hammer time

We all know that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

But parents also know that when all you're missing is the hammer, everything around you becomes a nail. A rusty, tetanus-riddled nail, covered in microscopic spider eggs and hepatitis.

In my family's case, the hammer we are missing is wealth. The kind of wealth that can, in fact, buy happiness - in the form of linen sheets, personal trainers, meal delivery services, professional weekly house cleaners, and all the out-of-season raspberries my children can eat.

We are not poor. But we feel poor.

And it took Chicken asking me, one day, if we were poor, to get me thinking about why we feel like we're barely hanging on when in reality, when my children ask for water I ask them if they want still or sparkling. In reality, we are so comfortably taken care of I can barely stand to type these words on my Mac while wearing my North Face fleece after eating a Whole Foods detox salad shaker for lunch (it was fine. Someone went a little nuts with the dried cranberries, but whatever, it was fine).


ALL of our needs are met.

Except one.

No matter how much money we make or how much stuff we have, we cannot meet one need: our need to meet all our wants.

For nearly everyone I know, the word "need" has clocked in on the "So Overused It's Meaningless Word Chart" right between "awesome" and "literally."

See a pair of boots with amazing rubbed bronze harnesses around the ankle? I need those.

Hard day at work? You need a drink, a cake, and a babysitter tonight.

The truth is that we have not needed anything (except emergency health care when we fall off cliffs RYAN) for a very, very long time. We want for nothing.

Some of us want for nothing in enormous, beautiful, professionally decorated and cleaned homes.
Some of us want for nothing in crowded, cluttered rentals. All of us feel the pinch; none of us know hunger.
All of us experience moments of gratitude for our needlessness.
All of us experience moments of petulance, too.

But it's like we have two scales of human need in our minds - one that we use when watching Frontline, and one that we use when going to the store to shop for Friendsgiving.

Frontline Need Scale: I do not have to wake up tomorrow morning and walk until I sleep again. Nobody is trying to murder me.

Friendsgiving Need Scale: This baguette is too doughy. Ugh, we'll have to go to the French bakery tomorrow and get one fresh.

Frontline Need Scale: I can drink fresh water from the tap. Anytime.

Friendsgiving Need Scale: Excuse me, where are the local artisanal cured meats? This capicola was made in New Jersey. I mean, I can practically taste the fossil fuels.

Our Frontline Need Scale is the one we use as human animals, and it is comprised of the biological needs that must be met for the maintenance of our actual lives: safety, food, water, shelter. We are always, ALWAYS grateful when we think on this scale.

The Friendsgiving Need Scale is the one we use as human beings, and it is comprised of the emotional and social needs that must be met for the maintenance of the lives we want: enjoyment, delight, convenience, pleasure, the luxury of making consumer choices based on our values, and social currency.

If my children needed food, I would crawl under my house and catch rats for them to eat.

However, I refuse to buy Oscar Meyer sliced turkey for them because... ew.

We do not struggle to make ends meet.

We struggle to tie those ends in a bow.

But we feel poor because it feels like we're the only ones sweating it.

It feels like everyone we meet, see, and know is La-HOADED. 

We live in Western Washington, where, as in Alaska, human beings are outnumbered 2 to 1, except instead of Caribou, we have Land Rovers.

There's lots of money here, and it doesn't even have the decency to stay in the grandparents' generation where "lots of money" belongs. Our peers make lots of money, and they rightfully enjoy that money with comfortable homes and cars, exciting vacations, generous sponsorship of worthy causes, and sumptuous leather goods. I'm happy for them. I want success for them and I don't think they should apologize for it. I think our friends should absolutely use their money in whatever way brings them the most joy. Seriously, guys, max the joyometer.

I wish I could say that I don't care about having the least nice house of all our friends. I care.

I wish I could say that when Chicken and Buster fly off the handle while friends are over, it didn't plant a climbing vine of anxiety in my belly. It does. We are the poor, crazy family. Or worse, we are the middling, crazy family, who cares so much about money that we let it get in the way of our friendships.

Sometimes I go out to dinner with friends and feel like I've gotta dress extra funky to make it seem like my consignment store dress is a choice rooted in my earthy rad style, and not in my economic reality. To be clear, not one of my friends gives a damn about what I'm wearing or how much it costs, but it matters to me. Much to my anger. Much to my shame.

If it's going to matter to anyone, it always matters to the person wearing the cheapest shoes at the table.

Kids are hella expensive. 

I filled up a cart on Gap.com for back-to-school shopping and girl, when I looked at the total I almost pooped my drawers. And that was after a 40% off coupon code which (surprise) did not apply to denim (and a fuck you to you, fine print) so I had to go back and trade out all the kids' jeans for kids' chinos, because the chino lobby is a stealth powerhouse and I'm only one woman so who am I to fight the chino machine? #MakeChinosGreatAgain #ImKiddingIWentToGoodwill

But when I say that kids are expensive, I'm not just talking about jeans, shoes, and child care. Although the cost of one night of babysitting does rival our grocery budget for one calendar year.

I'm talking about doctors, therapists, schools, clubs, sports, camps, experiences.

The life we want to give our kids costs lots and lots of money. Not the STUFF we want to give our kids. The LIFE we want to give them.

The opportunities we want them to be able to accept or respectfully decline, they live in a back room with custom lighting and plush carpet. The guarantees we want to secure for our kids' future happiness and success, they are so luxe that they don't even have a price tag discreetly tucked under their tray.

When you don't have a hammer, everything is a nail.

Chicken is an anxious kid, full of worry and fear and uncertainty. But the first time he hit a rock wall he scurried up to the very top like a lizard, and looked down at the ground 30 feet below with a smile so big it broke my heart wide open.

I saw the spark.
I became the guardian of the spark.
I will not let that spark die.

Climbing gym memberships run $50 a month per person, not including the shoes ($50 a pop), the harnesses ($40 each), and the classes so we can learn what the hell we are doing ($80.)

We can't afford climbing. Between the bills from Chicken's therapy, and the Subaru needing new brakes, and both the boys in school now, my Whole Foods salad shaker days are numbered.

I am devastated that climbing is out of our budget. Not because I care that much about rock climbing. Because I would do anything to put that smile on my son's face. I would pay any amount of money to acquire confidence for my Chicken.

If I could, I would roll up to a checkout stand with a cart full of Self-Worth, Grit, Resiliency, Problem-Solving, and Physical Strength and Coordination. I would swipe my card without even looking at the total. I would take all that shit home, and stop somewhere on the way for a mad expensive almond latte because it tastes good.

When you don't have a hammer, everything is a nail. When you believe you could buy your child's self-love, if only you had the cash, it becomes very, very easy to feel poor. When you believe that the best teachers in the world are out there, for sale, and available, but just out of your price range, your poorness fails your children. That one hurts.

And it's not just the kids.

We're taught that money is the great fixer.

If I've learned anything from watching rom-coms, there is no problem in this life, and I am including ebola in that list, that can't be absolutely slayed by a killer makeover montage. That shit was my mother's milk when I was in my most formative years (#middleschool).

I mean
tmi, but
that was my first orgasm

But now I'm all dried up and adulty. Whenever I watch a tbt rom com, all I can think about is how much fucking eyeshadow costs, and how that giant bag of makeup that ingenue is swinging so carelessly is seriously like 2 months rent, SLASH the cost of my preschooler's tuition for 6 months.

Even though I know that money doesn't really make life easier or solve problems, well... I also know that money makes life easier and solves a lot of problems.

Car trouble? Not a thing for moneyed folks. Not really. I mean, it's an inconvenience, not a financial blow that you'll have to make choices to cover. You go to the garage, get the new brakes, roll your eyes at the total, and stop for a latte after. But when you're me and Ryan, looking at the car estimate and the balance for Chicken's therapy, and the student loans, well... a truckload of money could make our lives a hell of a lot easier, and make us as happy as a couple of birds in the french fry factory. We dream of being able to say yes to everything that needs from us, and most of the things that want from us, too.

Money solves money problems, and money problems are legion. I think the problems begin when we start to recategorize other problems as "money problems."

When you believe you could buy your spouse's interest in you, if only you had the cash for a new outfit, a great bra, and a haircut, it becomes very, very easy to feel poor.

When you believe you could be closer with the friends you love, if only you could go with them to Hawaii next time, it's hard to remember to be grateful that your fridge is always full of food. I don't begrudge my friends for drinking deeply from the cup of life. I just wish I could get a round with them sometime.

When you believe you could buy your own self-confidence back out of pawn, if only you had the cash to go on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, or join a woman's rowing club so you could find yourself out on the water or some shit, it's almost impossible not to arrive at the conclusion that money = happiness.

When you don't have the hammer, the hammer feels like the only thing that could possibly soothe what hurts, accomplish what needs to be done, solve the problems that up to this point have interrupted your daily happiness by existing unresolved, like unopened mail on your counter.

Gimme that shoe.

It can be easy to forget that fuck, anything can be a hammer, if you need it bad enough.

A pleather, wood-soled boot bought from Nordstrom Rack can drive in a nail juuuust fine.

So can the frying pan that's 10 years old. So can my neighbor's fucking hammer. (Shout out to Howie! WHAT UP HOWIE, love the cutoffs.)

I feel proud that my family operates within a budget. There are times I wish I could buy a really nice case of wine for the dinner party, but I enjoy being able to hack the system and make kickass sangria with a $10 bottle.

We have enough to do back-to-school shopping, but we do not have enough to do back-to-school shopping at retail prices. That's okay - my kids have clothes and shoes that fit, and that keep them warm and dry. It doesn't matter if I got them at Goodwill or the Gap. If anything, I feel a little smug when I score a smokin' North Face shell at the thrift store. "Oh Buster's jacket? I got it at Value Village for EIGHT BUCKS, SUCKA. Because I'm a WIZARD."

We make these choices and they become part of our family's character. I'm proud of our frugality, our craftiness, the way we can prioritize when things get tight.

A climbing harness on Ebay costs $20 instead of $40.

My husband's interest can be bought with shaved legs:
Netflix for the kids so I can shower: $12 a month;
Razor: $4;
Lotion: $10;
His undivided attention? Priceless.

Friendships would not be worth the price I paid for them, even if they were something that I could buy.

And I can find self-confidence in the motherfucking woods for free, so take your lady boat club and shove off why don't ya.

When you stop looking for the hammer, you realize that all you needed was to find something tough, something unbreakable. And then you just needed to pick it up, and swing.



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