You know those families who have it all? They own a new build 3000 sq. ft. house in your hometown’s desired gated subdivision. Both parents drive the latest model luxury vehicles equipped with XM radio and hands-free phone access. Each member of the family has his or own iPhone X starting at age 5. The children spend evenings scattered throughout their home listening to music, playing games, or watching television on one of their 500 electronic devices. Mom scrolls through social media pages dreaming of being a happier and more successful family than the posts of her friends lead her to believe they are while dad asks Alexa to give him the updates on today’s NFL games. They chatter about planning a vacation to the beach house while they really have no reason to ever leave their castle equipped with a pool, jacuzzi, big screens, golf carts, five different gaming consoles, and more. Friends, meet the Joneses. I don’t know about you guys, but my mediocre household looks a lot different from that of the Joneses. Our culture is dominated by stuff: wanting more stuff, getting more stuff, and admiring other people’s stuff. In this accelerated world filled with distractions, I want to do more living and less longing.
In the third grade, I was snubbed for wearing off brand Birkenstocks to school (shoutout to the 90s kids-we’re making a fashion comeback). As the mother of an eight-year-old, can I just express how insane it is that any prepubescent child be offered a pair of 100-dollar shoes that he or she will inevitably outgrow within a matter of weeks (why are her feet growing so fast?!). Our children start coveting the Joneses possessions before they even learn to read. “Little Sally, do you know your date of birth?” “No, but I beat the first 400 levels of candy crush on my tablet.” The pressures only grow in adolescence as EVERY teenager, even those living in poverty, owns his or her own smart phone. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we outgrew this trend of “keeping up” by adulthood? As adults, we feel pressured to buy houses we can’t afford in subdivisions with neighbors we don’t know driving SUVs we can’t afford to keep filled with gas, much less make the payments. It’s so exhausting trying to make ends meet and keep up appearances that our culture is full of parents who don’t know how to play with their children and children who don’t know how to play at all. At least we all have an exceptional amount of stuff, right?
As a mediocre individual, wife, mother, and friend, I’m tired of feeling the pressures to keep up with the Joneses because if I’m honest, I don’t even know those guys. My husband and I have chosen to own a home in the middle of town where I can yell at my neighbor to run over and help me get the top off my jeep when I need man power (shoutout to all the Mr. Doug’s out there). We’ve been able to easily make ends meet financially living in our 1000 sq. ft. home with one television and driving our dated, crowded vehicles as a family of five. When we sit in a waiting area, and my children grow restless, I pull crayons and notepads out of my bag to entertain them. My husband and I could pool all our resources (let’s be honest, it would still be unimpressive) in efforts to keep up with the Joneses, but instead, we try to keep up with our relationships. I’m not claiming to have mastered living in freedom from longing. Designer shoes and hair products are my vice. I am challenging myself and the other mediocre adults out there to give ourselves a break and get outside our homes. Living in a tiny 1000 sq. ft. home, we go outside to survive. We play outside, often we eat meals outside, and on a typical Saturday we hike outside.
For the sake of transparency, can I share a snapshot of the gloomy parts of my life? Fall has always been this romanticized time of year for me. I chose to marry my husband in the fall (scheduling around the SEC football schedule of course) because it’s the time of year that represents good spirits and good memories for me. At least it did before I had children. A great deal of trauma has occurred in my children’s lives during fall in the past. It seems to represent months when horrific events occurred for them, as well as months in which they were ripped away from one household and family and thrown into a new one, on more than one occasion. When the leaves begin to change, attitudes change in my household as well. As tensions rose this past October, one of my daughters began exhibiting an excessive amount of anger. She could so quickly convert from a laughing, playing angel to beating the snot out of her older and larger sister over the smallest disagreement. One night as we enjoyed the company of our friends on my birthday weekend, my angel released her anger on the pedestal sink in her bathroom. I felt so hopeless and frustrated. What kind of mother doesn’t even know her child is angry, much less angry enough to destroy a sturdy necessity within our home. Apparently, the mediocre kind of parent fails in such areas. As our house continued to feel more like a pressure cooker than a warm and friendly home for the next couple weeks, we decided to spend more time outside. Weekend hikes and picnics were filled with deep talks, sing alongs, jokes, running, wrestling, and most importantly a chance to take a breath and appreciate how small we actually are in this huge world.
The world is so much bigger than my home, household, job, and the people I encounter day in and day out. When we take time to unplug, we notice that the world is actually pretty beautiful and inspiring. The most crucial lesson I have learned about life to date is that relationships matter more than stuff. Friends, take the time to get to know the people who matter in your life. Give yourself a break from comparisons and coveting. Get outside to take care of yourself mentally and to need less materially. I’m always going to be a mediocre person, wife, and mother with a mediocre income and mediocre stuff. My relationships don’t have to be mediocre as well. My relationships are the most rich and beautiful aspects of my life, and I’m choosing to keep up with my people instead of keeping up with the Joneses. Your mediocre lives are beautiful too, friends. Be content with your mediocre stuff. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.