What Is It That I Want?

This article about a young family’s new cabin on a nearby island in last Sunday’s style section troubled me, but I had a hard time articulating exactly why.  It’s not that these features on lovely homes built in the region must contain social critique.   And I knew that I did not want to write snarkily about this family because I want to stay focused on the structural and not on individual choices.

It’s just that on Sunday morning, I saw the figures scratched in the margins of the paper version on our kitchen counter adding up the construction costs for such a home (he who shares my daily paper knows about these things), and then there were the talks on our walk in which we totaled up the costs of the land, building, furniture, appliances  (likely something close to a million dollars, for all its “simplicity”).  I knew that my unease was not just straightforward jealously, though in these past few weeks of a major life transition of elderly, ill relatives who have no money, we’ve been increasingly conscious of those who do seem to take their wealth for granted and the deep social distance between our families and such friends and colleagues.

So on that walk on Sunday morning as we added up the land, the building materials, the two designer sofas, the commercial grade appliances, the solid black granite bathtub, and the boarding of horses, we kept asking “so what is it that we want?”.

In the end, I think that it’s the narrative of this piece that I find most troubling:  That a young woman, pregnant, heard a speaker warn against the harm of “nature deficit disorder”, and horrified, set out to create an oasis in nature where her soon-to-be-born son would thrive.

Yet clicking through the website today of the speaker that spurred her to “snag” 10 acres of land on a bucolic island, I find that his work is grounded in the vision of creating a movement toward  *all* children having ample access to nature.   This family’s (recently remodeled) main home is near one of the largest and most popular parks in the city.

So I think that I’m more clear about what I want, several days later.

I want people to own their wealth and their desire for privacy and luxury and not frame these things within narratives of saving one’s children from harm that might come to them otherwise.

When someone can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a very private second home on an island when one’s children are still very young,  I want  –for once  — for these people to say “we have been very lucky to inherit” and/or “we’re very lucky to earn so much more than others who work just as hard, and to not have student loans,  even though we’re still at early points in our careers, as so many others now do.

I know what I do not want:  Narratives in which the wealthy are held up as model parents who upon hearing of the dangers of the modern world, “go right out” to provide acres of weekend woods for their children; narratives that invite us to admire their paint colors and beautiful windows and solid black granite bathtub without asking too many questions about how it is that relatively young parents can ensure that their child has access to acres of his own private salamanders, and especially not to ask too many questions about how all children might have room to grow and thrive, as that speaker that night several years ago likely advised.

That may well be too much to ask of style writers, but not of those about whom they write.

11 thoughts on “What Is It That I Want?

  1. Cathie Bertola August 5, 2014 / 7:01 pm

    I found out about your blog and this post through Sociological Images. It was a breath of fresh air to read as I had a similar response when I read this article. I really appreciate your positioning; I can tell that it’s not jealousy, but just a need to hear that these are folks who are fortunate enough to manifest their dreams. When I see these articles, I think to myself, “Heck, I could do something this cool too, if I had the money.” Sometimes I recognize that it’s a privilege to understand firsthand what it’s like to struggle financially. And sometimes I’d love a cool house like the one in the article – sans the expensive bathtub!

  2. janevangalen August 5, 2014 / 7:33 pm

    Thanks for reading Cathie. I’m very glad that this post didn’t read as simple jealousy, because honestly, I’d love a place like this. Yes, it’s that tone that this is to be admired, out of the context of questions of how a relatively young couple can provide their child with such things. This is not simply a story of parental love and good taste.

  3. rainbowtallitbaby August 6, 2014 / 8:33 am

    I am pretty sure this is bigger than my house. But on the main topic- the point is when we some societal bad thing, our reaction should be “How can we as a group, as a society, fix this for everyone? , not “How can I, though my wealth and resources, fix it for my own family?”
    For example- if pesticides are bad, let’s work to ban them so no one has to eat them instead of only buying organic for our own kids.

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