Less is All We Need
As of today, our Chanukah vacation plans are officially canceled.
No snow-tubing trips necessary.
No visits to the museum needed.
No excursions to the mall in the plans.
If anyone asks, the Berkovics will be staying home and sitting on the couch, thank you very much.
And just so you know, we won’t be staying home because I’m lazy (though I am always happy to stay home in my pajamas with a hot coffee and a good book. That’s a vacation.).
No, we’ll be staying home because, right now, my kids are refusing to move from the couch, despite my constant coaxing and cajoling.
Honestly, I can’t even be sure that they hear me.
They’re transfixed by the entertainment right outside our front window.
Who needs concert when there is a symphony of jackhammers playing their music as soon as the sun comes up?
Who needs the circus when we can sit and watch the three-ring spectacle of plumbers, pavers, and plasterers plying their crafts?
Who needs amusement park rides when we have the thrill of excavators and cranes, lifting and whirring so close to our home, we can almost reach out and touch them?
Yup, my kids are completely entranced by the construction project just across the street, and that’s all the entertainment they need.
Note to self: send the neighbors a thank-you card for preserving my bank account by choosing to remodel their home. (I take no responsibility for their bank account, though. Sorry.).
I’ll admit that I understand my kids’ fascination.
It’s pretty amazing to observe a house as it is built from the ground up, to see the incremental progress, the day-to-day transformations.
And if my children were marveling at the architectural wonders or at the engineering prowess, I’d grab a bucket of popcorn and join them on the couch.
Except I can’t help but think they’re marveling for another reason.
I can’t help but assume they’re thinking, “I really wish this new house was ours.”
I don’t blame them. It’s quite the house.
It so obviously dwarfs our humble home, that driving by, you wouldn’t be crazy to guess that our home was their house’s maids’ quarters. Or even its shed.
And my sweet children, who know nothing of mortgage payments or property-tax appraisals, have been inflicted with the jealousy bug – or at least the wild-imagination bug – as they take in each new wing and each new story.
“Ma, when are we building our extension?” one gap-toothed child asks innocently.
Do I let him down easy or allow him to continue to dream?
“Ma, could we even afford a house that size?” another son asks anxiously.
Now that’s a touchier question.
My daughter turns to him, horrified. “Of course we can afford it,” she snaps with all her third-grader confidence. “We just don’t need it. Right, Ma?”
I stifle my laugh. Uh-huh.
So she’s gotten the message I’ve tried to pass along all these years.
Whenever my kids ask for something I don’t think they need (or I don’t want to pay for), I avoid talking about the price. Instead, I’ll say, “It’s not that we can’t afford it; it’s just that we don’t need it.”
Usually, it’s about extra fries with their pizza or a sushi platter instead of gefilte fish.
Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes it’s not.
In the case of the mansion coming up across the street, though, it’s definitely not true. There is no way we could afford it, not even in our dreams.
I don’t begrudge the new homeowners their beautiful new home.
Not at all.
They are kind, simple, salt-of-the-earth people. Really.
Their home, even before the upgrade, has always had an open door, with guests staying there during the week and on Shabbos. They are expanding because they want to host more people, more often. I am amazed by their generosity of spirit, and I’m happy Hashem has granted them the resources to continue their astounding chesed.
But that’s not what my kids see.
They only see a contrast between what we have and what they have.
They only see that our house suddenly feels smaller, feels plainer, feels less.
Just the other day, my daughter made that a little too obvious.
My husband, for the life of him, could not remember where he had taken off his shoes.
He had searched high and low, under beds and up on shelves, but he could not find them anywhere.
In exasperation, he called out, “Yitti, we need to get a smaller house!”
Before I could respond, I heard my daughter whisper in horror, “Chas V’Sholom!”
I laughed out loud, but part of me also cried.
I am an adult.
I know that someone could build Buckingham Palace right under my nose, and it wouldn’t make my house any bigger or any smaller.
But I want my kids to appreciate that their lot is their lot, with each square foot of blessing carved out for them by the Builder Who knows best.
The big house across the street is for that family; our family has exactly what it needs.
But let’s be honest – I need to remember that for myself too.
I have been known to tell my husband that I am more than happy with my lot, but I wouldn’t mind if my lot had a few more square-inches, you know?
Maybe just an extra toy closet?
How about a mud room? A nice deck with a perfect view of the sunset?
That’s not asking too much, right?
And then I remember how blessed I felt just a few years back, when we closed on our house, when I was given the key to my own home for the first time.
I remember how deeply grateful I was to Hakadosh Boruch Hu that I had a home in which to raise my family, a home I once wondered if I’d ever be able to afford.
It didn’t matter that the bedrooms were a bit small or that the kitchen didn’t have an island. I didn’t notice that the walls had no moldings or that the chandelier was a little dated.
I felt like I had a palace, like I was the queen.
I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world.
And I need to recapture that. More than anything, I want my kids to experience that, to know that in their core.
Really, there is no better time to teach them than Chanukah, when we remember how one small jug of oil could burn for eight days.
Less can be more.
Less can be empowering.
Less can light up the whole world.
My family doesn’t need the clutter of more (especially without that mudroom or that extra toy closet).
We need to celebrate what we already have.
We need to feel rich with just that one jug of oil, because even that small amount has the power to make miracles.
If my kids are ever willing to get off the couch and stop staring at the house across the street, dreaming of what could have been, maybe I can convince them to pool their Chanukah gelt so we can create a lasting memory that’s all our own.
Maybe, even better, I can convince them to pool their gelt to give to others – because we already have so much.
Maybe I can convince them (and myself) that if we have less, then less is all we need.