In full disclosure, I once got paid for my parenting gig. And that experience prompted me to write this blog. A digression before the reveal.

Parents quickly realize that parenting is a 24/7 unpaid gig. Not only is parenting charity work but you also have to cough up a ton of money for the gig. Counterintuitive – the world’s hardest job and you have to pay for it.

Most of the costs are obvious and predictable. Housing, feeding, and the endless clothing cycle – buy, use for a few months, donate, buy more stuff, and return to Goodwill in a few years to get clothing for child #2. Repeat.

And it’s not just stuff you have to buy. Everyone you know, from all-knowing relatives to childless friends, preaches the value of extracurricular activities: band, Scouts, and anything with a ball. Even if your child is tone-deaf, hylophobic, or athletically-challenged, they should at least try. But it comes at a cost. A big cost.

There’s the expected extracurricular expenses: uniforms, gear, and the mandatory bag to haul the stuff. But, it’s the associated costs that will drive you nuts: raffles, fundraisers, and booster events. And it’s not a one-time thing. Every season, every grade you will be asked by your child and mammals of similar height, “Would you like to buy _______________ to support ___________?”

Like most kids, my son tried different activities including t-ball, track, and band. Eventually, he settled on soccer, and every preseason it was another fund-raising adventure: pizza, specialty popcorn, or mystery food product in a can. When he was a sophomore, I was asked to buy tickets for a new fundraiser, cow bingo.

If you immediately envisioned aged cattle playing bingo at the senior pasture, then you don’t live in real America. Here are the rules for cow bingo. First, divide a soccer field into several hundred squares. Second, sell tickets for $20 per square. Third, ask a cow to volunteer. Fourth, have the JV players follow the volunteer around the field and identify the square in which the cow leaves the bingo.

The soccer boosters sold about 500 tickets for the cow bingo festival. Do the math. You gross about $10,000, give the winner one grand, and make about $9000. A literal and figurative cash cow.

I bought a ticket and attended because, well, it’s cow bingo. I’m glad I did because it was a parenting career highlight. The cow had stage fright, and her angst was manifested in diarrhea.

Watching the boosters deal with an anxious cow was an entertaining matinee. But, it was comedic gold listening to the parents trying to determine a winner with an intestinally-hyperactive heifer.

When the next year rolled around, I couldn’t wait for another round of cow bingo. Instead of my reflexive single ticket purchase, I splurged and bought three tickets. So, exciting.

The bubble was busted when I arrived at the event. The new bingo player was present, but there were only a handful of livestock handlers and bingo spotters. Apparently, the boosters were afraid of a repeat of the First Annual Cow Bingo and downplayed public attendance. Bummer. So, I dropped off the kid and went grocery store shopping. And then, I got the call which changed my life.

I won. I won $1000. To have my child hand me a check for $1000 was a parental fantasy come true. It didn’t last long.

As I accepted the check from my son and the soccer coach, my internal voice shouted, “It’s about damn time!” For some reason, my public voice said, “I would like to donate the money to the boys’ soccer team.” My internal voice asked, “Are you an F’n idiot or did you just forget that later this month you have to pay $2000 for teenage wisdom teeth extraction and $5000 on a used Honda CRV?”

I turned down a chance to get paid for the world’s hardest job. Instead, I fell victim to classic parental guilt and put my kid and his interests first. Noble, perhaps. But, I left empty-handed. Again.

Several years of counseling, Prozac, and Bombay gin have not eased the pain of my decision. No other parent should suffer as I did. This blog is for you.