August 11

Too Much!

If there are two words that could describe the United States today, they are “too much.” Too much food, too much fat, too much stuff, too much money, too much expense, too much need, too much to do, too much worry. We are an extreme nation; everything we have, everything we do is to excess. Our rich are excessively rich; and I would venture to say our poor feel their poverty more than the poor in other nations because here they see the excess all around them. And what about the people in the middle? Well, our family income qualifying us a middle-class, I’ll serve as representative of that demographic.

We certainly have too much stuff. My husband and I recently inherited an antique sideboard, so I was cleaning out our linen cabinet to make way for it. Amongst my things, I found a lovely tablecloth I didn’t even know I owned! As a PC technician at a local company, my husband gets to bring home outdated computer equipment that has been sent to the “graveyard” in his department. At one point, we had more computers in our house than we had people living in it. I made him start giving them away. Last night, my son fell asleep on our couch, and I picked him up to put him in his own bed. I had to pick my way through the minefield that is his bedroom floor, strewn with a ridiculous number of toys.

Right now, we are also dealing with too much expense. We just found out our health insurance (don’t get me started – that’ll have to be a whole ‘nother blog entry!) is no longer going to cover the Nexium my husband takes for gastroesophageal reflux. As of next month, it will cost us about $160 a month. So he’ll have to go back to the doctor (more money) and try a bunch of new medications (more money) until he can find one that works and is covered by insurance. Gas prices are killing us too. I keep hearing in the local news that the high gas prices aren’t changing the way most Hoosiers drive (“Hoosiers Stomach $3 Gas,” Indianapolis Star, 7/7/06), but they sure have affected our family. I try to get all my errands done in one trip and minimize the number of places I have to go.

And speaking of errands brings me to too much to do. We were looking at our calendar for the rest of this month. It’s alarming. We have dentist appointments, doctor appointments, family birthday dinners, a college reunion, and swim lessons. My son is starting kindergarten on the 16th, so we have to add school and an open house and a teacher conference to the mix. And my university starts the fall semester on the 23rd, so I have syllabi and lesson plans to prepare, organizational workshops and seminars to attend. My husband and his best friend were hoping to go biking one weekend this month, but there is not a single weekend without at least one event already planned.

Which brings us to our “too much need.” We need time. Time to relax, time to think, time to plan, time to be a family. If we had enough time, maybe we could look around and identify the stuff we have too much of and give it to people who need it. (I have a box of old toys and a case of diapers that I’ve been meaning to donate to the church homeless shelter for a month now.) We need sleep! We’ve been blessed with two children who are champion sleepers, but unfortunately, my hubby and I worry too much which keeps us from sleeping enough.

We’re having a garage sale next week. It’s another event we have to prepare for and set time aside for, but it’ll help us get rid of some of the stuff we have too much of and maybe raise a little money to get us some of the stuff we require. Isn’t it funny that in a country with too much of everything, we rarely have enough of the things we need? Maybe that’s why we have too much worry.

August 10

The Best Husband in the World

I’m so sick of nagging my husband. I have been after him for months. I really don’t know how many times I have to beg and plead and wheedle and cajole before he will finally do what I’ve been asking him to do – take a break from the family and go biking with his best friend.

It is amazing when I think about it. When I met my husband, I was a jaded 24-year-old looking for a good time. He was a heavy metal fan, guitar player, chain-smoking truck driver. I had no idea that we’d fall in love, get married and have kids. I didn’t ask him to explain his philosophies on marriage and parenthood when we started dating. I had no clue what I would want or need from the father of my children, so there was no way for me to find out if he would be the right guy for me and our future offspring. It was pure luck.

And what luck it was. Now don’t get me wrong; we’ve had our rough patches. Like any couple, we have periods when we’re “out of sync.” But all I have to do is read the paper, watch the news, or spend time with other couples to realize what a prize I lucked into.

Last night, for example, we were at a party. Around 9:00, they started a card tournament. Because our two kids were present, my husband declined to play but insisted on my playing. He chased our rambunctious 5-year-old and held our sleepy 1-year-old FOR 3 HOURS while I played cards. I watched the other fathers of little children saunter around, kid-free, drinking beer, talking about their guys’ nights (or weekends) out, showing off their latest toys. I felt so sorry for my husband, walking our 20-pound baby to sleep while his wife enjoyed herself; I kept trying to trade places with him, but he wouldn’t do it. He was ridiculously proud of what he was doing, determined to be different. Somehow, while the rest of the men his age are desperately trying to maintain the freedom and selfishness of their bachelorhood, my man discovered that basking in the responsibility and sacrifice of father/husbandhood has its own rewards.

So he doesn’t spend money on “big boy toys,” and he doesn’t ditch his family every other weekend to go out with his buddies. But he does have two children who are quite sure he hung the moon and would do absolutely anything for him. And he has a mother-in-law who constantly sings his praises to anyone who’ll listen. And his wife’s girlfriends all think he’s some kind of saint. And I’d be willing to bet that he was the only dad at that party who got lucky last night. (Can you blame me? I mean, what could be sexier than a guy who would do anything for his wife and kids?!)

Right now he’s downstairs doing the dishes. I didn’t ask him to. But I am going to ask him again about that biking trip. Nag, nag, nag.

August 10

The Management of Stuff

It occurred to me today that life in 21st century America is pretty much centered on the management of stuff. Today, for example, my mother called me at work and asked me to stop by her house on my way home to pick up a couple things she had bought for me. I gratefully obliged and put the stuff she had bought me into my van. When I arrived at my house, I found my children’s stuff everywhere; my son and I spent half an hour just trying to get most of the stuff off the floor and into its proper room. Then I had to go to one of those “parties” where women try to sell more stuff to their friends. Since I had some stuff that belonged to one of my friends who was going to be there, I put her stuff in my van and took it to the party to give it back to her. Ironically, she had some stuff of mine that I’d left at her house, so we exchanged our stuff before we bought some more stuff from our hostess. When I finally got home at 9:30, my van was full of stuff – the stuff my mother had given me, the stuff my friend had brought back to me, the stuff I’d bought at the party, not to mention the stuff I’d brought home from work.

I’m really sick of stuff – spending money to buy it, finding a place to put it, putting it back in its place when it gets moved, looking for it when it gets lost, cleaning it and fixing it and finally getting rid of it when it’s beyond repair or obsolete. Sometimes I wish a tornado would hit our house (when we’re not in it, of course!) and suck up all our stuff like a gigantic vacuum cleaner so we could just start over with a clean slate. I’m sure people who have actually been hit by tornados would disagree, but it sounds lovely to me.

In the midst of acquiring, exchanging, and moving all that stuff, I began to wonder if it has always been this way everywhere. Did cavemen in ancient Africa have to manage stuff all the time? Did peasants in medieval Europe have to manage their stuff? Did pioneers in the American West? Surely those folks didn’t have as much stuff as we do now in these United States. Mass production hadn’t been invented yet, and the culture of consumerism was not yet cultivated. Still, our ancestors spent a lot of their time worrying about stuff too, I suspect. The cavemen needed to get materials to make tools and weapons to kill animals for food and clothing. The peasants had to work so they could trade for shelter, clothes, and food. The pioneers had to tned their farms so they could sell their produce and livestock so they could buy the things they needed to survive.

So I guess it’s not a new phenomenon – it’s just grown exponentially in the last hundred years. Plus, we have so much stuff we don’t need nowadays. Our ancestors’ main concern was the stuff of survival. Our great-grandparents probably had one-tenth as many clothes as we have. They had just enough dishes to serve the family; just enough linens to get by. Many families had just one car. No computers with all the peripherals; no DVD players with a collection of 100 DVD’s; no cell phones, iPods, or digital cameras like the ones littering my family room. I’m sure most children didn’t have the kind of cripplingly huge toy collections mine have today.

Is there a way out? I really don’t see one at the moment. Personally, I make it a point not to buy anything unless I know exactly what I need it for and where I’m going to put it, but I still wind up with ridiculous amounts of stuff! If I don’t buy it, people give it to us. At my son’s hairdresser today, they gave him a balloon, a cookie cutter and a sucker. His doctor gave him three stickers last week. He got another plastic toy in his fast food kid’s meal yesterday. I suppose it’s just an unfortunate side effect of living in such a prosperous society. I guess I could wish the country’s economy would collapse, but that would be like my tornado wish – short-sighted and selfish. Still I look forward to a day when I won’t spend most of my day dealing with stuff.