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February 20, 2009

The Upside of the Economic Downturn

-6 Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you cannot go one day without seeing "For Sale" signs sprout like weeds, drawing in possible home buyers with seductive red come-hithers like,  “REDUCED” and “OWNER MUST SELL".  You cannot go one day without walking by usually filled restaurants now populated with beautifully set, forlorn, empty tables.  You cannot go one day without seeing high-end department stores and boutiques slashing prices the likes of Walmart.   Not a week goes by without hearing of a friend who’s been laid off and of others who still can't find work.  And if you live in sunny California like I do, you live under the threatening, stormy cloud of state bankruptcy.

While we are not putting the cash underneath our mattress just yet,  this new frightened and frugal economy puts an instant reality check on the need for designer jeans, expensive sneakers, cell phones and entertainment systems.  I’m not just talking about the kids either...parents are not immune to this kind of peer pressure.  In fact, our wants and needs are grander than our kids' and the stakes most definitely higher.

Our family is lucky enough to live in an affluent neighborhood where the "haves" are a lot more common than the "have nots".  But life in this comfortable, bucolic setting is not without it's own brand of challenges.

"Mommy," my son says as we pass the house of a school friend.  "How come we don't have a bowling alley like Jimmy?  Or a movie theater like Emma?"

And my favorite story (though it's now almost 7 years old) is the time my daughter came home from a party of a classmate, the son of a successful infomercial producer,  "Mommy,  Jackson has an airplane, an elevator and this weird man who opens up the door for you.  Are we going to get an airplane?"

While we live a comfortable, privileged life, comfort is easily overshadowed by the silk awning of luxury.  My husband and I can't help but feel a twinge of inadequacy (and envy) even while we're espousing,

"Some people will always have more than you and some people will always have less - just be grateful for what you have."

We know their emotions are pure - airplanes and home movie theaters are cool and they want in on it.  Who wouldn't?  But as parents it's our job to teach them about the real world and the value of a hard-earned dollar.  Now that banks are falling, people like Madoff are stealing, and our financial world is tumbling down, the one good thing to come out of this debacle is that it's made our job of this a lot easier.

When my son whines, "I bet Ethan's dad would let him have the $80 football jersey," we can reassure ourselves in confidence that, Ethan's dad is worried he may not have a job tomorrow so no, you bet Ethan won't be getting that jersey anytime soon.

When he's frustrated because he has not yet visited China or Russia or Seattle in the eight years he's been alive, we can use the recession to underscore the values we’ve been trying to instill all along.

While my daughter loves Juicy Couture clothes and is begging to go to a private high school (despite the fact that we moved to this pricey neighborhood BECAUSE of the quality public schools), we can now blame current events as our excuse,

“Oh, honey, haven’t you heard?" we say, "The economy’s tanked.  We're very sorry."

What we do and say on a daily basis hasn’t changed but the viral economic demoralizing has been a great equalizer.  We now have a lot less Jones’ out there with whom to compete. 

Maybe I should write a thank you letter to George W?   ;)


This is an exclusive post for LA Moms' Blog.

Fran B. is a mother/wife/writer living in Los Angeles.  You can catch her stretching to find other silver linings at her personal blog www.merlotmom.com


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