Can I tell you a little story? It’s just a little one, and it’s not about carpet, although it is about being poor, and about the way we see ourselves.
One day, when my big nine-year-old girl was still a little four-year-old-girl in Kindergarten, I met a man while walking home. It was a Friday, that I remember, because I was on my own after dropping her at school, and he had a little girl riding on top of his shoulders. She was also at Kindergarten, although in the other class from my daughter. They looked like a nice family, and I found myself wishing strangely that we could be friends, or that our girls could be friends.
That’s not what this story is about though.
The man was a friendly man, and we got in step and soon we started talking. I don’t remember what about so much, or about how the conversation led to the ending it did. It was probably about renovating, because he’d asked me whether I lived around here, and I told him I lived in the house around the corner with the peeling pink paint. I felt bad about that paint. I don’t remember what else we said, but I do remember the feeling though that my little girl was now in Kinder, and that she’d bring her friends home, and I felt ashamed for her that she didn’t have the perfectly painted house-and-garden bedroom that I’d always dreamed for her, or the lovely romp-able back lawn. I felt, that year, that I’d let her down, or in some large cosmic sense, I’d let her future self down by not giving her the beautiful start in life I’d always dreamed for her, my first born, my baby girl.
I didn’t tell the man that. I didn’t tell anybody that.
What the man said to me though, after we’d stopped outside his house, a big old shabby-looking place that I’d often wondered about, was this: “We’ve done a lot to our house, and it’s taken years to get around to some things. I think it’s good though. I think it’s good for the girls to experience the process, and to understand that they can’t just have things done all at once.”
I nodded, and smiled. I didn’t once let on how his words changed my life, and then I walked home.
Five years later, and his little girl and mine are now fast friends. I’ve been to their house numerous times to pick her up from playdates, and seen that inside that shabby, crusty exterior is something truly palatial by my standards. They’ve done most of it themselves, and are still doing it. The last few times I’ve been there the dad has been up on a ladder plastering the ceiling of one of the bedrooms, or laying new floorboards, while the girls play Barbies or craft on the mat in the living room. I love their house I love the amazing journey they’ve had, and the huge amount of effort they’ve done to get it to the standard that it’s at. But what I love most of all is this: it reminds me constantly that it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.
I have not let my daughter down by not providing her the most beautiful house and bedroom to start her life in. I’ve given her the gift of experiencing a journey.