Sunday, October 10, 2010

Affluenza


"Are we poor, Mom?" Molly asked.

I wondered how a girl, riding in a spacious, year old car, fresh off of a not inexpensive weekend soccer tournament, could imagine we were poor.

True, there has been talk about "cutting back" at the See household of late. Gone are the landscape guys, the once a week Asian food, pool membership and other luxuries. I'm clipping coupons. Our much-touted trip to Europe was replaced by free vouchers for a day at a local amusement park, and there won't be replacement windows in our near future, unless you mean replacing the duct-taped cardboard that covers one pane with a fresh piece.

But POOR? Oh my goodness. You would think that with our big project this year, to build 2 wells in developing nations, Molly would understand that we have it much, much better than the rest of the world. And I think she does. But, like me, she frequently, and not very flatteringly, swings back and forth between gratefulness and covetous.

We live in an expensive, affluent region. Many people in our area have been affected by the economic downturn, but the cars on the roads scream luxury, the houses are enormous, and people wait for an hour to get a table at our over-priced chain restaurants.

After leaving a lovely party in a beautiful home yesterday, Molly said, "Mom, when I see a house like that, it makes me think ours is small and junky." Instead of launching into my spiel about consumerism and the need to have our priorities straight, I replied, "I know. I feel the same way."

She and I had been having a major mind-meld in that moment, yet was brave enough to express what we both were thinking. You see, before we'd even put our seat belts on, I had mentally moved our family into that lovely house and pictured myself sitting on the back porch surveying the estate, not a care in the world.

Why is it that we know we have enough, and are grateful for it, but when MORE MORE MORE is in our face we feel somehow diminished, grasping, dissatisfied?

I found myself getting grumpy about the same issue earlier this weekend, and I've had 41 years to Molly's 9 to realize that, "the most important things in life aren't things." I pondered how I was always in the top of my class yet I've spent the better part of my adult life unemployed or underemployed in part-time gigs. This was by choice, but I've started to wonder if it was the best choice. I worry if I'll be employable in the future.

Could be that hearing a guy I went to middle school with has a full-sized basketball court IN his house colored my thinking a tad green.

Today I pulled up to my favorite thrift store on 50% off day (thanks, Christopher Columbus!). After circling the jammed parking lot for 25 minutes, I gave up and went home. Not only did I have a chance to remind myself that I wanted, but did not need, more THINGS, the crowds of people there, many of whom had taken the bus or walked long distances to get there, made me realize that I have much to be grateful for.

And if I ever forget to be grateful, I am poor indeed.

12 comments:

Nichole@40daysof said...

Anna,
It's so funny that you wrote about this topic today. I have been reading a lot of Dr. Thomas Stanley's blog this morning. He is an author of lots of books. The most recent that I have read is "Stop Acting Rich".

He has lots of great stuff on his site, including the stats to show that we Americans are not as "rich" as our houses and cars make us appear. Obviously, he's not using the presence of clean drinking water as a measure. And we are definitely rich when it comes to having our basic neccesities met at least in most places in our country.
But we are not "money in the bank" rich.

I don't know at what point a child is able to understand these things. But it's very possible that your family is wealthier (in the monetary sense) than the people whose home you love or the basketball court guy.

I always wonder how many people in my neighborhood hate to open their mail. :)

Jill said...

Anna - your last line really got me. And now I'm tearing up. Such an amazing post, and oh so true!

My daughter asked a very similar question the other day, but instead of asking if we were poor, she asked if we were rich.

"Of course we're rich," was my reply.

Rich with love for our family, for our friends, for our lives.

But I understand how easy it is to forget that having things does not necessarily make a man rich, but rather it makes a man just have more things...

I look forward to living near you - you're a wise woman!

Christy said...

I teared up too Anna! Fiona doesn't know what to think when our cleaning ladies show up on occasion...and I have a hard time telling her who they are. I end up saying they're our friends who come over to help us clean, and how fortunate we are that they do. But I feel so silly and I wonder what they think if they overhear me. I wish I lived back home so I could come over and hang out! You know, in all our free time...

K A B L O O E Y said...

Man, are you ever terrific at this blog thing. Another eminently readable post that sneaks up on you with a wallop at the end. Spot-on truth. Great job.

Lynn from For Love or Funny said...

I've been struggling with the same envy. My daughter switched schools and she's been invited to a couple of houses that seem like castles compared to our dwelling. I kept thinking, "what are we doing wrong?" But then again, I'd much rather stay at home than work 60 hours a week just to pay a mortgage.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful title, thougtful words. Thank you, Anna.

jbhat

Amanda @ Roses & Moonlight said...

Thank You! I am constantly feeling this way, and I forget to remind myself how lucky I am.

My boyfriend's brother & his wife have the most beautiful old-but-fully restored century home on 80 acres, which they purchased while in their mid-20s fresh after getting married. They have 3 brand-new vehicles, a restored classic car, and some ATVs. Their kids (and them) are constantly dressed in name brands. They have barely any debt. They are the nicest, most down-to-earth people I have ever met, but have been very blessed and have worked very hard for what they have.

We are the same ages they were when they married, but we are not married, drive nice but used vehicles, live in a modest house, watch every dollar we spend, and have very little debt. I don't think we're anywhere near poor, but everytime we come home from their house, I find myself hating our house, hating our cars, hating my wardrobe.

Thank you for reminding me to be thankful for what I have and that just because I don't have everything I desire, I have everything I need in life.

Chris said...

I hear every single word of this post. I like how you normalized your daughters thoughts. I've done the same with my sons, then we talk about how things are just that... things. And how lucky are we that we have a happy [well, most of the time] family. Wonderful post!

Kate Coveny Hood said...

This describes everything about my general attitude - completely bipolar: I want so much - I have so much - I want so much - I have so much. Hopefully we'll always end with "I have so much"

Beautifully written.

Heidi said...

Gorgeous. And true. And what Kate said...this is beautifully written.

Juli said...

I am also at a mid-life reckonning, and I am sort of wondering if I made the right choices. Yes, how was it that I was at the top of my class, and I have spent so much of my life under- or unemployed?

Megan said...

Great post. I'm amazed that you were honest with your daughter. I spend much of the time telling my kids how they should be feeling rather than how I really feel.
The funny thing is that I grew up in a very affluent area and never once felt like I didn't have enough. It's only as an adult that I feel inadequate. Maybe because I know I can control it now and always feel like I'm not doing enough. Anyway, that was awesome of you to fess up to your true feelings.