Then what? Whatcha gonna do... - Workin' It
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Workin' It

"Workin' It" is the blog for working parents who are committed to the frugal lifestyle. This blog addresses some of the issues working families face in keeping their lifestyle frugal, including childcare, work expenses, and the constant trade off between time and cost. The author and her husband, both law school graduates, work full-time; the author has a law firm, and dear husband a property management business. They also have an eight month old. Despite all that we have on our plates, we're still committed to living life frugally.

Then what? Whatcha gonna do...

 When the new wears off and the old shines through?

 This song has been bouncing around in my head for the past two years. Funny, but true. Why would one country song that I was never much into stick with me like that?

Maybe because it's true? For quite a while, Americans have been the "friend" in the song's opening who's never quite satisfied. With two pretty kids and a real nice wife, but still not happy with a pretty nice life. Where does that come from? How can the most materially prosperous people in the world be so deeply unhappy with lives where we are, for the most part, safe, warm, fed, clean, and dry? What were we all so unhappy about that we had to stuff ourselves--literally and figuratively--to avoid facing it?

Could it be life itself? Are we now suffering the hangover from decades of binge drinking crap to blot out the existential fear of creating our own lives?

Once upon a time, from what I'm told, people went through a period of life called "adolescence." And during this "adolescence," they engaged in a process known as "growing up." Part of growing up, according to the ancient myths, was being stupid, shallow, and self-absorbed, and then the other part was confronting life. Dealing with the big questions, figuring out what one most wanted out of life, and setting out on the path for that. It was never an easy process, and indeed, most people continued the process throughout their lives. But they did it.

Now, however, we seem to be stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence. Like teenagers, the only noun we know is "I," and our main verb is "want." We work hard, sure, but so do the teens at McD's. Like teens, we seem to think that our money is all ours to have fun with--the bills are something Mom and Dad will take care of. Budgeting, saving, planning, sacrificing...these are things for the old people (which, sorry guys, is us!). Responsible living means facing that one has responsibilities. Budgeting requires long-term thinking, goal-setting, and prioritizing. It involves facing the simple truth that we can't have everything, that some doors are closed, others are open, and we have to own up to being in charge of which we walk through. 

It's a rough business, this being a grown up. There's a natural regret for roads not taken; there's a natural trepedation for a future unknown. But grown ups deal with it. They don't go out and buy a new TV to quell their anxiety. They don't ignore the credit card bill because they know they've spent too much. They don't let some outside source (often the media) tell them that newer, shinier, faster will soothe them and let them forget all their troubles. No matter how much crap you buy, you're still as old as you were before you went in the store.Your days on this earth are still as limited, and somehow or another, you have to figure out how to make them meaningful. Is that scary? You bet. But--and here's the kicker--that's what grown ups do.

You can't fill an inner hole with outer dirt. Having the coolest iPhone doesn't make confronting your own mortality (and morality) any easier. The cutest Coach bag won't do crap to bring you peace with yourself. Do I have the answers? Heck no. But I'm fairly sure that Madison Avenue and Wall Street don't have 'em, either. Walmart ain't gonna be there when you leave this world, but you sure will be. There's no thing you can buy that will make that an easier trip, but there's a whole lot you can do that just might. It's a tragedy when a teenager is taken from this world because they haven't lived yet; can we say, however old we get, that we've really lived if we've never confronted life as an adult?

It's your life but remember this
There's bound to be some consequences
Sneaking under other fences. 



frugal_fun said:

Hofmama -

This is great post!!  Two thoughts:

First: A true adolescence seems to require a "chip on the shoulder" year or two.  The anger that comes with the new knowledge that even though the world is not fair and will never will be, we still have an obligation to try to make it so.  

I get frustrated at (still adolescent) adults who seem to have no patience for even a mild case of teenage anger.  (I'm talking the sulking and gothic dress, not criminal behavior.)  The teenager is perfectly right in their feelings about the world.  I feel it's part of the process of shedding childhood to learn to deal with those feelings and move on.

Second:  I hope that people don't ever experience the rather disorienting feeling of having grown up past their parents.  Even as I type that statement, I realize how arrogant it is, but I still can't help feeling it.

At 35, I find myself giving advise on handle situations to both my mother and father. (Office politics, getting cars fixed, organizing a household, financial advise)  I'm no longer wondering why I found early adulthood so difficult - it appears I gained skills my parents never had.

On the other side, my MIL, unfortunately almost defines never having left adolescence. There are times when I can't help thinking of her as being 14, rather than 54.  It's sad because all of our relationships have suffered because of her actions.  Sadder still because there is no way for her to have the few things that would truly make her happy.  

Nope, she wants it *all* - live in the place of her choosing (warm, sunny Florida) and yet be close to her grandkids thousands of miles way and be rich and yet retire early/not work and not be "constrained" by the wishes or consideration of her family and yet have warm, loving relationships. (If I had a dime for all the times she's complained to me about what a "burden" her family members are....)

I find can't maintain a healthy mindset around her when so much of my energy is focused on retaining my civility in reaction to her selfish and sometimes extremely short sighted mode of behavior.  After 11 years, she's chosen to not have that much of a relationship with me and it's okay by me. My only real regret is that she's missing out on a wonderful adult son and most of her grandkids lives.  

April 29, 2009 4:06 PM

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About Hofmama

Former family and employment law attorney; currently writer, editor, and stay-at-home mom to two amazing boys.

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