A friend of mine (Di) is working through the book Money Drunk, Money Sober and blogging about it. She’s remarkably fearless and I want to emulate her, so I’m going to try and follow in her footsteps. If you don’t know this book, it theorizes that some of us have an addictive/co-dependent relationship with money, in a way that is similar to drugs, or sex, or . . . It’s an interesting theory.
Based on the quiz, I do have money issues (I checked off 33% of the “Did you grow up money drunk?” questions and 20% each for being a compulsive spender and maintenance money drunk), but not to an addictive degree.
Money issues in my family were byzantine and uncomfortable. My grandparents were all working class, although my father’s parents did pretty well – mostly by kicking their kids out at 18 and not helping them much with college expenses, thereby keeping more money for themselves to spend on my grandmother’s (seemingly) endless redecorating of their home. I’m pretty sure they got married because they got pregnant, and that they finished college by sharing classes, childcare, and even the same robe (back then seniors were required to wear black ‘graduation type’ robes to their classes). The robe is a wonderful metaphor – too short for my Dad, and too long for my Mom. I’m sure it was made far worse by my Mom insisting that she finish her degree, even though the (Catholic) college probably frowned on her doing anything other than childcare. I know they lived in two rooms plus a bath in student housing. It must have been dreadful.
Post-college, my Dad got a job and they both applied for scholarships and grants . . . and got into graduate school. So it was off to Florida for my Dad to get one degree and then up to UNC Chapel Hill for him to get his 2nd Masters, and my Mom her Masters. All this time, we were living lean, and somewhere in there my sister was born.
My mother’s parents lent them enough money for a down payment on a house, my Dad got a good job with the City, and we ended up back in Philadelphia around the time I was in preschool/kindergarten, and for all practical purposes, lived an eminently sane, normal, middle-class life. It was pretty white bread and bland, but that’s what all the kids were doing around us.
Then we moved to Albany, CA, right into married student housing, as my Mom was going to get her PhD in English. Apparently the agreement was that they would try, unless my Dad couldn’t find work (early 70s, terrible recession time) in which case they would go back to PA and she’d try to get her degree elsewhere, or wait a little longer. He couldn’t find work and went back to PA in ~ six months. During this time my Mom met the man who later became my stepfather, and my parents got a separation.
This is the moment of serious disruption in my life. This is the wounding time. We went from being pretty ok and then on the low end of the middle class spectrum, but with a high likelihood of doing just fine thankyouverymuch, to living in – I kid you not – a commune. (Not my Dad, he stayed back in PA in the house they owned.) When my parents divorced, there was no alimony given to my Mom, just child support. My father was, to my perception always on time with the payment, but never willing to give a penny more than the amount agreed upon. (Although he did increase the monies as time went on.)
I’m sure he felt deeply resentful that he had to pay when he felt so betrayed; I’m sure he didn’t think about it in terms of actually taking care of my sister and I, just that he was getting the short end on all sides. I’m sure my mother resented having to be the primary parent, and later betrayed because the man she later married was not good with money in any sense. He provided for himself, not the family, she made the money stretch to cover everyone.
What I know, what I lived, was a daily awareness that we didn’t have enough. That it was no use asking for something special, there was no way to have a treat, there was no way to make it happen. When my mother’s mother would give us huge amounts of clothes for gifts (holidays and birthdays), she always bought them at Macy’s . . . and we always returned them for cash, and then went to the thrift store, or the Gap (This was back when that was one of the only places you could get jeans) to buy clothes we could wear. I never had anything ‘dress up’ or fancy, beyond the occasional nice blouse. My white jeans were my prized ‘dress up’ possession.
We lived in a very poor (not even working class) neighborhood; we were the only white people there. I regularly got bullied and beat up; I was even mugged once on my way home from school. My mother found a part time job and then a full time one, so that as we grew up, there was money for nicer apartments and then, finally, a home with a garden. We stayed there from my early teens until after my sister graduated.
My father gave me a specific amount of money each quarter, it was just enough to cover the tuition (yay for a good education at the state-run UC system) and a bit more for living. It was, literally, just enough. So I had to work at least part time all the way through college to have ‘extra’ money (you know, for chicken occasionally instead of beans and rice all of the time). Given his family history, this was an extremely generous gesture on his part, although it didn’t feel that way to me.
So, money was a weird topic, one full of anger and resentment, and the lingering perfume of past history being re-written by negative emotions.