WATCHING our twins try on their first pair of shoes, I remember asking the shop assistant how long they would last before they outgrew them.
“Probably five or so,” he said. “Six at a push.”
“Months?” I said hopefully.
“Weeks,” he replied.
At that point I decided I either needed to ask for a raise or, more realistically, double check my overdraft limit.
The point is that bringing up kids is an expensive old business.
You can do all the calculations you like (and believe me, we did) but it still can’t quite prepare you for the sums involved – even for basics like what they stamp the floor with in the middle of yet another toddler tantrum.
Personally I agree with the thinking that if you can’t afford kids, you shouldn’t have them.
But it doesn’t help when costs crop up in the most unlikely of places.
The other day, pupils at Horsforth School arrived home with a letter for their parents.
It detailed an upcoming school trip – to the Caribbean. The cost? An eye-popping £1,650 per child.
The school defended its decision to offer the trip by saying it was triggered by student demand for an alternative after previous visits to Spain and Italy.
But this is a holiday more in keeping with a luxury honeymoon than a school trip. And it’s for children as young as 12.
At that age I was climbing hills in Snowdonia and learning to cook for myself on a Scout camp in exotic Leicestershire.
I did go on a French exchange, and considered myself extremely lucky that my parents could afford it, but it wasn’t a particularly glam affair.
A mate of mine told me his mum went mad because he came back with oil on his pyjamas. He explained he’d had to climb over his host family’s bikes to get into bed.
And at least it helped us brush up on our French. Where’s the educational value in a jaunt that includes seven nights’ stay in a Barbados hotel, “traditional evening entertainment”, a catamaran cruise and a trip to a local water park?
It sounds to me like a trip straight out of Made in Chelsea rather than the national curriculum.
What will this do to prepare youngsters for the world after school, besides encouraging them to join the ranks of the desperate wannabes who want a champagne lifestyle on alcopop money?
It’s interesting that the teachers say it was partly a result of student demand. There’s a surprise.
I wanted to go on a spaceship to the moon when I was 10 – but I didn’t expect a school trip there any time soon.
The fact is that children (and sorry if this comes as a shock) don’t always know what’s best for them.
Given the choice, I’m not sure I’d have voted for hiking across what felt like most of North Wales or getting soaked to the bone trying to put up a tent in the middle of a gale in the East Midlands.
But those things taught me far more about myself than a day on a Caribbean beach ever could. They gave me new skills and filled me with confidence that I could cope with a few challenges chucked at me along the way.
As far as the money issue goes, teachers need to realise that trips like this immediately drive a wedge between those kids whose parents can afford it and those who can’t.
It also comes at a time when the Children’s Commission on Poverty says costs are pricing poorer pupils out of some subjects, with parents unable to afford things like computer access, let alone expensive foreign trips.
And anyway, why is there a need to fly to such far-flung destinations when there’s so much on children’s doorsteps?
If teachers are looking for sport, art, culture and a great outdoors that will inspire their pupils to do brilliant things then I can think of one outstanding candidate.
It starts with a “Y”, ends in an “e” and there’s a “shire” in the middle.