IntrepidWoman's Journey

Keeping Score. . .

Posted on: October 21, 2011

As soon as we leave our parents’ home we begin gathering goods. We desire these ‘things’ for identification and verification. As we mark our territory and increase our belongings and put it out there that we own this, this and this, we feel authenticated. Keeping up with our peers, especially our close friends, is huge. It is a matter of success and keeping score. Some say they are not going to fall into that, so they plan a trip to Europe while friends buy their first house, thus expressing their free spirits as their identity, but once back home, it begins.

There is the right sofa and bedroom suite, the cuisinart and surround-sound. The size of the TV grows with the size of the bed and the mortgage. There is a higher-paid job with more credit available to buy more things to validate one’s life. The family grows and children add to the mix with their bikes and hockey equipment and trumpet lessons and digital necessities. On and on it goes. If you move, it is up. If you shop, it is more expensive. One television becomes several. Gone are the days when one pair of shoes with a back-up pair was sufficient. (Was there ever such a day?)

The journey continues as you raise a family, get a ‘better’ house and car, a trailer and vacation home. The payments keep you on the hamster wheel of life and years whiz by at dizzying speeds. Success is measured by the number of toys and the prices of the vices.

The generation of making do with what you have, saving until you can afford to buy it and taking care of it for a life time is all but gone. It was followed by the ‘why wait’, ‘I want it now’, and ‘it defines me’ generation. The mentality of ‘I want my kids to have more than I had’ continues through generations.  Instant gratification becomes the name of the game.

I am not condemning this. I am just stating this as my perspective. It is neither good nor bad, but it may really be a combination of both. I whole-heartedly bought into instant gratification, and my life has been exciting and a great personal adventure with few regrets.

Undeniably though, it does come to an end. It might be age or a drastic change due to health or income that brings it to a halt. It might be a forced ending due to an economic downturn. When it does come, it is hard at first. It feels like failure and loss of identity. It feels like a wasted life and a sudden, panicky search begins for new validation. It might be an end-of-life realization that you take with you what you brought into this life – absolutely nothing.

Sometimes when it happens unexpectantly, and you try to rationalize your entire life with a positive spin, it is a gut-wrenching experience. Some people who tried so hard to have as many ‘points’ as their peers and who forever failed, continually battled with the ‘not good enough’ image. To them it might be a relief when the count does not matter anymore.

Either way, when it ends, either with a mile-high pile or a scraped together small yard full, it can be a tough passage. Oh, but what a liberating passage it becomes! When the day comes that you must give it all up, the race to have the most toys or the realization that the few toys you have now mean very little, it is an awesome day indeed.

The process is downsizing and consists of getting rid of every single thing you do not use on a regular basis. It can include giving up a mortgage which includes giving up property taxes, insurance, repairs, utilities and regular maintenance. If this passage is a result of the kids having grown and gone, it might mean moving from 2500 square feet to 700 square feet. This could include reducing to one television, no bonus room or need for more than one sofa, music system or vehicle.

I downsized from housing three sons, then upsized to create a cafe with all the furniture and kitchen requirements with a final shift to a tiny condo for one. Everything I have now is for one. If I don’t use it regularly, it is out the door. The small storage room contains art supplies that I hope to use soon. I hang on to these as my hope for retirement pleasures in just under two years. My desires are simple.

The freedom of this is awesome. My job that pays well but is quite stressful is balanced by a serene life after office hours. In my nearly senior years, I do not have teenagers to usher to sports and music lessons after a long day or a fist full of payments to juggle every month. I pay the rent, phone, one utility, buy groceries and spring for a new universal remote for a very old television that faithfully continues to work. A new, expensive TV will not make the shows I watch more entertaining. The fact that I don’t have a credit card on which I am paying for a new TV makes the shows I watch most enjoyable.

If we keep score with ‘things’, I have totally lost the race. All through life, I never could compete because I was a single parent who never quite caught up to the double income families around me.

By my measurements after this recent right of passage (downsizing), I am immensely wealthy. I have the most incredible, complex, loving and intelligent 3 sons. My daughters-in-law are kind and caring and great mothers. My 3 grandchildren are beyond words and fill my heart to overflowing. My car runs and AMA has my back.  The rent is paid, and my job, although stressful, is the most rewarding work I have ever done other than teaching. I work with school groups and create programs for all ages, including seniors, related to art and history. I plan fun birthday parties and take part in town special events and work with a small core of the nicest people. We have each others’ backs in all things work-related.

I go home exhausted at the end of the day and sometimes have to just rest for a full day to recupe. But I go home to a tidy little condo that contains exactly what I need to live a comfortable life. I don’t have games systems, but I do have a library card. I have bookshelves full of books and photos of family and friends. I have a few remembrances of my trip with family to China in 2004 and a second trip with family to France in 2010. I have a horse blanket as a remembrance of Freckles, who fulfilled my childhood dream of one day having a horse. I was able to get him when I was 42 years old and taught myself how to saddle up and ride him from reading books. There were wondrous trips into the forestry and those years were some of my best. My memories of teaching and so many special students and then running a cafe, cooking for Meals On Wheels and then packing up after 31 years to move to my current job – what a great series of adventures.

My markers are my sons and their families. Simple. Nothing else matters when looking back on my life’s accomplishments. And of course, it is not over yet. Each day is welcomed with joy and humble thanksgiving. Each day now is a gift; now that I am thisclose to becoming a senior citizen.

My most important work this week was creating a picture with Miss Laura, age 3 1/2. At her direction, I free-cut an ice cream cone, star, santa hat, pumpkin and cat for her to glue down on paper. Then she added embellishments and put it on the fridge. We also made scarecrows from lunch bags to hang in the window. Afterwards, Michael played the piano ( he is awesome at age 5 10/12) and I clapped with enthusiasm. I came home thinking it could not get better than this and then the phone rang with a reminder that Jack is coming to stay next week. Would I trade all this for a porsche or a summer home in Italy?  Silly question.

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