash out and beat the other parents to school to get a ticket.
Miss F came home from school, apparently it had been announced in assembly as well, but she’d resigned herself to not being able to go because she knew that money was really tight for us. We ate dinner and every time I looked at her, I felt so guilty. I wanted her to go on that trip and desperately racked my brains trying to think where I could get the money from. Cursing my bastard of an ex-husband who never contributed a penny to his daughter’s upkeep, I went sadly upstairs to put away laundry, leaving Miss F to have an ice lolly in front of the TV – my rather pathetic way of making it up to her.
Putting away my underwear, I found that the drawer wouldn’t shut properly and realised something had probably fallen down the back, so took the whole drawer out and found the rogue pair of knickers. Deciding to quickly tidy the drawer while I was at it, I started going through my underwear and suddenly found a plastic bank money bag tucked away at the back with money inside, £40 to be precise. I sat on the bed and stared at it, at that moment believing in heaven and guardian angels, until I suddenly remembered an indoor sale I’d done back in December, when I’d loaded all our unwanted stuff in the car and tried to flog it in a nearby village hall. These were the proceeds from that sale, I’d obviously tucked them in the drawer for safekeeping and then forgotten about them, what with Christmas and everything.
How weird is that? I once had a lodger who used to claim that you had to “put it out into the universe what you needed, and the universe would reply”, well, it certainly replied that day, and how coincidental was it that the sum I found was exactly the sum I needed. But I guess what you all want to know is, did Miss F get a ticket and go on the trip? The answer is, yes, of course she did. When I make up my mind to go for something, I go for it at 7.30am in the morning before the school is even open. We parked outside the school and sat in the car and ate breakfast watching the door like a hawk. We followed the first teacher in and sat outside the bursar’s office waiting for them to arrive. We were the first by a good thirty minutes and she got one of the four tickets. She had a simply amazing time and was left with a wonderful memory of a magical show, all thanks to her mother’s bad memory and a lucky find in a knicker drawer!
In the last year of middle school there was the big one, the annual trip to the South of France to stay in an activity centre where they would all participate in a week of full on activities such as kayaking, catamaran sailing, water skiing, mountain biking, swimming and diving. Miss F really wanted to go, and it did look amazing, but it was pricy – £800 – and then of course there would be clothes, spending money and a sleeping bag to add to that. The school had divided up the £800 into a deposit of £150 and then four even amounts spread out over the year. It would be tight, but it was doable, especially as Miss F’s grandparents offered to pay the deposit and give her some spending money. So, we signed the forms and paid the non-refundable deposit (it’s always non-refundable) and then we were committed and had to find the rest of the money.
We managed the way we’ve always managed to pay for things we wanted, we tightened our belts even further, we both went though all our belongings and did a couple of car boot sales, we sold a lot on eBay, we saved every spare penny we could to make the quarterly payments and we managed it. But, during this period, Miss F learnt a very valuable life lesson.
There was this girl she was friendly with, I’ll call her Miss C. Now, I wasn’t too keen on this friendship, Miss C, probably through no fault of her own, was a bit rough around the edges and not in a good way. She was hardnosed and a taker, and I was concerned that she was not only taking advantage of Miss F’s generosity but was undermining the “work hard to get what you want” ethic that I’ve always tried to instil in Miss F. I didn’t like her lazy, sponging attitude to life and her belief that it owed her a living and it would be up to the government to support her when she left school. However, I’m not stupid, and I knew banning this friendship would make it all the more attractive to Miss F, so I kept quiet and hoped it would run its course.
Anyway, Miss C would wait for Miss F at the top of our road and the two girls would walk to school together, and on the way, Miss C would buy herself a rather unhealthy breakfast of either McDonalds or some other such thing, with the £5 her mother would give her every day to buy breakfast. Now, this caused some friction in my household as Miss F has never left this house without a breakfast inside her, and other than high days and holidays, I would never even consider going to a fast food outlet for breakfast, and I certainly wouldn’t give a child £5 each morning in lieu of a decent breakfast at home.
Miss F didn’t see it quite this way, in her eyes the fact Miss C’s mother gave her such a princely sum of money every day quite possibly… maybe… meant that Miss C’s mother loved Miss C more than I loved Miss F. That assumption hurt me, I must admit, but I swallowed it down and simply waited. And then, the trip to France came about and Miss C desperately wanted to go. Very excitedly the two girls chatted about it on the way home from school and made plans to sit together and share a tent – as you can imagine, I was thrilled about this. However, next day all their plans came crashing about their ears. Miss C wasn’t going on the trip because her mother claimed, and I quote “I can’t afford £800 for you to ponce off on holiday.”
Miss F was disappointed, and for the next couple of days swung between being elated that she was going and being upset that her friend wasn’t. Then at dinner one night, we had the following conversation.
“Miss C’s mum gives her £5 every day to buy breakfast,”
“Yes, she does, what of it?”
“Well, that’s £25 a week she’s spending just on breakfast. Does it cost you that much to buy breakfast for us to have at home?”
“Sweetheart, I spend about £40 a week on our shopping, and that’s for all our food for all our meals, plus the cats, and all our cleaning and toiletries, so, what do you think?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I was just thinking, if Miss C’s mum gave her breakfast at home and saved the £25 a week instead, would she be able to afford for Miss C to go to France?”
“You do the maths, love, and tell me what you think?”
She did the maths.
“Is this what you mean when you say that you don’t waste money on stupid stuff, you save it for what’s really important?”
“Yes, it absolutely is.”
A valuable lesson was learnt that day, that it’s all too easy to fritter your money away on silly, inconsequential things and then not have it for things you really, really, need or want. Being on such a tight budget has taught me that, if nothing else. In fact, I even sometimes look at the cost of something and calculate how many hours I have to work to pay for it – that tends to help me decide if it’s a priority or not.
And in case you’re wondering – yes, she did go to France and yes, she did have an amazing time. And yes, the friendship with Miss C had fizzled out by the time the following year came around and Miss F went to France on the trip.
In upper school the trips became less frequent, there was the odd trip to the theatre if a play they were studying in English or Drama happened to be showing, or the odd geography or history trip, nothing really expensive or that involved staying away from home, so this letter about Honduras was like a bolt from the blue. I don’t really know anything about the country, other than it’s rough geographical location, so was unsure how stable it was – after all, there are so many horror stories about drug cartels and uprisings happening with depressing regularity in Central and South America – so how safe would it be for my 17 year old daughter to go there. It was far away, so very far away, and she suffers from travel sickness, and, of course, my mind kept circling back to the main obstacle, that it would cost almost £3000 to send her there. Almost four months wages. It was such a lot of money.
Miss F came home from school, already knowing that I’d received the letter. We talked. I basically told her that I appreciated what an amazing opportunity it was and that it would be a fantastic life experience, and that if she really, really, wanted to go, between us we would find a way to make it happen. She hesitated, then explained that although part of her was intrigued by the chance and realised it was potentially a once in a lifetime chance, the other part of her, the practical side which she totally gets from me – could see a number of drawbacks.
Number one was the cost. Yes, because she’s now working, between us we could probably meet each payment as it became due, but, if £3000 was to be spent on anything, wouldn’t it be better spent on driving lessons and a car? The university she’s looking at attending is a four-hour drive away, having a car is going to be an essential, and driving lessons are helluva expensive, as is buying a car, and as for insuring it…! There will also be the expense of renting a place to live whilst she’s at university – there will be deposits and upfront payments and every day living expenses to be met and she may not find a job straightaway.
Then there’s her travel sickness to consider, it is such a long way away and she’s never been on a plane before, how badly would it affect her? How ill would she be from such a long flight? Then there were the sanitary arrangements – I shuddered at the idea of her having to poop in a hole in the ground being watched by a bunch of monkeys. Apparently, one of her teachers who has done the trip before, said it was the most relaxing thing she’d ever done. Oka-a-ay, this must be some strange definition of the word “relaxing” I hadn’t previously been aware of. Miss F is quite anal (no pun intended) about her bathroom time and she was really not keen on the whole set up.
Finally, and this was not mentioned in the letter but was explained to the students at the meeting, the deposit of £150 and first payment of £650 would be due and payable before the students take their end of year exams this June. The trip is only available for level three students, and if any of the students fail their exams they will be relegated down to a level two or even level one so will be unable to go, but that payment is non refundable so it would be £800 down the pan. As Miss F quite sensibly said, “I’m confident about passing my exams, mum, but do I really want to put that kind of pressure on myself?” And I had to admit, that was a very good point.
So, she’s not going. And a part of me is sad, because it IS a fantastic opportunity, but, she’s only 16, she’s has a whole lifetime ahead of her to experience all that the world has to offer, and I’m sure she will, in time. But right now, she is correct in that there are other things we need to spend our money on, and £3000 is a LOT of money. I am aware, that there might be a few reading this who will now be scoffing in disbelief that we consider it to be an incredible amount of money, but to us it is.
And that, ultimately, is what life is all about, having to make the hard decisions and sometimes having to wear your sensible head when making them. I know that life experiences are priceless, but sometimes you do have to look at the bigger picture and choose what’s more important – a trip to a faraway country that you may, or may not enjoy, or use the money to pay for what you absolutely need right here and right now?
I feel Miss F made the right, the only decision, and once again I am relieved that I’ve somehow managed to raise such a level-headed and practical young woman.
This is me, signing out for another week, as always, I would love to hear your comments, and you can always contact me on social media or leave a comment below.
Have a good week and take care of yourselves.