Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning Something New

"Money will come when you are doing the right thing."
Mike Phillips
[I don't know who Mike Phillips is, but I hope he knows what he's talking about. m]

A few weeks ago I had a meltdown in the middle of Applebees. As usual in the middle of a lunch date with my sister who also happens to be a CPA my dad started discussing his finances. Usually I can tune this conversation out. I have mastered the art of looking interested in the dollars and cents of my father's estate while I "la la la" in my head to whatever tune I make up.

This afternoon, though, was different. My buttons got pushed big time. It doesn't make any real difference what was said, because my reaction took precedence over everything else going on in the restaurant. I said too much. I hurt his feelings. He hurt mine. She retreated to that place she has always retreated to. The waiter kept checking to see if we wanted our bill and people in the booth next to us sipped their water and enjoyed the show.

I came away feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Yet, I sensed some change coming on. It was small, maybe the size of a celery seed, but I remember telling myself, reacting like this is no longer okay with me.

Sweetie gave me a safe place to discuss what happened and what I could do differently. I was in the awareness stage of what will hopefully be a lifetime change.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that discussions centered on or around money will cause an almost immediate reaction in me. I don't know the root cause. Maybe someday I will go there. But for now it's only important that I realize that these discussions cause me to feel ashamed, unworthy, and less than. These feelings come from a place deep down inside me. The way I learned to keep them at bay is to steer far away from anything that sounds remotely close to a financial discussion.

Bank balances? Credit card debt? Insurance? Savings? Retirement funds? Plans for a rainy day? Like an ostrich whose tail feathers are exposed because its head is so far in the sand, I dig into my safety net of denial. I refuse to go there.

Have I mentioned that I'm a grown woman, not three years old?
How is it possible that I've been in therapy for most of my life yet never addressed this thread of intense feeling?

For now that's a moot point. What is important is that I begin taking the steps I need to to make some changes.

So .... drum roll, please .... yesterday Sweetie and I had financial "come to Jesus meeting." The dining room table was covered with bank statements, bills, stacks of papers to be filed and the dreaded yellow legal pad with a heading printed in Sweetie's neat handwriting - BUDGET.
While he made columns on the paper, I organized files by year - some of them back as far as 2002. Taking baby steps, I let myself look at the paper and get a feel for what it represented. On one hand, it was nothing but paper. How can I be so afraid of pieces of paper?
On the other hand, the seemingly impossible task of ever being debt free loomed large in front of me. I concentrated on the job at hand. I sorted. I stapled. I filed. Sweetie wrote down the numbers.

As the afternoon, wore on I could see we had begun to make progress. We got ourselves organized. No longer, His and Hers, but "our" financial papers are now filed together in a drawer in Sweetie's desk - not strewn across three rooms in stacks upon stacks of paper that could easily represent the lives of several trees.

As close as Sweetie and I are, we've left this component of our relationship to fend for itself. But now I don't feel so alone. I feel like a member of a team. If I'm the mountain climber, then Sweetie is the person on the other end of the rope making sure I don't fall off the cliff. And when he's attempting to scale heights he hasn't reached before, well, I'm his cheerleader!

The bottom line isn't pretty. We declared a moratorium on extra spending. While I am not quite ready to do what Dave Ramsey calls a credit card-ectomy, my "babies" have been put away for safe keeping.

And here's the good news. I did all this without emotion. No tears. No stomach ache. No pouting. As we discussed our future - what we will do and where we might go after my caregiving role is completed - I was cool, calm and collected. A few times, I detached and looked down on myself, in order to see how I was fairing. Everything was good. I think I proved to myself I could do this.
I'd like to end this post on a happy note, but as long as I'm confessing, I'm going to give "the rest of the story..."

Later that evening, I provoked a couple incidents. What looked on the outside as a snide remark about my ability to communicate, was, I think, my inner demons trying to have the last word. Even though there was nothing remotely connected between having liver and onions for dinner and having a plan for our future, when I stormed out of the room and threw myself on the bed cussing the man who was making dinner because I couldn't stand the smell of liver I had to wonder if this was post traumatic stress acting out? I couldn't get to sleep fast enough. I had to put some space in between my crazy self and my sane self.

When I got up, the demons were either gone or back in their hiding places. I've still got a lot of work to do. There is talk of having a "Garage Sale." In the past the very words have caused an erratic heart beat. But worse than that I have to find the courage to sit with my father and make peace with his need to plan for my future after he's gone. It sounds like and feels like a control issue. But I believe in my heart it's a lot more about love. He just uses a different language than me.

Weird, I know.

Wish me luck,
Merry ME


Anonymous said...

This post was sweet music to my ears. I'm so proud of you. This is a great, great step.

I say we make a 'card-only' gift rule from here on out. It's in both our budgets and just as, if not more, meaningful a gift.

Hugs to you and the Cap'n.


Anonymous said...

Does school ever end? K - 12, College, Grad, More Grad, LIFE? Somewhere is a saying, "it's all Good!" Can I get an AMEN to that? At some point in our dining room discussion yesterday we sat there just looking into each others eyes. I have to admit, I get lost in those eyes. Beautiful green eyes. This was different; the beauty was there, so was LOVE, so was understanding, so was look at me - I'm trying. Not just trying, love - you're doing! An I.D.E.A.L. relationship; I develop every association lovingly. This is the best. j

Anonymous said...

This was a great piece - I love how you take issues,chew on them, reflect, reassess and come out the other end with so much positive insight. I believe much of this one also has to do with the partner-ship. Your Sweetie is so good at taking the issue at hand and verbalizing what it is all about which often isn't what is at the surface. You are truly a team.

I think the card only rule should be a universal family rule. There is nothing like the choosing of the perfect card for that special person and adding ones own personal thoughts. The receiving is the best of all gifts. I might add that phone calls are pretty special too.

Michele once told me that "it's an abundant universe". I have recited this to myself more than a few times over the years. I think she was telling me in her way that 'things will work out'. And they usually do.

Wish you well? Our mother was fond of saying if wishes were fishes, we'd have some fried. Maybe we could paraphrase in honor of the liver cooker, if wishes were fried liver and onions, we'd have some fried.

Love you,