The Downsizing of an American Dream
Adults with high-paying jobs, nice cars, pretty homes, and a house full of kids are said to be living the American dream. I was drooling for that dream when I headed off to college, scholarships in hand, and a decision to make between becoming a lawyer or a teacher. As adulthood set in, however, my dreams became fuzzy, and my ideals became more concrete. My American dream changed, for better or worse, due to these common factors:
Location – Location really is everything. A move from the small town I was born to a metropolitan city of almost 1 million, changed my view of “what a girl needs.” The dumpy car I drove to college wasn’t good enough anymore. Even my poorest friends had nice rides. My dream was going to require me to make much more money.
After my marriage, several successive moves put me right back where I started. My 10-year-old car was a common mode of transportation, and the brand-new company car that my husband drove attracted more attention than it was worth. Our dream shifted again to satisfy more conservative standards.
Priorities – With only myself to care for, working two jobs in college seemed like a great way to pass the time. Extra money came in and was spent quickly on CD’s, bar tabs, and highlights. Building equity was a foreign idea designed for folks much older than myself, and my income was gone almost before I earned it. I still held on to the hope of “making it big” someday.
After I became a mother, new shoe purchases made way for diaper duty and prescription medicine. With no time to work outside of the home, our suddenly one-income family found new ways to make ends meet. The American dream was put on hold until a week when we could get more than a few hours’ sleep.
Satisfaction – Believe it or not, it has been awhile since I could buy something just because I wanted it. What’s more amazing is that I prefer it this way! As our standards of living have sunk to an all-time low, the level of satisfaction I have gotten from my purchases has been record-setting. Frugality has spawned a joy from every little thing we indulge in.
Our five year plan would have been met this month. Our new car, new home, two college degrees, and one child could have made us happy. We would have been living the America dream we always wanted.
Instead, we sit in a downsized version of our original plan. Older cars, (barely running at times), a strange rental situation, one set of graduate classes, and four kids grace our lives with their unplanned presence. We dream of owning a small business in our even smaller hometown and raising our family in a quiet, simple way.
It isn’t the dream we wanted years ago, and at times I’m not always sure it is the dream we will want years from now. I guess that is why it is the American dream; on any night where you can sleep soundly, it may change.