A few days ago I wrote about the inclination to make use of what might otherwise be discarded and how that impulse feels magnified these days. It makes me think of a conversation I had with my friend Janie, who introduced me to the term “scarcity mindset”. As soon as I heard those two words together, something clicked: finally, a tidy phrase to express a phenomenon I’d been thinking about for a long time. This might not be the textbook take on the term, but my interpretation is this: it’s so easy to feel a lack. This is especially true when we’re experiencing a loss of control or are otherwise weakened by circumstances or emotions (sound familiar?). We see it in our kids all the time: over Labor Day weekend, Arlo gleefully learned how to ride a two-wheeler, enjoyed his last swim in a pool for the summer, had a ton of fun at a cookout with our pod family, visited his grandparents and aunt and cousin from a little distance, ate homemade donut holes and blueberry muffin bites, played a Star Wars video game he loves with his dad and siblings three mornings in a row, fell in love with a favorite book series again, and won Dogopoly (yes, Monopoly but with dogs) even though his siblings played his turn for him for the final hour. And yet what he focused on in that “night before school” transition time (when of course his parents are trying to summon just that last scrap of patience before bedtime) was that a playdate (remember those?) he’d been wanting to have hadn’t materialized. He has, he has, he has, he has. And then he notices something he has not. Sure, the kid’s five, and this is completely normal and predictable. But it’s hard when we’ve given so much and invested so much energy to bring joy and then encounter disappointment. Wasn’t that enough, child? More than enough, in fact? Yes. Yes, it was. But also it wasn’t.
We all feel like this: we have enough, or more than enough, but we’re still missing things, and the things that aren’t there are ironically so noticeable, so easy to pinpoint. And that’s ok. We shouldn’t feel guilty (even though I do sometimes) for mourning omissions or losses, even small ones, because by recognizing them, we can pay them respect. But then we also have to pay respect to the positive space counterposing that negative space so everything balances out. I have to remind myself to feel grateful about something when I’m feeling ungrateful, just to keep equilibrium in check, and what’s funny is that it almost always works: I can’t volunteer in the school library this year, a job I loved and have enjoyed for years. But next year I can. I can’t hug my beloved niece and baby nephew. But they live in town and I can see them in person only six feet away. I can’t know how much longer my kids are going to be able to go to school. But they are there right now and this is a gift. I can’t pick up my friend’s daughter from her school and take all four kids out for ice cream on the way to gymnastics like we used to do every Wednesday. But soon.
I think “scarcity mindset” also speaks to a tendency to stockpile things lest we should find ourselves facing a scarcity later on. Take, for example, the toilet paper panic last spring, or the price gouging on active dry yeast, which was so extreme at one point that I decided to make my own with raisin sugar. “Fear of running out” is a cousin of “aversion to waste”, and I suppose both of these compulsions are entirely understandable considering the giant question marks overshadowing so many aspects of our lives, especially those first couple of months of the pandemic when no one wore masks but everyone wore gloves, when we weren’t ever sure what would be in our grocery bags until we unpacked them 72 hours later or sanitized them all in our driveways. I did things like order a dozen of every kind of eggs inventoried on the grocery store website a month before Easter, thinking that there would likely be a shortage, and then was surprised to find each and every dozen (there were a dozen dozens) in my bags. (Aside: many quiches and omelets and meringues with lemon curd later, I can honestly say that every single egg was consumed except for the few hard boiled ones that we left sitting in dye baths overnight to try to get those Easter colors supersaturated.)
I should add that I bought all of those eggs thinking I would get maybe three dozen total, but I also entertained the thought that if I did end up with an abundance, I’d give them to people wanting to dye eggs with their kids when there actually was a shortage (I thought this would happen about a week or two before Easter). I fancied myself a kind of 2020 Easter Bunny, happy to hop in the car and deliver pre-sanitized eggs to all of my parent friends wanting to maintain this tradition for their kids amidst the dissolution of other plans they had for this holiday. Needless to say, that shortage never happened, (and no one I knew wanted my extra eggs), but this provides an interesting study of the interplay between the scarcity mindset and its counterpoint, the abundance mindset. I thought, “I’m afraid we won’t have enough” but I also thought, “If I have a lot I can share.” In all of those moments, when we’re worrying about “not enough” or feeling the “I can’t”s about all of this, I hope we can begin our next sentences with “but”. (I’m fully aware that your teachers told you not to do this. Do it anyway.) I can’t know when life will feel more normal again, whatever that even means anymore. I can’t help missing seeing my kids’ classrooms and talking to their teachers across a desk instead of across the miles via Zoom. I can’t believe all the things we couldn’t do this past summer. I can’t imagine how Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas are going to work. But I do know I’m not alone in any of this, which makes it all okay. Oh, and I also know some good ideas for what to do with a surplus of eggs if you somehow come into possession of 144 of them.
Your wit, wisdom and compassion are in abundance and appreciate the challenge to savor them, even though I can’t enjoy them (YOU) in person these days.