Monday, September 20, 2010

Breaking The PIGGY Bank

Few things in life have made me feel like an utter and total failure as last week's dilemma.  I know many people are feeling the sting of the GREAT RECESSION, and my family is definitely feeling it.  My bank account often involves a delicate balance and I have to be extremely creative to make it by each month, but within the last year or so I am finding myself teetering on the terrifying edge of being BROKE nearly all the time.

Last week, with virtually nothing left in my checking account and having used all of my savings (which wasn't much to begin with) to pay for household expenses, I had to make a decision: Pay for groceries on my credit card or borrow money from my three year old daughter Hannah's piggy bank.  Well I chose to borrow $100 dollars for groceries and managed to spend a meager $57 on groceries.  I spent $20 on gas and am saving the rest for gas money to make it to the next paycheck.

I feel bad about taking money from her bank, especially considering it was my idea to stow away for her any birthday money she gets from family and friends to be used for college.  I wonder just how many moms like me are facing the same dilemma these days.  I have excellent credit and the thought of paying 14% interest on groceries that will be consumed long before next week when the dilemma starts again, makes me feel ill.  Would other women rather pay back their child or their credit card company?
What helped make me feel ok about it was that it is my job as her mother to make sure she is fed and well cared for today.  I have no idea what tomorrow will bring; only that we must do whatever we can today to ensure that it will be there waiting for us when we come to it.  I remember as a child, having a piggy bank started by my grandmother.  She would put a little money in it every week for me.  One day my mother asked me if I wanted to go to the Catskill Game Farm (an amazing petting zoo that has since closed).  Of course I said yes, but she said that we could only afford to go if we used the money in my piggy bank.  I agreed and off we went.

When my grandmother found out, she was extremely upset.  The money was supposed to be for me, she explained.  But it was; it was my choice to use the money to go to the zoo.  Looking back I can totally see both sides of the coin (pun intended).  I see how you want to save for your child's future, but you also need to remember that getting to that future always has an associated cost.  Whether its for an adventure with your family or just groceries, sometimes we have to stand together as a family.  Maybe its ok to give your child a choice and with that choice, an understanding that things cost money.  My mother had taught me that things are not free and that choosing to spend money on one thing means that you are choosing not to have money to spend on other things.

This morning my daughter begged me for a donut as we drove to my mother's house (Mimi's).  I told her no, repeatedly but the pleading continued.  When we got to Mimi's house she looked me in the eye and said, "Mommy why can't I have a donut?"  So I looked her in the eye with love and sadly a little shame and explained that donuts cost money and mommy doesn't have money for donuts right now.  She said to me in her sweet innocent voice, "That's ok mommy, I have some at home I can give you."  My heart melted. 

She's really doesn't understand she has a piggy bank with real money that is "hers."  In all likelihood she is talking about loose change that she finds around the house and we let her keep.  But hearing that made me believe that if she was old enough to make the choice to help her family, she totally would.  For that, I am the wealthiest person on earth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do As I Do, Not As I SAY

We tell our children to be nice, play with others, be gentle, take turns, etc. but the truth is many adults don't follow these "rules."  I don't know how we keep up the expectations of good manners, when they seem to be the "exception" and not the "rule" these days.

The truth is we just don't live in an altruistic world.  People seem to be out for themselves and for some, if that happens to come at the expense of others it's considered acceptable.  To start, we don't speak to each other with respect.  E-mail or texting makes us brave and say things we might otherwise bite our tongue about.  Perhaps its the degradation of the human conversation. 

We don't get much practice anymore.  We speak primarily through third party mediums, like e-mail, texts, and social media sites that require that we be brief, casual, and one-minded.  We "speak" with only "us" in mind.  There is little expectation of the listener at all.  So without an "audience" to all our "talking" we are really just speaking to hear ourselves talk.

The adage for parents used to be "do as I say, not as I do."  The expectation is that children can't for many safety and practical purposes do what adults do.  They can't, as my daughter has been trying with fervor these days, help me cook.  There are too many "what if" factors that make the risk totally unworthy of any reward she may feel in "helping mommy."  So she gets to help mommy empty the dishwasher or hand me hangers or clothes pins while I'm doing the laundry instead.  But the desire to do that which she is not allowed seems ever more interesting to her.

Becoming a mom means many things, but once you hit the toddler years it becomes clear you are a role model.  The first time you hear your accidental slipped out bad word come out the mouth of your innocent toddler, you know it.  You are now aware that there are eager eyes upon you all the time, looking to YOU - the be all and end all of role models - MOM.  So here it is, we want our children to listen to us, but we are rearing our children during an age where "REAL" conversation is becoming more and more rare.  How do we teach them the importance of "listening" when we don't stop to listen to each other?

I guess the time has come to revise the old adage to: "Do as I do, not as I say."   I'm a true lover of words, so this is going to be hard for me; to rely on my actions to speak for me, to listen rather than to speak.  I think the next time Hannah interrupts a conversation I'm having with my husband or mother I will try hard not to get frustrated and tell her to wait her turn.  She should know how important she is to me and although I tell her all the time, at least once in a while she should get the floor and someone else will have to get asked to wait a minute.  After all a minute does feel like an eternity to a toddler. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Frumpy Mom or Frugal Crusader?

Ok so I promise not to name names to protect the fashion addicts out there, but I can't help but overhear people complaining (like me) about being broke. The difference is, I also overhear lots of oohing and ahhing from these same people over recent fashion addiction purchases like clothes, handbags, jewelery, and of course the be all and end all of the fashion addicts closet - SHOES.

So being my frugal self I can't help but wonder, how do some people always manage to "find" money for what they want, but find themselves too "broke" to afford what they need? Is it the old adage of "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have" that's creating this need to "Wear Your Worth?" Side note, but that is the freaking worst advice I've ever heard (just my opinion). Are we suggesting that people go into debt racking up clothing purchases on their credit cards to "look" like they have more money than they do? Guess what people - you are in fact shopping with the paycheck provided by the job you HAVE not the job you WANT. Seeing a fundamental flaw with this theory yet??

Besides are we tossing out the idea that we should be judged by our skills, talents, dedication, and character. Is what you see really what you get? Is that what the world is telling us? Take me for instance. I think I'm a smart, hardworking, talented employee, loving wife and mother, talented writer, etc., but does the world simply see a "Frumpy Mom" when they look at me?

Do they see my pony tail, simple flats, bargain clothes, and makeup free face and think that I'm not worth all that much? Do they see that in fact I take care of a 3 year old and a 10 month old, which take priority above all else in my life, or that I value 5 extra minutes of sleep over a compliment on my appearance? Do they see that its impractical to wear high heels and a skirt while lifting children in and out of my mini-van?

Do they see that I simply don't care to wear makeup because it makes my face breakout? Do they know that I have excellent credit because I choose not to be seduced by the lure of what I'm supposed to want? Do they know that I chose to have less income (by switching from full-time to part-time) so that I could have more time with my children and that's why I don't buy things I can't afford to pay for today with the money I "actually" have.

As my daughter cried this morning because the sweatshirt I put on her covered up her princess shirt I had a little tingle of fear creep up my spine. I tried to explain to her that it was cold out so it's more important that she stay warm than see the princesses on her shirt. She's 3; I know she doesn't get it, but the fear hit me anyway. Will she ever understand that as people we need to be more than what we look like in order to survive?

I choose to think of myself as a Frugal Crusader, standing up (sometimes alone) for what I believe. I choose to live my life as a walking example that with people "what you see is NOT what you get." What you see, is just that - what you see. You have to look deeper to REALLY see a person. You can't look with your eyes at all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bad Mommy

We try to teach our children the lessons we think will prepare them for life, keep them safe, and at least at the toddler stage - keep others safe from them. But then every so often we forget to follow the same rules we teach them. I still can't believe I accidentally gave my 3 year old daughter a shinner.

It was one of those nice days out that stretches into too long of a day out. Willie and I took, Hannah and Jayden to the Walkway Over The Hudson. It's a beautiful view of the Hudson River and a decent walk. Willie was dragging on the way back pushing Jay in the stroller. Our one hour drive home turned into a two and a half hour saga of backed up traffic, gas light warning inspired hunt for a gas station, yard sale detours and a stop at a farmers market. So when Hannah started whinning for her cup and Jay was out cold, I just said "here catch Hannah" and tossed it back.

Then I hear the cry, you know the one - the "I'm really hurt" cry and you always hold your breath when you hear it. We pulled over and yup - pegged her right in the eye and it was all purple and puffy. So of course I feel like the worst mom ever and I'm crying just as hard as she is. I ride in the back with her the rest of the way appologizing.

My co-worker gave me some peace of mind - if that's even possible. She said that it was a good lesson for us all. That now Hannah knows mommy isn't perfect and mommy appologized for not following her own "No Throwing Anything" rule. I hate the idea that I hurt my child even though I know it was an accident. I guess all I can do is learn from it and move on.

There probably will be more days in the years to come where I'll feel like a bad mommy. Fingers will probably get pinched, heads bumped, knees will get scraped. I wish I could protect my children from all pain, but life is full of pain. At least the physical is a little easier than the emotional. I'm definitely not looking forward to her first heartbreak. But I'll never forget the sweetness in her voice when she wispered to me, "its ok mommy it doesn't hurt anymore." If she could in the midst of her pain find it in her heart to comfort me, then I know at least I've done something right.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Parenthood is the BEST Birth Control

Before you have children, you use birth control because you THINK you are not "READY" for the RESPONSIBILTY of raising children. Once you have your first child, the decision to have another child becomes a sheer act of will. You must BELIEVE that you are "READY."

The irony of ironies is that already having a child or children is the best birth control. Even if you are "READY" to have a child and even if you're down for we say "practice" you have to fight with all the child related obstacles - lack of privacy, time, sleep deprivation, to-do list overload, etc. So just keep in mind, it takes knowing what you're REALLY in for to know whether or not you're REALLY "READY." That my friend is why, crazy as it sounds, Parenthood is the BEST Birth Control EVER!

The Baby Bump

I can only credit one person for the creation of the "baby bump" - my wonderful husband. Before your mind takes a turn for the dirty - no I"m not talking about the term developed by tabloid magazines to "out" a pregnant star. I'm talking about a special non-verbal "I love you" that our children have learned since infancy.

I couldn't tell you exactly when he came up with it or why, but it has grown into a full fledged tradition, beginning with my daughter Hannah who is now 3 and continued with my son Jayden who is nearly 10 months old. My husband leans his head forward toward toward my children's foreheads and then I guess thanks to "monkey see monkey do" they lean in and together they bump foreheads.

It was like any tradition to sweep quietly into the heart of a family. It has been understood from the moment of creation that it means "I love you." So in a sense my children and I have been "saying" I love you since they developed neck control. My mom and step-dad quickly adopted it as well. My son takes it to a sometimes painful level of enthusiasm - giving multiple bumps to the point of potential concussion. Like his parents he's an all or nothing kind of kid.

Thanks to the creation of the "baby bump" I have learned that sometimes it's what you DON'T say that becomes the most special expression of love. Anyone can say the words "I love you." But the "baby bump" that's all ours. Do you have a special non-verbal tradition with your kids? Feel free to share. That's what we teach our kids right? Use your words and share. Certainly those are the lessons I'd like to instill in my kids - and many adults for that matter.