Wants and Needs

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"Wow, Dad. You wouldn't believe the stuff my friend has! He's got a computer, a cell phone, a digital camera, an iPod and a huge TV in his room! And they're all just for him!"

My oldest daughter told me this breathlessly upon returning from a playdate at the home of a new friend from school. I knew I would have to deal with this subject eventually. I just didn't know that it would begin in 1st grade!

We are part of the 99 percent -- a family of limited means living in a sea of wealth. We live in Marin County and since my children began elementary school, our children's friends span the gamut of the economic haves and have-nots. Some of their friends live in apartments while others live in mansions. Occasionally, these contrasts can be grating and even painful for my entire family.

I explained to my daughter in age-appropriate language that we simply do not have the money to buy all of those things that she wants.

"I know that you want all that stuff, but you don't need it," I said.


My daughter kvetched and complained, and even now, several years later, she still campaigns for us to buy her all of the expensive toys that her friends have. My wife and I have repeatedly explained the reality of our economic circumstances with all of our children as they grow older and more aware of these disparities. They don't like it, but there is nothing we can do about it.

I confess that at times I still struggle fiercely with my own jealousy and demons of financial inadequacy. I get self-righteous at the economic inequity in our country and the world. I admit there are times when I desperately desire the gross excesses that very few can attain. It's hard not to when it's in your face all the time.

It takes a lot of effort, but most of the time, I'm okay. My wife and I have a house, jobs and a healthy family. I am grateful for what we do have and can afford to enjoy. And if I saw that people with all the bright shiny stuff were more content than my humble family -- that would be one thing. But I don't. Even if we don't have everything we want, we do have what we need.

With a Perspective, I'm Daniel Kohn.

Daniel Kohn is a rabbi and teaches at Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette.