…Or ‘Should’ I?
By Natalie Lance
I used to know a woman (and I’m sure you’ve met her, too) who bragged every day about her perfect life. She had a husband who came home from his 9–5 to job eager to cook and clean and two children – a boy and a girl – who got all A’s, did their chores, and played soccer. She had a successful career that paid well an earned her respect in the form of a fancy house and an SUV kept so shiny it looked like had just left the showroom floor. She spent quality time with her kids, taking them to the mall to learn valuable skills like how to build their own teddy bears and learning to accessorize. She was into scrapbooking and collected antiques. She dressed for success. She drank gourmet coffee. One day I heard her fret, “Oh, my! I really should get my nails done.”
Without thinking I responded, “Says who?” Of course she wrinkled her nose at me and walked away, uncomprehending the underlying question here.
Who says we need our nails done? That’s something you want to do. Who came up with this ever-growing list of shoulds? I should buy a new car; mine is getting older. I need to get out and “do lunch” with the girls. I should spend hundreds of dollars on clothes that my child will outgrow in six months.
Wait a minute. Who wrote this list? And why are we all following it?
It’s stressful, maintaining perfection these days, as we are slaves to our material belongings. Especially since, when it’s all said and done, they aren’t worth any more than the value we place on them.
When did having a perfect life become stepping into the revolving door of making and spending as much money as possible? What about expressing our individuality, the pursuit of happiness?
I used to live under the spell cast by the commercial mainstream media that it was my God given right to live in a $150,000 home and drive a brand new car, and I believed that my failure to achieve these “basic” goals made me worth less as a person. I set my goals the way Ms. Perfect did – and I was miserable. I worried constantly about money, bills, and the job I needed to keep all of my shiny, expensive balls in the air. It became politics, bottom lines, and doing what was best for the company.
I beat my head against a wall trying to convince my children to fit into the mold that society had for them by asking them same empty questions, “How are your grades?” and “Is your room clean?” “Why don’t you want to play sports like everybody else?”
Why don’t we ask questions that have real answers? Why don’t we query their daily experiences and their unique perception of the world? If all we ever care about is what they do (and how it reflects on us) instead of who they are, we are training them up as little drones with straight A’s and clean rooms … and not an original thought in their heads.
We’ve weeded out the value of such things. We’ve primed our children, as many of our parents did us, for what consumerism will soon take over. They will be brain-washed to believe that they are defined and measured by what they own. We reward them with gold stars and teach them to reward themselves with fancy new gadgets.
Oh, and we need these things. We should have them. We need our smart phones and data packs. We need our MP3 players and GPS’s. We really should upgrade to a flat screen TV; everyone else has. If I can’t attain these simple things, what does that say about me? I’m a failure!
I’m proud to say that by this society’s standards, I am imperfect. I live in a modest apartment, and most of my furniture came from Goodwill. I’m separated because I can’t afford a divorce, but we work all of our details out civilly without court involvement. My kids are the punks who listen to metal, dye their hair weird colors, and write song lyrics on their walls. They prefer toys and video games to schoolwork and sports. They wear a lot of hand-me-downs. But they love me, and they know I love them.
My job pays a fair wage, and I enjoy it. I have no desire to promote from my current position because my job is much more fun than my boss’s and my bills are paid. Well, most of them. Who’s to say we aren’t perfect just as we are?
These days I don’t collect anything but friends. I don’t budget for entertainment because true happiness is free. I should not struggle to move up in the world. I don’t need a brand new car. I should not get my nails done. If I have a few extra bucks, I might “do lunch” with a friend – on half price burger day, of course. But if I do, it’s because I want to, not because I should.
Natalie Lance lives in Ashland. She is a member of the Mid-Ohio Writer’s Asscoiation and enjoys volunteering at the Mansfield Playhouse.