Like the worst of rubber-neckers passing a twenty car pile up on the interstate, I have watched our nation’s recent economic turmoil with a strange mixture of sorrow, fear and (here comes the strange part) relief. I feel genuine sorrow for those who find themselves without work or facing difficult decisions regarding their homes and futures. Several years ago, Jim and I were the victims of fraud and faced the serious possibility of owing two mortgages that we could not have possibly paid. I was pregnant with Bailey at the time and remember the sense of dread that hung over us at the prospect of being without a home just as we were starting our family. Through the years, we have faced lean times and while I can’t fully know what it is to be without work, I hope I have enough empathy to grieve with those who are grieving now. Though I strongly disagree with his basic philosophical assumptions, one thing I have already learned from President-Elect Barack Obama is that I have not cared for the poor of my country or been shamed by their neglect as I ought to be.
While thinking of others, I also think about myself and my family. What sort of country will my kids be living in? This is a generation of Chuck E. Cheese-goers who, though not living in an affluent home by our national standards, certainly have not known great want. Their idea of going hungry is Mommy saying no to that third pack of fruit snacks and deprivation is having to eat Thanksgiving leftovers four days in a row. How will they respond when called upon to make real sacrifices? As all the things we take so much for granted now become more and more a luxury, how will I respond?
But like I said, while the feelings of distress and concern have certainly dominated my consciousness of late, I have been surprised by feeling of liberation it has brought as well. Perhaps an illustration will help. Toothpaste. Dental hygiene naturally comes to mind whenever one is discussing global economics, right? When I stroll through the aisles of my not-so-local superstore, I am amazed at the number of not only brands but sub-brands of toothpaste. Now I appreciate minty breath and a healthy smile as much as the next gal, but come on. I will not waste your time with an enumeration of them all, but this is an area of our economy that perhaps could use a little trimming. Pre-stock-market-plummeting-face-first-into-the-sidewalk-of-Wall Street I would have felt compelled to stand for a good five minutes, muttering to myself about which brand was best suited to meet our needs. Now? I know exactly which brand is best suited: the cheapest. The same goes with my kids’ clothes. For years now, we have been blessed with a large quantity of hand-me-downs, especially for the boys. I usually relied on these for the basics and threw in some new stuff to make sure they didn’t look too shabby. I have found myself caving to social pressures and double-checking for stains and holes, especially if we were headed anywhere near a GapKids which I personally think is designed to make everyone feel like Raggedy Anns in order to convince you that it really is reasonable to purchase a $30 pair of jeans for a child who will outgrow them the minute you leave the store. Now? I wave to those fashion fascists and their overpriced goods as I stroll past holding the hand of my not so neatly dressed, but nonetheless cool, kid. (Okay, so I sometimes do go in, but only when there is a really big sale and mostly for Maggie, because girl stuff is too fun not to buy.)
If the predictions are true and things are only going to get worse, there will be plenty of opportunities for economizing. But rather than crying in your Starbucks mug over your lost lattes, embrace the freedom of less being more. And remember this, our country’s twenty car pile up still looks a lot better than most. Count your blessings and smile, even if your teeth aren’t super-bright.