School clothes shopping with Mutt and Jeff

I use Firefox to browse, and right now multiple tabs are open. My email inbox. My work tab, which gives me one-click access to work email, the department site, WebCT, etc. My blog site (obviously). And Bloglines. Bloglines demands my attention, and I turn away. Some of the blogs I like to read have dozens of unread posts. Others have been marked as unread because I intend to return and post a comment, or several. I scan a very few as I eat breakfast, and then move on, without time or energy to think of a comment. Perhaps I will just leave stones this time. Other comments say what I wish to say better. I always seem to be on the tail end of the comments thread.


I’ve been out of town again, visiting my dad with Zeke and her best friend. They are a study in contrasts. Anna is tall and strikingly blonde, a snowboarder and soccer player who has modeled. She came to Ireland with us a few years ago, and was a perfect traveling companion, easygoing, curious about everything, happy to help in whatever way was needed. She has just returned from a trip through Europe, including a homestay on Malta, the island of Dad’s birth. Two nights ago she spent an hour or so after dinner showing my dad her pictures of Europe, and asking him questions about his experience. She is serious about her life and her future. She wants to go to an Ivy-League school and become a biotechnologist. She loves science, reading, adult conversation. Her European trip was a People-to-People ambassador program, another tidy entry for her resume. Whatever she does is calculated to add to her ability to get into Harvard.

In some ways, Zeke’s friendship with Anna is difficult. As the only child of two community college teachers, Zeke has been privileged in many ways. She has been able to take gym classes twice a week, to travel in ways many kids can’t (Colombia, Ireland, the Azores, although each trip takes years of savings up for). She has been exposed to theatre and music, has a cell phone and an iPod. She is one of the 25% of students at her school who passed all of her state benchmarks for graduation the first time. (Scary, because it’s a school in a relatively high income area, with a high proportion of solid middle class students in it, and few poor students, and yet academically it’s not too impressive.)

But Zeke can never, ever, live in the rarified air that is Anna’s world. Anna is the daughter of a father from a mogul family (nursing homes, luxury hotels, and vineyards) and a mother who is married to a man with an eight-bedroom mansion and a private plane. She gets what she wants, when she wants it. She has a debit card loaded with hundreds of dollars of spending money. When the two went school clothes shopping yesterday, Anna piled Zeke’s arms with brandname clothes: “Get this! Oh, this is so cute! Oh, you have to have this!” And Zeke, on a budget, had to keep shaking her head no.

Anna is wonderful. Totally unspoilt, she wears her privilege lightly, and well. She was more than happy to stay in my sister’s house in Ireland, despite her amazed comment that “Leah’s living room is smaller than my bathroom!” She never complains. She eats whatever is put in front of her. She finds ways to see humor in the most challenging moments. I adore her. So does Zeke.

But she will probably go her way when school ends in two years, and Zeke will go another way. Zeke brushes aside Anna’s entreaties of, “Come on, Zeke, you can go to Harvard with me. We can room together. Think of how much fun we’d have,” with, “I’m going to XXX. (Small regional college. Nice enough, but certainly not Ivy league.) You should come with me.”

I tell Zeke she can try for scholarships. She shakes her head. “I want to stay close to home,” she says. Five hours away is manageable, I think. I’d miss her if she went to Harvard. In-state is affordable. If she doesn’t get scholarships, she’ll still be able to go to college, and perhaps not rack up too many thousands in financial aid. I’ve been saving for her education and so has her dad. We can do budget education. No problem there.

But the challenge for Zeke these past years has been to maintain her perspective. She wants what Anna has. “Why can’t we be rich?” she has asked, multiple times.

“We are rich,” I tell her. “Compared to most of the rest of the world, we’re obscenely rich. We don’t need any more.”

Yesterday, something clicked. She told Anna she really ought to give her parents a break and put back some of the clothes she was piling up to purchase. “What do you need?” she asked Anna.

“Well, I want this, and this, and this….” Anna said.

“You just started that sentence with ‘want,'” Zeke noted. “Wanting is different from needing.”

Anna looked at her, head cocked to the side. “Oh!” she said. “I guess you’re right.” And she put back a stack of clothes. “I love you, Zeke,” she added. “You should totally come to Harvard with me. We’d have a blast.”

Zeke smiled. And I did too.

3 responses to “School clothes shopping with Mutt and Jeff

  1. (o) can speak volumes. 🙂

  2. Oops, the smiley shouldn’t be there

    …. and the point about wanting and needing is a good one. Not necessarily easy to distinguish between the two at times.

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