Friday, December 7, 2012

The Winning Ticket

In the hours leading up to last week’s mind-blowing Powerball drawing, my boys were busy spending their winnings. Each devised his own specific game plan, but the essentials were more or less the same.

First, we would tithe (our yeshiva tuition dollars at work!).

Then we would head to the mall, where we would be allowed to drop an insane yet pre-determined amount of cash on items we’ve longed desired. For the boys, this would translate almost exclusively into Apple products.

From there, my husband would set off for a party at Brooks Brothers. The boys would stock up on American Eagle, then Game Stop, and finally, Brookstone.

I would get a stack of iTunes gift cards for all of them, a tool chest to organize my husband’s gadgets in the garage, and for myself, a vast quantity of socks in very feminine colors. You see, someone keeps making off with mine. They are never in my drawer when I need them.

Giddy with consumerism, we would leave the mall and head to the bank, where we would establish trust funds for the boys to cover their education. On the way home, we would stop at Starbuck’s. You only live once, so we would splurge on Ventis for everyone. After all, we would be celebrating our winning ticket.

Hopefully, after allowing for yeshiva-tuition increases over time, there would be enough money left to install a second sink (the one of my fantasy) in the kitchen.
Their plans in place, the boys slept blissfully on the night of the drawing and dreamed of their posh new lives. But they awoke to find that the newspaper listed numbers that made someone else obscenely wealthy.

Disappointed but not surprised, everyone went off to school and work and I sat down to write. Staring at the blank screen, I wondered what on earth was wrong with me. I was actually relieved. I honestly had no interest in having my numbers chosen. Life as a lottery winner seemed so complicated to me, with its deluge of attention and demands that would set us apart from real people.

This is not to say that I would mind a little bit of a jackpot, something to cushion our day-to-day existence and make some of our smaller dreams possible. But as my father-in-law used to ask my husband, then a child: What, really, is missing from our lives?

Our family was lucky in the post-Sandy aftermath. Our house was still standing and we were all of sound body. All of us -- even the boys – felt a profound sense of gratitude. But soon after, too quickly I believe, the holiday circulars began to pour into the house and the wanting – compounded by the Powerball’s promise of instant wealth – began in earnest.

Yes, my children know well the word “no,” uttered frequently for many reasons that are not limited to the financial. The boys are not particularly greedy or spoiled. Still, it is human nature to want new things, more things, better things, and sometimes that “no” is met with a turbulent response.

I am a fervent worrier, and I often fret that the clutter of “stuff” – both what the boys have and what they wish they did -- has obscured their view of what matters.

I want them to cherish the value of family, friendship, health and freedom over fancier electronics and cooler sneakers.

I long for them to shorten their wish lists and lengthen their to-do lists, the ones that include kindness to their siblings, generosity to others, and a general willingness to participate more fully in the social contract of family life.

But alas, I can only hope that the message will weave its way into the fabric of who they become as they mature, the version of themselves that will one day make a living and G-d willing, parent our grandchildren. For now, I will just have to do my best to stave the harsh current of the season from flooding the bigger picture.

The first step: The next time the Powerball jackpot hits frenzied levels, I will let the rest of my family play their own numbers, but I will not bother to do so with mine.

My contribution will be limited to bringing in the morning paper, the one that reports unsettling events from around the globe, the one posting the numbers that will give me some reassurance of life as usual.

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