Our family is pretty average. In case you are scoffing, hear me out. We have two kids, live in the suburbs, have two cars and a dog. We get our groceries from a local supermarket, but sometimes we go crazy and take a trip to the farmers market. We recycle. Yes, for a family that is an Australian and American blend and used to live in China, we are pretty average.
We didn’t used to have two cars. We used to be able to cope with no electricity and no running water for at least a couple of days. Our internet went down all the time when we lived in China. It was very fast but extremely unreliable. This was the stuff of life. I bathed my children in bottled water, lit a bunch of candles and moved on with life.
We used to be so used to dealing with little irritations that I was surprised recently that a few little bumps in my very “average” First World life threw me off. I got stressed about these things. I got upset that they took so long to fix. The internet went down, our second car was in the shop for 6 weeks and our air conditioning died. In the midst of my miniature meltdown about all these things I did have the presence of mind to say to myself, “Hey princess! Yes you! A lot of people in this world don’t have one car, wouldn’t know what to do with internet and just deal with heat. Suck it up sweetheart and put a smile on your face.”
You can attribute that last bit to my mother. She is great for telling like it is. It must be a Southern thing. To be fair I was big on the pout and whine as a child so she had to develop some serious coping tactics. I often heard her say, “Hun a frown never fixed anything. Put a smile on that face and go get dressed, you’ll feel better.” To be honest a smile, a pair of jeans and some makeup does go a long way. Southern women learn this early on in life.
After I had a good long talk with myself about my attitude, I had some thinking to do. I realized how much I needed to check myself when my youngest child walked in our living room totally despondent that he couldn’t download a new game app. We were using all the data allowances on our phones for the boys’ homework so he had to go without. (I am not the only used to the First World lifestyle, half my children’s homework requires the internet.) I was teasing him about what a rough life he thought he had because he couldn’t download new games for a week when it hit me that I was behaving much the same way.
I won’t deny that it gets hot in Perth, but as a girl raised by a Southern mother I know there is no amount of hot that can’t be fixed by a tall glass of iced tea and a fan. So I don’t have internet in my house for a week or two. Instead of downloading new books maybe I can reread a few classics. Certainly wouldn’t kill me. The second car was the biggest stress, but the truth is our office is right on the train line. It is pretty easy to get to. You know what I missed about having a second car? I missed being able to call my husband and asked him to pick up something I had forgotten for dinner before he came home. I also really hated getting up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. I am that spoiled by my first world life and my kids know it.
How bad is it that my reaction to not having a second car is so blown out of proportion when you take in account that there are people in the world who struggle to find drinkable water? What am I teaching my children when I lose internet and act like it is a huge deal? There are several big problems in the world right now, like the number of orphans, pollution, human trafficking, violence, hunger etc… To act as though having no air conditioning is a big problem may be teaching my children that it is actually a big problem. None of my problems are life-and-death and I need my children to understand that there are life-and-death situations in this world. I need my reactions to my “First World problems” to indicate I understand that there are bigger issues in the world than these tiny little problems. So many people in our world would be happy to have my problems. Can you imagine if I told someone who was starving that I had a fridge full of food, a car, access to medical care and a good education for my children but I don’t have air conditioning, internet or a second car so I am really struggling?
Last year our family had to go without a fridge for a month because ours broke down and a new part had to be shipped in. Didn’t bother me a bit then, and it is not like I really lost it when I had to deal with these problems, I just let them get to me. When I realized that I had let these things get to me even a little a bit and that my children were in turn letting these things get to them, I knew it was unacceptable.
My children’s generation who have grown up in the first world, have grown up with the world at their fingertips. The slightest inconvenience seems to be interpreted through their eyes as a big issue. I want my children to grow up seeing the bigger picture. I want them to be able to put their problems in the context of the larger world. If I want them to truly grasp other people struggles, then I need to clearly demonstrate what actual problems are. I need to show them that I understand what a real problem looks like. I do not want to give my children implied permission to treat their “First World problems” as life and death when they are really more like small irritations.
So I am getting back to where I need to be. Thankful for my First World comforts without allowing the times they don’t work properly to shift my perception of what should actually trouble me.