All the money in the world

My family doesn't have health insurance. Every time we look into different plans we get discouraged by how much they cost and decide we'll keep looking. We have only one car for five people. And when we buy our kids clothes &

which we seldom do &

we usually shop at Good Will.

We're not poor by any means (though for a couple of difficult years we fell so far below the poverty line that we qualified for heating assistance and food stamps &

this after I was fired from a faculty position at an all women's college for taking maternity leave, a policy that was on the books but that no junior faculty in 15 years had actually taken advantage of). We own our house and are able to pay the mortgage. We buy organic food for the kids, and send our son to a preschool that costs $318/month. But, like most Americans, we've managed to rack up credit card debt and we have almost no savings. We seldom eat out. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't worry about money.

Unlike a lot of other families who struggle to pay their bills and who watch their bank account's bottom line, my husband and I have chosen not to have typical conventional jobs with 9-5 hours and dental plans. We made that choice because we wanted to be with our children. We decided that lifestyle &

the ability to be home when the kids finished school and to travel for writing gigs with the family &

was more important than convention or a safety net. But it's not a decision that I'm smug about. Like every parent, I wonder incessantly if I'm making the best choices for my children.

There's a game we like to play in our family, called "If We Had All the Money in the World." You fantasize about what you'd do with all the money in the world. For some strange reason, it comforts me to think about how not having to worry about money would change how we do things.

Would I still write my column in the Tidings, which, as one friend remarked, doesn't pay enough to buy a bag of groceries? Yes (unless the editors decide otherwise). And I would subsidize the Ashland library so it could be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the workers could have health insurance. And I'd get health insurance for our family, and buy a wide-screen flat TV and put solar panels on the roof. I'd replace the worn-out furniture we have, almost all of which was given to us or bought second-hand, with ecological sustainable furniture (either new or used) that didn't look like it belonged in student housing, and I'd send money to a small boy in Niger who was hit by a car while begging at the open-air marketplace so he could go to school, wear something other than rags on his thin body, and learn to read.

There are so many other things to do with money, it makes me smile to think of them. But I'm smart enough to know that having money doesn't make you happy. The wealthy people I know manage to find ways to make themselves miserable, and studies on happiness have shown that people who win the lottery report being just as content or miserable a year later despite their drastic change in wealth. The same with people who lose a limb! Which suggests that our peace of mind and level of content have little to do with our financial status. "But wouldn't you rather be rich and unhappy than poor and unhappy?" my father likes to joke.

"If we had all the money in the world, I would """ I said at dinner the other night.

"Mo-om," my literal minded 8-year-old interrupted, "that's not going to happen."

"How do you know?" I cried, strangely optimistic. I looked at my healthy, curious children and felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. "Maybe we will someday!" We were all quiet for a minute. "But even if we never do, we already have all that we need."

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