Why is it so hard to just be content with everything we have—particularly things we have worked so hard to get? This can be double-true with families and their lifestyles, and it’s something many of us have to put in a lot of effort to counteract.
I want the ocean right now
I get so jealous that I can’t even work
There I am in the morning
I don’t like what I see
I don’t know how it’s become such a problem
Tegan and Sara, “So Jealous”
How do you teach a child not to be jealous?
Teach them how to be content, maybe. That sounds reasonable. But how do you teach a child to be content with what they have, if you yourself are not content with what you have? My mom used to call “wanting something we couldn’t have” getting a case of “the iwantsies” and sometimes I feel like I have a bad, bad case. It’s the thing I struggle with most right now.
Take our neighborhood for example. We’re in a good school zone, I haven’t heard a gunshot in months, and best of all, I’m living in RVA again after spending a year elsewhere in the state, then realizing I missed home too much. I got what I wanted. How could I get green-eyed about anything in this dream situation? Easily, apparently. For one, I like to joke that we’re the riffraff in the neighborhood–while we live in a great school zone, tons of cars that line my street bear the daisies and fleur de lis of St. Catherine’s and Christopher’s. I wish I could send my kiddo to study in those hallowed halls, but I believe it’s no coincidence that “lols” rhymes with my last sentence, because private school is that far out of my budget.
Then there are the houses. Patrick and I walk around our neighborhood a lot and pretend to “pick” houses like it’s a bountiful buffet, a house harvest ripe for the plucking. “I guess I could live there,” we might say, pointing out a house with a large pool and bright floaties bobbing in the sun, as though if we were forced at gunpoint to move in we would do so. But only under duress, rest assured. But over time I’ve found myself saying direct things like “I wish we lived there,” or “I want that picket fence with wisteria.” Somehow, it fades from “I like that” to “I wish I had that”–a small difference, but a problematic one. Suddenly it’s no longer a preference, it’s a small pang of jealousy.
Or there are the children. I am jealous of those who can decide to have a child, and it happens. Or at least, it happens without having to go all O. Henry, selling the home you bought to raise a family in, in order to make the family. And I know, I know–other people have their own hurdles to face. I know. I cringe thinking envious thoughts, and I cringe more typing them out here, raw and bare, because it’s envy and self-pity and just. plain. UGLY.
But I guess that’s why they call it the Green-Eyed Monster and not the Green-Eyed Unicorn. It is all so very ugly, discontentment. It’s like putting a heavy set of blinders on. When I focus so hard on the things and experiences we can’t have right now, I’m blinding myself to a phrase someone said to us a few weeks ago: “You’re so lucky.”
But at first when I heard it, I wanted to kind of laugh and be like, yeah, super lucky to have gone through a bunch of unholy hell to get here, rumpled and a bit worse for wear. But. We are so lucky. Holy guacamole, are we ever lucky. I have to pause now and then to remember that time and time again. We got to swap a dumb house, a THING, a THING with a leaky ROOF that was AWFUL…for a daughter. A leaky brick thing for a red-haired squeaking chubby-footed child, how marvelous a trade! Things are just things, and the last thing I want to teach my daughter is to go through this world looking at everyone else’s lawn, looking for the greenest patch, just to bemoan the fact that it isn’t hers.
So I’m trying to reframe my wants and envies. It is hard, but I am trying. We still take our walks around the neighborhood, but I’m trying to focus on things I like, and hope for the future. “This school has the BEST playground!” I’ll say aloud, reminding myself how awesome it is, and way more walkable than the further private school I’d love to send her to. “When we have a house, let’s have a fence like that” I might say. Or, “When we have a house, let’s have topiaries. Then we’ll know we made it.”
It’s not a huge change, but I think reframing the conversation not as “I want that” but rather “Let’s plan to do that,” is a small mental tweak that makes it less “This person has what I waaaaaant” and more “Hey, that’s really cute, we’ll do that too!” Not all changes have to be monumental. I can acknowledge Nice Things (like topiaries) without having it become “Why can’t I have a topiary?” I have a choice between either feeling gloomy about not living the way I’d like to, or I can go into pep-talk mode. I’d prefer to go pep-talk mode. And hey, we got lucky once–luck could happen again. Maybe instead of hoping to be as lucky as other folks, I should hope to be as lucky as myself.
Photo by: Taz etc.