downgraded

I’m getting ready to watch the President address the Nation about the current economic climate — the fall out due to the debt ceiling and the Treasury’s downgraded credit rating.  I read this article from yesterday’s New York Times about the possibility of a second recession, and a worse one at that with not much fat to cut anymore.  There is panic on Wall Street.  And though I try not to let too much of the panic set in at home, it is hard not to see the writing on the wall.

Times are tough; money is tight.  We are a blue collar family.  My husband is good at his job, and because of that we are fortunate that he has one. But it is highly influenced by the economic climate.  We have felt the pinch of the past few years on every aspect of our life.  Bills have gone up, paychecks have gone down.  We pray, and we trust, and we continue to live and act in faith.  It is now more than ever that I have felt the crush of the values that I hold in my heart, and how that matches up with the way we live our lives.  Of course we would be the first proclaim that stuff is just stuff, that material wealth doesn’t mean anything.  But what does that look like?  Is it wrong to grieve the loss of stuff?

I grew up in a professional family.  I would not have called myself spoiled, ever, but I did not know the stress of economic hardship.  I’ve watched, even now as times have changed, priorities shifted, as my father, a diligent and hard worker always, struggles with his business as a doctor in the 21st century.  This was a struggle that did not exist when I was a kid.  During one slower summer, I remember complaining to my mom about getting plain ol’ nuggets and fries at McDonald’s instead of the happy meal, saying that I couldn’t wait until we weren’t poor anymore.  (I realize this makes me sound like a brat.  Lesson learned).  We took vacations, on airplanes to far away places.  My sister and I always had opportunities to takes lessons — violin, piano, tennis, horseback riding — play sports, go on field trips, etc.  Of course I was told “no” plenty of times.  In 4th grade I got an American Girl doll for Christmas and it was my proof that there was a Santa Claus (too old?  hmm…)  because I knew that these dolls were expensive.  All of my begging had only brought strengthened the answer “no.”

These memories, these experiences, good or bad, shape who I am today.  My parents never intrinsically put value on these things, and a lot of it wasn’t even stuff, it was opportunity.  But in having access to these things, I, in turn, learned to value them.  And many of these are opportunities my kids will not have.  We will not be taking fancy vacations.  My kids will most likely always have to share bedrooms.  We will not be wearing designer fashion, or have the most up-to-date technology.  And this is OK.  In fact, this is good.  While I do not think I was spoiled when I was growing up, I did not know this struggle.  I did not know the faith and trust.  I did not know the blessings of small things.

Sometimes I struggle with the guilt that I can’t give my children all of the things that were given to me.  After all, we are the first generation to not out succeed our parents.  We were taught to strive for more, for better, for bigger.  What if the lesson that my husband and I are learning, the one that we are teaching our kids, is that more, better, bigger doesn’t make for happier, wiser, more content or blessed families?  What if we allow God into these shortcomings, His kingdom into the places we are lacking?  Is that just crazy-talk?  What does that even look like?  

For now, I know that it is shopping thrift stores and consignment sales.  It is refinishing old pieces of furniture, giving new life to old stories.  It’s learning how to camp out in a tent as a family, cooking hot dogs and making s’mores as vacation treats.  It is simplifying — clearing the clutter to see the things of value, and to treasure all with which we are blessed.  It is teaching the value of family, of creativity, of simple joys and blessings, of faith and trust.  I said to my husband the other day that I would be happy to live with my family, all four and a half of us (and the dog, too), in a cardboard box.  And I’m almost believing it.

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4 thoughts on “downgraded

  1. “What if we allow God into these shortcomings, His kingdom into the places we are lacking?”

    Been thinking about that line all day… a rough day at our home. Thank you for the good, honest stuff.

  2. What an amazingly thoughtful essay – the journey you took in such a small space from your opening thoughts to your final and powerful closing paragraphs.

    There is such mystery involved in knowing what the most important lessons might be for parents to try to teach their children, and I suspect that we all get big chunks of it wrong. “We were taught to strive for more, for better, for bigger.” On behalf of my generation, I’d like to apologize for this message, insofar as it conveyed the idea of more, better and bigger material lives. On the other hand, I am witnessing ways in which my adult children and others in your generation are engaged in a variation on these themes – seeking MORE ways in which to have meaning in their lives and BETTER ways to live in harmony with the environment. So many of them are not striving for bigger houses or bigger toys, but they do seem interested in enlarging their experiences in the world, and NOT by traveling to new resorts in exotic places, but by doing the things you mention – learning to camp as a family instead of putting hotel stays on credit cards, expanding their ability to cook with seasonal produce, composting, using the local library, shopping at thrift stores (which amounts to smart recycling!), etc. You’re right: your kids will NOT have the same opportunities you had growing up; they will have different ones that you will help to orchestrate as your parents orchestrated experiences for you. Maybe what matters is that parents – wherever they are in historical time and on the economic ladder – use what they have, share what they have, with their children. Maybe each generation of parent helps to redefine what makes life good for their children. I notice that my grandchildren are sharing in some of the same kind of fun that my children had growing up: home-made play dough and popsicles, water play in the backyard, bedtime stories, etc. But I am also charmed and intrigued by the experiences they are having that I never offered to my own children: tending a vegetable garden or homeschooling or camping, Sometimes seeing what they are doing makes me wish I could get a do-over with my kids.

    There’s one big thing I want to note: YOUR kids are blessed to have the parents they have. Struggling or not, you are creating a rich environment. To my mind, today your children are wealthy beyond measure. I know that doesn’t get you a trip to Disneyworld; it’s WAY better than that (even if that’s hard to remember on any given day).

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