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Caren Chesler Headshot

The Misery of Riches

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I just finished writing a story for a money magazine about people who feel having a lot of money can be a burden as much as a blessing. One advisor said he had a client who left his sons a family business and left each of his two daughters about $1.5 million in cash and real estate. Within three years, the daughters had spent all of the money and had mortgaged their houses and lost them. They then badgered their brothers for money, saying, "Daddy would have wanted you to take care of us."

There are countless stories of lottery winners and professional athletes who get a windfall only to see their relationships destroyed as they wind up in legal battles with friends and loved ones, who feel they are owed a piece of the bounty. Some come into money so quickly, they can't rein in their spending. They run right through it and end up with nothing.

"If you're a rookie for the Boston Red Sox, and you're hanging out in Detroit with David Ortiz, and everyone is going out, to have drinks, or go to a casino, you want to go with them," said one advisor. "But their capacity to do things and spend is far different than your capacity to spend." In the end, many advisors said, money didn't just fail to make their clients happy. It made some of them very unhappy.

I was working on the story when my 2-year-old son, Eddie, woke up from his nap, took his pacifier out of his mouth and flung it across the room like discarded trash. He then took the bottle I had in my hand and grabbed it and began sucking on it like a thirsty monkey.

I wouldn't care that he tosses his pacifier, or "binky," as we call it, when I arrive with his bottle -- except for the fact that I'm the one who then has to crawl around on the floor looking for it. When he flung it across the room this afternoon, I said, "Not cool, pal. Now you're going to help me look for it."

I lifted him out of the crib and deposited him on the floor. He wandered around the room, looking down toward the floor, and began singing, "Binky! Where are you?"

"Binkies don't talk," I said, crawling around on the floor beside him.

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I wished binkies did talk because after looking for about five minutes, I couldn't find his pacifier anywhere. Using deduction, I thought if it's not under his crib or anywhere else on the floor, it's got to be in the box of Thomas the Train tracks that I slid next to his crib one day when I was trying to tidy up. I looked inside and not only was the binky in there, but there were two others that had apparently fallen in there from previous days when he'd tossed them out of the crib. He seems to have a pretty consistent bank shot. I imagined every time he threw the pacifier from his mouth, it would hit the wall in the same spot before falling into the box of train tracks.

When I showed Eddie the three binkies, his eyes lit up. He snatched them and tried to put all three in his mouth at once. When that didn't work, he tried to put in one and then another. That didn't work either. He wound up putting a green one in his mouth but then changed his mind and stuck in the blue one.

"Give me the other two," I said, putting my hand out.

"No," he said, and put his hands with the two remaining binkies behind his back.

"C'mon. Cough 'em up. Give me the binkies," I said.

He shook his head no.

"One binky per child," I said, again reaching for them. He was steadfast in his defiance, holding so tightly onto the two binkies, I could see their rubber edges bending in his hands.

"What are you going to do with three binkies?" I asked.

"I need two outside," he said, removing the binky in his mouth long enough to speak.

"Why?" I said.

"I need two outside," he said again. His powers of persuasion right now consist of repetition.

"You can only take one outside," I said and left the room for a moment to grab my cell phone as I knew we would soon be heading downstairs.

When I returned to his room, he had gone into the drawer in his diaper changing table where we store the binkies and took out two more. He now had four in his hand and one in his mouth. It was as if the more binkies he had, the more he needed. Anything less would no longer suffice.

"Go put them back," I said as the two of us approached the top of the stairs.

It reminded me of a dinner I once made for a friend of mine who was really smart but whose intelligence was only exceeded by his selfishness. When I placed a roast chicken down on the table for four of us to eat, my friend proceeded to take half the chicken for himself. "Ken, put it back," his wife said. She pointed down at the serving plate for emphasis.

"Put them back," I told Eddie, again, and pointed at the drawer of the changing table. Eddie looked at me and got angry and threw the binkies down the stairs. They bounced and then scattered, though most of them got wedged along the sides of the steps. I walked down a couple of steps and picked them up, and as I headed back toward his room to put them in the drawer, my son began to cry. I wasn't sure whether it was because he had a grand plan for the binkies, and I'd put the kibosh on it, or if it was simply a matter of taking something away from him -- regardless of how many of them he had. One thing was clear: an over-abundance of any kind only leads to misery.