Friday, March 09, 2007

There's Much to Learn from "Romeo & Juliet"

Max is reading "Romeo & Juliet" in his freshman English class. He's pretty tired of the story, since this is something like the fifty-sixth time he's had to read it for school. But he came home with an assignment I thought was interesting. He had to list traits he would look for in a partner (lover just sounds too creepy for ninth grade). Without looking at what he wrote, I had to do the same. Then I had to make a list of traits I would want his partner to have.

Max isn't too demanding: he wants someone who is "smart" and "funny." "Other than that," he wrote, "it doesn't really matter." I included those two traits in the list I made of what I believed was important for him to find in someone as well.

His list for what he anticipated I would choose as important included "being poor." "What does that mean?" I asked. "Well you always say that money can't buy happiness, so I figured you'd want me to find someone poor!" he explained. I thought about that for a minute and chuckled.

He's right; I do always say that. Speaking as someone who once had to sell a sizeable portion of her beloved CD collection in order to give her young boys a few presents for Christmas, I know what it's like to be poor, though certainly not destitute. I know what it's like to worry about how I'd pay the bills. I remember having to choose between feeding my kids and paying an ever-growing credit card bill on time. I've never been comfortable asking for help, so reaching out for assistance during those lean times wasn't something I'd considered.

My life today is different. Though not monetarily wealthy by any stretch, I have built a business which allows me to be comfortable. I can pay school sports fees, buy my kids necessities and even a few extras here and there. I live in a home for which I am able to pay monthly utility bills. I am satisfied with what I have and don't feel as if I'm missing out on anything, even though I can't spend money freely or without thought. I still have to budget.

But Max sees things differently. He can't understand why I'm happy being middle class. He says I shouldn't "settle" when the possibility of having more is within my reach. I get frustrated with this discussion, but recently I realized he has this point of view quite possibly because he doesn't have anything against which to measure his lifestyle. He was too young to realize I sold beloved collections of various things to assure his survival and security. Max has never known true fear. He can't imagine not living in a decent home that always welcomes him. He's never gone hungry, and he can't fathom going without so that someone he loves won't have to.

I constantly hear how every other kid he knows doesn't have to help out around the house, never loses privileges, and gets handed money whenever he needs it. I don't (can't) buy each of my kids an MP3 player (Max bought one with his own money, which he received as gifts for his birthday), and wouldn't even if I could. They don't live in a home with luxuries, but I've been hard-pressed enough to recognize that having money to pay my bills and buy enough groceries is a luxury, especially in these days of economic struggle. So while Max considers me less than successful, I am completely content with where my life has brought me. Do I ever want for something I can't have? You bet. But there is much to be said for having something to wish for. And maybe because I've known struggling to get by, I'm happy with what I have.

This is one area my teenage son and I might never agree on; certainly we won't until he's had to hoe his own row. I did suggest that if he thinks his life at home is so unfair, he ought to emancipate himself. That comment was met with an incredulous, horrified expression. "I don't WANT to emancipate myself! I just don't want to have to spend time with the family. I don't want to have to eat dinner with all of you. I want to do what I want, when I want. I've even tried to act really nasty so that you don't want me around, but then all you do is ground me!"

Again, I chuckled. "I know. It stinks to have a mom who actually cares about you and wants to know what's going on in your life, doesn't it?" I replied. "Yeah, it does," he grumbled.

And then I chuckled again. When Max handed me his assignment, he did so with the comment that he didn't know why his teacher always tries to make everything they do in class relevant to real life. " 'Romeo and Juliet' has nothing to do with my life," he insisted. And yet...consider the discussion that resulted from this homework.

We may have both ended up frustrated, but I think there's value in any discussion a parent can actually have with his/her son or daughter. If they're talking to us at all, we're doing something right.

Even if it's to hear how miserably disappointing we are.

1 comment:

Marlene said...

Thanks for writing this.