January 30, 2004
Someone who knows me outside the confines of the online world remarked that my last entry, with its mention of my new car and my new cleaning lady and a year ago link to a ski trip, made me sound “rich and spoiled”. Lord. Is that how I come across? Is that who I’ve become?
I certainly don’t think of myself as rich. (Not many people do according to this article). I recognize that I’m in better financial shape than many people, thanks to luck and circumstance and making a few good choices along the way, including hooking up with a guy who’s fiscally responsible, but rich? No way. The stereotypical rich person in my head drives an expensive car, maybe an oversized SUV, and lives in a big house and buys her designer clothes at high-end stores and votes Republican and maybe has a house in Aspen that she doesn’t even rent out when she’s not there. That’s not me. I bought a Focus. A new one, true, with plenty of options (Did you know that heated seats can make you think that you’ve had a major feminine hygiene product failure when you first feel that warm glow radiating up, even if you no longer have a uterus? Neither did I until we got this car.), but it’s still pretty basic transportation. Our other vehicles are a ten year old car and a small truck that’s actually used regularly in rugged situations (not by me, but still). We have only one house, a perfectly typical subdivision colonial built long before McMansions began to dot the landscape. I get most of my clothes on sale at Kohl’s or REI or from catalogs like Lands’ End. I got my ballot to vote online in Michigan’s 2004 Democratic Presidential Caucus in the mail weeks ago. I can’t be rich.
Yet, I am the rich person in someone else’s head– my own, three decades ago, when our single-parent family qualified for food stamps and we were on the waiting list for low-income housing (our name never came up; my Mom jokingly hopes they’ll call one day so she can say “no thanks, I’ve paid off the mortgage on my own house now”). To the girl I was, having a house and three vehicles and enough money to invest for retirement as well as take a vacation, much less more than one, every year, well, that was rich. That was something to dream about. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that I’m living that dream now.
It’s definitely hard to believe I’m spoiled. The person who inspired this entry said it was the cleaning lady that really put me over the top. See, that’s one of the things I was afraid of, that taking that step would make me into another kind of person, the kind who finds menial chores beneath her and believes the world owes her pampering. Damn. I don’t want to be that person. I just want to not live in a constant state of messiness. Yes, I can afford $85 dollars every other week to have someone clean my house. I like to think that I’m still the same person with the same values as I was before I spent that money; just now I have a clean bathtub.
But maybe I was spoiled before Maria came. Maybe she’s just an outward sign of my inner brat. I don’t know. How can someone tell if they’re spoiled? Should I start denying myself things to see if I throw a tantrum when I don’t get what I want? Or is that just the stupidest idea I’ve had all day? I already don’t get a lot of things I want, and life goes on just fine.
It’s hard for me to sort this out. I don’t want to accept the labels “rich” and “spoiled” because I can’t reconcile them with the person I strive to be. I struggle with whether I’m doing enough good in the world with the resources I’ve been given. Making charitable contributions to worthy organizations and helping out friends and the occasional stranger when they ask doesn’t seem like enough. I don’t know would feel like enough.
A little more than a year ago, I seemed more comfortable with how I was living. I just realized now that I later read the book which has the quote that inspired that entry. And to think I pride myself on my attention to detail.