“Daddy, are we rich?”
My daughter at the dinner table. Which, since school has started again, is quickly becoming more of a place to discuss Important Things rather than eat.
If elementary school paints a broad stroke of a child’s future life, middle school narrows things a bit. I’m not just talking about things like math and history and spelling. I’m talking about where children fit into the scope of society. My daughter is in a classroom of about sixteen. That means there are fifteen other children who might be her age, but sometimes have little more in common.
There are children who are of a different color. Some have no father at home, or no mother. Some are from other parts of the state. A few are from other states completely.
Some have accents. Some wear glasses. There are the tall and the short, the big and the small, the smart and the not so much.
There is a mixing of ideas and life experiences, even if those ideas are still relatively undeveloped and those experiences are few. And the result is that all of the children, are trying to figure out where they fit in and why or why not.
The girl who sits next to my daughter whipped out a brand new toy from her book bag the other day. A nice toy. One that my daughter herself had expressed a desire to have every time the commercial appeared on the television. I told her it was too expensive, that it was the sort of thing that fell under Santa’s jurisdiction rather than her parents. Did that mean her parents had less money than than this other girl’s?
The boy who sits behind my daughter was quite the opposite. He has no toys. None that he has chosen to sneak into school, anyway. His clothes are worn and sometimes dirty, and his shoes look like they are too small. Like my daughter, his parents didn’t seem rich either. But unlike my daughter, he seemed to have even less.
So: “Daddy, are we rich?”
The thought occurred to me to put a spin on her question. I could use the whole We’re Rich In The Things That Matter speech. I could say that we had things like love and togetherness, things that make us rich but can’t really be seen most times.
Of course I could use the We’re A Lot Better Off Than Most speech, too. I could say that there are a lot of people in a lot of other places that didn’t have a house to stay in or good food to eat or even a television to watch. People who would consider us to be very rich indeed.
Neither of those options seemed right at the time. So I decided that honesty would be the best policy.
“No, we’re not rich.”
“We’re not?” she asked.
“Then are we poor?”
The paused with a spoon full of mashed potatoes in her hand. “Then what are we?”
I shrugged. “We’re normal.”
“Oh,” she said. “Okay.”
Thus ended our conversation.
Being normal was okay for her. No big deal. She wasn’t rich, which may have been a disappointment. But she wasn’t poor either, which may have been a bigger one. She was in the middle. Neither/nor. And that was fine.
I hope she always has this opinion of things. I hope that she never gets so ambitious as to forget her blessings and never so complacent as to forget that she can always be and do more.
It’s a delicate place, this normalness. It takes skill to be average. We Coffeys have become masters at it. It’s a source of pride.