This is part 2 of Susannah's series "A Year of No Buying."
Read her First Quarter Report.
It was, of course, three minutes before we needed to leave for camp when my son Elliot said nonchalantly, “Mom, my shoe is really annoying me.” A quick check of said shoe revealed a large hole in the sole. Yes, a hole.
“Elliot!” I exclaimed, holding his gray Nike sneaker in disbelief, “How long has it been like this?”
“Oh,” he said thoughtfully, “well, I guess, like, most of camp.”
In our house, 2018 is A Year of No Buying. AYNOB, as we’ve termed it, entails refraining from purchasing “stuff” —clothing, tech, housewares, etc. until January 1, 2019. At least that was the surface agreement spelled out in our rules of engagement. As it’s played out, however, it’s been so much more. It has been time spent on creation rather than consumption. It has meant so thoroughly falling out of the routine of shopping that if the grocery store doesn’t sell it, we’re not getting it. It has meant that I can actually tell you what’s in our garage these days. It is the way this blog post, and a host of other AYNOB-related writing is getting done. I can’t say a bad word about it.
And for the most part, my family feels the same. Or I thought they did. But then my husband went and bought a car. A gorgeous black luxury car that is, as he would like me to point out, a hybrid.
Buying the car wasn’t just six months of pent-up shopping need. John has had a rough go. June saw the midpoint of some of his cancer treatment. It was, as I joked with him in that macabre way that my cancer peeps will understand, his Year of No Dying. For the moment, things are going really well on the cancer front in our house. So, perhaps a car was merited.
Be that as it may, the purchase of the car depressed me. It cast doubt on the validity of our whole big experiment. How could we reflect with any integrity about want and need with that car sitting in our driveway? What lessons could we learn now? And what about the AYNOB manuscript I had slowly been composing in my head? Where to put the chapter on the car? “Not a chapter,” said my friend Julie in an effort to comfort me. “Just a footnote. An asterisk.”
I wasn’t so sure. That was one expensive asterisk.
It was already past time for us to be in our other, non-luxury, car headed to day camp, but I was still in the basement looking around for duct tape to patch Elliot’s shoe. I couldn’t find any so I grabbed a roll of electrical tape and ran back upstairs. Elliot had his shoes on and was seated on the ground misting his face with his Powerade water bottle. “Here,” I said, plopping down on the floor next to him, “give me your foot.”
As I sat there and criss-crossed too-thin strips of black electrical tape to cover the hole, another black shape floated formlessly into view in the background over Elliot’s shoulder. It was the new car, parked in our driveway. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of all this self-imposed depravation. Who has a luxury car in their driveway and children with holes in their shoes? What the heck were we doing?
Elliot asked if we could get online and order him new shoes. I was one step ahead, having resigned myself to getting on Amazon earlier that day for the first time in months to pre-select a few pairs for him to choose from. I was not surprised to find that Amazon remembered me! It had kindly retained my credit card number and shipping preferences. My re-entering the world of consumerism was apparently no bother at all; Amazon was glad to oblige.
Elliot selected a pair of black and white basketball shoes in the price range I designated for him. I was delighted to rediscover, as the electrical tape hadn’t held too well, that online shopping these days is almost as instantaneous in its gratification as in-store purchasing. The shoes would be on our front step the following day. I went to bed feeling relieved. (The rest of the week had rain in the forecast.) But I also felt silly and defeated. Like an AYNOB failure.
Elliot came home from camp the next day with the disposition of a child waiting at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning. With every truck that rumbled down our street he rushed to the window to see if his shoes had arrived. When the box came he tore open the package and reverently held up the shoes for his older brothers to admire. Then he carefully replaced them in the box where they stayed until the following morning.
As predicted, the next morning it rained heavily, requiring campers to navigate a soggy playground in order to make it inside for camp. From the car I watched Elliot try to gingerly sidestep the puddles to protect his shoes. Ultimately, he gave up in order to keep up with his friends who were dashing through the rain toward shelter. Mud flew up over his shoes and splattered his socks as he darted across the field.
Later that afternoon I came down to find Elliot in the kitchen, brand new shoes sitting muddy-sole-down on my clean kitchen counter. It’s summer, so I’m already struggling with relinquishing sole dominion over my kitchen, and the sight proved too much. “Elliot!” I snapped, “What are you doing? You don’t put muddy shoes on the counter!”
Oh, if I had only stopped a second earlier to take in the full scene. Elliot looked at me somewhat startled, and then held out a ragged, soaked paper towel saturated with green dishwashing liquid. The water from the faucet continued to run full bore into the sink as it slowly dawned on me: Elliot was attempting to clean his new shoes.
Pretty much since the moment the shoes arrived, it’s kept up like that. Most nights his new shoes can be found in the cubbies where our shoes are supposed to reside until we wear them outside. He’s my first and only child to follow Mom’s Rules for Shoe Longevity (Rule #1: Untie, Untie, Untie). Which is all to say that Elliot does not take this pair of shoes for granted. They are, to him, a privilege—or at the very least, just a real treat.
As I type this, the black car is still sitting in our driveway, but a pair of uncommonly clean black basketball shoes are right next to our backdoor. Six months in, maybe we’re not doing so badly after all.
Be on the lookout for Susannah's third quarter report!
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