Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

You did WHAT!?! - Parenting Dilemma

I wrote this last month and for some reason did not publish it.  Here you go.

A few days ago, I did something I swore to myself I would never do.  I took money from one of my children.

When I was little, my sisters and I each had a silver barrel piggy bank.  Every Christmas and birthday, we would usually get one or two crisp new dollar bills from an aunt, and at other times a few quarters here and there from the Tooth Fairy.  We would carefully "hide" our money away in our piggy banks, perched on top of the old piano by the furnace grate.  I say "hide" because the money was not truly hidden, and everyone knew where to find our piggy banks.  Each time we got something to add to it, we would clean it out and count our loot, carefully stacking the bills and organizing the coins before putting it all back.

Our family was not well off.  By today's standards, we were probably lower class, not even scraping the bottom of lower-middle-class.  My dad worked hard, driving a rig for Pennzoil and my mom alternated between staying at home with us, when they could afford it, and working when they couldn't, running a fabric store and later as a secretary in a real estate office.

We lived on a farm and grew vegetables all summer to eat in the winter and while we never lacked for the necessities of life, there were quite a few things that we wanted, but never got.  (I still wonder what Santa did with that Barbie's Dream House that was on my list for years.). In my mind, the money in my piggy bank was mine, to do with what I wanted.  I don't remember anything specific now, but I'm sure at the time I had grand plans for how that money would be spent.

Such dreams went put the window in the cold light of reality, as dreams sometimes do.  I distinctly remember one night at home, when Dad asked where our piggy banks were.  (A rhetorical question, we were sure, since they were in plain sight where they had always been.). His response to our reply was to ask that we bring them to him.  Several minutes later he had taken a few dollars from each of us and returned the banks to their spots.  Several minutes after that, he left to go to the store.

The details of what else was said in response to our protests or mom's reaction are lost to time.  I do remember how, at first, we thought he was joking, only to realize he was not when he left the house and our money was not returned.  I vaguely recall being told that the money was needed to buy milk and bread, and only now wonder if he used it to buy cigarettes as well.  There is certainly no way to know.  But I distinctly remember how I felt when he took that money, and I remember telling myself that I would never do the same thing to my own kids.

As I sit here now, an adult with children of my own and responsibilities, I certainly understand the pressures of parenthood.  I can appreciate the worry when the bills come and add up to more than the last paycheck.  I appreciate it even more now that I own my own business and have to pay everyone else first.  What if there just isn't enough to go around?  What do you do?

The girls have savings accounts, both with some money given to them for birthdays and holidays.  I only half jokingly tell them that they have more money in the bank than I do.  They don't really have a concept that it is there, or how much there is, and it has always generally been an unspoken agreement between Rob and I that their money would be theirs for a car or college or something they wanted when they got older.  That money has always been figuratively untouchable.  I don't consider it when I look at our balances and I never thought I would consider it when it came time to pay bills.  Until Monday.

I mentioned before, one of the struggles of owing your own business is paying everyone else first.  This becomes more of a struggle when your clients don't pay you in a timely way and you end up juggling your business responsibilities and your personal ones.  This time, with no way to avoid either, I made a tough decision to dip into the untouchable well.

I still cringe when I think of it, but at the same time, I do not think there is anything "wrong" in what I did.  I used some of one of the girls' money to pay a bill.  I did not use it to buy clothes or go out for drinks or dinner.  I used it to pay a bill that was going past due and had no other way.  Part of me thinks "there is always another way." At the same time, the defensive part of me thinks that I have purchased so much for them over the years -books, toys, trips to Disneyland and everywhere else- that are "extras", that this washes out in the end.  I can't decide which side I ultimately fall on, especially since I know how it feels and swore I'd never do that.

One slight difference between my piggy bank story and this one - my dad took the cash from my bank, right in front of me.  I borrowed money from my child without her knowing it.  It doesn't change the basic event, but I think it does make a difference in how it is perceived.  She has money -cash- in her wallet.  I think if I had taken that, particularly while she was looking, it would have been more difficult.  Is it easier on me because she likely will never know it is gone?

I am hopeful that when my clients pay me what is owed, I can pay the rest of this months' bills and pay back the money we borrowed from the kids.  I am also hopeful that monthly cash flow rights itself well enough that I won't have to struggle with this dilemma again.  It seems strange and slightly odd to me that I would have to borrow money from my child.  Then again, when you consider all of the things I have bought for them "just because" (aside from food, clothes and a roof over their heads), maybe a little "give and take" in that department isn't so strange after all.

But that doesn't mean I don't still feel guilty.

You bought it, now use it!

This morning I needed a note card to give a tip for a counselor at camp.  With the girls already out the door and in the car, I ran back in and up to my craft room, picturing in my mind what card to reach for.  On a particular shelf, completely packed full, are several boxes of note cards that I have collected over the years.  I reached for a box featuring a storybook character and for a moment, I hesitated.  Do I really want to use this card?  What if I need it for something else later?  Shaking off those thoughts, I told myself "if you don't use it now, when are you going to?" and pulled the card out, put the box away and ran back downstairs to the car.

As we headed off to camp, I thought a bit more about my quick personal dilemma over the note cards and wondered where else in my house I choose not to use things and why.  I was reminded of the story written years ago that used to circulate by email chain (and now probably still pops up on Facebook or other social media once in awhile), written by Erma Bombeck.  The story came after someone asked her if she would do anything differently, if she had it all to do over.  Erma wrote a letter in response, proclaiming that she would no longer leave "good" things in the cabinets or save things for a "special occasion, but instead would use those nice things every day and cherish the memories created in doing so.  A link to the letter (with story on Snopes.com) is here.  http://www.snopes.com/glurge/bombeck.asp

Looking around my craft room and even my house, I wonder sometimes what I'm waiting for.  Growing up, we had a cabinet with "good china."  I do not remember a time as a kid when those dishes were ever used.  The cabinet that they were kept in had a particular smell and if I think about it, I can just recall it.  It wasn't musty, but it was a woodsy smell that did not fade over time, mostly because the cabinet was rarely opened.  After my dad passed away and we moved to a new house, we started hosting family dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  Those dishes finally got some use.  Of course in doing so, there were cracks in some and some that broke completely.  But we have memories of family gathered around the table eating, and memories of the men gathering in the kitchen to wash the dishes (hand wash only!) and even memories of a dog or two sitting on the floor waiting for scraps to fall.  If we had left the dishes in the cabinet, would we have those memories?

When I got engaged and was registering for wedding gifts, I registered for a set of "good china" and "good silver."  I also added various silver trays and bowls and things to my list.  We were blessed to have many friends and family purchase those things for us and now they sit in a cabinet.  One of the reasons I started having a large Passover gathering after Rob and I got married, was because I wanted to use my china and did not want it sitting in the cabinet.   After last year's water heater debacle, and the purchase of new dining room furniture, I had to move all of that china and silver into the new cabinet and was again struck by how little some of it is used.

I also unearthed place mats and napkins that see relatively little use.  For a time, I would buy sets of place mats and napkins when they were on sale at Macys or Crate & Barrel, loving the idea of dinners with color coordinated linens serving as the base.  It was a lovely thought.  The reality of life with kids is that they want plastic "Frozen" or "Dora" (or their own handmade) place mats and could care less about your matching, color coordinated efforts.  Cloth napkins need to be washed (and ironed) to retain their crisp look and who has time for that?  Paper napkins are so much easier.  And things get spilled.  BBQ sauce does NOT easily come out of white place mats.

I could probably mentally wander through each room of my house and identify things purchased with good intentions or lofty dreams of decorating wonder, but that have sadly sat unused on a shelf or in a cabinet, collecting dust, waiting for just the right moment.  I won't bore you with the details.  I will tell you that I have resolved to be better about it, to stop buying things that I wouldn't use right away, to only buy things that can survive my kids.  I resolve to clean out those cabinets of unused things and either make more use of them, or sell or donate them to someone else who can (or wants to) use them.

Of course, the main offender in this story is my craft room.  Yes, the room itself is the problem.  You see, it sucks up my craft hoard, making me forget what I have.  In forgetting what I have, I don't use it and just buy more.  I need to clean the room out.  But at the same time, I need to recognize that for as beautiful as that paper or sticker or whatever is in its original form, it will be much more beautiful when it is showcased with a family picture or a memory caught on film and packaged in a scrapbook.  The beautiful paper is nice when it is tucked on my shelf in a box with others like it, but when it is cut or torn and connected with memories of our time together, it becomes so much more.

So get out there and use those "special" note cards.  Take a page from Erma and use your good china tonight for dinner, even if you aren't having guests and even if you're just having hot dogs and baked beans.  Choose to live life more fully, and include the things you have surrounded yourself with.  After all, if you don't, who will?