We weren't. It wasn't.
Our economic life got better when I married, but as our family grew, and my husband and I embarked on our attempt to start an organic donut-making business - dubbed the LWP (Latest Wacky Plan) by my sister-in-law, "extra" never became a thing we felt we had, our born in the middle-class, white, college-educated privilege notwithstanding.
But after a decade of wearing a groove in the earth sprinting between Peter and Paul and often showing up at one or the other's door with nothing but a pocket full of lint, something changed this year.
We experienced a small bump in our income as our boot-strapped business finally crossed the line out of eating up all the borrowed resources in sight into making a small profit. On top of that, I got paid a good chunk of my advance for my novel.
So what have I done? Bought seven garments. New. From not a thrift shop. Arranged for piano lessons for my daughter. Didn't blink when my husband brought home the "free" broken will-cost-a-mint-to-fix hot-tub. In the grocery store, I've stopped tensely watching the amount displayed on the cash register as it rises with Everest steepness. For the moment anyway, I know I won't have to play last-minute Sophie's Choice between a can of beans and a package of hot dogs.
And I've taken up a heretofore unthinkable new habit: Regularly purchasing $3.52 cafe au laits at one of those lovely coffee shops with the shiny machines, a "fair trade" coffee bean option, and music I never hate. Cupped in my hands, these coffees, besides smelling and tasting divine, feel distinctly and dangerously luxurious. As though, if the family wallet continued to fatten, they might lead to puma-hide toilet seat covers or Goddess help me, pea gravel, and most alarmingly, to a wandering away from my immediate knowledge of what it's like to live in even relative economic insecurity, and my at least proximal knowledge of what life is like for the huge number of people who -- multiple orders of magnitude worse off than I or mine have ever been -- struggle far too hard to obtain life's most basic necessities -- and, through no fault of their own, often can't procure them.
Steaming and sprinkled with nutmeg - thank you, beautiful young barista - there's no telling how long my access to this coffee will last but for now the luxury daily insists upon potent questions which I can not ignore:
1. Why do gold-plated bath-tub faucets and mouths full of missing teeth for lack of dental coverage still exist in the same Universe?
2. If you don't want to hoard wealth, and yet, not being saintly, also want to do right by and take care of your nearest and dearest, well then how much wealth is enough? At what balance point in your personal calculus, do you say: "Over and above this amount, any other income I earn, win, or hookly or crookly get, I will share, and spread out and invest in others?
Is it when you own a house (at least on paper), can pay all your basic bills easily, and can afford the organic pecans and a new package of underwear each year and a Stetson every five?
Is it when you have all the above going, plus $10,000 squirreled away in a Swiss bank account, plus a full set of matching bath towels, linens, and tupperware?
Is it when you can regularly buy coffee house coffees?
The fact that the one llama I chipped in on for a family in Peru stands out in my memory in lonely technicolor splendor on an otherwise empty windswept philanthropic landscape, tells you how much sharing of my resources I've actually done up until now. A few dollars for local radio stations, donuts and truly minute amounts of cash for this cause and that hidden in the scrub, and that's about it.
But what if we keep doing better financially? Though no one in a convincing Mistress of the Universe up-do has guaranteed us anything, it feels for the first time at least possible that we could -- with the help and cooperation of a whole lot of people and circumstances, between the donuts and books, create "extra". If we are lucky enough to end up consistently generating/receiving such "extra", I fervently hope that I'll recognize it as such, and not let expanding appetite trick me into ever mistaking that "extra" as somehow newly "essential" to our "needs". I want to deeply remember just how "extra" coffee shop coffee feels at this moment, and if we prosper, allow the warm cup in my hands to be the constant bellwether that indicates "Enough".