“Beats Any Toy” by Lauren Frey-Daisley, NYC

BLOG,Money August 9, 2011 09:00

topic: MONEY medium:TEXT, VIDEO

This story was shared at a PenTales event themed “Making Ends Meet”

After my parents’ divorce, our family’s house became Dad’s house. Weekends there became not normal weekends, but very exciting trips. Mom had taken our beds with her when we moved out, so at Dad’s my brother slept on the couch and I got to fold my three-year-old body into one of those chairs from the 70s that was shaped like a half sphere.

We’d go to IHOP Saturday morning and then to K&B where Dad would buy us each a toy of our choosing.

My poor mother: that first winter, snow accumulated on the inside windowsills of our one-storey house. She had massive student loans from the doctoral program she was in on top of her full time job as a school psychologist, which didn’t comfortably cover both the mortgage and food. Once she took me with her to Bradlees or some other Walmart of the 80s to pick up some basic necessities, and I must have been a little too conditioned to the idea that store equaled automatic gift, because I remember her taking me to each aisle and pointing to everything she wanted saying, “See that blanket, I want that, but we can’t afford it. See those curtains, I want those, but we don’t have enough money for them.” I got the point. It sunk in very deep and at a very young age.

Luckily, it wasn’t long before my mom remarried and the joint income helped tremendously. She paid off her school debt, got the doctorate (though not in that order), and has since retired comfortably. As I understood it at the time, my step-father’s job title was “businessman.” He put my brother and I through college. More importantly, up until my marriage he was the most stable male presence in my life.

My father has had three divorces.

Despite my Mom and step-dad’s relative financial ease—don’t get me wrong, we’re definitely not talking a palace with automatic gates here—my mother’s lesson about spending limits stuck with me. My college degree was also a B.F.A. in Drama, so not surprisingly, there were lean years following graduation. I bought clothes only when I really needed them, and almost always at Marshall’s when I was back visiting my parents. I basically didn’t drink because alcohol didn’t rank high enough on my priority list to merit the money I’d have to spend on it. When I was one of the final three candidates for the morning host job at WQXR, I felt guilty about buying an $8 bar of Burt’s Bees soap that smelled too good to resist. [The scent was tomato. Fresh tomato, not sauce.]

I didn’t land that particular job, but before long I was supporting myself hosting radio and doing voiceover. I had a very glamorous one bedroom in Astoria all to myself. Not trying to brag, but it had linoleum floors, a bathroom skylight with a crack in it, and a sink that only backed up five percent of the time.

I dated. A met a lot of jokers. I read statistics about the likelihood of children of divorce having successful marriages.

Now, I’m obviously about to give birth at any minute. I’ve held a steady gig for a chunk of years and married a man who is too wonderful to have been created anywhere but my deepest, most unspoken wishes. He’d have been here tonight, but he’s taking a class in male lactation.

Between the two of us, we were recently able to get a little house in a village where we can still walk almost everywhere. The people at local shops know who we are before we meet them. Autumn leaves glow orange on the cliffs across the river.

Basically, it’s just like the city, except now when we sit on the stoop, instead of forcing ourselves not to stare at the obvious drug transaction going on in the SUV idling in front of our place, we openly watch the neighbors’ kids having scooter races down the sidewalk. They race very fast. It requires a lot of mettle and bravery.

We’re hoping, despite the soon-to-be new mouth to feed, that ends still meet reasonably comfortably each month. And they probably will just fine. But the important thing is, the ends that really matter have already met.

The frayed, live wires that had sparked my fears of never feeling real communion with someone, of never having a partner who was in it for life, have fused together and now house a very stable but no less exciting current.

I’m telling you, it beats any toy.


  • admin

    As MONEY week continues, this is the next story that comes to mind, which by complete coincidence was read at the same “Making Ends Meet” event in NYC (last one for the week, I promise). Lauren’s story, video also below, speaks to some of the other things money can’t buy, with a warm and engaging personal tone. Lauren’s story speaks to Noah’s story yesterday in expanding the realm beyond money from personal boundaries we wouldn’t cross for any dollar amount, to those things in our life that yield priceless positive value but have nothing to do with money, and can’t be bought or sold. How would your life be different with more or less money? How would it be the same? When all is said and done, what number priority is money?