Sunday, June 07, 2009

How could this NOT lift my spirits?

My friend Kathleen threw a joint graduation party for both of her kids. Her daughter just graduated from 8th grade, and her son is graduating from high school this week.

Not perfect kids. Her son takes the village parking laws a bit too lightly and has the tickets to prove it. Her daughter surprisingly allows herself to be trapped by decades-old (centuries-old?) gender stereotypes, and hides how good she is at math because it's only for ugly girls and geeky boys. Her son has been known to treat his father with a touch of condescension, which causes more than a touch of tension in the house. Her daughter has been known to indulge in a bit of junior high school histrionics, making her own contribution to household tension.

But they are good kids. He has been a stellar student all through school, traveled with his class to Japan and had his choice of schools before he and his parents agreed on Fordham. Best of all, he's very involved with his church and every summer he's headed down south with hammer, paint and pail and helps rehab homes in distressed communities. She is very sensitive, capable of expressing herself eloquently through art. (Unusual for a math whiz, huh?) She also has a well-calibrated internal compass. Just recently a teacher reported to Kathleen that when asked what she'd do if her boyfriend encouraged her to drink, Kathleen's daughter told the class without hesitation, "I'd get a new boyfriend."

I wasn't going to go to this party. It was a big open house, it was mostly family (and Kathleen has a very big family) and I wouldn't know many people. I mentioned this to my best friend, also knows Kathleen, and he chastised me -- telling me to get over myself, get myself over there, and just make an appearance. I'm glad I listened to him. I was only there for a little more than an hour, just long enough to have a beer, mingle a little and bond a bit with Kathleen and her husband, but it lifted my spirits enormously.

On the way out, her son unashamedly and happily hugged me. It hit me then that it's been a privilege to watch these two wonderful kids grow up.

A call & more cause for concern

Had a nice long chat with my mom last night, and while she sounded sharp and healthy and happy, still I hung up feeling more than a little rattled.

Her gray cat, Ethel, has been peeing outside of the box. I talked my mom into taking her to the vet. Ethel's getting older, and if she has a painful bladder infection, it's easier, cheaper and kinder if it's caught early on. Turns out my mom was right -- Ethie's issues are "behavioral." She thinks it's funny that her long-haired girl has suddenly become such a diva in her old age. Then she told me she had to cash in some savings bonds I gave her last year to pay Ethel's $700 vet bill.

I gave her the bonds just in case of emergency. We're pet people, so to us this was an emergency. No sweat.

Then she told me that she's down to $40,000. For the rest of her life. She has a little money coming in from Social Security, but that's it. Especially since her most recent illness, she really shouldn't go back to work (she made about $200/month during the school year as a lunch mom).

Her house is paid for. In fact, that $40,000 is all that's left in her reverse mortgage. But she still has to maintain the house and yard and pay the property taxes. Then there's food and utilities.

She knows this isn't good, but she doesn't seem to be stressing about it. She's known how bad things are for a while and has become used to it.

I've known things were tough for her -- that's why I pay for Medicare Supplemental Insurance and snow removal -- but I didn't know it was this dire. And so I'm not "used to it" yet and am, indeed, stressing.

I simply have to work harder at belt tightening. My niece needs help paying for her special culinary summer school classes. My mom will undoubtedly need more help, and soon. And what if I lose my job? I'm over 50! I simply have to keep contributing to my retirement funds or I'll just be following in my mother's financial footsteps.

As I posted Friday, this Recession is with me all the time now. I know I'm not the only one -- probably everyone who reads this has money concerns of some sort. I have to let it go. I have to try to take it in stride, to change what I can and accept what I can't, to trust God and work off my stress with exercise (or housework, this place is a sty again).