I went to high school with lots of spoiled children. Since I was on full scholarship, I don’t remember exactly how much it cost per year, but this year it was $15,750, and I graduated in 2007, so you can imagine. I have always prided myself on not being spoiled, which is probably a way of being spoiled. But also, my parents aren’t stupid, and in the traditional sense, they did not spoil me. They couldn’t afford to. And they didn’t grow up in families where spoiling was common, and they were young adults during the sixties and did the hippies-going-to-South-America-and-making-their-own-acid thing, and they did the living-on-a-commune-in-New-Mexico thing, and in the general sense of the word, I was not spoiled. My parents did not buy me everything I circled in the Toys R Us catalogue–in fact, they bought me nothing from that catalogue, because we are a family that prefers independent/local businesses, used bookstores/toy stores, and in general subscribe to a very progressivist attitude about children’s toys, media, book reading, etc. My mother never bought me a Barbie (my dad did once, but that’s because I am the baby of the family and could usually convince him to buy me a little something if we were already at the store getting shampoo–plus, it was the black Barbie, it was a teenager one, and I mostly wanted it because it was a gymnastics Barbie, and there were no other dolls that were flexible and came with a vault, and I was really into gymnastics), but if other people did, she let me play with them. Most of my other toys were either not brand name toys, or they were toys that encouraged creativity, and I honestly found my Barbies kind of dull. Barbies were like cable television or McDonald’s, a devious treat I enjoyed at friends’ houses but knew were base, largely useless, for common people who didn’t know anything about progressive politics, and lacking quality. (I had my first and only Big Mac when I was 20, and my sister and I agreed that above all, it tasted like disobeying our mother.)
So I’m not spoiled. I turned down all eight private universities out of state (one was actually public and Canadian, but whatever) and said yes to the University of Arizona. We couldn’t afford my dream schools, even with their hefty scholarship offers, and not only did I feel profoundly uncomfortable watching my mother in tears over not being able to send me there, but I hated going over the finances and knowing that I would be responsible for my parents never going on vacation or buying a used car ever again just so that I could afford two years of school. I tried to swallow my pride and forget about how my high school indoctrinated us with the idea that if you went to U of A, you were a failure and should try to transfer. And I took my scholarship, which pays me a refund check every semester, and which, until tuition skyrocketed this year, paid my rent and left me with enough money to ensure that my two or three part-time jobs would be all fun money, for movies, for clothes, and for international travel. And that is when I became spoiled.
I’m still not spoiled to the extent that I don’t understand money. I would never just spend recklessly to the point of having thousands of dollars of credit card debt. I may not have lots of savings at the moment, but I always pay my credit card bill in full. But having free money from the university each semester has made this semester a hard one, because all of a sudden the money I earn is also the money I spend, and I need to curb my shopping, eating out, and drinking out habits. And even that’s negligible, and I’m not doing a great job at it, because I moved back in with my parents to save money, and I know they’ll float me if I need it. In the past three years when I was about 90% supporting myself (my parents paid my insurance and also usually paid for medium-sized items, like new clothes and the crazy amount of prescriptions I need each month–I buy my big-ticket items, like plane tickets, or I have my parents buy them and pay them back at the beginning of the next semester when I have money again), any time I said something like, “Oh, but that’s expensive. I don’t think I can afford it right now,” my mother would tell me I was being ridiculous and that she and my dad wanted to support me and that they could always pay for things when I couldn’t. So I felt guilty paying for my own stuff and also guilty not paying for my own stuff, because my parents wouldn’t have to spend so much money on me if I didn’t start living a nicer lifestyle than the middle class one I grew up with.
I hated the kids who thought it was their birthright to have a car waiting for them the day they turned 16, but I didn’t earn my car, either. My parents really couldn’t afford to buy a new-used car when they did, but they did so that I could have their very old Infiniti to drive myself around. And now that that 18-year-old car is dead and gone and I’m on the bus, I like to think that I’m integrating myself back into the world I’m from, but at the same time, thinking that it’s quaint and hipster and green of me to take the bus kind of de-legitimizes my claim to the lower middle class. Except that I’ve never really left the lower middle class. I just won the mini-lottery and had about $10,000 of extra cash spread over the last three years to play with. Was that when I was spoiled? Or is it now, when I live rent-free with my parents (which my sister did for her college career, so I really shouldn’t feel bad that I’m doing it for a year), borrow their cars without paying for gas, go out to eat with my friends and then tell my parents I can’t pay them back for my Prague plane ticket this month, and ask my mom to buy me new shoes so that I can also afford to buy stuff on iTunes. And then I’m graduating from college a semester early, and instead of getting a full-time job, I’m going to write, volunteer, work for $7.50 an hour, and generally hang out, because I can afford to. Even my mom says that now is that time to do that, since I can afford to be selfish. But it makes me feel guilty.
So which one is me being spoiled? What is spoiled, anyway?