My five-year-old daughter and I are eating lunch when she casually starts reminiscing…
Brontë: So I really enjoyed seeing the Eiffel Tower with you…
Me: We haven’t been there yet.
Brontë: Yeah, I’m PRETENDING.
Me: Oh, okay. So, we could see the entire city from far above…
Brontë: Because SOMEONE hasn’t taken me yet.
Me: We will go someday. I promise.
Brontë: Can we get a baguette?
Me: Yes–you know what that is?
Brontë: Yeah, a giant bread. Can we see Madeline?
Me: Well, Madeline is pretend, but we can see the places she goes.
Brontë: Can we say “Bonjour” to people?
Me: Of course! They’ll like that… you should always say “bonjour” to people in France.
Brontë: That means “goodbye,”
Me: No, it means “good day.”
Brontë: Yeah, like saying “bye.”
Me: No, it’s more like saying, “Hello.”
Brontë: You’re being RIDICULOUS, mom.
So… color me shocked that my five-year-old already knows about the Eiffel Tower and baguettes and how to say “bonjour.”
I suppose I am taking French classes and watching French films and maybe she’s picked something up. Even if she’s questioning my basic French knowledge and shaming me for not already have taken her to Paris, she seems fairly culturally adept for a toddler.
Does anyone remember Garbage Pail Kids? They were these nasty trading cards you could get in the late 80’s and 90’s of cartoon toddlers covered in vomit or otherwise being gross or violent.
They were wildly popular. I think they were a backlash against the Cabbage Patch Kid fad at the time, which was all about baby dolls that supposedly grew out of cabbages with levels of cuteness so nuclear that moms actually got into fistfights over them at the time.
Note that I said moms, because their kids were busy collecting trading cards about cabbage spawn exploding their zits or dropping whatever they were doing to go witness the playground fight that just broke out because they suspected this thing we call “life” involves something darker than the perky cartoon facades the adults kept constructing around them while arguing they were 100 percent true…
Somewhere around age 5, if my daughter Brontë is anything to go by, kids start grasping the idea that some things are considered wrong and you’re socially obligated to be offended by them. Girls, at least, like to throw their arms in the air and dramatically shriek upon confronting them.
But I suspect it’s somewhat of an act.
See.. the other day, I was walking up the steps to our house with Brontë and her little sister Bridget when we passed a dead June bug…
Bridget (pointing and shrieking): A bee! A BEE!
Bidgie and I squat and stare at the dead bug for a minute.
Me: That’s a June bug, Bidgie. Where do these dead bugs keep coming from?
Brontë (running away): EWW, GROSS! I don’t want to see that.
Me (watching Bridget poke it with a stick): Whoa, looks like those ants are eating it.
So, lately I’ve been thinking about how Participation Trophies are a great idea…
Psh, calm DOWN everyone. I figure that most of you reading this are currently either 1) assuming I’m being sarcastic, or 2) quietly ranting to yourself about the spoiled Millennials and their unbelievable sense of entitlement after getting participation trophies their entire lives, except:
I’m actually dead serious, and
I’m not a Millennial, remember? I’m a Gen Xer who probably likes to complain about Millennials as much as my friends, even though they aren’t really that bad but life looks much different in retrospect and one of the great consolations of aging is pretending we had the world all sorted out before these lunatic punks got their hands on it.
(Kids, you’ll understand what I mean in about ten years when you’re rolling your eyes at all the Gen-Z shenanigans as cocky youths look at you sideways when you mention Justin Timberlake because seriously grandpa, who the hell is that!?)
But I digress.
My point is that kids, in fact, should be praised for participation. Not as a replacement for winning or losing, because winning and/or losing is a fact of life that kids will either learn to accept or spend much of their adult life throwing irrational fits whenever things don’t work out the way they wanted, which is frankly a parenting fail. We can’t be spending their childhoods validating the idea that the universe has dealt them an unfair cosmic blow whenever they find themselves slightly inconvenienced.
But… in addition to declaring winners and losers, we should definitely be praising participation and effort.
Why? Because sheer effort and persistence is a HUGE part of success.
You see, sometime around the 1980’s, while I was growing up, experts had roughly decided that low self-esteem was the root of a huge number of social problems, such as kids not reaching their full potential. Violence, addiction, and chronic unemployment probably all traced back to dysfunctional families that made kids not feel good enough about themselves to achieve anything productive in life, or so went the thought.
So, with extremely good intentions, parents and teachers were coached to basically tell every child how incredibly unique, brilliant, attractive, and insightful they were. They got to hear this all the time, whether or not they had actually accomplished anything, in hopes that their achievements would eventually meet the inflated self-images everyone had been feeding them.
Problem is, when kids believe everyone thinks so highly of them, they’re reluctant to try anything they’re not naturally good at in case they fail miserably and thereby screw up everyone’s high opinion. It actually makes kids afraid to try.
After years of seeing how You’re-Already-Awesome parenting methods worked out, researchers finally put on the brakes. DON’T tell your kids how brilliant and unique they are, the experts now tell us.
So what’s a parent to do? We still want them to feel good about themselves, right?
Yes, it turns out. But in a way that praises the process, not the result.
In other words, praise your kids for making an effort, for sticking to something, even after having lots of problems doing it right. Praise their work, their persistence, their bold moves of not giving up the first moment they encounter difficulty.
Because honestly, that’s a huge part of achieving anything. The people who graduate college aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ’s, but the ones who keep working at it, keep studying, keep doing lots of research and writing papers that they turn in when they’re supposed to, even if they have to bang their heads on the wall repeatedly before a concept they’re struggling with eventually sinks in. Same goes for getting promotions at work or any other winning measures you can think of.
We have this myth of God-given talent (at least in America) that culturally plays out in movie after movie and really messes with our heads. The idea involves some of us being natural quasi-demigods who are blessed with abilities that will raise us above our peers with little effort on our parts.
It’s a fun fantasy, all the glory with very little work… much like playing the lottery, where our lives are radically changed after only spending a buck at the convenience store before allowing the universe to whisper the lucky numbers into our chosen ears.
Along those lines, I remember a movie I was once forced to watch in a college film class that left me incredibly bitter about the entire idea: Running on Empty.
In the film, River Phoenix plays a kid with natural piano abilities who could never practice on an actual piano because his parents were fugitives from the law. Because of this fact, he could only practice on a soundless keyboard, without lessons, until he manages to one day snag an audition at Juilliard, where he plays a slow, easy, emotional song that immediately gets him enrolled on full scholarship.
The movie was praised by critics, but left me spitting mad.
Why? Because I’ve actually auditioned at Juilliard and know how stupid the entire movie’s premise really is.
See, before I was a whimsical freelance writer and offbeat parent reporting on her strange toddlers, I was a music performance major who played the flute competitively since the age of eight. I’ve played on TV, I’ve trained internationally for world premiere recordings of original compositions, attended the most prestigious music camps, went to a renowned conservatory, and have won more awards than I’ve bothered to count.
(Obviously, it didn’t end up becoming my line of work. My advice to aspiring classical flutists: consider taking up the bassoon.)
But I’m not sharing this information to brag. I want to relate how I was one of the last kids in my fourth grade class to make an initial sound on the flute, but I persisted. I kept at it when all of my friends were watching cartoons after elementary school and when they were later attending parties and sneaking Zima in the 7-11 parking lot. While other kids were learning skateboard tricks and practicing the Roger Rabbit behind closed doors, I was memorizing hours of music marked by painstaking metronome clicks, etching it so beneath my fingers’ skin that I could later reproduce it under the stress of a thousand dimly-lit spectators… tens of thousands of hours of playing songs excruciatingly slowly, moving up click by click on the metronome until, weeks later, I could execute a five-second rift quickly enough that no one could sense that I wasn’t born playing it.
Yes, I had talent, but talent gets you absolutely nowhere without years of focused, hard work.
And many, many other people have talent too. It’s an equation that gets you nothing without rivers of sweat. It’s an equation that every little duck in a little pond faces upon entering the larger waterways.
Kids watch movies about River Phoenix, who never practices on a real piano until he one day sits at Juilliard and feels the gods move his fingers until landing a full scholarship at the most coveted Conservatory in the world. Psh, there are kids from Detroit to Beijing, with enormous talent, who have been practicing the piano for hours a day since the age of five… and still don’t make it.
Yet movies like Running on Empty make it seem like whatever you’re meant to do will just naturally happen. It’s enough to make you think that any supernatural talents would instantly manifest, so if you’re not automatically good at something, why even bother?
Which is kind of what just happened with the last generation of kids.
Our city libraries have a summer reading program that rewards kids for logging books they’ve read. After so many books, they get to pick out a free book. After even more books, they receive a reading medal with their name on it.
The idea of winning this medal has been unbelievably motivating for my kids. They cared far more about that achievement medal than winning a free book, which by any objective standard would seem to be the bigger payoff. They even cared more about medals than being entered into a raffle for winning an iPad.
Since we go to the library every week and I read new books with them every night, winning the medal was inevitable, but they still asked me how many more books it would be until they received their medal… every night.
When we’d finally read enough books, they squeaked and danced a happy dance around the house. They were incredibly proud when walking up to the front desk at the library to receive their medals and uncontrollably danced around the library, squealing, showing off their medals to anyone happening by. They wore their medals to bed that night and made sure to let the neighbors and their grandparents know they had earned medals for superior reading.
And I think it was a great program. Kids should be recognized for trying, for showing up, for doing the work. Because that’s one of the main secrets to making things happen in life: you have to keep trying.
Hey, I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day!
I should probably get my ducks in a row by preparing timely holiday posts, but I’m too busy celebrating with my family and am apparently not great at planning ahead. We had a nice time swimming and eating a good meal with my folks, at any rate.
Watching my kids with their grandparents got me thinking about the different childhoods we various generations have had. My folks are Baby Boomers, the young adults currently dominating the scene are Millennials, of course, and my kids will be part of some generation that doesn’t even have a name yet. You know, the one soon to be characterized by all their robot friends or teleportation skills or whatever.
And me? I’m late Generation X (the “whatever” should’ve clued you in). We used to be all the rage, back when we were waiting to see if Winona Ryder would pick Ethan Hawke or Ben Stiller before rocking out to Nirvana while wearing our long-sleeved plaid shirts and brown lipstick.
We gave you cynicism, MTV, Rap and Grunge Rock (it was a backlash against those flashy 80’s. Plus, we had AIDS & crack epidemics on our hands and all watched the much-hyped Challenger explode when we were little kids).
We questioned the American Dream and debated all existing philosophies without worrying much about PC language, beyond a few obvious terms (we just turned everything into sarcasm and irony if someone got annoyed). We figured we had the racism deal mostly licked by the time The Cosby Show came out (oh, how different that seems in retrospect) and sexism practically beat with Title IX and Puritanism was clearly on the wane since Bart Simpson started swearing in family cartoons (that’s right, folks. You so wouldn’t have Family Guy and Robot Chicken if it weren’t for us. Honestly, I can’t believe The Simpsons is still on TV).
See, Gen Xer’s are young enough to have been introduced to email, smart phones, and the internet relatively early, (early enough to master them without frequent bouts of cranky belligerence, at least) while still old enough to remember what growing up without them was like.
And lately, I’ve been thinking about how they made life different, for better or worse:
I’m… ahem… old enough to barely remember when playing a video game meant loading a tape for 45 minutes then smacking pixelated squares around with a joystick. Or dumping quarters into an arcade while avoiding the much older, friendlier men.
I can actually remember trying to sort out Zork commands. Those games always had long, tedious maze sections.
And I also remember when hitting a snag in a game meant possibly never finishing the game. I got stuck in one that doesn’t exist anymore while trying to get my rich family to travel back in time to their medieval selves, hoping for the chance to type in the “sneer” command. I hit this puzzle that I couldn’t solve and still don’t know how that story ended.
You couldn’t look up walkthroughs. You would just sit there, stuck, unable to finish your game and running to the nearest comic book store to find whatever local nerd you figured had the best chance of having figured it out.
I played Sim City back when it was a bunch of red and yellow rectangles and Age of Empires, back when it was just minuscule cave men saying, “Rooooooh-gan!” before cutting down a tree. I remember when Castle Wolfenstein was a bunch of stick figures shouting angry German amidst the hiss of walkie-talkies (surprisingly terrifying at the time) and when Doom began setting the standards for awesome graphics and superficial, blow-everything-up game play.
And now… well… I still love video games and modern graphics make the ones I grew up playing look like something a drunk toddler worked out on an Etch-o-Sketch, but we did have elaborate stories and had to mentally fill out those stick figures with our wild imaginations. We also didn’t have those massive multiplayer online role-playing games that now suck up years of people’s lives with their thin storylines and continuously-regenerating VI opponents that make you button-mash like a laboratory chimp jonesing for its next cocaine hit until it starts peeing itself and finally forgets to mate or eat.
So… there’s that.
Plus, we’re now seeing a strange return to those earlier simplistic games with FarmVille and similar phone apps, now combined with the addictive qualities of MMORPG’s. Hey, it doesn’t really matter if your pumpkin crop fails, people. Get on with your life (and get off my lawn).
For a while, when I was growing up, personal phones were around but not something most people had access to. They were really popular in Italy and we all found that really funny (Psh, those crazy Italians and their crazy cell phones and wild hand gestures and protection rackets).
They were also roughly shaped like a shoebox and cost a ton of money to use, so only businessmen were using them to make sure everyone knew that their time was really that important and those guys were probably also shelling out for those exorbitant plane phones while flying Business Class or getting their suits tailored or otherwise worshipping at the altar of Ayn Rand.
But normal people had landlines. If you wanted to showcase your whimsical, Bohemian self, you’d get something like a hamburger-shaped phone (Hell, I remember when cordless phones were a big deal because they’d you let you walk outside a two-foot radius).
People couldn’t contact you outside your house. Sure, we had answering machines so you’d find out if someone called, but you wouldn’t know about it before you came home (and you could be on vacation). You could feasibly put off calling someone back for several days, because you hadn’t had a chance to check your messages.
On the one hand, texting is really convenient. You can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time.
On the other, now anyone can reach you, anywhere, at any time. They now expect you to get back to them right away, or else they’ll be mad. There’s no excuse, because you’re wearing your phone at all times, or should be. You can never totally escape into the activities of the present moment, because in a way, you’re always leashed to a device that keeps you perpetually “on call.”
And you can’t heighten romantic tension anymore by making your significant other think you’re running around having an awesome time, innocently oblivious to all of their attempts to contact you. Now, you’re just ignoring them, which is rude. It used to be much easier to remain mysterious.
But I sure wish I had Google maps back in college because it would saved me from so many crying jags on L.A. freeways. Thomas Guides were absolute crap.
It was once much harder to get your hands on entertainment. You had to buy compact discs for $16, so they’d better be worth it. You either had to catch shows when they were on or make sure you programmed your VCR correctly, and also that no one accidentally taped over your show, because once you missed it, you could be waiting years for it to come back on. If ever.
If you wanted to see a movie, you’d drive to Blockbuster Video. You could rent movies for just a dollar, but they’d triple in price if you returned them thirty seconds after 8 PM the next day. For some reason, your rental bill always ended up being $8, which was roughy the same price as a couple of fast-food dinners, so renting several movies meant having to order fewer pizzas that month.
It’s a bizarre equation, but trust me… that’s how it was.
It’s nice to be able to instantly access whatever you’re interested in without having to rearrange your schedule. But on the other hand, we probably watched less TV and spent more time outside, doing stuff during which no one could contact us without getting into a car and finding us.
We also had fewer channels, which means we couldn’t as easily live in the polarized political echo-chambers people live in today, with internet sites, news channels, and Facebook groups completely devoted to upholding whatever one-sided world views we’re aligning with. We tended to argue more face-to-face.
It’s pretty great to access whatever information we want, across international borders, within a minute or two. You can fall into rabbit-holes of infotainment that you once had to tackle walls of library microfiche to navigate.
We can also fact-check more easily now. If someone warns you about the guys at the Walmart parking lot knocking unsuspecting women out with chloroform disguised as perfume samples, it now takes 30 seconds to debunk the idea on Snopes.com, whereas it used to remain an unconfirmed rumor, forever.
So you’d think people would get less paranoid, right? Except now we have entire websites devoted to whatever whackadoodle conspiracies people take as Gospel Truth, so I’m not sure.
Today, anyone can also write anything on the internet and get lots of attention for it. I don’t think we had as much of a troll culture back in the 90’s. We spoke much more earnestly back then.
Now, it’s hard to tell if someone’s a jerk or just trying to get a rise out of people, which inherently casts doubt upon any unconventional opinion. If you start taking on someone’s nasty argument, you get worried about becoming the sap that’s playing into some obnoxious troll’s hands, so we now hear increasingly crazy, unchallenged opinions on a regular basis that go half-ignored by most because we’re unsure of how to best distinguish idiocy from narcissism.
Maybe that’s why people seem more outraged these days… they have to convince everyone that they really, really mean it.
So, any other Gen-Xer’s out there who want to weigh in on what I’ve been saying? How about some Boomers or Millennials?
Or even the Greatest Generation, if you guys are actually perusing blogs right now instead of discussing the mechanics of WWII planes. I’d love to hear your insights as well, since you guys definitely have the long view in this equation.
Maybe I’m psychic, but the other day I got a distinct feeling there was something going on in our closet.
Or, maybe it had something to do with seeing this:
And then, this:
Empty space couldn’t be this exciting
Yup, this wasn’t looking coincidental in the slightest. Next, Frodo the Cat got involved:
Let me just zoom in here, in case you missed it…
Yep, there was a cute little baby lizard hanging out in the closet, delighting my kids. It ran in a graceful S-shape, seeming rather shy.
“CAN WE KEEP IT AS A PET?” Brontë squealed.
I had nearly picked it up so the kids could hold it before my husband came racing over with a bowl and paper to trap it. “Are you SURE that’s not a SNAKE?” he shouted.
“YES. It has LEGS.”
Still, he promptly walked it out the door and dumped it into some bushes. The kids were disappointed.
But it ended up being the right move, because we eventually figured out that the little guy was an alligator lizard.
And alligator lizards, it turns out, are NASTY.
Good thing I didn’t try to grab it, because alligator lizards are really aggressive and will hiss, chase, attack, and bite you HARD. Like this:
See? It’s so common, they have free stock images of alligator lizard bites all over the web. Here’s a YouTube link about some guy looking for alligator lizards and another one, where some guy thinks it’s hilarious to get his finger bitten multiple times (!?). I wouldn’t recommend this, btw, because apart from the obvious unpleasantness of getting bitten by a lizard, they also spread a lot of infections and Lyme disease.
The one we found in our closet was small though, clearly a baby. He may have been harmless…
BUT, after my parents came to visit the next day, they found THIS one sitting on their car when they were leaving to drive home:
I’m convinced it was the closet lizard’s mom, giving everyone a stern warning. “Don’t even THINK about messing with my kid!”
Ugh, okay. No problem. You guys just go do your own lizard thing, okay?
I haven’t been keeping up with my blog for the past few weeks and ho boy, did the comments, postings and emails blow up. It’s like that old episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy lets everything pile up on the chocolate factory, only I wasn’t seeing the chocolates threatening to avalanche because it was all happening in the mystical, invisible land of the internet.
So, today I literally tackled 4000 emails. They weren’t entirely my blog’s fault because I also spent half the day unsubscribing from various marketing assembly lines, which was a dragon whose slaying was long overdue.
I mean, what else was going to happen to an openminded, very curious (likely undiagnosed attention-disordered) woman like myself? SURE, I’d love to learn about the world of cycling and how runners should eat. How about the mysteries of ancient civilizations and Abraham Lincoln’s private letters while we’re at it? Of COURSE, I want to hear about whenever your breakthrough mascaras that will change my life forever go on sale (shockingly perfect eyelashes -> ? -> perfect life!) And WOW, you’ll tell me whether I have a fire, air, earth or water personality with your free quiz if I just enter my email that you promise not to share with anyone? (So weird, because Six Flags over Georgia keeps telling me about their promotions, though I’m almost positive I never asked).
Aaaaand on top of that, I started taking a French class with my mom and working out early in the morning, which screws up my powerfully creative middle-of-the-night writing time more than you’d expect. You see, mom and I thought I would be nice to do something together, like take a French film class. Except she’s a retired French teacher and I… well, I learned some French from hearing her speak it when I was little and later studied it in school, but I haven’t used it in quite some time. Picking a class that would neither bore mom to tears nor be ridiculously over my head was a true challenge.
So, I took a placement test and according to the Alliance Francaise, I’m an Advanced Intermediate, but it hardly feels that way when I’m watching French war films from the 60’s, paying extremely close attention to everyone’s body language in the desperate hope of figuring out a gnat’s wing of context, and reading out French dialogues in class while feeling about as ashamed as I’d imagine feeling after just peeing on the public floor. (Why do they have to talk SO FAST!?)
The entire class is in French, including the instructions, and while I understand about 87% of it, I nevertheless have to hear myself answering the teacher in cavewoman grunts while watching her look at me with that pained, patronizing expression that means she’s pretending that I don’t sound like an idiot so I won’t get discouraged. When it’s just too rough, I occasionally break into English again, whereupon she looks mildly startled by my capacity for abstract reasoning, as though she’d assumed my aching attempts at normal French conversation reflected my general aptitude. This must be how blind people feel when others shout at them in slow, simple language. Or immigrants, when natives assume that their fractured grammar represents how their whole brain operates.
Eh, I complain because it’s entertaining, but I’m actually enjoying this class a great deal. I like being forced to learn something new. You see, I spend most of my time around toddlers, and while I love my kids to pieces and cherish the time I spend with them, it’s not exactly an intellectual challenge, right about now. For example, I spent the bulk of today’s afternoon helping my 3-year-old practice writing her name, which consisted of her randomly scribbling on a paper then looking really proud of her alphabet mastery. Essentially, she was me in French class, except she’s blissfully unaware of how far off she is, whereas I can’t help but catch every micro-condescension in my French teacher’s eyes.
But in addition to taking the French class, I’ve also started waking up early to work out. You may be wondering why, given my obvious night-owl tendencies…
You see, I decided to start exercising more and eating better after my five-year-old started asking me if she was going to get a new baby sister.
“No,” I told her. “Daddy and I are happy with two girls. We aren’t going to have another baby.”
“But your belly is sooo… BIG. Like when you were making Bridget.”
“No, I’m not having another baby.”
“But it’s getting BIGGER and BIGGER!”
Frankly, I think she’s being a bit of a weight Nazi, because I’ve only put on around ten pounds or so.
Maybe 15. Okay, maybe it’s 15 and I happen to think 15 pounds from skinniness is a little premature to start asking your mom whether she’s pregnant. Still, I read something about how only yoga pants and toddlers tell the truth and figure if your belly is getting big enough for your kids to notice it, it’s probably time to jump on it before it becomes a larger issue.
And it could be worse, given that she’s also been asking her dad if he’s making her a baby brother, since she assumes women make girls while men make boys. Which makes primitive sense, assuming you don’t fully understand the process.
So, I’ve recently embarked on a P90x exercise routine in the mornings, because doing it anytime later throws off my entire day, as well as a bold attempt at eating better. The whole process has made me reflect on how much easier it is to get fat and out of shape once you have kids.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re browsing your Facebook feed when you come across a bunch of photos of your friend Alex deep-sea diving in New Zealand. Why look, the whole family is there… all bronzed and smiling.
You’re happy for Alex. Really. Because Alex is your buddy and you think it’s awesome to go to New Zealand, just like it was awesome when he went to Copenhagen a few months back.
Not that you’d know, having never been to either place yourself. (You start counting the years since you’ve been on vacation…)
Does it bug you? Does it bug you that it bugs you?
Well, don’t worry, because it’s completely normal. You see, researchers have found that money doesn’t buy happiness after all… unless we have more of it than our friends and colleagues do. We care most about how we’re doing compared to everyone else around us.
Which makes sense. I mean, if everyone in the village has two goats and your family has FOUR, then you’re probably feeling pretty successful and respect-worthy until someone in the village builds a skyscraper.
But that skyscraper family needs love too. Look, I’m not trying to be intimidating, but I’ve got some pretty impressive resources myself. I have assets that have only been available to an elite percentage of lucky people…
That is, as long as you’re counting all the people who have ever lived since the beginning of time. Which I am.
Laugh at my adorably child-like imagination if you must, but comparing myself to people who lived hundreds of years ago makes me feel a whole lot better than reading about the Kardashian sisters’ weekly armpit-bleaching (I may have made that last part up, but you get my drift).
Plus, it means feeling filthy rich every time that I:
1. Eat Oranges
My darling mother-in-law from North Carolina recently visited, seeing our new house for the very first time.
She was most gracious about it, but what seemed to truly impress her most was the orange tree we have in our backyard. Imagine seeing an orange tree through your bathroom window, she sighed wistfully.
Now, growing up near towns with names like “Citrus Heights” has left me somewhat oblivious to my backyard citrus privileges, but seeing her perspective helped me realize how unusual it actually is… Oh yeah, people used to receive oranges in Christmas stockings, back when they were an enormous deal because non-local goods were really expensive.
In fact, Marie Antoinette, who’s the very symbol of whimsical decadence if anyone is, had orange trees from Spain and Portugal wheeled into the gardens of Versailles in planter boxes every morning from their warming rooms, as a statement of her fabulous access to luxury goods.
And here I am, staring at oranges from my bathroom window. Like a BOSS.
2. Drink Hot Chocolate
I like to start my day with a nice cup of hot chocolate, like it’s no big deal at all.
But this habit would’ve once pegged me as a pampered aristocrat.
Because chocolate used to be unbelievably expensive. The Aztecs believed it was a divine gift and used it for currency.
It first appeared at the French court of Versailles in 1666, during the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Versailles, of course, was world-renowned for ridiculous self-indulgences and nearly pornographic levels of luxury at the time.
And even THEY were impressed by chocolate. After Louis XIV’s married Marie Thérèse of Spain, who loved the stuff, the king granted the first chocolate manufacturer in France, David Chaillou, a monopoly, which kept chocolate unbelievably expensive for a very long time.
Yet here I am, starting each day with a heaping cup of chocolate, the 17th century equivalent of breakfasting on Beluga caviar sprinkled in gold dust while setting hundred dollar bills on fire.
3. Pepper My Food
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is the dried spice everyone keeps in half of their salt and pepper shakers. Nowadays, it’s the bare minimum of any spice collection, something found on every table at any truck stop in any random backwater town.
But it used to be something only insanely wealthy people could afford to use.
In fact, the Dutch still use the expression “peperduur,” which means “pepper expensive,” to refer to outrageously costly things. It’s a holdover from earlier times, when pepper was literally more valuable than gold. It’s rumored that Alaric I, King of the Visigoths, and Attila, who ruled the Huns, both demanded ransoms of black pepper in exchange for stopping their attacks on Rome during the 5th century.
4. Salt My Food
The word “salary” is actually derived from the word salt, coming from the Latin “salarium,” or “money to buy salt with.” Apparently, people used to picture incomes in terms of how much salt they could buy.
Salt is sacred. Greek, Jewish, Catholics, Buddhists, Tibetans,followers of Shinto, Southwest Native Americans, and other religious groups historically involved salt in holy rituals.
And yet, I can boast an embarrassing wealth of saltiness. I have table salt, Kosher salt, and two kinds of sea salt at my disposal… I can throw salt into my baths, as well as on my food. I can buy a HUGE amount of salt, more salt than I could use in years, and I don’t even run around bragging about it.
5. Flip On the Air-Conditioning
For most of human history, we’ve had to live in the elements the best that we could.
If it was snowing, we could build shelters, sew thick clothing, wrap ourselves in furs, or build a fire.
But if it was blisteringly hot, there wasn’t much we could do, except not wear a bunch of clothes (I’m talking to you, Victorian England).
Before that, there wasn’t much people could do to deal with the heat, apart from jumping in the lake or making someone wave a fan at you.
So whenever I flip on the air-conditioning, it’s basically the new world equivalent of filling the room with expensive ice cubes or having a team of servants waving a bunch of ostrich feathers in my face.
I should probably be reclining on a couch and eating grapes whenever I do it.
These are just a few of the ways I like to pretend I’m a powerful empress in the ancient world. Just think about how impressed medieval people would be if they travelled forward in time to behold the splendor of my lifestyle.
But don’t be jealous. You’re probably an aristocrat too.