Whenever I go back home to visit my parents my own life is thrown in some interesting contrasts. My parents live in Northern California, in a place where I could not even come close to being able to afford to live. But I love it here. Every time I come back here I want to move here. But then I forget that there are good things about where I live, too, and my mom is always thinking about moving out where I live. So really, vacations aren't a good way to judge a place and one's willingness to settle somewhere.
But there is one thing that is so much nicer where I grew up. It's really hard to explain exactly. But it involves materialism and expectations and conformity and things like that. Out here, I would never be questioned if I just wanted to rent the rest of my life, if wallpaper happened to be hanging from my ceiling in spots, if my car has a rusty bumper and a few patches of missing paint. My kids would not be looked at closely because they've got faded jeans and a loved T-shirt on, and hand-me-down tennis shoes instead of being dressed in a spanking-new, radiantly colored outfit complete with cute little clippy bought online to adorn their shining, professionally-cut hair.
There is a difference in expectation in Utah Valley. Let me just say it.
And for the most part I don't mind at all. My kids wear perfectly good clothes that others are done with... and I'll just say for the most part, they're being passed on because people have kids who have grown up, not simply because they're throwing them away. But I also know that there are very few families in what I consider to be my "class" (medium-low level income, but doable, young family) who would accept hand-me-downs unless they looked spanking brand new. ANd there are a lot of those around, too. People in Utah Valley buy a lot (it seems) and end up with too much and so end up throwing or giving a lot of amazing stuff away.
Am I weird because i accept every offer that comes my way? Does that make me somehow less of a mom? Does it throw me into the "needy Family," category? ANd for that matter, is this what people assume about us, because instead of having stretched our budget to buy a house, we're renting, and waiting for the right situation to come along?
I think I am happy about the lifestyle I lead. I have been blessed with so many miracles. And they literally seem to show up on my doorstep just as I need them. Skywalker and I were looking for a place to live three years ago, and our prayers were to the effect that we'd find a place that would serve our family's needs and also allow us to save the money we'd need to pay in cash for our adoption and not go into debt. And then Anna's house became available, for what let's just say is an amazing rate, unbelievable actually. If you knew what we paid in rent, you'd be shocked, even after you saw the wallpaper falling off our walls in places and the 70's era carpet and the 40's era interior decorating and the bathroom tiles falling off our walls and the rotted wall behind our sink.
It's doable. It's comfortable. It's clean. It's warm, it's not dangerous... for my family, it's perfect. And as we continue to live here our new goal is to save up a downpayment on a house, a blessing we're grateful to be able to plan for.
When we added two new kids to our family, we realized our old car would not do anymore. It was perfectly fine (12 years old, a bit of a gas-guzzler but ran just fine, some scratches on the sides from my harrowing parking experiences living in a condo community) except that it had one less seat than we needed.
My father-in-law offered to sell us their old van (14 years old, but in better condition than our old car, even, because he is such a meticulous maintainer of his vehicles.) Sure it's an old van. It's got a rust spot on the back bumper. It's a bit dingy on the inside and outside. But it has seven seats. And we could more than adequately afford the price (300 dollars). It was another blessing from Heavenly Father, and another miraculous answer to prayer-- that he bring us something that is reliable, that can carry our family around and that we could afford without any debt. And He did.
When we brought our girls home, I quickly realized I needed to bascially double the amount of clohes I had. I was thinking in my head, if I do this at DI and other thrift stores, I can keep it under 300, maybe. And then a ward member said she'd been praying about something she could do to help our family in the wake of our adoption and thought of the clothes she had stored in the basement. She asked me what sizes I might have use for, I told her and she said those were the sizes she had. Two days later I had four boxes full of clothes and I had more than enough for my girls. I even went through and put some of them in a box to give away, myself.
Another blessing, to a prayer not even offered, this time.
I sometimes wonder, existing in the pressure and social expectation that is Utah Valley, if people look at me and wonder what I'm doing. I'm renting. I drive what they probably see as a crud car on its last legs (But in reality...we could drive it another 100,000 miles if we take good care of it, at least according to the guy who inspected it when we got home). I dress my kids sometimes in cute but slightly faded clothes, in jeans that are a little worn at the knees, in shoes sometimes just a tad too big and coats that are too large but still warm (they can wear them next year, too!) and I wonder if people think I'm somehow a bad mom because I've accepted all these blessings and the opportunity to stay out of debt, live within my means, and save up for the blessings of the future.
We could easily afford a car payment. Buying a house right now is not outside of our reach if we followed certain options and opportunities. And I could buy all their clothes new... we do have the money.
Does that mean we SHOULD spend the money? It feels sometimes like some people think we should.
That is the thing I dread coming back to.
I feel like so many couples get married and decide that in order to have a kid, they need a 3 bedroom house and an almost new SUV (the new minivan), tons of designer baby clothes and other things like that in order to be a responsible family. And it's odd to be around. It's not the way I grew up. I'm not saying it's an evil phenomenon... it's just not anything like what I value at all, and I feel sometimes like people think I'm wierd or wrong or irresponsible to be the way I am.
And yet... these were all blessings. If Heavenly Father thinks it's good enough for my family, isn't it OK that I think it's good enough?
In the aftermath of Christmas (I handmade most of my girls' gifts, and the rest were hand-me-downs that were almost brand new, and I'm very grateful for the family who thought to offer to us before taking it to DI) I'm thinking about this with an extra measure of poignancy. My kids seem happy. I'm Happy. I feel like Heavenly Father is helping us meet our goals.
So maybe it's OK, after all, that I don't have a single thing to my name that I could sell for any significant amount of money... not a single thing. And that somehow in spite of that, life is good.