This afternoon I am burning a café mocha candle while free associating. The candle cost me $1.99 at Goodwill. I buy all my scented candles there. This one was originally from a fancy boutique, purchased for a substantial markdown at TJ Maxx, and then donated away. Now it inspires this essay—which is uninspiring so far, but the kitchen where it is being written will smell pleasant.
This essay is being written in the kitchen because, like Virginia Wolfe and Shakespeare's sister, I do not have a room of my own. This stirs up no little discouragement. I frequently complain to my husband, under the guise of humble martyrdom, that sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter gives me a backache, distracts me and makes me feel (though you do so much for me, honey, and I know that you love me) unappreciated.
Last night I casually mentioned that Mother's Day is coming up. And what a special one it will be! One week after the college graduation of our fourth and youngest child! Four well-mannered persons nurtured to productive adulthood! (Of course only your unwavering support and gentle strength could have made it possible.)
I hinted (I’ve been looking online, just for fun, really, it would be an absolute extravagance) that I’d love an armoire desk. Even though my husband speaks French, I had to explain the term to him. An armoire desk is a room unto itself, a home remodel sans the sawdust. An armoire desk is the ultimate in efficiency. It has compartments for everything (even your socks with holes; you know I'm always putting off darning because the sewing box is never handy). At the end of the day, one closes it up, and voilá! it becomes an elegant piece of bedroom furniture. All my unruly work vanished, out of sight behind the finely crafted wooden doors. (Isn’t this one with the cherry veneer gorgeous? Of course, I’m only dreaming.)
He listens patiently to my rapturous vision, which is sounding more and more reasonable in my opinion. Then he quietly notes that the cherry veneer is priced at $2,241.
My husband is a very practical man (I have never been in want, and I thank the Lord for that) and very, very deliberate when considering the relative value, actual quality and outrageous mark-up of large items. The question is, Is it worth it? So I decided to do a little math:
Solve the following problem. Round to the nearest hundredth. Show all your work.
Mrs.T became a mother in 1987. 31 years later, a French-inspired gift will cost her husband $2,241. Use the formula for cost-benefit analysis to determine the price-performance ratio.
31 × 365 = 11,315 days of mothering
$2,241 ÷ 11,315 days = 0.19 cents per day.
I won’t bother to disturb my husband with the hourly wage this represents, since it is less than negligible. Nor will I mention the thousands I’ve saved the family by all my thrift shopping. The only numbers that I am now convinced he needs to know are 5-13-18.
With genuine sincerity, I will of course tell my husband that a handwritten note and fresh flowers will mean just as much. If he really wants to splurge, perhaps a gift card for a massage (since my back aches all the time).
But you know, sitting here doing some scented self-examination, I don’t feel so good about the armoire after all. I have to be honest: my veneer of humility hides a ruthless heart. I’ve manipulated my husband. I’ve turned motherhood into mercenary gain. I’m a whining smarty-pants, and were I to get my wish, all my writing, even my darning, would be saturated with guilt.
And another torment: I’ve heard that the CEO of Goodwill makes $2.3 million annually. In pretending I have earned an armoire desk by my frugality, I have participated in the exploitation of every poor mother who sought to pinch a penny.
I’m going to blow out the candle now. In truth, it smells like artificially-flavored soy milk left out on the kitchen counter too long. It’s distracting me. There’s always a reason things are cheap.