Monday, March 23, 2009

Play By The Rules

“About the time we think we can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends"
-Herbert Hoover

I read this quote yesterday morning, and instantly liked it. It is slightly funny except for that it is true, and therefore not so humorous. But it captures my feelings lately, and so I had to record it here for the masses to read and ponder.

My thoughts were first and foremost about finances. When we talk about making the ends meet, we mean money. We say that we are scrimping and saving, eating stale days old dollar aisle bread, stealing toilet paper from public restrooms, and taking showers in the rain to make those ends meet.

We all know that the economy has been/is currently/will continue to crash and plummet and burn in a fiery blast of former comfort and security.

We know why, but we don't know why. At least, that's the way I feel. I can read about what is happening (though I'm going to admit that it bores the ever living crap out of me) but at some just doesn't make any sense.

Austin tries to patiently explain, yet again, about the stock market and gobbldeygook and whatnot and I have started telling him to just be quiet please, I won't ever really understand why some levels of rising and falling numbers have anything to do with why my credit card company was allowed to almost triple my interest rate despite the undisputed fact that I had never missed a payment.

And while NPR told me that the economic crisis would affect all Americans, I didn't think that its scaly crusted fingers would reach as far as my humble little home in Smyrna, TN. After all, we didn't have stocks or mutual funds or anything like that. Well, we did. But losing $30 dollars doesn't really hurt bad enough to cry about to National Public Radio.

And then, after counting our blessings and being very grateful that we have jobs that don't rely on commission or sales, we started to feel the nasty scratch of those dry economic hands.

Our health insurance prices went way, way, way up. No reason, no forewarning. They just went up.

The credit cards kept raising the APR to horrific numbers that don't reflect anything about our payment history. They just reflect some arbitrary idea that some rich guy in a suit with no hair and halitosis in a badly decorated yet plush office somewhere in a big building in the middle of a dirty city filled with street vendors selling chestnuts in red paper bags THOUGHT UP because he wants to buy his ignorant, platinum haired, Xanax Martini sipping, ugly expensive leopardhair pump wearing wife another trip to Tahiti because she is tired of getting her tan from her personal spray tanning assistant. And because this fictitious little man is scared about the economy, he is busting the balls of every normal working class citizen.

(Deep breath)

I'm sure your financial state has seen some of its own little nasty surprises lately, right?

Well, ours are about to get more interesting. Austin tutors on the weekends, to make those damn ends meet. He works in the morning before his church job, putting on the hat of Latin Teacher. He works on the nights/weekends for Veritas. I work at the desk and try to have odd jobs that pay me in anything except stocks. For all this working and rushing and all, life has been quite comfortable. I'm not going to Tahiti to tan, but I don't look like myself with a tan, so I have no complaints about that.

In the most recent months, our ends have been meeting just enough to slightly overlap. We paid some stuff off, we bought souvenirs in Ireland, we went to Phoenix for Christmas. Might we have saved it? Yes, but we didn't. I alternately point a finger and pat my back for this behavior.

On the one (crusty dry economic) hand, I didn't have to buy the cladagh ring from the oldest jeweler in Ireland. On the other soft lovely motherly hand, I'm not going to let fear of money dictate my actions. So there I am, caught between living for the future and living for the now.

I could philosophize and scrutinize and otherwise stir up more doubts within my already congested brain. But for now, let's get back to those meeting (or not meeting) ends.

Enter us, walking through Target, looking very frazzled and deflated. I bought the cheapest baby wipes I could find. I knew I would hate them, but I also had visions of sleeping on a mattress again, hoping that the owner of the mattress wouldn't ask for it back. I refused to buy Pull Ups for Sabra because she bloody well won't use the potty EVER and diapers are cheaper. She wanted the Dora 'big girl pants' because she says that she WILL MOMMY I PROMISE use the potty this time, but I envisioned her with no shoes, walking the streets of town looking bedraggled (seriously? as if this would ever happen? what is WRONG with me?!) and I stood my ground and made her get diapers.

I sent a text to my sister that told her I was scared because pretty soon Austin's tutoring students will be in summer break...his teaching paycheck will be on summer break...Veritas is out of money....yada, yada, yada.

Did I mention that while those ends were meeting, we booked tickets to California? Yep, going for Austin's high school reunion. Very excited about it. Now also very stressed about it.

We ate at Target (yes, I know) because it is cheap and we didn't have time to go home before going to our next appointment. (Something different While I fed my children room temperature pizza from a small cardboard box, I mentally berated myself.

How DARE I buy those plane tickets? How COULD I? I should have KNOWN that people who answer the phones for a living don't need to push their already limping luck! I've been on more trips in the past year than should be allowed for someone like me...and now I'm just getting greedy! We don't HAVE to go to this reunion! I don't HAVE to see my sister, niece, and brother-in-law. And now my family will pay the price. I wonder what I could sell on CraigsList?

I was so ashamed. Eating the pizza didn't help much. Now I was ashamed and full of stomach acid that wasn't going to leave me alone for quite some time. My pizza was square and looked like a big won ton.

We went on to the next thing on our calendar. Veritas. Veritas is good, I told myself, because Austin is a good teacher and how can I complain if he teaches people about the Bible?! So what if they can't pay him anymore! Am I really just about money now? I am a bad, bad person.

So I said hello to my friends and cozied up with their laptop. I was going to write a blog about how money sucks and I'm stupid and ignorant and need to make better choices and would someone please please please bloody well BUY MY HOUSE?!?

I typed 'blogspot' in the address bar, knowing that it would bring up my page. And it did, but it also gave me the option to look at other blogspot pages. My friend that owns the computer reads her sons' pages, friends, etc.

I then saw a blogspot page that I had shown her last week:

I've been following my old college roomate's journey through a life threatening condition her son has. I hadn't looked over the weekend, so I decided that before I cried about My Big Problems, I would check in and see how baby Maxton was doing.

And in a second, as it always happens, the world changed.

My friend had to say goodbye to her firstborn, only child. Maxton was 18 days old, and now he is gone.

And in my heart I was immediately displaced.

I've heard people say things along the lines of 'well, that sure puts things in perspective' and 'well, that makes you be grateful for what you have'.

Those things are true, but they sound and feel vulgar today.

I couldn't get my friend Ashley out of my head. I cannot possibly know what grief she and her husband felt this weekend, last night, this morning, and every day to follow.

I am trying to find the right words to convey why in the name of all that is sacred I think these two subjects have anything to do with one another.

Something about those 'ends' we have been talking about. They are about rules, facts, and the bottom lines that life presents us. In my experience, 'life' only gives us these rules at a time when we are least able to cope with the existence of such cruelty.

Ashley was just learning how to deal with life as a very busy, stressed, and worried mother. Her new baby boy had surgeries and tubes and medicines and beeping machines, but she was keeping it together. Because you have to. And then, just as those ends were coming together, even just a bit, they moved.

And there's nothing for it but to be completely, totally, royally pissed off. And sad too, I think.

You try to keep your head above water, churning your burning muscles all the while, learning to deal with life in a water barrel. Then someone, or something, or some horrible little man with his horrible tacky wife change the rules, and they didn't even tell you what was coming.

I guess it is somewhat refreshing to realize that I'm still surprised with life is so hard. For all the pain that I have witnessed, either from my own experiences or those of others, I should be calloused and angry and blackened and cracked like the hands of the economy. Instead I'm still tender enough to the touch that the injustices of the world, both large and small, still really get to me.

Right up til this sentence, I've felt horrible about putting money and Maxton in the same breath. But I think I've figured out what I want to say.

Life is not fair. It really isn't. I need to get used to it. There will always be APR issues and times when I should have put back the pretty green purse and saved that money for the possibility that the IRS will audit me and find out that I had 320 miles of tax exempt medical driving instead of 450 miles. What if? What if?

But life, like the rules, like the ends, is subject to change. Sometimes it changes in our favor, and sometimes not. We can scream 'UNFAIR!' and shake our fists at the people who piss upon our existence without a thought of the little people below.

But life goes on. Money problems, relationship problems, parenting problems....they are real and valid and we don't have to pretend that they aren't a big deal in our own personal lives.

But death, death is what is really unfair. It doesn't change. This sounds almost idiotic, but I'm always caught off guard when I realize anew that death doesn't change. There isn't anything to be done for it, nothing at all.

Even if you believe in life after death, it doesn't take the horrible shock away from realizing you can't call your Dad to tell him happy birthday. It doesn't take away the emptiness of Ashley's arms today.

Those rules don't change. They don't fluctuate, they don't meet and then draw apart.

I'm thankful today, despite how trite it sounds, for the ability to make my own ends meet. And if they don't quite make it, that's ok.

I'm going to go buy Sabra some big girl Dora pants.

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