Somewhere along the way, without really talking about it, we made a lifestyle choice called “having five kids,” and while that alone can be a punch to the pocketbook, this last year has been a particularly expensive one for us. A few weeks after our last baby arrived in September of 2014, our newly-remodeled (as in “Brad and his dad and his brother had just laid the final floorboards” brand spankin’ new) basement–with a spot for a coveted fifth bedroom and our oldest daughter, Keaton–flooded late at night, in the midst of an 8-inch downpour.
(An aside: Of all the ways to be woken from a deep sleep, I assure that “The basement’s flooding, I’m sorry you just had a baby AND your gallbladder removed, but grab a bucket and come help me NOW!” ranks somewhere between a drunk college friend peeing on the comforter right by your head–yep, that happened–and every single time a child has stared at you in pitch darkness until you open your eyes and scream, convinced Death himself has come to snatch you. Not awesome.)
After moving Keat—who, had we not woken her, would have slept through the whole debacle and, come morning, wondered why her dirty clothes were floating two inches off the ground—upstairs with brothers #2 and #3, that Fall became the season of completely gutting the basement and, after reinforcing walls and digging a sump system and, finally, rebuilding the whole interior with the kinds of waterproof materials Noah would have liked to have had on the ark could he have afforded them, 2015 became the year of gutting our bank account.
So, as 2016 approached, with double the mortgage payment, two kids in day care and one in preschool full-time and two starting to do stuff that costs almost as much as feeding and clothing them (“So, now that you guys know how to swim well enough to survive getting tossed off of a tube by one of your friends at the lake in 10 years, do you want to keep doing lessons and swim team? You do. K. You good with eating ramen most nights then?”), Brad and I finally had to move past mumbling, “Well, this sucks” when we joked about being broke to actually making a financial plan of attack.
That’s a super fun dialogue to kick around during the holidays, a time when common sense has flown the coop and kids are hopped up on sugar and Target ads and all you’re trying to do is survive without wanting to scale the chimney and escape with Santa in his sleigh. Ironically, given the need for liquid calm, one of Brad’s first concessions was to stop buying $9-a-six-pack craft beer.
“I need to lose 10 pounds anyway, and that’ll help” said the ultra-marathon man with the bottomless pit of a stomach and metabolism of a 12-year-old boy. “Yeah, and I don’t need great coffee, just caffeine,” I conceded, Starbucks-filled tears welling in my eyes (I joke. Kinda.) It was clear we felt white-lying together would dull the immediate pain.
As this conversation has evolved over the last couple of weeks, however, what it’s made me realize is that saying we’re “broke” is insane. That the stuff we talk about having to give up is ridiculous. That all of the rhetoric we spout to our kids about recognizing “needs” versus “wants” rings hollow if not being able to do and buy whatever we like makes us grouchy and brings us to our knees. That the fact that we have a solid place to live and food in the fridge and water (and crappy beer) to drink is something we should be grateful for far, far more often than those few minutes we see a gut-wrenching commercial for a charity on t.v. or hear about a mission trip to a remote area during the church service on Sunday.
Telling our kids they have it pretty damn good and they should be grateful means jack squat if I’m knowingly ticked that I can’t grab a venti latte with an extra shot of espresso on the way to work every day.
So, as much as we want a new car (seriously, having to switch vehicles mid-day when we change pick-up plans because we can’t fit everyone in the “we tried to make it look cooler by putting a bike rack on it” Elantra is super annoying), we don’t need one. We don’t need a bigger kitchen (and, hey, if we’re down to eating ramen, a single burner and a pot will suffice anyway). We don’t need new furniture or throw pillows or wall art that reminds us to slow down and appreciate the little things. As much as possible—and I know we’ll slip up constantly–we’re gonna spend the new year being intentionally grateful for what we already have.
Because, when you get right down to it, it’s a whole, whole lot. And it’s worth being thrilled about every single day.