Tuesday, January 03, 2006


It's the time of year when we see a lot of lists: Best of... Worst of... Milestones... One question that is always popular, especially during election years, but even now, is "Are you better off now than you were a year ago?"

I think that's the wrong question.

For one thing, that particular question assumes that life is like an escalator: you're either on the way up, on the way down, or the elevator is stopped and you're stuck. But my life doesn't move like that. Parts of my life may be better--I have a fulltime job I love, the kids are doing relatively well in school this year (for the most part), Hubs and I are still in love with each other. Other parts of my life are rocky: while we have no huge debt other than our mortgage, all of our cars have over 100,000 miles and are falling apart a piece at a time. Although our jobs pay well, we often juggle the "big bills" like car repair, holidays/birthdays, and school expenses for the kids. Even though the two in college attend the local community college, tuition must be paid and books must be bought. And college textbooks are not cheap--especially in math, science, and engineering. (IOW, DS#1's major.) Hubs and I should be saving more for our retirement; instead we're paying off our home.

We still have a home and we still have jobs--we know of people who have lost both. Friends of the family have died; babies have been born. Everyone is still pretty much talking to everyone. My mother just celebrated her 80th birthday and still lives on her own. My uncle, her brother, is 89 and is in secure "assisted living."

Our local public high school has deteriorated rapidly before our eyes, so rapidly I can hardly believe it. No one seems to know quite how to counteract it, especially the Principal. She picks one course of action and then, at the first sign of distress or hardship or opposition, switches to a different one. Hubs and I are now exploring alternatives. Friends are moving to school districts that offer better opportunities or sending their children to private high schools, then taking out loans for college.

I struggle between being the over-involved mom who runs her children's lives and the mom who doesn't pay enough attention, who isn't quite sure who my kids are hanging out with, who is trying to decide whether a change in attitude is a sign of hormones or of drug abuse.

OTOH, my children went willingly to the big family party on Christmas Eve and the smaller family party on Christmas Day. They fight and they tease, but they love each other. Most of the choices they are making seem to be good ones, based on the values Hubs and I have tried to instill, even if I can't always get them to Mass on Sunday. After a few years of drifting, DS#1 seems to be actively working toward an academic goal and he'll probably get there.

I started a blog and I'm writing regularly. However, my writing habits are still not regular. I haven't finished my novel. My poetry is still stuck (mostly) in free verse. I've been published (yippee!), but not for any financial remuneration.

So--am I better off than I was a year ago?

I'm another year older, another year wiser. I have learned much and realize there is much left to learn. My hair is grayer, my skin wrinklier, my reflexes slower. I have used my gifts and wasted them, much as I have used time and wasted it.

I am worried about the future and reassured when I see my brothers and SIL's with their (relatively) new families, when I see my nephews and niece growing up, taking on new tasks or new-to-them tasks, when I see the progress my children have made from diapers and total dependence to a dependence of a different kind.

In the great, slow, turning of the world; in the endless succession of days, weeks, months, years, I put one foot in front of the other, live each day the best that I can, and move from my personal Alpha to our own Omega. If I am doing that, without going mad, without causing too much pain and suffering, making one person's day easier or brighter, coming closer to the Person God intends me to be, then, yes, I am better off than I was a year ago.

The rest of the stuff--the material stuff--isn't really important, is it?