Money Money Money MUUNNNY

“You’re not a little girl in trouble, you’re a grown woman with choices!”

My daughter and I had been discussing her financial difficulties, her choices and the possibilities to take responsibility for those difficulties. 

She didn’t seem to believe the words from my mouth and in frustration with herself, me, and life, itself, shouted back, “But that’s how I feel!  It’s always how I’ve felt about money!  Like a little girl in trouble.” 

Her words reverberated through my head, and my usual inner reaction of searching for where and why she believed this, where had I gone wrong in my mothering and teaching (or lack thereof)? shook my already ailing body.

The conversation continued till it finally ended on the obvious resolve that it was just time to start over.  Find a new way. 

Suffering from a terrible head cold, my physical self seemed to have taken over the wiser part of me.  I felt I had not found the balance or what I needed for my daughter at that moment.  Strange how the physical and spiritual can be so separate and yet have such an effect on the other.  And as I swam through the thick mucus in my head, I seemed to grasp onto a piece of the past and then a piece of wisdom.  Upon hanging up the phone, I prayed she had been able to sift through the fragments. 

The next morning, I awoke feeling physically worse than I had the day before and was grateful that it was a pre-scheduled day off from work, so I could rest, force fluids and not push myself anymore.  As I fixed my toast and coffee, it dawned on me that I, too, had always felt like a little girl when it came to money.  I’d always waited for my husband to tell me when it was okay to spend money or to buy this or that.  I’d always wanted him to take responsibility for the decision.  And when I made one without him, I had always felt like and even shared with my daughter that I was sneaking around.  My daughter and I would go shopping, and I would tell her, “Don’t tell your dad that we bought this or how much money we spent.”  Later I would confess and my husband never really cared, although I knew and still know that if I had “asked permission” to spend that money, he would have said we couldn’t afford it. 

I realized that I had found the answer to where her feelings about money had originated.  But then wondered what it had been in my life that had made me feel that I could not be responsible for financial decisions.  Why had I always waited for my husband to give the okay (and then ultimately resented him for his control over it all)? 

Suddenly, I was seven-years-old again, standing in front of my mother’s dresser with the big rectangular mirror.  Pulling out the top half drawer, I dug down in the front of the drawer through silky slips, to find my passbook from the local credit union. There, along with five other passbooks, I found the one marked with my name and stuffed the five dollars I’d earned doing chores inside.  And there my money would wait till my parents made their weekly trip to deposit it all into our individual savings accounts.  It was the unquestioned ritual, our money was managed and controlled from the time we were small, by our parents. 

The only purchase I ever remembered having made from my hard-earned savings was a ten speed bike.  I must have been about twelve.  A new bike shop had opened in town, and my older siblings had decided it would be cool to have new bicycles.  Somehow they convinced our parents that it was a worthy expenditure, and we were each allowed to withdraw enough money to purchase the bicycle of our choice.  Mine was white with a red seat and red pin striping. 

By the time I was seventeen, I had saved $2000.  It doesn’t sound like much now, but in 1979, that was a lot of money – enough to buy a decent used car.  And that is just what I had planned to do with it.  My dad took me to the local car lot, owned and operated by a family that had been there “forever.”  He picked out the car he felt would be good for me, paid for it with his money, and told me to make payments to pay it off, as there was no sense in taking my money out of the bank.  I proceeded home, excited to have the freedom of my own ride and confused at the powerlessness that was diffusing the freedom.  Inside the kitchen cupboard, I taped a piece of white school paper with the date and $2000 at the top.  This would be my payment chart. 

My parents had been raised in the Depression Era and money issues were fed to them with a carefully measured spoon.  They carried the frugal ways and the vulnerability experienced by their parents in their wallets in the form of fear.  Fear that there may be a shortage later, and the fear of regretful spending decisions.  And that fear was passed on to me.  I feared that I could not and would not be responsible with money.  I either hoarded it or threw it all away. 

When I was living with my ex-husband in New Mexico, his military career took him out of the country for a month.  He had been the one to pay the bills, but now needed me to take over the responsibility for that 30 days.  His check would be deposited into our joint checking account.  All I was required to do was to write the checks when the bills came and send them off in the mail.  It seemed easy enough.  Our bills consisted of utilities and rent, but since we were not married, the military was still paying him like a single enlisted guy living on base.  It was a very meager income, supplemented by my inadequate income as a part-time hotel desk clerk. 

In my ex-husband’s absence, I felt a bit of freedom to spend some money on something fun for a change.  With no one watching over me, I went to a local department store and bought new pretty bed sheets to replace the threadbare set we had been using, and as an accessory to the sheets, I bought myself some perfume.  Sadly enough, though, when the bills came due, there wasn’t enough money left to pay them all.  Since decisions were not my strong suite, I decided I just wouldn’t pay any of them.  I put them on the shelf till my ex-husband returned.  He would know which ones to pay.  I’ll never forget his shock at my decision to pay none rather than pay the ones that I could. 

Making conscious money decisions has been a choice that my husband and I just recently set upon together.  After spending money we didn’t have to try to buy unreachable happiness in the form of quick fixes of pleasure and luxuries, and only digging ourselves a seemingly bottomless hole of money related stress, we finally realized that the best happiness we could give ourselves is not going to be something that the newness will wear off or will be digested and in the toilet the next day.   The best happiness we could give ourselves is knowing we have made conscious spending decisions that will lead to financial freedom and freedom from regret and worry.  

It took me a long time to come to this place.  I’m forty-(almost)five.  It feels good to know that no material thing, no luscious meal, or pleasurable experience is worth paying for with interest and worry.  It is great to now know that I cannot buy happiness, for in that knowing, I take the wheel and money becomes the passenger instead of the other way around. When the temptation to buy what I cannot afford or to spend money that I do not have comes along, I now know that I am not filling myself with the fulfillment that I need and have available to me from other areas.  I’m placing the responsibility for my happiness in someone or something else’s hand. 

The choice to believe in one’s self is all it takes, because with belief in self, there is no temptation to validate your existence with spending.  Choosing to be responsible for your actions and your life is the ultimate empowerment.  

Default

Here’s a piece I wrote this past weekend.  Motherhood is slipping from my fingers, it seems, but I was lucky to be a participant.

Default

“I’ll go with you if you want me to,” I said, “but don’t feel obligated to take me.”  “It won’t hurt my feelings if you say you don’t want me to go.  In fact, it would hurt my feelings more if you took me and didn’t really want me there.”  I continued rinsing the dishes, while he drank his milk. 

“Yeah.”  He seemed to be responding just to let me know that he was hearing me, and now was considering his feelings and whether or not he could truly be honest with me. 

“You don’t have to make a decision right now,” I added, “just let me know this evening.” I secretly wondered whom I was giving this grace period to.  Was it really for my own need to prepare for his answer – build up a resistance to the truth I knew was coming?  My mind went back to his fourth grade camping trip.  “Do you remember in fourth grade how all the classes went on the camping trip, and I wanted to go chaperone and help with it?  And you said you didn’t want me to go, that if I were your dad, then it would be okay, but you didn’t want your mom there.” 

“Nuh-uh!  I said that?”  Alex, now sixteen, sat in astonishment at his youthful frankness. 

“Yes, but my point is that it’s okay if you don’t want me to go.  I understood then and I understand now.” 

“Well, that is kind of how I feel now.  I mean, I’d rather Dad go, but I know he won’t want to go.”  His words trailed off down the path of lost hope and known truths. 

“I guess if you want him to go, you need to ask him.”  I, too, knew that Mike wouldn’t want to go, but felt it was my duty as a parent to instill good communication skills in my son – not teach him to make assumptions by a person’s past behavior, even if down deep, I was doing the same thing. 

Mike rarely wanted to go with Alex on his hunting trips or competitions.  So since Alex was in 6th grade and decided he wanted to train dogs to hunt, I have been the default hunting companion.  But I never saw it that way.  I just saw it as supporting Alex’s dreams.  It didn’t matter to me what it was he wanted to do. I only knew that he had found a passion for something, something he needed someone else to support him in.  To me, it was never a matter of wanting to or not wanting to, it was what parents do – support young dreams. 

So Alex introduced me to running the woods and fields with Beagles and Feists.  We repeatedly explored the

Salamonie
State
Forest, a place I had lived so close to for forty years of my life and never fully explored till now.  Following whichever pup Alex had decided to take that day, we climbed hills and valleys.  I slid down steep ravines on my butt and stumbled clumsily behind my son whose footing was so sure and practiced.  Waterfalls that I never knew existed enticed me and wildlife revealed itself to take my breath away and show me the wonders of this beautiful, secret world.  It was a world where worries and cares seemed to dissipate like the morning dew. 

For four years, I was his driver, so therefore, his companion in his hunting expeditions and competitions.  This outdoorswoman was a part of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I was grateful to Alex for giving me the opportunity to find that part of me.  And each time we returned home, I would thank him for having me accompany him. 

Alex left for school after our conversation, and no decision was made on who or if anyone was going to accompany him to the big squirrel hunt the next morning.  I knew in the back of my mind that I was being ruled out, so started making my plans for the time that would otherwise feel deserted and without purpose. 

After school Alex stopped by my office to get some money.  He was going out for Mexican food with friends.  I asked him what he had decided. 

“I’ll just go by myself, so no one has to wait around for me, and I won’t feel like I have to hurry or anything.” 

“That’s fine,” I responded.  “Call me later, okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”  And he walked out the door of my office no longer my little boy, now a man.

In the morning I arose early.  Old habits die hard.  I decided to make French toast to send Alex off to the competition alone.  He ate and chatted about friends and the ballgame the night before.  Rinsing his plate, he said, “See you later!” 

As he waved from the cab of his beautiful, shiny, red, ten-year-old truck with the diamond plate toolbox and bargain dog box in the back, I realized that all of these years, had my husband been interested and actively participated in my son’s interests, I wouldn’t have been included.  I would have been left behind, because I was a girl.  Each Saturday or summer morning, I would have let them drive off without me and in my ignorance been content to stay home alone. Now the truth was realized – he preferred the company of his own gender.  I had been tolerated because I was the only one available.

It doesn’t matter if I was chosen out of default; I still feel that I was the winner.  Even if my husband tripped over his own foot on the way to the finish line, it didn’t matter that he should have won.  I am the one that walked away with the trophy.  The new experiences, the memories and the wonderful bond that my son and I now share, are treasures that are mine forever. 

 

Happy 2007

2007 The Year of Movement

Last night I found myself celebrating the New Year.  As the evening came to an end, I realized that I had not really considered what the New Year entailed.  I was just celebrating for the sake of celebrating.  It was fun and free and without worries or cares.  But realistically, when I look at the upcoming year, I feel a sense of dread for the things that are to come. 

Stuck in my dead end job – a place that I don’t dare even let myself feel how miserable I am there or it would be the undoing of me.  And knowing that I have to attend a seminar to improve my performance at that job, that I hope I will never have to use, because if I do, then it means I will be at this job much longer than I want to be.  I’m still healing from not getting the job I interviewed for; still feeling like it was the last carrot on the plantation and someone else ate it. 

Hope is what is missing, I feel.  With hope, one can imagine going further, celebrating the newness and the opportunity for change that the New Year brings.  There is a glimmer inside, but part of me also has such a voice of doubt.  How, in this little town, am I going to find a more nurturing and fulfilling job?  What could there possibly be here? And if it is here, where is it hiding – how will I ever find it or even know where to begin to look? 

It is the same with my writing.  What is the possibility of my writing ever going anywhere?  Will it ever be more than just a hobby?   I guess I need to give credit where credit is due.  My writing has touched lives, but is that the best thing I could ever hope for? 

Lately, it seems I have lost direction for my writing.  I guess I haven’t had enough time to spend here, and when I do, I don’t know where to go or what to do with it.  Maybe hope has something to do with that, too.  Maybe it is direction that I am lacking. 

I have to wonder how many people that we saw, standing under the great crystal ball, falling from the sky in downtown
New York, really knew what they were celebrating.  Were they celebrating the opportunity to muster up the strength and discipline to lose weight or quit smoking or to take a more positive approach toward life or any other of the many cliché New Year’s resolutions?  Or was it just a reason to get excited, be with a crowd, and do what everyone else is doing, drinking too much and staying up too late. 

Will they wake this morning feeling like I do, like what does the New Year really hold for me, and is it really something to celebrate?   Maybe they’ll just take an aspirin and complain about their hangover.

My life as it is, is not unbearable, but even the prisoner of war can adapt to his environment, finding places in his mind to escape for survival.  I know I can do the same, but I don’t want to.  My New Year’s resolution is to find that new space, open to the possible and find hope in each tomorrow – stop sinking into the corner of the cell with the resolve that “things could be worse.”  (Some may see that as a positive saying, but truly, it is very negative.)  A more positive approach would be, “things can be better,” for that is a statement that moves one to action. 

But to move into action, one must have hope and determination to make the changes that they so desire.  And let’s not forget direction.  But even without direction, movement of some kind is better than sitting in the corner not risking a move for fear it will be in the wrong direction.

            Kelly Rippa from the Regis and Kelly show said that she always names the year, like 2006 was the year of the martini. Although I feel her name for last year was rather meaningless, I like the idea of naming the year.  It sets the motivation. 

I think I will name 2007 the year of movement.  I’m going to move into my studio and move my fingers upon the keyboard.  I’m going to move the pile of quilt squares through my sewing machine until they become a quilt.  I’m going to move my body, through exercise and diet, into good health.  But most importantly and overall, I’m going to get up out of the corner and move into a new me – a me that moves to action instead of waiting for someone else to open the cell door or give me a reason to want to open the door. 

So Happy New Year everybody.  Welcome 2007, The Year of Movement! 

Hope

            I had a job interview the other day.  It was one of those events in life that tie your stomach in knots, and you feel like your head has left and is floating in outer space.              At the interview, my nervousness set aside, I put on the performance of my life.  I walked away feeling hopeful.  Actually, hopeful is rather a weak word for what I felt.  It was more like, full of life.  Sitting in my car, ready to drive home, I laughed at the realization that not only was I hopeful, I had actually enjoyed having to perform.  It was like being an actor on a stage.  I played the part of ME!            And I realized I had imprisoned myself for so long with my own brainwashing that I had not only washed away my misery, but also my sense of fun and the freedom to be me.  The hopelessness was like a wet, wool blanket on my back, weighing me down, but giving me the false impression of warmth and security.            It wasn’t immediately after the interview that I realized all of this.  It was after I’d gone back to my office, where suddenly, this newly excavated part of myself seemed like a naked drunk running through the office.  It made me giggle and feel talkative, alive and carefree!  The contrast to the environment was the cold water that woke me.  Without interaction from my co-workers where I worked, I had just given in.  I had lost my liveliness to the almighty dollar and job security and let’s face it, so that I wouldn’t draw attention to myself or stand out.  Disappearing into myself, I stopped risking the constant rejection of those surrounding me.              It is human nature to conform.  And in my case, I had lost hope.  I was just going through my day to day.  I guess if I had let myself feel how miserable I had become there, it would have made it next to impossible to force myself to go to work each day.  I was afraid to hope.  I didn’t want to be disappointed.  Till this interview gave me a glimpse.  A glimpse of light on the other side of my office door.              I thought of prisoners of war or people sentenced to life in prison, or the people that were sent to the concentration camps, and I wondered how they kept going.  How did they keep hope in such a hopeless situation?  It is amazing that anyone who is imprisoned can carry hope with them each day.  To me, it would be like being in a desert dreaming of water.  Wouldn’t it be easier, less painful, to stop thinking about the water and just start sucking cactus juice, even if the spines pricked your skin and drew blood.              It’s part of that whole thought form of “Don’t look forward to it, you might be disappointed.”  So rather than get up hope with the possibility of being let down, we just stay in the safe place, no matter how miserable it is.  It seems that no matter how many times I realize this, I find myself back here and realizing it once again.  I guess the key is that I am realizing it.  Over and over.  And it doesn’t really matter, as long as I keep realizing it.  Right?            Two of my most despised sayings are – “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” and “Bloom where you are planted.”              I realize that each of these sayings can actually have a positive slant, but I am afraid that more than not, we use them as words to keep us where we are – hopeless, but making the “most” of it.              Maybe it’s time to throw the lemons out the window and demand limes.  Or maybe we need to pull up our roots and MOVE!              I don’t know yet if I got the job.  I do know that I like the me that I found during that interview, and with or without approval, she’s staying out in the open.  She makes me happy – and alive! 

 

Christmas Tidings 2006

What is it about the season of joy that seems to leave people feeling less than joyful?  Through hectic schedules, the need for more money, the pressure to buy gifts, do the accepted thing, conform to plans made by other people, all these things seem to suck the joy out of the season and cause anger, resentment and the desire to run to Florida and escape it all. 

I used to get sucked into the joylessness of it all, but as I’ve gotten older, become more at peace with myself, I have made a conscious decision not to let it all get to me, as it has in the past.  I used to worry about wearing the best thing, looking just so, and the stress of it would even send me into tears.  But with this new sense of self, I’ve come to the realization that I’m the only one who cares what I am wearing.  Other people really only want to see my smile. 

In the past, I’ve spent the season stressing over what to buy and what to ask for, what I will receive and will it fulfill my desires.  But I’ve come to the realization that what I give is love, what I receive is love, and it won’t be the last material thing the recipient ever gets and just being present is more important than putting all that stress into the air. 

Christmas has become so commercialized.  With all the stress and resentment, it has lost its real meaning.  Whether you are a Christian or an atheist, Christmas is about coming together with the ones you love, and in doing so, taking the time to express your gratitude for life and loved ones.  It isn’t about judging why someone wants to go home, stay home, head to Florida or why they bought what they did, or why they brought the covered dish that they chose to bring.

This year, I’m going with the flow.  Whatever anyone wants to do, whether they want to get together or stay home, whether they seem overjoyed by my gifts or whether I receive things that were not on my list – well, it just doesn’t matter.  I’m just glad to have the people in my life that I do.  Being what I need for me fills me with all that I used to need from and look for in others.  Carrying this joy within me is my gift to the world, for with so many frowns in the shopping malls, and people waiting to be disappointed, we all need to get past the physical stuff and let the spirit of the season glow. 

 

New to this place

hello, how are you? I’m new to this place and still working on figuring it all out.  Sort of like life, huh? 

Anyway, my name is Christine Paul, and my brother, Jim, said I should post my writings here.  So here goes.  Let me know what you think.  Good, bad or indifferent.  It’s all good.  I’m going to start with a poem that I wrote recently.  It is about standing firm, living life and being happy in who I am – no matter how many times I fall or am pushed down…….

The Hammock 

Lying in the hammock, finally relaxing letting the gentle breezes sway me back and forth,

I feel him near. 

His hand reaches out and touches me gently,

And then he walks away. 

I feel the beginning of summer’s warmth,

Creeping over the edge of spring,

And stretching out, I let it in, let it kiss every inch of my body,

which has been cold and covered for these long months. 

My eyelids droop and a luscious drowsiness takes over,

As the wind continues to rock me.

Suddenly, he is there once more,

Standing by the tree.

His hand reaches out and I sense his danger,

The cords are cut and I fall to the ground.

Bruised and shaken, I sit and gather myself in,

Rubbing my head and brushing myself off,

I rise slowly, holding my heart,

and let the tears fall

Forming starbursts in the dusty ground beneath.

Repair the cord, tie it tight, and test it, test again.

With a deep breath,

I climb back into my contentment,

Ready to try it, trust it, again. 

Lying back, I close my eyes,

A cloud passes over, and the blinds fly up,

No one is there. 

Try again, don’t give up this lovely place

For fear of fear and dangerous hands and words.

Swing higher, laugh deeper, harder, louder.

And the hammock flies high,

With the carefree abandon of the innocent child,

till it is no longer

Attached to the anchors of the earth,

But soars beside the vultures, the doves, the geese.