It was my birthday recently. At my age, you don’t really celebrate birthdays like you used to, especially those middle years between decade markers. So for my birthday, my family got chocolate cupcakes and ice cream.
My five-year-old had eaten his cupcake – or at least the frosting from the cupcake – and was working on his small bowl of ice cream. I asked him, “Is your ice cream good?” He licked his lips and gave me an enthusiastic head nod, “Yeah!” A moment later, he turned back to me and said, “Daddy, tonight we had cake and ice cream with M&Ms in it. We are so lucky!”
And you know what? He was right.
We are lucky. Not just because we had cake and ice cream with M&Ms in it. But because I made it another year with my family, who, in the big scheme of things, is doing ok.
We don’t have everything we want in life.
We have two used cars that we’re still paying for, both in desperate need of an oil change and a tune-up.
We occasionally find that our pantry isn’t as well stocked as we’d like it to be when there are still a few days before payday and not nearly enough money in the bank. We don’t go hungry, but there are quite a few nights where the entire family has peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
My wife has a few small health issues, like asthma, and she and I could both stand to lose a few more pounds. Unfortunately, my son has inherited my dental problems, he’s got an issue with milk proteins, and his skin dries out faster than a fish tank in the Sahara, but he’s otherwise rambunctious and a joy to be around. My daughter likes chocolate milk a little more than I’m comfortable with, and she eats the same four things every day, but she’s smart, active, and creative.
We haven’t been to Disney World or Land. We don’t take weekend road trips to museums or state parks. My kids have never been on a plane.
We rent movies once they hit DVD or check them out from the library instead of going to the theater. We use the library or scour thrift store bookshelves for bestsellers to read. We have Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, but we borrow logins from friends and family for the more exclusive cable channels.
We sometimes have to charge gas or groceries.
We rarely go out to eat at a restaurant.
We don’t have a dishwasher, so some nights I’ll spend two or three hours doing everything by hand.
Most of my clothes come from thrift stores, though I do splurge for the $12 jeans from Costco once every couple of years. I’ve had some of my work shirts for going on a decade. My work shoes were purchased from a Goodwill for $5.
Most of our kid’s toys come from thrift stores, assuming they don’t have too many missing pieces. When we spoil them, they get a new $3 toy from Target. We only buy larger new toys around Christmas or birthdays, which we have to start saving for months in advance.
My job is fairly stable and secure, but my health premiums keep going up just enough every year that my annual raise barely covers the price hike.
I’m still paying on my student loans.
But we have enough. It’s not everything we want or sometimes even need. But we have enough.
We have clothes on our backs. We have a roof over our head (even if we are rapidly outgrowing the house that we rent). We have never had to skip a meal.
We entertain ourselves by going to the mall and wandering through the stores, looking at things we can’t buy. We go to thrift stores to find cheap trinkets that bring us temporary happiness. We take walks in local parks when the weather allows. We draw. We play board games that we’ve mostly bought from thrift stores, so we’ll use buttons to replace the missing game pieces. We sing in the car. We try to do the occasional movie night at home, complete with microwave butter popcorn.
We laugh at lot in our house. No one hits anyone else. No one is afraid. No one is dying from an incurable disease. No one drinks too much. No one shoots or smokes anything. We encourage one another to do our best. We rarely have to raise our voices. Disagreements are often solved with the flip of a coin or a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.
So, yes, we are lucky, my boy. Not just because we had cake and ice cream with M&Ms in it. But because we have each other.