Remember playing the M.A.S.H. game as kids? It very accurately predicted life as an adult: who you would marry, where you would live, how many kids you would have, and what career you would pursue. Sometimes it includes other things like pets or cars or more scandalous options like how many boys you would kiss.
We played a LOT of this when we were supposed to be paying attention at church, so I only remember boys listed among my options for marriage (typically a Wahlberg cuz I'm middle-school-in-the-early-'90s kinda old) and definitely yes, of course, obviously, kids. Tons of those. Jobs were standard; horse jockey, marine biologist, movie star.
And we all wanted to live in a mansion. Of course we did. It was the sign of a successful adult, wasn't it? Echoey marble hallways and chandeliers and bear rugs by fires and whatnot? I wondered if I would ever be adulty enough to warrant a mansion? Everyone I knew lived in houses...some of them, depending on the definition and perspective, were probably mansions and some were probably shacks. I grew up in the suburbs so I only kind of understood what an apartment was before I went to college. After that, I knew I definitely did not want to live in one of those. Too much urine in the stairwell.
I'm 43 in a few weeks and we're moving right now. It's a pain in the ass to move and people keep asking us why we're doing it. Bigger house with guest room for family when they visit? Nicer? Newer? Better? Are you a good adult?!
We're moving in the same neighborhood, same schools, but now, instead of renting a large-ish 3 bedroom house, we're renting a duplex. There's no buying a house where we live (Bay Area) unless your app struck oil.
It's not a hardship; it's not even much less space, but it lacks a garage and shares walls with other families. So why am I feeling like I should be bashful about this change? The place is homey and comfortable, with a ton of natural light and great vibes and it is significantly cheaper than where we've been living. The decision to downsize to save money is totally reasonable and one that people make all the time, and yet...something about my understanding of what adulthood and success look like makes me feel like I'm failing, or that I need to justify my choice (see blog post). Some part of me feels like I should be ashamed for moving down-ish instead of clearly up.
And then I think 1) Eww, gross, capitalism, 2) We chose to live in a gorgeous and extremely expensive part of the world, you do what you gotta do if living here is important (it is), 3) We're the luckiest sons of bitches on the planet bc we're sorta kinda surviving out here on 1 income while one of us does art- my God, who gets to do that, 4) We're fucking privileged. We have options. We have health. We both could make more money if we chose to with our education that we didn't have to go into a ton of debt for. Neither my (non-Wahlberg) husband or I are parenting alone.
We live in an especially pricey part of the country, but we were having these conversations when we lived in the more reasonable midwest, as well. What are the things we need? What else is really important to us and are we willing to find a way to pay for? What were we told we should want but maybe actually don't? We could live somewhere *nicer* if it were more important to us than the other things...but it's not. So that's where I land, after I've come all the way around the bend. This is intentional. The image I had of what my life would look like when I was twelve may need some adjusting, but that's OK. Fur coats are inhumane and too sweaty and I'm scared of chandeliers because in movies they always fall on people and that's a dumb way to die.
Ultimately, the fear of how others might think we're adulting is just not as important as how we feel about our own lives. What is my measure of success? It's changed as I've grown. I used to think it would look like super skinny me in fancy clothes in front of a manch with tons of pillars, a Wahlberg on my arm and fifteen or sixteen Wahlberg babies at my feet, plus a heard of dolphins and a bubblegum pink limousine (which would be necessary with all those kids). Now all I want is a quiet, well-lit office where I can write in a home that feels safe and consistent for my pair o' kids. I know there's a whole economy built on striving for bigger, better, more, but I'm learning to be really deliberate about what I want more of. We make choices to get us to where we feel most free, healthy, and peaceful. That's going to look different on different people.
Why am I sharing all this? We shouldn't talk about money! It's like talking about nipples! It's just not done! I'm writing about it because I imagine I'm not alone in debating whether I should stay home with the kids, or ought to follow my art or maybe go back school or leave a lucrative career because it's killing my soul. I think we should always be clarifying our own personal goals to make sure that our life reflects them. It's easy to be on the wrong path, whether it leads to a mansion or a duplex.
Also, nipples, nipples, nipples.
Thank you for your time.