Just one of the impossible to answer questions that Vivi lobs my way in an average day: “Mama? Are we rich?”
I answered, “Well, compared to most of the world, yes.”
“What does that mean?”
“A lot of people in the world struggle just to have something to eat and a safe place to sleep. Compared to them, we’re rich. But compared to other people that we know…we’re not rich, just normal.”
“But not compared to anyone, just us?” Huh. I had to think a moment.
“I guess so. Yes. We always have what we need and we usually get what we want, so I think that makes us rich. And lucky.” But if Daddy and I weren’t working, we wouldn’t stay rich for long. I didn’t tell her that part.
She got me to thinking–“rich” is ONLY a relative term. It’s always in comparison to some standard. Of course there are some pretty fair measures. If you have two commas in your bank account, you’re rich. If you have more than one house, you’re rich. If you can work when you feel like it, you’re rich. But does rich mean safe? No. Does rich mean happy? No.
I’ve already taught Vivi about fool’s gold. Iron pyrite–it looks like gold but it has no value. It’s just as pretty and pretty equally useful. On our trip to Mason Mountain Mine, she was more excited about the calcite and quartz than the rubies and emeralds. She is saving up her “Athens money” to buy a big pink “diamond” when we go back up there to pick up our jewelry that’s being made by Mr. Tom Johnson. She has no concept of market value. She calls American coins “Athens money” as opposed to the Brasilian money that Daddy gathers up to use on his next trip.
G helped her sort through all of her coins yesterday morning. They separated out the Chuck E Cheese tokens, the Brasilian reals, the Canadian dollars. He showed her how to stack them according to their percentage of a dollar–dimes, nickels, quarters. She is just beginning to understand that size isn’t the only thing that hints at value. Or “goldenness” doesn’t necessarily mean more than “silverness.”
I want Vivi to learn about money from a place of comfort and security. When I was her age, I remember understanding inflation when Super Bubble went from one penny to two. Ah. Same product, twice the price. I wasn’t much older than she when I realized that we didn’t always have enough money. I have a lot of anxiety attached to money–I remember the days when we got home from school and the electricity was cut off. I remember wondering how I was going to get back in to college from one semester to the next.
On the way to Nana and Papa’s house yesterday, I saw this at the gas station:
and I realized how long it’s been since I had to watch the pump and make it cut off at five bucks. We spent more than that on Slurpees yesterday. Yes, we’re rich.
What sign tells you that you’re rich? What keeps the money anxiety down?