Our Story Begins:
Our Children See More Than You Think!
I had a phone conversation with my oldest daughter the other night. She’s much older than the picture you see up there . . . but then I was much skinnier in the picture you see up there, too. I bring this up because the picture is from an era where things were going well, but it wasn’t long after this photo was taken they took a turn.
This isn’t a strange “Behind the Music” phrase. There’s no “things were going great for the band, but then the drug abuse and a paternity suit by the daughter of a roadie in Saint Louis sent the band on a downward spiral.” The change is that we made some decisions in the days after that photo – some bad decisions – that really changed the way we lived. I thought we’d done as good a job at hiding the truth from the kids as I could but it simply wasn’t the case.
Not long after that photo we decided, to our detriment, to buy a house in California. That would seem no big deal . . . except we bought a house in California just a few months before that now-infamous bubble burst. We paid too much for the home and it wasn’t long after that we struggled financially. You notice I say “we” because, whether I liked the idea or not at the time, I agreed to it. This wasn’t simply my wife’s fault or my fault, we did this together. Not long after the bubble burst and my wife’s job changed she got sick and had some issues with her liver. The combination of medications and ailments caused her to gain weight to the point she couldn’t move very well and just wasn’t happy as much as she had been.
Thrown into all that was the fact that we just, financially, were stretched to the breaking point. Problem there was my wife was queen of financial finagling. We’d rob Peter to pay Paul all the time. Eventually those days would arrive that Paul would show up with his buddies Guido and Nick and they’d get their due. There were weeks where I was pulling whatever I could find out of the pantry to make dinner or making scrambled eggs as a “dinner treat.” It was no treat, it was the only food in the house.
Please don’t get the impression I’m asking for sympathy. We were stupid – and I hate using that word, but it’s the best adjective here. I loved them all and did what I could to keep things at an even keel for the kids but that was it. So it was with great surprise that my daughter, on the phone with me, informed me that she knew. She knew we had no money and that things were rough and she just didn’t want us to stress out even more.
“We lived in this huge house and we couldn’t eat,” she tells me. I informed her she wasn’t Oliver Twist here and she said “I know, but when you ask if we can have cereal and are told “no, we don’t have any” you wonder why you’re told we can’t go buy some.”
The bigger, most satisfying part of telling you this story is that I learned a lesson. Today I have only one income and I don’t make what I used to make. When my oldest needs money at college I send what I can. When we have other bills coming the answer is “you’ll have to wait. We don’t have enough now.” That is because of her tuition, the bills, the food, all of that. I stretch the clothes to their limit. Holes in the knees of their jeans I’d normally dispose of but the boys insist that’s “in-style” and I don’t fight it. I have a decent rotation of a wardrobe. We rent, I didn’t buy again. We are never in a position where I cannot buy food for the house . . . and we don’t have that second income.
Before I can feel bad about how we were so laden with bills and expenses my daughter informs me that it’s a lesson she learned and deciphered on her own. She likes it. Where friends have no issue calling every week and demanding money she said it kills her to ask me and she does what she can to save until she really, truly needs the money. Our Christmases always have presents, but not an inundation of things they don’t want. When they kids ask if they can have something they hear “Christmas is coming” or “your birthday is next month” or any number of other issues.
I started the conversation feeling bad about the poor decisions I’d made in the past but in the end . . . my daughter showed me that we had both learned a valuable lesson.
That, and as my father is always fond of telling me – kids are always smarter than we give them credit.