Thursday, February 23, 2012

Convenience junkie

For Lent my computer has given up all my Microsoft Office products. They freeze. I can't do things the way I normally do. I have to find other ways to function. That has advantages, though most of the time I don't appreciate them. I want it all to be easy.

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Last week I took Snuggler to the pediatric neurology clinic for an evaluation. We waited and waited, and 90 minutes after our appointment time had passed I went to the desk and asked, with as much good cheer as I could muster, how long the wait might be. "Oh," said the man, smiling, "It's usually two to three hours. But the appointment itself takes 45-50 minutes. They're very thorough." I thanked him, sat down, and reframed my perspective.

Going to a public health clinic is a different experience than going to a private doctor. If you bring along a middle-class attitude that time is money, you will be annoyed that your time is (and by inference, you personally are) worth so little. An alternative view is that you're getting something valuable for next-to-free, and you are paying for it in units of inconvenience. A third perspective is that this top-name hospital is donating three excellent neurologists to serve the public good one day a week, and they're doing the best they can with the limited resources they can give.

Whether you are thankful that you get called after two hours is a matter of how you look at it, and where your heart is. You'd think a steady diet of convenience would nourish one's sense of gratitude, but often it just feeds a sense of entitlement to smooth sailing.

At a minimum, I am grateful that the doctor -- who turned out to be personable and, indeed, very thorough -- did not think Snuggler has neurofibromatosis.

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Many years ago, when we first started having major medical bills for Big Guy, we cut back on eating out and entertainment. Later we belt-tightened and stopped buying books; we delayed repairs and I got better at economy cooking. We developed a pipeline for hand-me-downs, and did away with a clothing budget. I took on more freelance work. We fine-tuned the concept of the staycation long before the word came into use. In short, we found ways to cope.

One downside of convenience is that it doesn't tend to build coping skills. Nor does it hone one's ability to be resourceful and creative. It's only when we face limits that we need to figure out how to get over or under or around barriers. That suggests to me that the people who will invent the next generation of life-changing technology are unlikely to come from the ranks of those who had everything handed to them on a silver platter.It's hard to identify what people need if your only experience with need is at the margin.

Which isn't to say that a life full of barriers is desirable, but the skills we develop when we have to overcome difficulties do have a place.

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I once read a book on the history of fear, which pointed out in years gone by the thing people feared most was an early demise. The author claimed that since this danger has largely been eliminated through modern medicine, we have replaced it with a visceral fear of failure. I suspect this is true; when I was pregnant with Eldest, I wasn't nearly as afraid of dying as I was that my 'birth plan' wouldn't go smoothly. It's a little weird.

Convenience -- or the lack of real difficulty -- can do funky stuff to your perspective. Once, after receiving notice that our housing costs would increase (again), I despaired that there was no fat left in our budget to trim. As I wailed and railed the thought popped up, What on earth are you crying about? You're still eating three meals a day! In its own bizarre way that was a comfort. For there's a difference between not being able to make ends meet in a way that allows me to lead my comfortable middle-class American life and being unable to feed my family.

Sometimes we get so accustomed to convenience that we panic that we'll starve, before we've ever gone hungry a single day.


  1. I'm so glad the neurologist doesn't think S. has neurofibromatosis!


    As for the computer, have you updated your anti-virus software recently? Defragmented the hard drive?

    And on the subject of doctor's offices and waiting.... I called a couple of weeks ago to get Zeke seen about his lungs, and was told if we were more than 15 minutes late, doc wouldn't see him. We arrived early, to make sure ... and waited for an hour after our appointment time before seeing the doctor.

    It was the pre-scolding about not being late that got me.

  2. "Sometimes we get so accustomed to convenience that we panic that we'll starve, before we've ever gone hungry a single day" I was just doing this last night. I had to tell myself repeatedly that we have a kitchen stocked with food and no one is going to starve. Thanks for writing and sharing. I get a lot from your blog