Saturday, January 31, 2009

Musts and Wants

Late spring or early summer, before I turned twelve or maybe thirteen. A beautiful day, with the kind of famous Southern California weather that people assume lasts year-round. (It doesn't.) Our house had a pool, and bricked out of one corner was a small jacuzzi—which was common enough for the time and place; it didn't particularly set us apart socially. Still, it was a luxury. I have only three memories in connection with the pool/jacuzzi: two specific and one a composite memory of the pool parties held there for my 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th birthdays. Of the specific, one concerns a natural disaster (and will form the basis for a future post). The other—the memory for today, the last day of January 2009—has to do with life planning, decision making, making lists (something I now do very, very well). At the time, in the jacuzzi, I believe the decision facing me was regarding summer camp, where to go for it. I was having a hard time choosing. Blame it on the Libra in me, if you believe in that sort of influence. I was outside with my dad, and we were talking about it over the bubbling noise of the water jets. (Yes, I realize this sounds almost shamefully privileged: jacuzzi, summer camp—even the idea of having choices, which too often is tied directly to socio-economic standing, to locale of birth, things we never ask for when we are born.) The thing I remember is that it was here that my father introduced me to the idea of "musts" and "wants." He told me to make a list, two columns down a page (which we furnished mentally, out of the steam rising from the swirling water's surface). What were the necessary things? The elements that, when lacking, would make the option under consideration an impossible one? Those were the "musts." Everything else, however nice, was a "want"—so-called icing on the cake. This sounds simple now, of course; to a preteen girl, however, it is revolutionary. Children, by default, are creatures of wanting, and everything they want is something they want so urgently that it feels imperative; it feels like a "must." The idea that making responsible choices means prioritizing, separating out the truly necessary from the merely desired—the fact that when you sit down to make two lists, you are priming yourself for healthy compromise—this habit of list making, I owe to my father, who clearly had more in mind for me than just resolving the issue of camp. This memory, the designation of "musts and wants" in a jacuzzi, is my earliest memory of a lesson that has stayed with me my whole life. "Musts and Wants" is the first real life tool my father put in my solve-it box, and for this I am grateful; I use it all the time. The jacuzzi, the California sunshine . . . those fell into the "want" category for a while (they do not figure into either of my columns now); but the sheet of paper with a line drawn down the middle, the two headings underscored at the top, awaiting my accounting—this is the "must" of the memory, a template for a self-directed life of informed choice. Thanks, Dad.


  1. what we 'need' these days is so different from what people needed 100 years ago, but that;s called progress. it would be very hard to revert to those past times again

  2. what people 'needed' only 50 years ago are now considered basic rights!!!