When I was eight, my parents gave me a monthly allowance of $15. Back then, this was an extravagant amount of money. The first of every month I would go to my parents, collect my cash, and hold it with all the reverence in the world.
After about a year of almost foolhardy frugality, I had finally managed to save up $100. I can so clearly remember going to the bank, handing my crumpled ones, fives, and tens to the teller, and receiving a crisp $100 bill. I remember looking at the face on the money and thinking with awe, So Benjamin Franklin is the guy on the hundred-dollar bill!
It was a fortune! I was rich! I went to the store later that week and proudly handed my money to the cashier in exchange for a blue Nintendo DS Lite. I can honestly say that was one of the happiest moments of my life, holding that precious box – carefully, so carefully – in my hands and knowing that it was mine. I was the one who bought it. No one could take it from me, because I had earned it.
One hundred dollars was a huge, almost incomprehensible amount of money to eight-year-old me. Yet, as I grew older, I realized that it’s not.
That right there is the definition of growing up. Realizing that a hundred bucks is chicken change. Realizing that a thousand dollars isn’t really that much money. When big numbers become small, when getting good grades stops being enough, when coming second stops being a reason to celebrate. When you look at college prices and start to think, really think, about the absurd amount of money you have to pay per year. $40,000? That’s 400 Nintendo DSes. Four hundred Benjamin Franklins, four hundred piles of crumpled tens spread out on your twin bed.
It’s absurdly disheartening to grow up and lose that wide-eyed youthful wonder. To have the delight of crisp bills and new toys forgotten, replaced with strenuous all-nighters and lifeless 2,000-word reports. It makes you wonder, where, exactly, you went wrong. When did I become so cynical and formless? When did I forget the joy of simplicity – that childlike euphoria of spreading out bills on my bed, tasting the delicious rapture that came simply from knowing I’d accomplished the marvelous feat of having a hundred dollars?
And it makes you ache. You think, despairingly, about how to recapture that magical feeling. How do you hold a concept in your hand or taste a dream on your lips? My life has become so incredibly centered around bigger, better, stronger, faster things, powering toward the future instead of living in the now, and I’m exhausted. It is exhausting going to school and telling yourself that you have to be better than everyone else. But I’ve been taught that this is the only way to get into a good college, which is the only way to get a good job, which is the only way to make enough money to live a good life. Society encourages us to believe that we can only be content if we are above everybody else, that “success” only exists in the highest tax bracket.
I want to go back to my younger self, in all of her naivety and wonder. I miss the simple joy of a $15 allowance, holding Benjamin Franklin between my chubby fingers, clutching my shiny new Nintendo DS to my chest and never longing for more. I miss feeling content.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.