When I was about eight years old, my wealthy, next door neighbour invited me over to play with her Barbie.
I remember her Barbie didn’t have mangled hair and home made clothes. It had fabulous clothes, a boyfriend called Ken (who was frankly a bit of a wet week) her very own car, and she was a Pool Party Barbie.
I was insanely jealous.
After that visit I dreamt about my very own Pool Party Barbie. I obsessed about her and every time we went to the shops I dragged Mum into the toy shop to show her Pool Party Barbie whilst standing there trying to beam ‘buy it’ thoughts from my mind to hers. I even started planning where my new Pool Party Barbie was going to hang out in my bedroom, and, always the writer, I started jotting down stories about the adventures she would have.
Funny thing was, up until then, I hated Barbie!
I was a tomboy and would much rather have a loop the loop car set, than a whole menagerie of plastic Barbies. But I thought her life was so much better than mine. Her father the baker would make pancakes every Sunday for breakfast. My Mum didn’t think pancakes for breakfast once a week was very healthy. Her family had a pool, and a tennis court and a daily cleaner. Mum would take us to the beach when we wanted to go swimming, she didn’t play tennis and she did all her own cleaning.
My jealousy went way beyond the Barbie. I wanted her life.
Then a very strange thing happened. Her sister was seriously injured -skiing in Switzerland – and her parents had to fly over to her bedside. As a result, my friend came to stay with us for a whole month. Mum set her up in my room, proclaiming my yellow twin bed as her very own. She treated her as her third daughter.
Of course we fought like mad. What eight year old girls don’t? But we also became very close. We shared our toys and our books and I even managed to get some quality time with Pool Party Barbie. Overall my friend seemed to have fun, if at times she was a bit weapy. She was insecure, I think, being the much younger daughter of an almost grown up family.
One night we were lying in bed in the long summer twilight, chatting, giggling and singing, when my friend said something odd.
“I love your Mum. She’s realy nice,” she said through sniffles.
“But you love your Mum too, don’t you?” I asked alarmed.
Was there about to be some kind of Mother-kidnapping?
“Yeah, but I have to go home next week. I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here, with you and your Mum.”
“But you can’t stay with my Mum, cos she’s my Mum. Anyway, one day when you’re big you’ll have to leave home. And get a job and have a baby and a husband and then you won’t be living with your Mum anyway. And I won’t be living with my Mum. Then one day, we’ll get so old, like forty or something, and both our Mums will die.”
“I don’t want my Mum to die!”
“I don’t my Mum or your Mum to die!”
Then we both started crying loudly, for real, and Mum had to come upstairs and tell us to pipe down.
She wasn’t even pleased that we were crying, because we didn’t want her to be dead. In fact she growled so much at us that in the end neither of us wanted to stay there that night.
I don’t think my friend ever mentioned wanting to stay with my Mum, after that, just as I moved on from envying her Pool Party Barbie. Getting up close and personal with the object of my envy(her life), helped me to realise that it wasn’t worth my energy. And I did value the time I had with my Mum, after all.
I was thinking about this the other day, as I was moaning about what I want to do next. I thought about the people I am quietly envious of, I started thinking objectively about their lives – or at least what I can see of them – and consider whether I would take on the challenges they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are today. I really tried to get over the whole ‘grass is greener’ fantasy, and asked questions like –
What have they given up for that? (lifestyle, car, house, career..)
What would I never give up? (my Englishman, my relationship with my kids, my pets, my freedom, my writing..)
Is there another way of achieving the same thing?
And you know what?
Mainly, I wouldn’t make the same sacrifices. There are only a few things I would go for. Thinking carefully about what I envied, helped me to see that those things, were actually achievable, whilst helping me to be realistic about how hard it might be to achieve them.
It made me feel more confident about realising those dreams. And I don’t feel envious anymore, because I can take control and make the things I value, happen.
Oh yeah. And not one of those things I truly lusted after was an adult version of a Pool Party Barbie!
What was your metaphorical Barbie, and did you ever go after it? Do you think envy help you to see the things you truly want out of your life, and make your dreams come true?
PS/ And if you enjoyed this post please go and read my mate’s wonderful post about her Dad’s old Bertha. Take a hankie, it’s a tearjerker.
Image: flickr CC