Monday, September 26, 2011

Becoming the Underdog (not meant to inspire you to be one)

So many things to be grateful for, and I am very grateful.
"I have to drop out of running the bake sale because I have fallen off the wagon, I am shooting heroin again and am going back to rehab," the tall, nervous woman stood up and told everyone at a recent PTA meeting.  

The woman sitting next to her stood up and put her arm around her, comforting her.  Women all through the room were nodding their heads agreeing she was doing the right thing, a couple of them clapped.  One woman leaned over to another and said "she is so brave."

"Inspired by Sue's honesty, I must confess that I too am feeling overwhelmed and may not have time to volunteer.  You see, my husband is addicted to online porn and we are in major counseling three times a week," said a woman fiddling with her purse as she spoke to the crowded room.  

Again, the women nodded, one grabbed her hand and gave it a supportive squeeze.  Several women leaned over to others and said "been there" with a lot more nodding.

"I am so glad we are feeling comfortable talking about real things, real issues.  I have to admit, I am feeling overwhelmed because my husband and I made some big mistakes with our money, you know credit card debt, underwater mortgage and all that, and I am so stressed I think I might have an ulcer and I can't volunteer," I told the crowd with a big exhale of relief that it was out there.

No nods. Where were my nods?  The women looked down and avoided eye contact with me and each other.  The silence was deafening.  Until way in the back of the room a woman stood up, I was so relieved.  Until she unbuttoned her purple cashmere cardigan to reveal a McCain/Palin tee shirt circa '08 and started yelling and pointing.  "It is because of people like you that our country is in such horrible shape," she screamed.  "You mess up and we all have to pay!"   Her veins were popping out of her neck and she was spitting her words out.  She was irate, she was dangerously angry.

I was asked to leave the meeting and never come back.

Okay, that didn't really happen.  But it is the scary daydream I have about what people will think if I ever were to stand up and announce that I suck at managing money.  Understatement, I mean I might be the worst ever with money.

Can I blame my self-diagnosed ADD?  I think yes.  Can I blame my impulse control issues?  I think yes again.  But as usual there is more to this story.

When I first started this blog not too long ago I vowed never to blog about sex or money.  No sexy talk because my dad reads and that is just too weird.  No money because, well, it is embarrassing and personal.  But screw it, I am writing my truth and that includes tremendous struggles with money.  (Still no sex though, way too weird.)

You see my plan growing up was that my life was never going to be about money.  My mother (again with the mother, I am the poster child for recurring story lines) was always fighting with my father about money and she married her second husband after knowing him a couple months because my child support was going to dry up.  I watched as she lied and manipulated people to get more money, even using me in a couple scams to get money out of my dad.  

Money=evil and unhappiness to my simple, idealistic post-college mind.  So I made sure that I would never make any by working in the nonprofit service sector and writing.  Then I married a man (with no prior money=evil issues, but he wasn't/isn't much of a spendthrift) who also wanted to work in a field that wasn't extremely lucrative.  He picked education, specifically working with disadvantaged teenagers.  His kids at work are the kids society has pretty much given up on.

You see, we believe in the underdog.  But the irony of our feel-good do-gooder story is, somewhere along the way, we became the underdog.  And life became about money.  Because I can't stop worrying about "is it enough."

We made mistakes.  And I am not blaming all my crazy issues on all of our money problems, but boy they  sure do help explain why and how I let some of it happen.  Are we as bad as some of Tim's students?  Hell no.  We are not living in a car.  We are not without insurance.  And we are grateful.

But we are drowning in debt from medical bills, grad school student loans and those f-ing credit cards.  Our house is underwater because of the damn Michigan property values and we have a kid with a dietary issue which is extremely expensive.  We are not unique.  In fact we are the new American storyline, right?

I still believe that I don't want my life to be about money, but I do want my life to be about security for my family.  And we will work our way to that, I believe it.  I do worry a lot--how are we going to live the life we want, how are my kids going to thrive, etc.  

There is so much shame attached to money screw ups, I believe that people are weirder to each other about money than other human failures.  Especially women.  There is anger and judgement, just like so much of politics these days.  

But like Dr. Phil has said for years, "It's time to get real."  Yes, I do look for guidance from talk show personalities, who doesn't?  Seriously.  I must admit over the last few years I turn off Suze Orman every time she has popped up on screen.   Even though hell yes I could benefit from her advice, I am afraid of her, like I could feel her judging me through the tv.  

Now we're getting real, buckling down and moving on.  I am trying to keep the ulcer at bay by watching a lot of Real Housewives because they all seem to suck at managing their money too.  But I am not judging, no, no.  I sit, watch and nod.

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