Thursday, August 20, 2015

A "Middle" Money

I'm visiting my mom - and her mom - in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, in the house my mother grew up in. My younger brother and one of my aunts are here, too. It's nearly 4am, and I can hear my brother playing some video game on his phone in the other room, because he's 21 and on vacation from work, obviously. How could he possibly go to bed any time before five?!!! And anyway, what kind of fun would it be for my slightly sadistic aunt, if she didn't have the opportunity to bug him while he's only been sleeping for an hour or something at 8am?

I'm not 21, and my latest selection of video game can't keep me up this late, so why the heck am I up at 4am? I can't sleep. I haven't slept at all, not this entire night. This is somewhat to be expected, the first night anywhere away from home. My kids were both up until midnight, for one thing. James kept going back and forth between Grammy on the air mattress in the living room and me on the hide-a-bed in the room by the kitchen. Everyone calls it the porch because that's what it used to be, but it's not a porch anymore, it has walls and stuff, so I don't know what to call it. Violet had no interest in sleeping at all, either with James and me on the hide-a-bed or in the Pack and Play. Again, not entirely unexpected; I finally had to let her cry it out while I lay within plain sight of her, after trying to hold her in place to sleep with me for an hour.

Then there's me, sleeping with James, on the hide-a-bed. I never knew it before, because I haven't slept with James since he was a baby, but he's a cover hog and a space hog. While the little window a/c unit does make it a reasonable temperature, it's not reasonable enough that I want a heat-generating four-year-old squished up against my back. So why, in which case, do I care about covers, you might ask? Well, because I like the weight of a blanket. I don't know why. I'm strange.

But these things, which are entirely expected, are not, I think, enough to keep me up for a whole night, especially when I haven't had more than four hours of good sleep per night, even at home, for the last three days. No, a conversation James had with Grammy (my mom) yesterday afternoon keeps running through my mind, and I can't get it out - and perhaps I shouldn't be able to. It took place when I was out of sight, around the corner.

James: Grammy, do you have a lot of money?
Grammy: Not really, James. I have a little money, and I survive. Why?
James: Well, I wish I had a lot of money.
Grammy: What do you need a lot of money for, James? I have a little money, and I have what I need.
James: Okay, well, then, I wish I had a middle money.
Grammy: A middle money, huh? Why, James? What would you do with more money?

Here is the part where Grammy expected him to say, "Because then I could get a new Dinotruck" or something similar. Maybe, "So I could always get a new jewel pet from the quarter machines at Hannaford," or, "So I could get as many gummy candies as I wanted from the candy store."

Instead, he said, "If I had a middle money, I could give it to my mom, and then she'd be happy."

Oh. Shit. 

Yes, profanity is called for, here. This is a little boy who should have to worry about the candy store and Dinotrucks, as far as I'm concerned,  but instead he's telling Grammy that he's worried about money and that money would make his mom happy. My insides clenched; the pain going through my heart was like a knife. I suppose I've never been stabbed so perhaps that's an unfair comparison. In any case, though, it hurt, terribly, to hear him say that.

First of all, I am under no illusions that money buys happiness. But people who focus on that old and sorry adage should listen to a particular song - I can't remember the name at the moment. It's 4am. There's a line that's especially meaningful, in my opinion: "Some people say that money is the root of all evil. They have never been poor and they have never known the joy of a well-fed Christmas." That's so true. It's awfully easy to sit on your lofty, crunchy, super-ethical and peaceful perch and tell someone "money can't buy happiness," when you don't have to worry whether you have enough money for groceries this month or when you have to choose between new shoes and paying the electric bill. 

And we're more fortunate than most, it seems, really; Warren's a programmer, he's got a great job, and his parents will help us out whenever we ask. We do have some pride, though - another thing that people get hypocritical about. We say that "pride goeth before a fall" but then we tell our children to make us proud. It's utterly ridiculous. Pride is why we built the chicken run and quit letting them free-range - it was trashy and disgusting to let them keep congregating on the porch and pooping on it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little pride, and it promotes some degree of healthy ambition. So it's okay for me to recognize how blessed we are to have Warren's parents in a position to help us when we need it, but it's also okay for me at the same time to not want to call upon their generosity unless we are absolutely down to rice and lentils.

It hasn't always been like this, either. Since I married Warren, for the most part we've been fairly good, financially, even after having kids. Never wealthy or anything, but certainly well-off enough to experience the joy of a well-fed Christmas, so to speak. This year, however, the university chose not to renew my adjunct contract, due to budget cuts - they wanted to rely more on their already tenured professors, who they already have to pay a certain amount whether their classes fill up or not. Just where the hell is all the money students are paying for the waste that is "higher" education going, anyway?! Apparently, somewhere other than the university's history department budget. So we suddenly dropped down to a single-income family. We thought we'd be able to handle it fairly well; before having kids, we were a single-income couple for awhile, and I made enough extra money freelancing to pay for the car payment, insurance, and my phone.

What we have discovered, though, is that being a single-income couple is vastly different than being a single-income family. For one thing, with two small children, I'm much more limited regarding the amount of time I can put into freelancing. You might wonder why I put any of that precious time into this blog, in which case...and the answer is, because I selfishly want the catharsis it provides me. That, and I type 120 words per minute when the writing is something I'm enjoying.

But really, even if I didn't do the blog, which generally I only devote 30 minutes of time to, every couple of days, I'm limited to being able to work from 8-midnight on weekdays, and that's if I don't spend any time with my husband. Weekends, he needs a break, too, if he can get it; I can work more, then, but I feel terrible if I work the entire time and give him no amount of peace. I've been doing that, to an extent, anyway, since I've gotten a couple of regular freelancing gigs, because the truth is, we do need the money. And I've been staying up til midnight and later on a regular basis on weekdays, too, to keep chugging away at the novels and novellas I'm getting from one publisher, and the content writing I'm doing for a specific website. The writing, particularly, is financial rape; because so many people from India are willing to write poor-quality content for pennies on the dollar, I'm lucky to find anyone willing to pay anything at all higher for a decent writer. I make $1/100 words. For editing, my standard fiction rate is .003/word. For professional documents, it's higher, but those jobs are fewer and far between. Either way, both types of job work out to about $10/hour. And I'm thankful for it, especially the current writing gig, which is at least offers assignments on a relatively regular basis - I'll take what I can get, within the confines of my own peculiar abilities. I'm not a programmer. I'm not a doctor. I'm a writer and an editor and my degrees say I can teach college history. None of these is a path to wealth, or even financial security, in this day and age.

This is the reason my kid says money would make his mom happy. I have tried my damnedest to not let him feel the financial strain too harshly, but when I'm telling him for the forty-fifth time that no, he cannot get a new tractor from Aubuchon, because we need chicken feed, the chickens have to eat, and he has plenty of tractors anyway, he wants to know why I'm frustrated. And I've been honest, obviously somewhat to my detriment, as per usual: "Because, James, I'm tired of talking about money. I'm sad that I can't always get you everything you want. I'm working really hard to get us in a better financial position, but it's taking some time."

And that's another thing - time. I have managed to keep up with James' latest complex bedtime ritual, but sometimes I just don't have the time to participate in the desired pillow fight before the quiet time, because I've got a deadline to meet for my daily $40 or whatever. When he asks why, as I'm sitting at the computer, typing something about garage door springs or some other subject of absolutely no interest, I have to tell him: "Because, James, I have to work. I have to do this. I want to spend time with you, but we need the money. That's just the way it is, right now. Once we get over the hump, it will get better." 

That's why my kid tells Grammy that he wants to make a "middle" money.

And that's why I'm sitting here, at four in the damned morning, in Patchogue, New York, with my insides tearing apart. It's not the crappy hide-a-bed, or the fact that James is a cover hog, or the fact that over-tired screaming Violet kept me up way past my own sense of tired. It's because my preschool-aged child thinks he needs to be in charge of getting more money. 

It absolutely kills me.

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