Thursday, August 23, 2012

So I don’t know

Clip Art of A Chocolate Candy Bar...how people get ahead, really.  Industrious bunnies who work hard and pay tuitions and bills on time and live happy lives.  I don't know how to be that person; I've never figured it out.

I told the kids I was stupid when I was 18 and have never recovered, financially, and I think that's probably true.  Living hand-to-mouth, having kids right out of university without any kind of financial plan - or, ahem, job - divorcing without any kind of financial plan, and then just faking it and coasting on a wing and some prayers through 13 years of pretty expensive education.  The wealthiest I have been in my entire adult life is when I was a single mother, earning a nice salary at software companies, with kids in subsidized daycare.  Things were scary then, too, but at least the money theoretically stretched from end to end of each month.

"When my parents were my age," I used to say, "they'd bought a house already.  They had jobs, two cars, kids in the suburbs."  Not just you - Mary and Jerre, too.  I stopped trying to pace myself by that clock, years and years ago, realizing I'd never meet those milestones. 

Mary told me about one time, early in their marriage, when they ran out of money.  They scrambled around the house and finally found a couple of nickels in the sofa, so they bought a chocolate bar (which cost a couple of nickels in those days, I guess).  Cute story, but by the time I knew her, she was one of the most financially stable, responsible people I'd ever met.  Just as hard to live up to as the parents I'd grown up with.

On the Conservative conversion test (both partners had to write it), one question was:  "You're (or your partner is) pregnant!  Now what?"  My answer began with the words, "start saving for a day-school education."  I was sold.  They had me at "hello, Jewish schools are the best and perhaps only way of increasing your kids' fluency in yiddishkeit and relationship with Hashem."  But of course, you can't start saving when you get pregnant, especially if you're in class all day.  And the minute the baby is born, you start hemorrhaging money - a process that doesn't end until the baby leaves in disgust at 18.

There is literally nothing left every month - various tuition committees over the years have made good and sure that anytime we get ahead by a weency bit, it's gone.  The big "tax return" spend this year was car repairs and a few bills.  I am frightened all the time that I've forgotten to pay something on time and it'll be switched off, and I don't pay them on time because I hold onto the money as long as possible in case of emergencies, which are usually something along the lines of "pay us now or we'll switch you off."

I have a moment every once in a while of disappointment on behalf of my grandparents and great-grandparents who came to this country for the success and opportunity it would offer, basically, to me and their other theoretical descendents.  They came to this country with nothing, and with next to nothing we plan to leave it.  And then I have to stop and imagine they'd be grateful, looking down, that I'm alive at all and dayeinu... because if they'd stayed, we wouldn't be here.

For that, I'm so grateful as well, but this country hasn't been the goldeneh medineh they hoped for.  If we're to believe those who occupy, 99% of us are poised on the precipice of financial disaster at almost every moment - one false move, one parent who can't rescue us in time, one health crisis, one mental breakdown, and we're over the edge and living on the streets (I don't believe it's 99%, but it's a big number, I know that much). 

It's tough to be optimistic when you're looking up from the bottom of a class / caste structure that often seems just as rigidly entrenched as anything from medieval times.  But here I am, in the gutter, looking up at the stars.  Hoping for a crazy new beginning in what is starting to look a lot like late middle age.  Hoping, perhaps, to enlist Hashem on my side by getting up and going to the place He's told us to get up and go.  Moving to a poor country where we probably won't starve, but where nobody else has much of anything either.

It's tough to be optimistic, with all those milestones I'll never meet, all those ancestors - near and far - whose dreams I'll never live up to (not to mention the children who tell me I'm crazy-slash-irresponsible for leaving them).  It's hard to believe I'm making anyone proud, or that all of this will amount to much of anything. 

I really, really hope I'm a late bloomer and that amazing things are still to come, because in terms of achievements, well, there's nothing much to show for it all so far.  Every single report card I ever brought home repeated the damning phrase, "Jennifer does not live up to her potential."  Which I hated - because how do they know???  Apparently, this is my potential.  Anyone who thinks otherwise had better get used to disappointment.

Or... I don't know.  Am I a disappointment?  Life has been disappointing so far:  exclamation marks turning to question marks, turning to ellipses, turning to periods.

So I don't know.

Wish I was back at the cottage, lying on the air mattress, like I was yesterday, floating down the literal river of life…

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