I started this one on Sunday but didn’t get to finish — I’m not having quite the “putter” morning on this Thursday that I mention below ….
I’m puttering around my cozy little Single Momma townhouse. It’s a cold October morning. Snow on the ground. Quiet. Kids at their dad’s house. Perched on the edge of my desk is my full coffee cup and my empty breakfast plate (one egg over easy, cooked in garlic, on top of a piece of warm, leftover tomato pie from Friday night’s Food for Thought meeting … heaven!).
I have to pick up the kids in about an hour and a half. That gives us some time catch up, but not much. There’s a lot of ground to cover.
Grab some coffee and settle in, wouldja?
I saw a longtime, dear friend on Thursday. We haven’t been able to catch up, just the two of us, since before my divorce. After a bit of small talk, she cut right to the chase, “What happened?” she asked. Man, I loved her for that.
Over the past few years I’ve discovered the real magic of hiding nothing — probably largely thanks to this blog. It’s a fearless, powerful way to live. Because secrets are ugly, sneaky little beasts. They hang out in dark corners and even if your house is clean, you just know they’re up in your closet peeing in your shoes.
So I think it’s time to tell my little blogmuffins the “what happened” of the past few months. Because if I don’t get it out I’m never going to be able to sit down and write this thing again.
When my dad died, I was conveniently already seeing a therapist for another issue (which may rhyme with “schmarriage pounseling”). We ended up diverting from our regular topic for a few weeks to deal with my father’s death. I told her that I had heard that the hardcore grieving takes a year — you have to get through all those “firsts” — holidays, birthdays, changes of season. She told me that for the surviving spouse, it’s more like two years. The first year is spent taking care of business — sorting out all the loose ends, doing the paperwork, etc. So grieving doesn’t really get the attention it needs until year 2.
I’m in year 2 of grieving for my divorce. I think it’s going to take a while. The first year, I got hit by a train. Then I spent a few months crawling off the tracks, cleaning up, sewing up my wounds, etc. Then I threw on some makeup and reclaimed my life. For the first time in years, I felt like I was a citizen of the world again. I went out. I saw people. I socialized. I fed my brain. It was a high.
But then, this past winter, the other shoe dropped. Or, to continue with the metaphor from above, let’s say that I got hit by a second train. It was every bit as hard as the marriage breaking up.
I’ll spare you the details and just give you the headline: I am totally fucking fucked financially. (Lots of reasons for this that I probably shouldn’t go into because this situation isn’t mine alone.)
All of sudden, words like “bankruptcy,” “foreclosure” and “public assistance” became part of my vocabulary.
There were meetings. Many meetings. Decisions were made. Plans put in place. Forms were filled out. Letters were written — sad, pathetic, shameful letters — to mortgage companies, to the YMCA begging for reduced childcare and to the state children’s insurance fund (bonus: so much fun to find out that I was poor enough to qualify for it).
I was wrecked. I talked to myself. OK, Trish. This is where you shine. You can handle a crisis. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can get it done. Look at what’s happening here. Take it as a kick in the pants to do all those things you always said you wanted to do with your career. You can handle this. You can make all the money you need — more than you need. Believe it. This doesn’t have to break you.
But getting hit with a pillow full of rocks and then popping up like it was no big thang was really starting to lose its appeal. I was crumbling.
And then, my recurring question was this: How do I handle this with the kids? Let me tell you this: They know the Dollar Tree inside and out. They know that mommy shops at Goodwill. They know that if they ask for something that costs $5, they’re going to get a lecture about how $5 is a lot of money.
I threw Megan a birthday party, a very cost-effective party, but it wasn’t free. I questioned it the whole time. Should I do it? Should I tell her we can’t afford it this year? How can I tell her she can’t have a party? She plans her birthday 364 days in advance …
Then one day we were at the grocery store. I had just picked up the kids after finding out that I needed $800 worth of dental work — the kind of dental work that needs to be done pretty much immediately if I don’t want to end up as toothless old crone someday. I was distracted and feeling pretty low. We got back to our car at the same time as the people who were parked next to us. Megan went between the cars and got into her seat. I noticed the couple at the next car roll their eyes at each other and then both look pointedly at me. “Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Your daughter just banged her door into my car and made a big dent,” the man said. I closed my eyes for a minute and shook my head. This is one of those recurring things with my kid — she’s been told about this before but she remains pretty careless about it. And now this. Great.
I walked over to their side of the car and looked. Sure enough, there was a mark. But it looked like paint — my paint. I passed the people, who remained at the back of their car and who still hadn’t taken their hands off of their cart, and went over to inspect it. I rubbed the mark. It started coming off. I continued to rub. More came off. “It mostly looks like paint,” I said. “That’s my paint.”
“No, you can still see a dent,” said the woman (in an annoyingly breathy voice that made me want to throttle her). I didn’t see a dent. I squatted down next to the car and looked from a different angle. “I think if you know where to look and the light catches it just right, you may be able to see something,” I admitted. “But it’s hardly anything.”
“I can see it from here,” the woman breathed at me. The man glared at me and shook his head.
“You know, this kind of thing happens in parking lots,” I said, while thinking If your precious car is so precious to you, go park in the back of the lot like the rest of the douchebags.
“Obviously,” said the man. “Look at your door.” I didn’t have to look. My car is five years old. There are some battle scars there.
“What am I supposed to do now?” he asked.
I said nothing. I huffed and puffed myself over my passenger door. I got out my insurance card. I slammed the hell out of my door and marched over to them. “Here!” I said, shoving it at them. “But I think you should know that I’m a single mother. My kids are on free healthcare. I can’t afford for my insurance to go up over this.”
Listen, I hate to play the “I’m a poor single mother bit.” And by that time, I was really tired of having to write letters about it and beg for stuff. It was degrading to my pride and to my soul. I had had it. But I also wasn’t going to stand there and let those idiots strongarm me into paying hundreds of dollars that I didn’t have for something that was no big deal.
“Listen, forget about it,” the guy said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“But your daughter needs to be more careful,” the woman breathed.
If I wasn’t mad before, that did it.
“Do you have kids?” I asked them.
“No,” they both said at the same time. The man said it with a hint of a laugh, as if I’d asked him, “Do you like to smear poo on your face sometimes?”
Ah ha. Now I knew who I was dealing with.
“I have told her about this,” I said. “Many times. Kids don’t always listen. You tell them not to run sometimes and they do anyway. You tell them not to be loud in restaurants and sometimes they are anyway. They forget themselves.”
I looked down at my car where Megan was staring up at me, her eyes wide. I opened her door and made an effort to calm my voice down a bit. “Megan,” I said. “You know how I’m always trying to tell you to be careful with the car door? This is why. See? You hit their car with our door and made a mark. So you’re going to remember to be more careful now, right?” She nodded, eyes still wide.
I looked back at the people. I wanted to scream at them. Would you feel better if I ripped her out of the car by one arm and rubbed her nose in the supposed dent?!! Would you feel like you had some justice then?!!
“Take my phone number,” I said. “If you feel like you just can’t live with this in a day or two, call me. I don’t want to leave you high and dry.”
“No, no, no, that’s OK,” the man said.
“No, take it,” I said as I shoved my phone number at him. He took it.
I got in the car and just breathed for a minute. Then I started to cry (which I tend to when I’m really, really angry).
“Are you OK?” Megan asked. Benjamin parroted her.
“You know what?” I said. “I’m tired of being poor.”
“Mommy! We’re not poor!” Megan said.
“We pretty much are,” I told her. “We’re not as poor as some people. I will always make sure that you guys have what you need, but there’s very little money to do all that right now. That’s why I’m always saying no when you ask for things. And those people upset me because they were trying to get me to pay a lot of money for something that was no big deal. Megan, you need to be more careful, though, but those people weren’t being fair about it.”
We rehashed it the event over and over on the way home, as my kids like to do. They each told me their narrative as we drove home. I guess that’s how kids make sense of things. (I guess me too or I wouldn’t have a blog.)
But that’s what it took for me to finally tell my kids the truth — it wasn’t that I was being stingy and yes, being careful with your money is a great thing — but also, the money to go buy “extras” just simply no longer existed when mommy was scrounging to pay the rent and buy groceries. Is it bad for them to know this? I don’t know. We didn’t have much money when I was a kid and I knew it. I knew that there were some things we just weren’t going to have. I think as long as my kids aren’t sitting up at night wondering if they’re going to be homeless, it’s OK for them to know because it’s the truth. When in doubt, the truth is usually the way to go.
So now you know, too. I am one poor bitch. If you’re a friend of mine, you won’t be getting Christmas presents from me this year because I cannot afford them. If you want to go someplace I probably can’t go because I just don’t have the cash. Simple as that.
However, there are always gifts in hitting bottom and there are gifts in this, too. Once again, I get to learn what I’m made of. And bitches, I can hustle when I need to. I came from a working class family so I guess there’s a certain pride in knowing that I can find ways to bring in the money when I need to. So that feels good.
And hopefully, this time will serve as nice comparison point for the day when I have more money than I know what to do with. (Listen, I’m no J.K. Rowling, but I do often think about how she was on the dole before Harry Potter became the phenomenon that it is …)
Conveniently, the Irishman (who is, yes, still around) is also digging out from financial ruin at the moment. We say to each other, “Someday, we’ll be on a great vacation on a beach somewhere, laughing about how we used to grocery shop at the dollar store …” At least we know that neither of us is in this for the money.