*Column* So...Wabi Sabi Takes on Fancy Nancy

"You don't like fancy stuff in your life," my four-year-old says.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"Nana says." My mom, ah, yes.

My youngest daughter is dressed in a black velvet top and red flounce skirt over a pair of lavender sparkly pants. She is the epitome of Nancy Clancy, the picture book superstar character created by Jane O'Connor in her Fancy Nancy series. Fancy Nancy says things like, "Nobody in my family is fancy at all. They never even ask for sprinkles."

Or, "I like to write my name with a pen that has a plume. That's a fancy way of saying feather. And I can't wait to learn French because everything in French sounds fancy."

"So why don't you like fancy stuff?" Ahna asks.

"I am more of a fancy person on the inside where other people can't see." Ahna looks doubtful as I pull up my plain black tights.

My daughter is not the first person to draw my attention to my lack-of-fanciness.

I have a friend, I'll call her Celeste, that spent $150 on a handbag and said, "That's the end of our grocery money; we may have to eat Top Ramen all week, but isn't it worth it?"

She held up a lovely aqua bag with a shiny gold buckle big enough for a bowling ball. It was eye-catching, but Top Ramen sucks, I thought as I looked down at my own black hemp purse, the size of a jean pocket.

Another friend, Bree, was next to me changing clothes in the locker room when I noticed her matching peach floral patterned bra and panties.

"Cute undergarments, my dear," I said.

"Thanks. I'm kind of obsessive about matching."

I shook my head as that thought rattled around; I get excited when I have clean underwear with still-springy elastic.

"Your bra and panties always match?" I asked.

"Yep. And often my camisole and shoes too."

Alexa at work confesses to having a shoe fetish when she shows me her new two-toned pointy heels that lace up. I admitted that I had a shoe fetish too of a different sort. I was trying to figure out how to own only five pairs of shoes total: sandals, dressy boots, hiking boots, running shoes, and dress shoes. The slip-on clogs, high heel dance shoes and embroidered slippers currently impede my progress toward my ISM (ideal shoe minimum). I have fond memories of wearing my moon boots everywhere and for all occasions at age ten.

Alexa's face was blank, "Why would you only want to have five pairs?"

My friend Natalie owns more lawn furniture than I have actual indoor furniture and it is all coordinated. In addition, when I arrive at her house unannounced, the desk is cleared of paper. I find that both alarming and impossible. If by chance she leaves the room, I get down on my knees to check for it under the couches and chairs. Nothing.

Christine, another colleague at work, rushed out to Macy's during her lunch break to buy a faux sparkly ring to replace her wedding ring while it was being repaired.

"Ewwww," she said, "it's just yucky to be without a ring on my left hand. What would other people think? I have kids!"

Maybe they'd think your wedding ring was being repaired, I considered, or maybe they'd think it was a waste of money to get a Zirconium placeholder ring.

As if it's not obvious, I have serious issues with being a Material Girl in our Material World. There's the whole Made in China thing and I've read too much and watched too many documentaries to deny that when I buy cheap trendy stuff from Mexico, Vietnam, India etc., I am supporting a super highway of goods into our country that don't support my values. So I pass up the reportedly amazing "Not your daughter's jeans" that suck in all that leftover abdominal baby skin that I've acquired from having three. The wish for fancy passes quickly.

Besides, these two impressionable little girls wander around my house (also known as my daughters) that are watching my walk as I model what it is to be 'enough' in this world. If I spent grocery money on something aqua that is designed to hold stuff, doesn't that say that I value bling over broccoli? By having more books on my book shelf than shoes and clothes in my closet, does that tell my daughters that I make "all the fashion statements just by dressing up my mind"? (Thank you for the impeccable lyrics, Jason Mraz).

I walk around with the whole-hearted belief that this quote by Sonia Kashuk is true: "A beautiful woman loves what she sees in the mirror. But a real beautiful woman loves what she sees in her life." When I look at my life, I see that I love to go to work every day and I love to stay home any chance I get and when I'm not at home or work, I love the people with whom I'm hanging out.

What is fancy about me? Let's see: I have a fancy imagination. My mind comes up with creative, outrageous ideas (most often during boring meetings). When I watch Saturday Night Live Comedy-mercials I come up with my own: Picture a sign that reads "Tats for Cats" an establishment for a Cattoo Parlour where feline friends are shaved and imprinted with the owner's name or some catchy phrase like 'Mouse' in a barbed wire heart. I am most satisfied and fulfilled when I am creating something that has never existed before.

We eat fancy food at my house too. If it's pizza night, it's on a homemade crust piled with capers, veggies and dried tomatoes from our garden sprinkled with parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. If indeed we are what we eat, I believe that what we put in our bodies should be fancier than what we put on our bodies. Although my wine is not expensive, it is tasty and red and I have a fancy glass that sits on the edge of my tub where I lay in fancy water reading any number of fancy books especially Sedaris and Lamott. My friends and family are pretty fancy and then there is my husband, possibly the fanciest of all because he appreciates my wabi sabiness.

My understanding of the term is that wabi means simple and sabi means weathered, but together the compound word is more complex and would describe a minimalist choice that celebrates the spirit. Wabi Sabi is not plastic flamingos in the front yard, but it might be recycling a children's sled as a pan rack in the kitchen. Dollar Store decorations for centerpieces at a party would not be wabi sabi, but a vase filled with Satsuma oranges could be. My closet is filled with wabi sabi clothes that I check out in the three-way mirror at consignment shops and say "I love it." My living room might qualify with a well-loved piano that my grandma, mom, my kids and I learned to play on, a wrap-around leather couch that I bought not-so-gently used and lots of space for board games or a dance floor to celebrate the Mamma Mia soundtrack.

"I don't know how you do it," is something I hear a lot.

"I don't know how she does it," is something I say a lot.

I don't think the way many women look at themselves and their women friends is very realistic. For example, when a friend of mine with one child and a part-time job reads one of my articles and says to me, "I don't know how you do it," she's using some formula in her head thinking that three children are three times the work of one and a full-time job is twice the work of her part-time job and that writing is something I do on top of it all. Which isn't true. When I look at another well-educated mother with passions and healthy relationships and notice that her children's socks match and she knows something about window treatments I think, "I don't know how she does it, I couldn't do it, the matching sock thing would really push me over the edge." In both scenarios, we are forgetting about the constant trade-offs: our own private switch-n-bitch.

Here's a way for me to keep this is perspective: when Natalie says "I don't know how you do it" she's imagining everything intact in her life AND a writing career. If she were to give up knowing all the American Idols, some sleep, and an hour less of housekeeping a day she could have what I have too. Plus to be more like me, she would have to give up on matching socks, strip down her windows and pile a bunch of misfiled papers on her desk. Maybe what we mean to say is, "I don't want to do what she does" because if we truly wanted it, we'd start doing it, wouldn't we?

I could choose to go handbag and shoe shopping with Celeste and Alexa or pair lingerie like Bree or model my housekeeping after Natalie or bring some bling into my life with the help of Christine, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. What we all have in common is that we know what brings us joy. They may not understand that my perfect afternoon is spent on the couch with tea and my journal any more than I understand their perpetual pilgrimage to the mall.

My mom asked me if it was surprising to have such a girlie-girl for a daughter. True, Ahna changes her clothes eight times a day, but most are hand-me-downs. Yes, she likes to have her hair in an up-do with a tiara, but she also happily pulls on her brother's baseball cap. She likes to say "Ooh la la" looking in the mirror like Fancy Nancy and "Merci" after receiving numerous compliments for her exquisite taste. When she's old enough, I may have a way to explain that I don't want to be that kind of fancy. Wabi Sabi kicks Fancy Nancy's French ass in my book, but that's the moral of my story; I can't wait to read hers.

column added on 2009-02-14 :: ::

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Heather Cori

Heather Cori believes in dreams, onomatopoeias, avocadoes, children and other gifts she doesn't understand yet. She has been published in a number of publications, including Mothering, Literary Mama and The Sun and is a staff writer for Northwest Baby and Child. Crocus in Early Dirt was her first self-published work chronicling her one-woman letter writing campaign. In Washington, she lives with a designer, meteorologist, artist and Fancy Nancy (also known as her husband Kurt, and their three children: Jamin, Maya and Ahna).

Read more of Heather's So... column.

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