I am driving to work, aggravated, cursing out my husband after what seems to be our 10th argument this week. He’s been out of work for a month, and for the last three weeks we’ve been on each other’s nerves. We have the same fight every day: not enough money; kids always need stuff; whose life is worse, blah blah blah.
Meanwhile, I’m going to my part-time job that steals all my nights and doesn’t reward me with enough money. Every time I go to work, I pass this magnificent house and I am always overcome by equal emotions of awe and disgust. The house is newly reconstructed and sits on several acres of land. It is surrounded by woods that probably smell fantastic after it rains. Several times, at dusk, I’ve seen deer grazing on the lawn.
This house is so big and beautiful I want to throw rocks at it.
Whoever lives there must have the perfect life. The guy probably does something totally cool for a living, like dig up dinosaurs. His wife is an adorable soccer mom who’s always on top of the housework and cooks awesome dinners. Their kids always have clean rooms and never talk back.
And I always think, if I lived in that house, my life would be perfect, too.
I would have more than $3 in my wallet, which I’m currently wondering how to stretch over two days. I wouldn’t lay awake at night wondering how we’re going to pay the mortgage. I wouldn’t live in constant fear that my bank is going to dump me for being a big loser whose account is always overdrawn. (Which I blame on overdraft fees—like George Carlin said, why do they charge you twice as much what they know you don’t have enough of in the first place?)
If I lived in that house, it would always be clean. It would always smell fresh, like candles, not like an Irish pub. Nothing would ever be sticky like in my real house where you can lose your socks just by walking across the kitchen floor.
It would be decorated in all things Pottery Barn. I would have one of those cool new refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom and it would always be stocked with food. My living room walls would display artwork by Toulouse-Lautrec, not "Outline of Baby Sister" done in crayon.
If I lived in that house, the only time credit card companies would ever call me is to tell me they love me and offer me higher lines of credit, not demanding my last two payments.
I’ll bet the people who live there never had to explain to someone half their age that the reason they haven’t made their car payment this month is because their husband is laid off and they have three kids to feed and please don’t repossess the car. If I lived in that house, I would probably drive a Lexus Hybrid SUV, and I would never have to ask my parents for money.
I would look like Gwyneth Paltrow. I would speak seven languages. I would serve my family lots of wheat bread and green vegetables, and I would never have to worry about diabetes or cancer or bird flu or scurvy. My daughter wouldn’t have a pre-adolescent attitude; my 5-year-old would sleep in her own bed every night, not mine, and I wouldn’t argue with my son every morning about what he’s going to wear.
If I lived in that house, I would not think these things. I would be grateful for having a house at all, and that my children are healthy, and that I’ve never lost anything in a hurricane or a fire.
At work, I calm down a bit. I eat dinner alone, savoring the silence. Later, somebody gives me a compliment, tells me I’m doing a good job and that she’s glad to be my client. My mood is lifted. I feel bad for the things I said to my husband and I want to hug my kids.
I drive past the house again on my way home from work and I think: Maybe my own house isn’t so bad after all. I mean, imagine having to shovel that long, long driveway or mow that enormous lawn? They probably have to scoop leaves and wildlife out of their in-ground pool every single day. Their electric bill must be out of this world.
And every once in a while, they probably think they would have it so much better if only they lived in some other house.
Laura Doyle is an Oak Forest mom of three.