At 22 years old, we brought into marriage one car, one job, and an assortment of secondhand furniture (along with a bedroom set that was a wedding gift from my parents). We weren't poor. (I can remember the way we'd both gasped when, weeks after our engagement, we learned a company was offering to employ my soon-to-be-husband for nearly $30,000!) Still, it was certainly the leanest time of our now 18 years.
Advance nearly two decades. Lean—if it ever could have been called such in a marriage that has never known unemployment—has given way to fat. We have two cars and a house full of furniture that is mostly new. We don't wonder how we'll pay for Christmas; we never worry about medical bills. What we need, we buy. What we want, we can generally afford (except, of course, airfare for our family of seven). Steadily we give more away each year, and yet there continues to be money to squirrel away for retirement and even to save for our children's college education.
I am profoundly grateful. But something surprises me about the powerlessness of this plenty: It hasn't hushed the voices of fear and nagging discontent.
Woes of the rich
I am surprised by their discontent. By "their" I mean the mothers and fathers in front of my children's school, blowing kisses through the open door of their Mercedes.
At social functions, they spin tales of woe that would, in other places, sound like windfall. "The interior designer I'd hired to do our chalet at Mont Tremblant is so fabulous. But I'm just not sure we can afford to fly her to Toronto every month to do the house here." They lament that they won't be traveling anywhere warm this winter holiday because they're building a multi-million dollar home. "But I told the kids, would you rather go to the Caribbean or have a pool?" They can't decide whether to level the house they'd renovated several years ago and rebuild or to buy an existing home. "If we build again, we won't do the Italian bath fixtures like we did in this house. It's just too difficult to find replacement parts." For these surgeons and lawyers, bankers, and entrepreneurs, their every material wish is, quite simply, their command.
It seems they can effortlessly afford the private school tuition, the luxury cars, and the coveted $50,000 club membership (for which one must spend two years on a waiting list). They keep second homes, employ small staffs, and spend the March holiday in Turks and Caicos (a place I've only recently learned to locate on the map). The parents of my children's school friends secure comforts and conveniences for themselves that, before moving to Toronto three years ago, I hadn't imagined possible.