I met K in the sixth grade. After transitioning from a very small elementary school I found myself navigating the waters of middle school for the very first time and doing my best to make new friends.
K was the new kid at school and after a hellish fifth grade experience with a mean girl I dreamed of forging new friendships with less drama. Funny enough, K turned out to be all about drama. In fact, she became one of the most popular mean girls in school, but in the beginning she was just a lonely girl in need of a friend.
Within a very short period of time we became inseparable and after a few months we started requesting sleepovers, so one afternoon my mom drove me to K’s house and dropped me off for the evening.
K lived in a brand new neighborhood about five minutes away from my house. After turning off a quiet street we drove up a long winding, grass covered hill with gargantuan houses. Each momentous brick home was surrounded by bright white fences that surrounded elaborate stone pathways and in ground swimming pools. The houses were built on acres of an old horse farm and each house looked like a mansion to me; complete with separate pool houses and outdoor kitchens.
K’s house had four bedrooms; one of which was used as a guest room that no one lived in. (I couldn’t imagine having so much space that a room could remain unoccupied for days, months or even years at a time.) K and her brother both slept in massive bedrooms with their own bathrooms attached.
Prior to this point in time the majority of my sleepovers had taken place in my own neighborhood. I lived on a quaint dead-end street filled with one story ranchers. My own home, which never felt small prior to seeing K’s house, suddenly felt immensely tiny.
My house had three small bedrooms and I shared a hall bathroom, complete with 1970s mirrored wall paper, with my older brother. Our basement was unfinished with cement floors and cinder block walls. We spent the majority of our time in the living room playing with toys as children. K had an entire play room filled with pool tables and air hockey games.
K wasn’t like the other kids I knew. She wore Guess jeans exclusively, which were all the rage in the 1980s, and shopped at The Limited. K was my first introduction to an upper-class family.
I didn’t remember what I said to my mom after I returned home from K’s house the following morning, but thirty years later it seems my mom has never forgotten. She recently told me I came home and announced “our house was the smallest in the world.”
It seems I unknowingly hurt my mom’s feelings with that statement, something I did often as an unwitting pre-teen and teenager, but this comment stuck with her more than the others from those angst filled years.
I don’t know what my mom said in response to my comment, but I wish she would have said “life is all about choices” or “that money isn’t everything.”
I wish she would have told me that we all make decisions in life. I wish she would have mentioned the importance of her decision to stay-at-home, which resulted in less money but ensured years of hugs and support. I wish my mom would have pointed out that having a big home isn’t important if it isn’t filled with love.
As an eleven year old I didn’t understand the pull of consumerism. Heck as a 40 year old I’m barely beginning to understand its influence. I wanted to wear Guess jeans and look like all of the popular girls who walked through our school halls. I wanted to live the big life and never feel like I was less than those that had the money to buy whatever they wanted.
Within the last decade or two of my life I have learned that more stuff does not equate with more of anything else. K became a real jerk as the years wore on. She wielded her wealth like a weapon and looked down on those who couldn’t keep up with her buying power.
Money is a powerful resource, but life is not just about having money and flaunting wealth. I wish my mom would have pointed out all of the non-financial things we had like a home filled with love and caring, supportive parents who loved us.
I wonder how my perception might have changed if I heard those words of wisdom. Would I have listened or simply ignored her as the desire to fit in and be cool overwhelmed all other desires and feelings?
Having reached financial independence I can say that money isn’t everything. I still covet those gorgeous, HGTV homes, but I realize a big house doesn’t hold the key to my happiness. Kindness and love carry a lot more weight for me.
In fact, to this day I have trouble with those who flaunt their wealth in front of others. You can achieve success without forcing others to feel inferior. In fact, I might argue that true compassion is hiding your wealth all together.