Wednesday, April 9, 2014

We Are Wealthy

I was talking to another mom at the playground after school today, and we got on the discussion of what we wanted out of schools - the non-academics that enriched our children's lives. We both agreed that we didn't want to send our kids to schools in the wealthy suburbs. She didn't want her children to be in the pressure-cooker environment - one that makes kids think that the only things that mattered in life were what college you got into and what you did for a living. I agreed with her. We both grew up in the South, and find New England's preoccupation with academic pedigree to be a bit concerning. (Of course, as I look up from my computer, it's BestestHusband's diploma from a school in TX that is larger than my other diplomas combined.)

But my greatest fear of sending my girls to an environment like that is that they'll grow up thinking they're poor. 

If we were to live in a ritzy suburb, we would be in the bottom half of incomes there. We would live in a more modest home than the girls' peers. We would drive an older car, with a less-impressive name. The girls would not have the same electronics as their peers. They would not jaunt off to tropical destinations and tour foreign countries on their Spring breaks. They would not have the same things as their wealthier classmates. And they would likely feel themselves lacking. They would likely conclude that they were unfortunate, and poor. And this is so far from the truth.

Now we are not wealthy by Boston's income standards. There is a great deal of money in this city. And if you know how to spot it, you see it everywhere. (It's not as easy to spot as it was living in Houston. But that's another post for another time.) But Boston provides a poor yard stick for measuring wealth. 

Here's how I know we are wealthy:

  • We're not one payment away from losing the roof over our heads.
  • We don't have to choose between buying food and buying medicine.
  • We don't have to choose between paying our electric bill or our phone bill.
  • When we're cold, we can turn up the heat.
  • When we're hungry, we can buy food.
  • If we lose our mittens, we can buy new ones.
  • When we outgrow snow boots, we can buy bigger ones. 
  • We can afford reliable transportation to get everyone to work and school.
  • We can afford to fill the gas tank, even as gas prices climb.
  • We can afford safe, reliable childcare for our children so we can show up for work every day. 

We may grumble about some of these costs, but it's not really a question of whether or not we can provide what our family needs. We may wish we had a bigger house with an actual garage, but that's a want, not a need. And it's a luxury. Our children don't really know what hunger is. Nor do they really know what it is to be constantly cold. The addition of one extra mouth to feed does not plunge our family into financial insecurity. 

I want my children to grow up knowing that this simple fact of having their basic needs met on a daily basis is a great blessing, and that we are part of the world's most fortunate and wealthy inhabitants. Because, regardless of what they see on TV, and regardless of hearing "we won't buy that, it's too expensive", there is nothing they really need. And that makes them wealthy.

Of course, the next thing they need to grow up understanding is that wealthy people need to help people that aren't. But that's another post for another day...

I pray that you'll recognize your own wealth, and give thanks for it as well.


  1. Thank you for articulating so well one of the many reasons I want to raise my family in the city, Joy! And thanks for the excellent reminder to be grateful.

  2. I agree with you, Joy - it's important to live a life in the real world, not the sheltered rich suburban world in which so much is taken for granted. And even though I didn't have the best schools growing up (not terrible - they were safe, and only a few teachers were really stinkers), I turned out just fine.
    Even knowing that, though, it's hard to see your child have a teacher that just doesn't appreciate their talents and see them bored when they could be learning. A recent conversation about which subjects she likes at school went like this:
    "Do you like reading?"
    "We don't read in class."
    "You don't read in class? Really?"
    "Well, I guess we do read. But not whatever you want. You have to read the books in the bin that you're on. My bin is really easy and I've read all the ones I want to. I wish I was on bin M."
    "So they're too easy?"
    "Yeah. Really easy."
    "Have you told your teacher?"
    "No. Nobody else does, so I don't either."
    Yep, well, I did talk with the teacher about this earlier in the year, and it didn't help then either, so I suppose we'll just wait for next year and hope for better. It's pretty bad when the "reading" part of class is so easy your child doesn't even count it as reading. And don't even talk to me about the email we got about math last week...
    So even though I'm of the opinion that the most important things kids learn in school are the things that aren't on tests (social stuff), it does occasionally try my resolve to have less-than-optimal teaching. At least she still likes school and her teacher is nice, even though some of it is boring! There are worse things than boring...