Government Cheese & Saltines

The accumulation of stuff – especially after kids arrive – is a blessing and a curse as are so many things in life – wine, dairy, sunshine, toddlers, marriage. The new trend toward minimalism is shouting at us to wake up and see past the shiny lie of consumerism, but I can’t seem to hear the call over the roar of my 72” LCD, the battery-powered four-wheeler screeching through my kitchen, and the gigantic new-to-us Suburban sitting in our three-stall garage.

I am torn between two worlds – the sweet simplicity of youth and the race against the Jones’ that threatens to encompass adulthood. Lately, I’ve been leaning toward the later, as proven by the boxes of clothes that arrive on our doorstep almost weekly. Where do I think I’m going in these nice blouses when my snot-streaked leggings adapt so nicely from daytime to evening wear? The biggest evidence, though, pointing a crooked finger right at my need for “more” – our recent and regrettable automobile purchase. I’ve been leaning so hard towards the Jones’ that I’ve completely lost my balance.

The minimalism craze, while it sends some folks toward higher dollar, higher quality purchases in lesser volume, now urges me back to another time, a faded version of America where a fancy party featured your standard cheese and crackers, the poor man’s charcuterie board. Now we line up to pay $30 for three slices of goat’s milk Havarti, day-old sourdough, and a piece of duck prosciutto.

I am not exempt from the ridiculousness. I will drive four hours for decent duck prosciutto, but I grew up on a plate of saltines and government cheese with a side of my grandma’s mustard pickles. Truth be told, I’d pay $30 for a plate of that right now. I’d pay a lot more if I could hear the hum of her sewing machine in the background. She formed entire wardrobes out of scraps from the closet. I can barely re-affix a button. Thread in. Thread out. Where’s the hole? Prick my finger. Whisper profanity. Thread in. Forget it. I’ll summon the internet fairy to mail me another one with all of its buttons.

The battle to quiet the voice screaming, “You have to have it all” is exhausting. Given our recent vehicle purchase and the subsequent beating we’ve taken, I’m at least determined to fight a little harder.

We are a family that travels, and most of this travel is on the road. With three boys and more kids on the horizon, we require a vehicle with adequate space. (I know you’re thinking “minivan” but I’m not there yet. I might never be.) With an aging SUV in our driveway, we went car shopping for something with fewer years, less miles. We were looking for the same vehicle we had – just newer. But, of course, along the way, we found something shinier, more luxurious, nicer to look at.

“That’s our car,” I said when we drove by it in the lot. My husband stopped, and I jumped out to peek at the price. More than we’d wanted to spend, but it was pretty. We’d bought our last vehicle with over 100,000 miles and said that when we upgraded, we would splurge on what we really wanted. This was it.

We’d all but signed the paperwork when my husband found a different option, the same exact vehicle that currently sat in our driveway, waiting to be sold. Same color, same features, same body style. It would be like we were driving the same car, but with less miles and years behind it – exactly what we had said we wanted – until that wasn’t what we wanted anymore.

I took a drive to check it out, and it didn’t disappoint. It was clean and in good shape. The salesman was kind and the owner of the dealership was willing to work with us. Plus, the out-the-door price was far less than we were about to settle on for the shiny one.

My gut told me we didn’t need the fancier car. We already knew we liked what we had, and its newer version surfaced with all of the necessary options right at the last minute. It was a sign.

But the greedy heart wants what it wants, and against my better judgement and for reasons that I am ashamed to admit but will as my public penance, we pulled the trigger on the flashy upgrade and set off a series of regrettable events that I should have known would follow. We’ve had nothing but problems with this fancy new-to-us car. We’ve had to throw down money for new tires. We’ve discovered it’s been in some sort of undisclosed fender bender. It’s been in the shop more than out. We’ve spent hours on the phone, back and forth with service managers and sales managers, none of whom have stepped up to the plate to fix the issues.

As angry as I would like to be at the dealership, I am really just angry with myself. I knowingly and foolishly made the wrong choice for our family and our finances. I picked flash over function, want over need, and am paying the price. Aggravating games of phone tag. Money lost. Rattles that can’t be found. Regret.

We will eventually iron out the kinks and make peace with this poor decision because we are stuck with it now. Given the cost and high dollar warranty, we will be driving this beauty into the ground – shakes, mysterious rumbles and all. Believe me, I know this is still a nice “problem” to have, and I am grateful for this problem and its obvious lesson, one that I have had to relearn over and over again.

We splurged on the goat cheese when that trusty block of orange goodness was what we needed. We bought grill-marked Sourdough when crackers would have sufficed, and the bitterness lingers on my tongue. Government cheese and saltines never left such a nasty aftertaste.

As I type this final line, my middle child, the 4-year-old, walks up to me and pulls on my shirt sleeve. I have given him a cheese stick from the fridge, but he’s decided he desires something else.

“I want goat cheese, Mom. Can I have some crackers and goat cheese?” his discerning palate unable to settle for the standard orange option. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

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