Lately I’ve been surrounded by people either getting married or giving birth to their first child. Watching these events through the eyes of experience makes me realize that sometimes the enormity of life gets in the way from appreciating its simplicity.
With that, here are five things that you DON’T NEED:
1) A big house.
So many people put “having a big house” as the summit of their goals. My parents started out (as many young couples years ago did) living in a series of apartments and duplexes, sometimes even living for periods of time with my grandparents. Even when my dad finally reached the pinnacle of his career we never lived in a house that would have been considered “big” by today’s standards. Since growing up and having kids of my own, I have lived in everything from a tiny split-level ranch to a snug Victorian with only three (!) closets, to our current home (where even with all the space, 4 of the 5 kids share a bedroom.)
You know what? My best memories, then and now are of those cozy little homes and tight little spaces that would probably give most people fits of claustrophobia in today’s mega-mansion society. My mom decorated our graduate school duplex with bookshelves made of painted cinder blocks and accessorized with glass bottles filled with colored water. I was four years old and I remember those specific things: how unique and magical and exclusive they were to my childhood. I sat on my dad’s lap and watched him do homework while we listened to music on his huge radio with the broken antenna. When I was older, our family of four spent all of our family dinners around a small, round table that justfit into the tiniest of breakfast nooks. Our kitchen was laughably small, but the memories I have of baking with my dad, cooking with my grandma, sharing after-school snacks with my brother…those are huge.
Raising my own kids in a series of differently sized home I know for certain that a smaller home builds bigger experiences, for it’s by default that a family is forced together. In a small home you share rooms – sit elbow to elbow at the dinner table – wedge together on the small amount of furniture that you can fit into your den. Less space means less stuff. Less cleaning. Less space to feel you have to decorate. Less space means learning to establish order and perfecting the art of compromise. Less space forces you to respect space altogether. When we have traveled in the RV or shoved our large family into a small hotel room, I’ve noticed that the dynamic of our family changes. There are fewer distractions. We slow down. We focus on each other. We….TALK.
A big house does indeed give you space, but very often that space gives you excuses and escapes. My boys hole up in the basement for hours on end, seldom emerging except for food. We have a play room, a family room, a front room – all spaces where everyone can go to isolate themselves from everyone else. There are enough TVs so that everyone can easily watch by themselves – alone. Our kitchen is large and spacious, but rarely do I find us all gathered around the table to share a meal. I get overwhelmed by how much cleaning I have to do to keep up with this house. We have so much space, yet so much clutter. A big yard means an hour with the mower. Bigger closets mean room for more clothes. I loved our smaller homes where I was literally surrounded by the people I love. Some of my loneliest moments have been in this enviably big home. While space is nice and a huge home seems at first like a requisite for having a family, these chaotic, messy, crazy years with small kids are really so very fleeting, and nothing will seem sadder than a giant house with no one in it once those years are over.
2) A fancy car.
You might look as if you have triumphantly scoffed in the face of inevitability behind the wheel of an enormous SUV even though you are now a parent, but trust me on this one…a fancy car will be your undoing.
I had a minivan for several years when the older kids were babies before we transitioned to an SUV. We drove two different SUVs even as we added to the family with Kellan and then Larissa. As much as I liked avoiding the stereotype of being a “minivan” mom, I hated the stress of the reality of driving a big-ass car.
Driving kids around takes gas – a lot of it. It takes eating meals in the car, lugging dirty sports equipment around, carpooling friends, toting snacks and water and toys. It takes a lot of in and out and…in again. It takes mud and blood and spilled milkshakes and sippy cups and diapers and bags and sacks and purses and carpool lines and SO MUCH SITTING AROUND WAITING!
Driving the SUV made me crazy. It was a big, impractical, gas-guzzling albatross around my neck. I wept every two days when I had to drop $130 to fill a tank that “I swear I just filled!!”. I cringed every time the beautiful leather seats were marred by cleats or climbers or crumbs. The high profile of the car made it nearly impossible for the smaller ones to climb in, and when I was still dealing with infant carriers and 5-point-harness seats, I was a sweaty mess by the time I wrangled the babies up and into the car. The cargo space was limited, the doors were too heavy for preschoolers, and I had to park miles from anyplace I had to go because our SUV was just that damn enormous.
Fed up, I spent some time online, marched to our local dealer, test drove a used Honda Odyssey, told the salesman to set it aside and within 24 hours I was back in a van. I didn’t care about how much razzing I took, my life became 1000% easier once I got that van. Say what you want, those automotive engineers know what they are doing. I can go an entire week on $60 worth of gas. The doors have auto open, so I don’t even have to get out of the car so that someone else can. The seats are leather, but not fancy-pants leather. It’s a leather made to handle everything from a rain-soaked soccer player to dog vomit (and yes, I know that for a fact). I can park anywhere, stow anything and I don’t cry tears every time I find Skittles embedded in the carpet. The boys can dent the hood with an errant basketball, I can scrape a bumper on my own mailbox – I don’t care. I’m not riding a show-pony, I’m sitting on a pack mule. Suck it up. Get a minivan.
3) TONS of crap for your baby.
There’s a definite sense of empowerment that comes from walking through a “Babies R Us” with a price gun shooting UPC rays at everything on the shelves. You’re high on hormones, you’re full of baby, and people are going to buy. you. stuff, so why not let them get all of it?
Here’s why: Because after the dust settles and the hoopla of pregnancy and immediate post-birth is over, it’s just gonna be you and the baby. YOU….and THE BABY. Unless you are super-human, you are not going to spend those first months putting your baby into 5,000 different adorable outfits because you will quickly discover that:
1) the more adorable the outfit is, the less designed for a baby it actually is. (zippers in the back? 6 snaps at the crotch? 11 tiny buttons!!??)
2) the last thing you want to do on limited sleep and in your depleted state is dress a baby at all. You will have completely forgotten how to button buttons at all for the first 8 weeks of your child’s life, and if you are faced with having to snap more than 3 snaps together at 2 a.m. it will be like someone is asking you to diffuse a bomb that is 5 seconds away from destroying the human race.
3) If your baby is sleeping, ain’t NO way you are waking it up just so it can wear a fedora with a shirt and tie no matter how ironic or whimsical the outfit is.
4)the more precious the outfit, the more likely it is that your child will pee/poop/puke on it within 10 seconds. True story.
As for the other stuff…get real. Your life will be easier if you are not learning to be a parent as you trip over cords to useless accessories or stumble around 17 different playmats. That wipe warmer seems like a great investment, but do you really want to be the parent of a kid who will forever expect his toileting needs to involve soothing, 70-degree aloe-infused wipes? Plus – good luck when it’s the middle of December and your kid has blown out his pants in the car. I assure you, neither of you is going to want to wait while your portable wipe warmer heats up.
Babies want you. You want simplicity. Baby “sacks” were what my kids slept in at night, religiously for nearly three months, and unless we were going to eat lunch with the President, my kids spent their days in practical, unadorned onesies or stretch suits with a minimal amount of snaps.
You don’t need it. You may think you do, but give biology credit – it gave you a pilot light for mother’s intuition that immediately switched “on” the second you got pregnant. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t consult your girlfriends about a weird rash or a high fever or whether or not the show “Calliou” really is as eye-gougingly horrible as you think it is, but in general….trust yourself. Same goes for your marriage. People love other people’s insecurities and unhappiness because it helps take the focus off theirs. Don’t let anyone make you feel badly about your choices because they are exactly that – yours.
5) A Fancy Wedding
I have been to at least 7 in the past year and you know what? I cannot tell you what the bride was wearing or what I ate or what the cake looked like for nearly any of them. What I do remember is that the best weddings focused on the stuff that mattered: the couple themselves, the things that were important to them, and the people they chose to surround themselves with. Those weddings were intimate and meaningful and set me to tears. One of my close friends let me help her with the wedding and hers was my favorite…because every time there was something to make or something to do, she focused on the meaning of it and not the expense or the aesthetic of it. She didn’t care what it looked like to everyone else, she cared that it was what she and her husband wanted. Their vows were genuine, their decorations were minimal, their hearts were in it. They got married under a banner that she made herself that read, “Best Day Ever” and it was.
If life had do-overs I’d want to read this list and remind myself that the things that matter are not things at all.