Friday, May 16, 2008

Reminder; Meditation; Affirmation

In the 2+ years I have lived in this cool little college town, the one frustration I've had is that everyone I meet, every family I hang out with, seems to enjoy, shall I put it?....a more financially comfortable lifestyle than we do. Bigger, nicer, newer houses, gorgeously decorated rooms, acreage or nice yards with huge expensive playsets out back. It's been a new experience for me, living in a wealthy little community. I grew up with little money, then I became a poor student, then lived in the (poor part of the) city. I'm not used to being surrounded on all sides by wealth, or what I consider wealth.

Now, let me be clear, here. I am very, very grateful for what I have. I know people, including several members of my own immediate family, who make do with far less than Christopher and I have in the way of income, and could never consider paying for salon highlights, even if only twice a year, or buying things like brand-new ride-on toddler toys and preschool scooters instead of secondhand toys from a local garage sale.

Also: in my heart of hearts, and during most of my waking hours, I am truly--I swear!--pretty anti-materialistic, modest in my tastes, and more concerned with inner peace and happiness than with the kind of car anyone drives or house they live in. I try hard to be a good person, to be fully happy for others' successes and hard work, to not begrudge anyone their own happinesses, to be thankful for and joyful about my healthy, beautiful girls and the larger fortunes in life.

But I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me to live in such an affluent community, where it's hard to feel "normal" among many circles of family social life, unless you have....more. Not that anyone I've met has EVER made me feel inadequate. The families in this town are extraordinarily friendly and supportive. I adore the moms I've met and befriended through baby class and preschool; I've had such fun with them, and each one is genuinely kind and lovely. This is all about me, I'll be the first to say.

I love this town, but sometimes I miss living in a modest, blue-collar working-family neighborhood in the city where four-bedroom houses with custom cabinetry and granite countertops aren't the norm. I don't like the idea that there's really nothing much Christopher and I can do to substantially increase our income; even if I went back to work full-time--something I am totally opposed to while I am raising children, which isn't to say I'm against working PART-TIME--a huge portion of my salary would have to go for daycare. Christopher and I will never earn the kind of salaries many of our friends and relations earn. We just don't have those kinds of careers. Which is fine, in one way: obviously we made our own choices for better or worse, and the folks around me with the gorgeous houses and wooded lots made others, for their own better or worse. What's hard about it is not so much the fact that we don't make much money; it's that we don't make much money and yet we live in a town where a lot of people make a lot of money. There's research about this--about how dissatisfaction with one's economic situation has less to do with the financial facts of one's family income than it does with who one is surrounded by: others with similar financial situations, or others with significantly higher incomes.

But there's a happy lesson here, amidst all the sleep-deprivation-fueled pessimism and transient dissatisfaction with my lot in life. The other morning I went on some walking errands with Julia and Genevieve, visiting shops and sites across our sweet little downtown, and encountered a post office employee who is familiar with my girls and me. As she weighed my package, she smiled at us and chatted with me, asking if I am home full-time with my babies, saying that the fact that she couldn't stay home longer with her own when they were small is her only major regret in life. I casually commented that I'm so glad to be able to be with them each day, but that it's not easy. The postal worker nodded sympathetically and said, "That's for sure, honey. Of course it isn't! I remember what that's like, when dinner at Subway is a big deal!" She chuckled. "Good for you, hon. It's worth it for those babies."

What a nice thing to say. Of course I know it's true, myself. I say it all the time. But it's still nice to be reminded in such a sweet, supportive tone, from a kind, grandmotherly stranger, no less. It was just a nice moment. It made me feel better about everything.

Did I mention that I really do love this town, and the people in it? I really do.


Mnmom said...

I am right there with you!!! I stayed home during my children's baby and preschool years and wouldn't trade ONE DAY for a granite countertop or a new car.

It IS hard here in that respect - many of my friends are adding on to already large houses, buying nice new vehicles, going on wonderful trips. And here we are, downsizing so we can make a mortgage payment and still have some dough left for clothes and food. I'm driving what feels like the world's oldest minivan. Sometimes I wonder how we failed so miserably to keep up with the Joneses.

But it IS a great town to raise a family. You're right, even though so many folks are affluent we just LOVE our friends and enjoy every minute possible with them. And isn't our downtown just the BEST?!

You'll have to come over and visit sometime and meet a nice educated family without a granite countertop or a custom dining room set.

Shan said...

I would love to. I knew MNMom would be one of the few readers here who would know exactly what I'm talking about. Your comment about wondering how you failed to keep up with the Joneses is right on! I mean, I'm thinking, We've got two postgraduate degrees! We're professionals! What is it that all these other people do for a living, anyway, that affords them such big houses and expensive tastes?

Of course, I should note that not every person I've ever met in this town has a huge house or new car or takes fancy vacations. It just seems like a disproportionate number of families I know fall into that category. And that makes this town an odd place to live, in that way, for me.

Mnmom said...

Shan, I'm actually chuckling. We still have furniture from college! And much of the rest came from my husband's furnished condo in Iowa. Shopping at Kohl's is upscale for us. Nothing in our house "matches" or follows any kind of decorating theme. We've never even owned a headboard!!!!!

I always think the same thing - what in the world do these folks DO that affords them so many luxuries?? And why can't I get a job there???

Rob Hardy said...

When I was stay-at-home fathering full time, I had a very good friend who for some reason couldn't resist making comments like "We paid cash for our new Toyota, but that's what you can do with two incomes." That became a recurring refrain for several years: that's what you can do with two incomes. For a while, it was kind of a spiritual discipline to stay friends with her!:) But Clara's take on it was that she felt guilty that she wasn't home with her kids, and was self-justifying.

Anonymous said...


I read and enjoy your blog from here in Georgia, and can identify with so many of your sentiments, joys, and frustrations on raising young children. Alas, we are not part of the granite countertop set at our house, either! We have a ratty sofa, middle-income jobs in helping professions, and have chosen to live on and with less so we can be with our young girls more. I respect and admire the way you are raising your two, and wish we lived closer so we could have playdates! Sometimes I feel very alone in our parenting values and choices where we live. Your blog lets me know we're not alone. Keep up the great work!

Shan said...

Oh, such a lovely comment from Anonymous in Georgia. (Now I won't know anymore if comments by Anonymous are dear friend V. in Texas or sweet like-minded parent in Georgia!)

Thank you for your comment. It means a lot to me.