Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Between a rock and a hard place

Something happened recently that made me remember something from my childhood, something that lead to lots of therapy.  My childhood was far from easy, I was raised by a young single mom, who came from an abusive background and had alcohol and substance abuse problems.  My dad was present in my life maybe a day or two a year.  I am very lucky and blessed to have a wonderful extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins who have been there for me my whole life, but I remember asking myself, and God, often, why did no-one come get me and take me out of the situation I was in?

I lived far from this side of my family for most of my life, visiting a month in the summer and march break.  I remember my aunts and grandparents crying when they came to get me, and crying when I left.  I remember them saying that they wished I could stay forever.  I told them what it was like at home, they knew, and yet, no one came to get me.  Eventually I stopped talking about home, it changed nothing, and I poured my energy into making the most of the little time I got to spend in this stable, loving environment.

When I moved here at the age of 22, to be closer to them and the support/love they offered, I finally asked, why did they leave me there?  They explained that they had offered to take me when I was very little and my mom wanted to move away, but my mom refused, and said that if they ever tried, she would run away with me and they would never see me again. 

They also explained that this was in the early 80s, and the mindset at the time was that a situation had to be extreme to get the law to take a child away from its mother, hard enough if you were the father, nearly impossible if you were only extended family.  Since my father was worse off than my mother, they weighed the situation, and saw that the chances were remote that they would win, and that if they tried and lost, they were afraid that my mother would make good on her threat and they would lose me forever.  They decided that it would be better to give the best they could while I was with them.

I realise now that they made the right choice at the time, had they tried, they would have lost, and my mother, being a US citizen, would have been able to disappear easily.  The reason I am able to have the life I have today was because of that decision.  I avoided the common trap of thinking that things were normal at home, or that that was just how things were.  Because of that, I was able to get help sooner, and begin the therapy process much earlier than most people coming out of that type of childhood.  I was able to have great role models, and aspire to a better more stable life and loving relationships.

That is not to say that it was easy, or that there still isn’t that little kid inside me that doesn’t understand why no one will rescue her.  I spent a lot of my life doubting other people’s love because the people I loved, and who said they loved me, seemed to just leave me there in a terrible situation to fend for myself.  I was too young to understand how complicated it was, how heart wrenching it must have been for them to put me back on that plane every year, knowing exactly what I was going back to.

Now it’s me who is the one wondering what to do, what’s best.  The situation in question is not as dire as mine was, but when does it become too much?  Times have changed, but the situation isn’t any simpler. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The money talk - Part two

I think we were both surprised and relieved at the information that came out.  When I analyzed our joint spending for the past 7 months, we saw that a huge chunk of the overspending was related to the new apartment (moving costs, furnishing the extra space etc.) and the kids (we set them up with clothes and pretty much everything they need at our place so that they don’t have to have luggage when they come and see us.)

The good news about that is that it was 95% one-time expenses.  The apartment is furnished and decorated, and neither of us are the type of people who are constantly repainting and redecorating.  My old apartment stayed pretty much exactly the same for 6 years.  As for the kids, thanks to some help from the people around us and some bargain hunting on my part, they are fully equipped for at least 2 more growth spurts.

The other main areas were food and hygiene products.  The funniest part of the conversation was when we realized that we had been buying a lot of stuff individually that we could have been buying the same.  We both thought the other was brand specific when it came to shower gel etc., and it turns out neither of us are, so right there we can start buying bigger sizes and common products.

As for food, we decided to make an effort to eat together more often, we would buy a lot of ready-made stuff, and different stuff, and we realized that it would be much cheaper if we would just plan a bit.

We also made a pact to rein in spending.  We decided that we would discuss all spending, and track all spending, it may seem extreme, but in just the past week I know I have reduced impulse spending a lot just by having the thought of having to justify it to someone.  We don’t plan to do this forever, just long enough that we can discipline ourselves a bit better and become more aware of our, and each other’s spending habits.

So that’s the plan, I think it’s a good one, here's hoping

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Tooth Fairy (or a tale of innocence lost)

I saw this writing prompt on Mama’s losing it and just had to tell this little nugget of my childhood. 

I was about 5-6 years old and I was in my mom’s bedroom for some reason and I found a little box with teeth in it.  At this point in time I was still a Tooth Fairy believer, so of course my first thought was whose teeth are these, and because I knew mine had been taken away by the Tooth Fairy.  I was totally freaked out and demanded to know whose teeth these were and how/why my mother had them.

My mom was in one of her long-term relationships, and the boyfriend in question saw this as a great opportunity for him to get more involved with me and proposed to my mom that he be the one to explain it to me.

So he took me to my mom’s room, where I had made the gruesome discovery, and started to explain to me about how the tooth fairy was made up by moms and dads, while my mom sat in the living room waiting apprehensively to see how this would go.

Next thing she knew, I was wailing and crying and running from the bedroom into her arms, the boyfriend following behind me totally confused by my reaction.  My mom couldn’t understand a word I was trying to say because of my big gulping sobs, so she asked him what had happened.

He told her that all he did was sit me down to explain that the Tooth Fairy was something that moms and dads made up to make things more fun for kids, just like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

My mom looked at him, furious, and explained that I didn’t know that the other ones weren’t real, and that he should have just stuck to the Tooth Fairy.

Bam!…my childhood innocence shot to hell with one sentence.  All of the childhood mythology gone at once.  Now I laugh about it, and can imagine how horrible the guy felt, but I remember it took me a very very long time to get back to liking that particular boyfriend of my mom’s.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The money talk – part 1

This week, after almost a year of living together, my boyfriend and I had the money talk.  This is a talk that I have never had with anyone, never feeling the need or urge to show my finances to my significant other.

It started the other night, when my BF came home very discouraged about his finances. 

He makes a decent salary, but pays a hefty amount of child support, which gobbles up roughly 40% of his net income, meaning that when all is said and done, he takes home less than someone on minimum wage.

I had been aware of his income, and he of mine, because we did have a discussion at the beginning of our relationship about how we would handle the bills and whether or not he was ok with me bringing home more than him.  I earn an above average but not huge salary for an admin assistant.  At this discussion, he said that he would have to deal with it since pretty much any woman with any job was going to out earn him because of the child support.  We decided that we split everything 50/50, since he had already been in the situation of supporting someone else (the ex) and did not want to be on the receiving end of that.

There are only 4 areas where bills that are not divided evenly
·         Food – I am a vegetarian, so he pays 100% for all his meat, unless we are having guests over for dinner, in which case I pay half.
·         Apartment insurance – since I own more of the stuff in the apartment than he does, we based the bill on percentage of total value, with a stipulation that in case of a claim, we each receive that same percentage of the payout.  This bill is split 65/35
·         The cleaning lady – we both agree that she is a non-negotiable expense, and forego cable to pay her. She comes for 3 hours every 2 weeks, mostly doing the heavy duty cleaning, leaving us with laundry, dishes and general picking up.  In order to ease his finances a bit he pays 1/3 of the bill, but he does more of the day to day cleaning.  I do laundry.
·         Kids expenses – If the item is necessary to the kids (ie: food, clothes, primary bedding) he pays 100%.  If the item is optional (ie: toys, books, extra clothes, bedroom decorations) we pay 50/50.

As you can see, we already had a big part of the financial talk done, but we had kept two things private: debt and spending, and we realize now that it was very stupid of us to not have had this discussion.

Me, I’m about 9000$ in debt from various sources, with about 750$ in my accounts.  I’ve had this amount of debt for a while, and the main reason it hasn’t budged is that I would often buy something for the both of us and not ask for his part, because I felt guilty.  I’m not sure if I felt weird for earning more, or that it just felt so much like I was spending my hubby’s money like some 50s housewife, but in reality, I assumed way more expenses than I should have.

Him, well, he’s mostly been overspending and underplanning. He’s in debt around 2500$, but has about 1500$ in his bank account.  He makes enough money to pay all of the concrete bills, but doesn’t plan for any extras, even though he spends on those extras anyways.

So after he came home, the other night, worried about how he was gonna pull off living the lifestyle he wanted, paying his own way etc. I saw an opportunity and jumped on it.  I told him that I too was not in the best of circumstances, and that maybe we should just lay it all out in the open and hash it out.  Then work together on a plan to help us both gain a better financial stability.