Edgy Mama: Inheriting the future

These are crazy times—renowned financial firms are going belly-up, real-estate values are plunging, a conservative woman from nowhere is poised to become vice president, and here in Asheville, we’re in the middle of the great gas panic of 2008.

I realize that panic creates panic, and I’m not buying into the gasoline panic. Yet. But I have found myself feeling generally unnerved and upset by all this crazy stuff going on in the world. And I’m worried, mostly for my kids.

As I write this, cars are blocking one lane of Merrimon Avenue for about a block, waiting to buy overpriced gas. As I drove by earlier, I studied my gas gauge. Although it was close to full, I wondered if I, too, should panic.

If other people are panicking and I’m not, is something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I join the flock? Shouldn’t I sit in line, blowing gas fumes out my exhaust pipe, while I wait to top off my tank? Who knows, we might never have gasoline again, right?

Then I realized that as long as the school buses are fueled up and can transport my kids to and from school, I’m OK. But then, I’m lucky. I don’t need to commute. My livelihood isn’t dependent on transportation. I can get most places I need to go via the bus, my bike or my own two feet (with proper planning, at least—see Bus-Riding Mama, published online Aug. 11).

But I still wonder if I should join the panic party. The fear’s contagious—it’s emanating from the gas-station lines like carbon monoxide. We’re all, to some extent, motivated by fear, particularly fear of what we can’t control. As a parent, I realize that there’s a lot to be scared of, but I also recognize that, outside of encasing my kids in plastic bubbles, there’s only so much I can control.

At the moment, stuff that I’ve taken for granted no longer seems to be true. Such as, even though I don’t consume much gas, it will always be there if I need it. Such as, that the small amount of money I put in a retirement account when I had a real job would continue to earn interest and one day be enough to live on. Such as, that my house would continue to increase in value. Such as, that the savings we’ve been putting in the kids’ college funds would enable us to pay in-state tuition one day. Such as, that when finally a woman could become one of the most important politicians in the world, she’d be someone I could feel proud of and support. Instead, the combination of the gas panic, the financial crisis, Sarah Palin, and my kids’ future is giving me ulcers.

Slap me down, hubris. Slap me down, Wall Street, mortgage lenders, climate change. Slap me down, John McCain. Oh wait, McCain’s clearly too much of a gentleman to slap anyone. Even when they might need slapping.

While I’m not yet hoarding gas, I’ve found myself doing things I wouldn’t have imagined doing a few months ago. I am hoarding locally made craft beers, because I hear there might be a run on beer soon. Plus it soothes the ulcers. I’m looking carefully at the prices of grocery items that I’ve been tossing in my shopping cart without a thought for years (except for good beer). I’m riding my bike again, albeit very slowly up Asheville’s hills. I’m saving tie twists from our bread bags. This is all good, I think. I’m saving the earth. Hurrah. But saving the earth isn’t my primary motivation here. Fear is. And it’s a powerful motivation. It’s why all those otherwise sane folks were blocking Merrimon Avenue all morning.

I’m acting as if I can ward off evil (as my boy would say) by engaging in Depression-era, fear-based hoarding. Soon I’ll have enough tie twists to build a web or a dream catcher that I can hang on my window for protection … from bread crumbs.

Unfortunately, that web can’t protect my kids any more than I can from lots and lots of seemingly small decisions that are adding up to a financial crisis so big that the repercussions could be felt for generations. Clearly, my kids will inherit a world that’s very different from the one I’ve inherited. And I can’t even imagine what kind of world their kids will inherit.

I don’t have many answers. If I did, I wouldn’t be sitting here in north Asheville, hoping that, by writing this, I can find some company within this community I so adore. I’m hearing about fist fights at the Shell station, and thinking, “Asheville is better than this, right?” There’s no reason to beat up your neighbors, people. Instead, join me in cutting back. Join me in the ulceration of my stomach lining. Join me in coming up with some ways that we can help our kids inherit a world that’s better than the one we’ve inherited.

My dad, who works in investment banking, likes to throw out biblical metaphors. He says, “Prepare for seven years of famine.” From where I’m sitting, we’re nearing year eight of the famine and the crops are getting sparser. I just hope that someone, some day, will offer my kids seven years of feast. Before the tie twists explode out of their kitchen drawer and take over the kitchen.


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6 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Inheriting the future

  1. Mama –

    Here is a great letter about inheriting the future as written by Thomas Jefferson in 1789:


    As always, Jefferson’s brilliance helps convey the point that parents and the older generations are supposed to leave the children of the upcoming generation no debt, and ideally a better world than what they came into. We are not intended, philosophically, to burden our future generations with a former generations debt from immediate need to compensate greed and gratification. Thus I am feeling entirely at odds and suspicious of a $700Billion bailout and a president older than my grandfather.

  2. Suzanne Jones

    I wonder if some of those twist-ties are those I gave you in a baggie as a little (well, lots of ties) Christmas present a few years ago. Remember? Love, MIL

  3. Gratuitous

    I’m frightened too. All along, I’d figured that the best thing I can do to secure my childrens’ future was to make sure they had enough money to go to the colleges of their choice and pursue whatever their little hearts desired. I don’t even know where to put that money where it’s safe now! Dozens of prepaid debit cards perhaps? A stockpile of the endangered Adelgid? Or maybe more stable currencies, like drugs and alcohol? I’ve never been concerned that we’ll ever run out of food, clothing, shelter, beer or even fuel, but wow, it’s not a 100% conviction anymore! We’ve come so far with our marvelous cultures, but could we actually de-evolve to “survival mode?” The Mad Max in me kinda digs the rough-and-tumble bad-ass survivor idea, but the dad in me decidedly does not. We’ll know which way the scales will tip soon. But, since we evolved as creatures of community, I’m guessing it couldn’t hurt to reach out to each other more in the mean time. Thanks, EM, for you part.

  4. Suzie,
    You gave me tie twists for Xmas? No wonder they’re taking over the kitchen. Guess what you’re getting for Xmas this year?

  5. jacquie

    Mad Max, that movie keeps coming up as a reference these days. Asheville Pizza should have a screening just to remind us of what could be and make us grateful for what still is, so far. Edgy Mama again you have put my thoughts into words well done!

  6. On the Fourth of July, the instinct is always to look backward in time, to the first news of that great Declaration or to the days when Emerson could truly say that ”the vast majority of the people of this country live by the land, and carry its quality in their manners and opinions.” That habit of looking backward is, for most of us, a little like taking a rowboat under the pier once a year to see for ourselves that the pilings are still sound. It restores our confidence. It also reminds us how many transfigurations this nation has gone through over time and assures us that through all those changes there is a discernible continuity of political purpose, the same vested interest in independence. We still carry the scale of this land in our manners and opinions, if no longer the actual touch of its soil. We also carry something that our ancestors could not: the scale of our own history.One of the things you notice while looking backward on the Fourth of July is that everyone you come upon is looking forward. ”It is the country of the Future,” Emerson said in 1844. Anyone else you might turn to, anyone else who has taken up a pen on the subject of America, says something similar. What Emerson meant, in part, was that his peers, as well as the young men he was speaking to, had devoted themselves to creating institutions whose benefit would be realized when they were long gone.

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