Did your lights dim for just sec on Friday night? Yeah? Sorry about that. That was just me entering a new decade.
That’s right, darling bitches, I am 40.
My daughter Megan LOVES to celebrate anyone and everyone’s birthday. A few days before my birthday I told her, “You know, I’m turning 40 this week. I think I need a crown. Can you make me one?”
Within in 10 minutes, she had this gorgeous piece of headgear ready to go. It was so beautiful that I cried. (I may sound like a smartass, but I’m really a big creampuffy wuss.)
I am very happy and proud to say that the whole turning-40 thing just made me laugh. Years ago, I vowed that I would never lie about my age unless it was for a joke or to get a discount someplace. So now I’d like to add something else to that: I will not mourn any age but instead will celebrate it.
Easy to say all of that now. But I did have a moment that wasn’t quite so pretty and magnanimous …. five days before the Big Day things looked pretty suck-a-riffic.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been teetering on the edge of the financial abyss for nearly a year now. A lot of the professional advice I’ve received about this basically adds up to this: Just jump into the hole. You’re going to get swallowed by it anyway. It only hurts for a minute (or seven years), so you might as well just give up now because then it’s on YOUR terms.
I was resigned to it. You know, that ugly B-word. I hated it. I was really angry about it. It made me sick to my stomach but I thought it was the only way out.
Then that Irish dude showed up. And as my wise friend Stefanie says, you have to haul out your shitbag when you start dating someone. So he got to hear about all of it. And he hauled his shitbag out, too. Turns out, my darling man was recovering from financial ruin himself.
Since then, he’s kept himself up at night a buncha times trying to concoct some way out for me. He has offered to help me dig my way out of the hole — an offer I declined (but not without being a blubbering goon over the fact that he would suggest such an unselfish thing). However, his chatter worked on me to the point where I just might have found my own way out … which is amazing because several months ago I thought that the possibility didn’t even exist.
Part of this grand plan has involved me taking classes to learn about credit and finances. I learned how to read a credit report. Then right before my birthday, the instructor gave each of us copies of our own credit reports to take home and read. I had already gotten my own copy online so I thought that there wouldn’t be any surprises. However, something was categorized in a way that I didn’t expect and all of sudden, all of the numbers looked much uglier than I thought they were. If those numbers were accurate, my plan wasn’t going to work.
So then, instead of feeling like an empowered bitch on wheels who was fighting her way back from the brink of financial ruin with kids in tow, I was a sad, poor, single mother who was never going to be able to move out of this rented townhouse. I was turning 40. I had a failed marriage. I was driving a five-year old car and wearing an 11-year old coat. I might as well just raise my kids and go about the business of getting fat on over-processed, pre-packaged baked goods from the Dollar Tree.
Then the Irishman called and said that he was coming over. I told him not to bother. I was tired, I told him. I was a mess, I said. Enjoy your night out with the dudes, I told him, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
He texted 10 minutes later that he was on his way. For possibly the first time, I didn’t want to see him. I just wanted to sit in my living room and cry over my credit report. I called him and said not to come. He said he was already more than halfway and wasn’t going to turn around.
He came in and I explained that it looked like my plan was going to fail. He picked up my credit report. I didn’t stop him. Talk about emptying your shitbag. “Have a look. Feel free to run,” I said.
“I’m not running,” he told me. “I love you. I love your debt. We’re going to figure this out together.” (Is he good people or what?)
So I grabbed my calculator and starting going through my report item by item. It turns out that one line of credit was incorrectly listed twice and that the mortgage wasn’t listed where I thought it would be. In the end, the numbers were exactly what I’d had in mind. I was on the right track.
And then 40 didn’t feel so bad anymore.
I was annoyed with myself that I wavered and let myself fall into the pit. But I guess the important thing is that I course corrected right away.
And that incident stuck in my mind as I was hitting the big milestone birthday. Because the “big O” birthdays make you reassess your entire life. I have always wondered how to measure things — is everything weighted equally from birth until now, or do things in the present day count more? For example, there were some great and some horrible experiences I had years ago. In the past. I feel like they count because they mattered to my life and who I am. But it’s not like I think about them every day.
Then it occurred to me: Life is like a credit report.
There’s a “public records” line on the credit report. It includes the ugly stuff: judgments, liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies. In the credit report of life, what would be on that line? Divorces, deaths, betrayals, firings, feuds and yes, financial ruin, too.
But in life, there should be an equivalent line for the good stuff: children, pets, marriages (even the ones that fail usually start with joy, so yes, they count), true friendships, fulfillment.
Then, eventually, the bad stuff starts to fall off. It matters less. Yeah, it’s still in there — it’s still part of what made your score. But the idea is that eventually there will be enough good to counterbalance the bad. And did you know that’s how you rebuild your credit? You get as much good credit as you can. Maybe that’s how you rebuild a life, too. Fill it up with great stuff and then you can acknowledge and accept the painful things — but they don’t have to haunt you.
I don’t want to allocate lines for houses, cars, jewelry or riding lawnmowers. Are those things nice? Sure they are. But when you’re hitting a milestone birthday, you’re not thinking, “I’m a winner in life because I have granite countertops and a half-acre to mow every weekend!” Instead, you’re looking around at the people at your table. Your family. Your closest friends who have been through everything with you. Your people who will huddle with you in your rented townhouse with the formica and the linoleum and shovel down your mom’s homemade lasagna on a cold winter’s night in January. The people who will sit in the kitchen long after the meal is over and shout funny stories at each other while the scores upon scores upon scores of kids play everywhere (including the steps). That, my friends, is a great birthday.