“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
~From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
As a parent, I’ve decided many matters with an eye toward how my children will judge me not in the moment, but years later. These include:
Do your chores again because you didn’t do them correctly the first time.
No, you can’t stay at the party past 11.
Yes, you must meet weekly with a college-entrance exam tutor your sophomore year.
Do NOT take a gap year in the middle of college.
I also took the long-game approach as a child myself when I made many promises to my imagined adult self. The list, much of which I long ago forgot, included buying excellent trick-or-treat candy and high-quality toilet paper (growing up in a house stocked with POM bath tissue caused me to covet the neighbors’ Charmin).
Along with those purchasing promises, I swore I’d take any child of mine who developed acne to the dermatologist. Two of my sons took prescription isotretinoin in high school, which cleared their skin like a magic potion. As a result, their teen years were less insufferable than my own.
Recently I’ve recognized how several, though certainly not all, choices my younger self made have paid off in unanticipated ways. Buddhist meditation and psychotherapy provided immediate benefits when first undertaken in my 20s, to be sure. After 30 years, however, the cumulative impact of both has been remarkable.
But it was by purposeful intent that I organized my adult life to accommodate travel.
A retired history teacher from Garfield High School regularly attended the wine tasting events I used to host at World Market. He once told me told me, “Boy, I’ve learned from your column that you sure like to travel.”
It’s true. My ex-husband used to tell me that without looking at the calendar he knew when it had been about 12 weeks since I’d last left town because I’d get itching to toss the kids in the car and go. (Perhaps this served as training because my three adult sons remain eager travelers.)
Knowing this about myself, while also understanding that the work I enjoy would never make me rich, I decided to live a low-cost life. I drive my cars until they die and little of what I purchase is new. And the few things that are, are usually deeply discounted.
Most importantly, I do not spend a lot of money on housing. My monthly payment, including the escrow for insurance and taxes is just under $600 a month. Furthermore, I own and rent the house next to the one I live in. That income mostly covers the mortgages of both homes.
Gosh, she must live in a tiny house, you may be thinking. No, my house is a three-story comfortable home with roughly 2,000 square feet of living space, a fabulous front porch and cozy backyard.
Akronites know our city offers an abundance of affordable housing stock — timelessly beautiful homes built with a level of quality few are constructed with today. Still, the cost of my home would double if it was just half a mile to the west or north of where it is.
My three eldest boys and I moved to the Hall Park Allotment Historic District on the west side, between Highland Square and downtown, in 2003. The neighborhood has a rich diversity of housing and residents. White-collar, blue-collar and cash-economy workers populate the houses of brick and clapboard along with a scattering of apartment buildings.
That’s how I like it. My inner-city community has few, if any, people who are more concerned about lawns than lives lived. Neighbors on my street call out to one another from open porches that are furnished like outdoor living rooms.
After two decades in this neighborhood, I’ve never had reason to worry about crime. One year, big multihued pumpkins voluntarily sprouted from my flower bed and filled the front yard. Nobody bothered them and that fall my boys harvested their own jack-o’-lanterns.
I understand that the money and time necessary to travel as regularly and widely as I do is a privilege few can afford. But just as the decisions that didn’t please my children in the moment paid dividends in the long run, so too has choosing to live modestly helped fulfill several dreams of mine.
My plan for this one wild and precious life always included travel. It still does.
This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, October 31, 2021.