I came from a pretty typical upbringing, I was expected to shoot for the American Dream. By that I mean I was expected to out earn my parents (in my case my grandparents who raised me), and I did that while still in high school. This was to be reached by getting good grades, working hard at one job, saving more of my earnings than I spent, then retire. Unlike some of my peers success wasn’t about how much I would own but how well I would save my earnings to ensure I would always be financially sound in my retirement.
I was raised in a middle class home. Three bedrooms, one bath, one car. Everything was paid for by cash because credit was wrong. If I wanted something I was to save, when I had enough I could purchase it.
My life was laid out as follows:
- graduate high school on the honor roll to ensure admission to the proper college
- meet my future husband, but not marry until we graduated from college
- upon marrying we would buy a home, (never rent as that was a waste of money), which we would raise our family and retire in
Trying to set my own path
- I wasn’t on the honor roll, but had honorable mention.
- I didn’t go to college because I knew what I wanted to do and it didn’t require college.
- I moved two thousand miles from home at 18 to be where I could land the job that was always called my career (remember I would retire from here).
- Of course not going to college, I didn’t marry right out of college, nor did I marry a college graduate.
- I didn’t believe that only by having a college degree and marrying someone with a degree would we be ensured of having The Dream.
So where did I toe the line? Well, I believed I had to show my grandparents that I did listen.
- I worked hard, plenty of overtime, never called off sick. Even worked two jobs at once to make even more.
- I bought nice things: car, furniture, jewelry, all with cash. You name it, I bought the best of the item I was buying, but never more than I needed or it would look like I was flaunting money and that was bad.
Time for a course change
Then things fell apart. I was now a single parent struggling to make ends meet. The disappointment followed, I found criticism everywhere I turned. Instead of letting this get me down, I knew I needed to decide what was important to me.
If I could be criticized for trying hard to do what was expected, it couldn’t be much worse to do what I wanted instead.
I found all I really wanted was for my children to be happy and healthy, work I could enjoy that would at least pay the bills with a little leftover to be able to spend it showing my children the wonders around us.
So I created my own Dream, I worked instead at jobs that allowed me to be home with my children after school, and when I found the school failing to give my children the education they deserved, by that I mean teaching them what they would need to make it in this changing world, I home schooled them.
When rents in our area became so high that I either had to pick up another job or cut back I purchased an inexpensive mobile home. It was more important that I was the one home raising my children not sitters. I found I was again looked down on for this. One parent, upon arriving to pick his child up from playing with mine asked me when I would be buying a house. I told him I didn’t think anytime soon. He decided his child shouldn’t play with mine any longer. Really? My home and my child would only be okay if we lived in a different type of house? I didn’t move, instead I continued to live by my values, not someone else’s.
We took mini vacations where we could be home, most of the time, that night. Longer vacations didn’t include what I refer to as tourist traps. My children never went to Disneyland for example. But instead we saw so much more of the country. We did splurge so they could visit the National Football Hall of Fame, Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (which were important to them), numerous museums, free outdoor concerts, we traveled to Canada, and most of the states in the country, and more. We lived for experiences.
It’s all in your perception
I knew I had been on to something when as a teenager my son asked me if we had been poor when he was little. I laughed, of course we had been. As for why he asked this, it was he said, growing up he never realized we didn’t have much money, he had been having too much fun. He then told me I did a good job. Boy I love my children!
As time went on, I continued trying to find my place in society. I found I still didn’t want any of the things I was expected to want. I’m still the outsider, not many people around me want, or understand, a life like mine. I finally realized that was okay too. To them I say I have exactly what I want. Relationships with the people I love, a connection to nature, a lack of bills needing to be paid (no I don’t like credit cards or use them today), and time to do exactly what I want. Time to be there to help others, time to relax, time to just take a moment to smell the roses.
I have enough money for what I need. That was the distinction, all the rest was someone else’s Dream.
I know one thing, the life I found turned out to be much better than the life I originally set out for at 18. I don’t want to think of all the experiences I would have missed by continuing to work those crazy hours just to be able to retire with a large bank account. That’s not my idea of the American Dream.