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Did Everyone Go to Hawaii Without Me?

Photograph by Getty Images

I swore I wouldn’t complain about the affluence at my kids’ school once we opted to take the private school route. I knew what I was getting into—I’d seen the cars in the parking lot and was aware that the school attracted families from some of the toniest neighborhoods in the city. Complaining about rich people at a private school is like complaining about snow in Alaska or bulk items at Costco. No one wants to hear it, because, duh! What did you expect?

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For most of the year, I’ve focused on my own family and avoided making comparisons about relative wealth. I’ve had the grace to focus on the people I’ve met as people and not as products of their annual household income. I’ve emerged from parent meetings and birthday parties free from the evils of insecurity and that tiny voice that whispers, “You’re not good enough. You don’t belong.”

But spring break has provided a mighty test for my “no complaining and no comparing” oath. And it’s not that I want to complain, exactly. It’s just that I feel funny about the fact that our big outing for spring break was seeing Frozen (at the dollar movie), while other families went to Hawaii, Park City, Disneyland and Dubai. Intellectually, I know that how families spend one week of their lives does not make a huge ripple in the grand sea of life, but it’s been hard to ignore.

I wish I didn’t find myself counting the families who went on fabulous getaways and those of us who didn’t.

I find myself shrinking back now that I’ve let my perceptions about other people’s prosperity cloud my vision of myself and them. The wealth factor is in my way now—it’s a divide I wish I didn’t see. I wish I didn’t find myself counting the families who went on fabulous getaways and those of us who didn’t. Why do I do that? Sure, I feel less alone when I look at the actual numbers. What those numbers tell me is that we were certainly not the only family whose spring break was really just a week without school. But it’s also kind of like stepping on a scale when you’re trying to be free from an unhealthy obsession with your body—at those times all the number on the scale does is remind you how unfree you are.

I want my grace back, the grace that allowed me to look everyone at my kids’ school in the eye without being ashamed of who I am and the choices I’ve made. That grace allowed me to meet everyone with genuine curiosity and kindness and, most importantly, an openness to get to know them simply as parents whose children share a world with mine.

The problem isn’t that some people have the fortune of great prosperity and abundance. Other people’s money is none of my business. The problem is in my head where invidious comparisons of myself to others fester and dim the light that shines from within me, and blocks me from the light in other people.

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I’m hoping this spring break season is just a blip and that I can use it as an opportunity to strengthen my resolve about complaining and comparing. Because even worse than staying home when it seems like everyone else is enjoying exotic locales is launching myself on a one-way pity trip.

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