Category Archives: Parents

How Did My Father Leave Such a Financial Mess?

It has been a while since I’ve written about my mother’s financial situation because seeing the full picture of the train wreck that it is has taken time since my father’s passing. I think we now can see it – and it’s not a pretty picture.

We lived in a fantasy wackadoo financial world, and I never realized this until seeing the hard numbers after my father passed away last year. Sadly, there was a time when there was a significant amount of family wealth–but since my father retired early and then went on disability around age 55 and then got cancer and was told he had 2 years to live and then lived for 8 more, the money disappeared. Well, it was spent, and it was mispent.

My mother isn’t entirely at fault for this. Did she spend the money? Yes. But my father was abusive to her and not only would not let her be involved with the household finances but also told her that the financial situation was fine and she would be set for life. He told me that he had $50,000 set aside for my wedding and another $50,000 for my sisters (I would have never spent $50k had I understood the actual financial situation, and I do feel guilty about this and also want to help as much as I can at least up to that amount over time, but I can’t even afford a house right now so it seems like now is not that time – but down the road, should my mother be out of money, by then hopefully I can help.) Anyway, it was either one big fat lie or my father was delusional (and who knows what the strong cancer drugs did to his mind in those years, let alone his standard aging process.)

I’ll never know what happened. I know from around 2005 to 2018, my parents lost a significant chunk of wealth and it didn’t have to be that way. I know that I will always feel guilty for not stepping in sooner to really push them on their financial situation. I don’t know if I could have helped as my father, until close to the end of his life, kept this information to himself–he even did his own taxes (which was part of the problem–as he DIDN’T end up doing them for a few years) — and everything is clearer in hindsight but I just am not sure if I could have done anything at the time to help avoid this nightmare. Regardless, it’s too late to go back and change things. All I can do is try my best to help the current situation.

The current situation is that:

  •  my father’s supposed “paid” taxes were actually three years of unfiled, unpaid taxes, with two of those years having major amounts owed and massive penalties on top of these amounts – to the tune of $60k+
  • my father was unable to handle dealing with his certain death, despite having 10 years of living with a terminal illness, so my mother had to, the day after he died, race around to find a burial site and pay top dollar for their plots and the service, etc. This cost $30k. I couldn’t bring myself to push for cremation, even though I know it would have been cheaper. The $30k was also due to my mother picking a nicer cemetery (since she’d be buried there too!) and not having time to shop around. Then there was the reception after the funeral… it wasn’t at the fanciest place but everything adds up when you have a lot of people and last minute expenses.
  • So it turns out there was no money out of the IRA (just $400k in there, more on that in a bit) to pay that $30k, then put on my mother’s credit card. My uncle (father’s brother) kindly let her borrow the money to pay it, but she owes him it back by 2020, which is right around the corner. All this happened before realizing there was such a massive tax bill due!
  • my father (and mother) took out a home equity loan to the tune of $200k on a home valued $500k (which was paid off!!!) in order to add on to their house, renovate bathrooms, who knows what else. My mother has no idea what everything cost and sadly there are no records that we can find (which is shitty, because it makes her have to rush to sell the house, see next bullet – though maybe this is a good thing.) Anyway, there’s a $200k home equity line of credit that is tapped with variable interest that’s about $650 a month right now interest only that will be $1600-$1800+ starting May next year when she has to pay principle and interest…
  • I didn’t realize this, but after your spouse dies, you have 2 years to sell your house to get the $500k capital gains exclusion… after that time it goes back to $250k. If my mother and father kept good records of all the work they had done to the house over the years, this wouldn’t be an issue–but, shockingly, these records are no where to be found. My father supposedly, messy as he was, kept all his papers – so I’m hoping they will turn up somewhere, but so far, no luck in finding them…
  • the house is a money sink. This is the hardest for me because I grew up in that house and I’m so emotionally attached to it. I know a house is a house is a house and the memories made in it will never go away once it’s sold, and people sell their childhood homes everyday and it’s not like we could own the house forever—but that doesn’t change how hard selling the house will be for me. I don’t have a great memory… but when I’m back in those walls, my childhood comes flooding back, the good and the bad of it, and I feel like time isn’t slipping away quite so fast. I also dreamed of having my children visit my parents there–it’s a great “grandmas house” — to spend lazy summer days playing in the backyard on vacation as my mother watches my kid(s) run around… it’s just readjusting the plans I had and mourning the loss of my father, my childhood, my past. It has to happen sometime–why not now? But I don’t feel ready for it. I’m so not ready for it I’m wondering if there is a non idiotic way I can purchase the home and rent it back to my mother–just so she has access to the cash and we still keep the home in the family for another few years. I know I can’t even afford my own home living in The Bay Area BUT this would motivate me even more to keep my job and earn more money. The house is worth $500k-ish, and that’s actually affordable. If I can’t buy property here, then is it horrible to own property elsewhere?… but it’s in a high tax state and the taxes on that house are killer, and so is managing the property… it’s not a HUGE house but it’s certainly not small, and the land is expensive to take care of. It doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming about buying the house and helping my mom stay there for another few years and still get the $500k in capital gains exclusion in time…
  • In the years of financial recklessness, my parents purchased a “snowbird” condo in Florida. My father told my mother this was always going to be a vacation home, so they purchased a 2br/2ba condo for $60k and fixed it up for another $40k (or so I’m told) paying cash on this (which kills me because it was yet another expense that led to having to pay a bazillion dollars in taxes since all the money was held in the IRA and my dad then somehow failed to pay the right amount those years) — he could have taken a mortgage to buy the property and not paid for it all up front. He could have taken me up on my offer to pay for my wedding or at the least to pay for some of it since I had access to money and he could pay me back over time, if he really wanted to pay for the whole thing. But he was too prideful, or his brain was broken, or both. I wish I could ask him what the hell he was thinking. But they bought they condo. That $100k in cash, with tax penalties for taking the money out of the IRA and not filing/paying on time, probably ended up costing them $200k. I am not sure how to figure out how much money was lost by simply failing to manage the money left wisely due to it being in “tax advantaged” accounts, and I’m not sure it matters now–but I know there was a substantial amount lost because of extremely poor management.
  • The good news is that my mother set up the condo in Florida to meet her liking, and she seems happy there. It’s unclear if she will be happy living there full time since most people in the community go home for the summer and I worry she will be lonely. At least she is the type to be happy anywhere there is a pool and people willing to listen to her stories. But in the summers there it will be extremely hot and the pool area will be rather empty. Her sister also now lives in Florida but a 2 hour drive from her condo. I worry about her being alone, or more alone then I ever imagined she’d be. There’s nothing wrong with retiring to Florida (certainly tax wise it’s a good idea) but how can I manage to help her as she ages without other family close by to check on her, etc? And no money there to help put the proper support system in place?
  • My father was talked int putting an annuity with a death benefit in his IRA by a Bank of America rep. I talked to the rep after my father’s death and he shared why he thought it was a good idea (I’m unsure, but too late for it to matter.) My mother did get a ‘death benefit’ payout in the IRA, which is now sitting in cash, which is a problem, because of the $400k in the IRA, only $100k is in investments and the rest is sitting in cash – and I’m sure to afford her life the rest needs to at least be in bonds or something that is making money but it’s not. We want to hire a CFP but after working with my CFP (more on that in another post) I’m not sure what CFP is the right option as they’re quite expensive and CFPs typically don’t manage tax issues, or other weird issues like the ones my mother is facing. They can certainly run an analysis of when she’ll run out of money and when she has to sell the house, but we still don’t have the final tax bill so it’s hard to even run those numbers yet.
  • Taxes. Do we hire a lawyer or enrolled agent to help with attempting a penalty abatement and lower-cost-per-month payment plan? Another substantial expense and I’m not sure it’s worth it – I mean, it’s worth it if we can get the penalties abated and a good payment plan, but it seems like either we can do this ourselves or the IRS won’t allow this. My father apparently had a number of years where he already had a bad history of payment on time, so the IRS may just disallow our abatement request. However, I’m hoping with proper documentation on my father’s illness and also my mother’s documented abuse record, there’s a chance they’ll take off some or all of the penalties. Do we really need to spend $5000 on a lawyer to do this? I feel like I can probably help here and save that $5000, but if it doesn’t work my mother may blame me (even if it wouldn’t have worked with a lawyer) and if it does, but partially, then how will we know if we got the “best” deal? But all his money – $5000 for a tax lawyer, $5000 for a CFP, etc etc, needs to come from somewhere and that requires taking more out of the IRA. I’m trying at this point to help her avoid taking too much out of the IRA.
  • The good news – if there is any good news – is that my father did have a sizable pension and made sure to take the one that would provide lifetime income for my mother. That, with social security, amounts to something like a $50k-$70k salary before tax. A single person SHOULD be able to live on that income just fine…
  • But my mother is horrible at budgeting. That is to say she refuses to budget. I have her set up with a Mint account and I’m watching and documenting how much she spends on everything each month. She has definitely reduced her spending A BIT but I can’t get her to stop buying clothes “on sale” and spending on unnecessary items. Right now she is spending about $40,000 more than she earns per year, give or take as I’m not sure what her total tax liability is for this year. With $400k in the IRA, she is going to be in credit card debt in a few years at this rate. It will slow a bit once she gets the full SS amount (see blow), but not enough. Really the only way to stop the bleeding is to sell the primary house…
  • This is ESPECIALLY important this year because we have decided (and I’m not sure if it’s the right decision) to wait until she turns 66 to take the full survivors benefit for social security. If the math we ran was right, it will take about 17 years till break even on this choice – so it might not make any sense at all. I think it’s a pile of shit how social security works in that you’re supposed to get the same amount whether you live a long time or not long as all as long as you properly estimate when you’re going to die–because that’s an easy thing to guess.
  • My father made other bad money moves that have left residual issues. A few years ago my sister got into a car accident that wasn’t her fault. She earns minimum wage and although my parents paid for her car in full she didn’t have the type of insurance on it that would pay out in the case of a hit and run. Well, she was in a hit and run and her car was totaled. She was willing to pay a certain amount for a new car (about $10,000) but my father decided that $10,000 was not enough to get a car that was “safe” he would pay $5000 on top of that for her to get a certified pre-owned Toyota Corolla. That certainly was nice of him to do, and would make sense if he had the money to spend in the first place.  He did decide not to pay for this in cash entirely and instead to take out a low interest loan offered by the dealership, you know, while he had a terminal illness… without thinking what happens to the non-transferable warranty or Gap insurance he paid for in the purchase price when he died. So now another issue is figuring out what to do with my sister’s car… about $6000 is left owed on it, and my sister has been dutifully making monthly payments on the % she owes, but apparently once the person on the loan dies it’s necessary to pay off the loan with the estate (so I’ve read) or take a new loan out to pay off that loan. My sister assumes my mother will pay off the loan and she can pay her back, which is fine except that will require taking $ out of the IRA to do and that will cost more than $6000. So I suggested my sister look into how much a new loan would cost (I assume the interest on a loan — if she could get one — would be quite high.) I told her find out what this would be and then let’s talk. I could possibly loan her the $ at a much lower interest rate. Maybe I should just give her the money at 0% interest rate (and I might) but I’m trying to strategically figure out where I should be offering money to help with the whole mess across the board, while also trying to save for a down payment and afford my life. I don’t mind loaning her the money and maybe even for 0% interest but I want her to take the steps of figuring out how much it should cost her to get a loan and at least be an adult about this.
  • My sister finally moved out of the house and in with her boyfriend and she got a job that pays shitty but at least has benefits. So my sister is no longer living rent free (with high utility bills) in my mother’s house, so that will bring down costs a bit, but I’m worried about my sister’s financial well being in the long run. She has no retirement savings and isn’t listening to me when I’ve told her to put aside more money for emergencies and such. I ran her budgets and I know it’s tight and she thinks I don’t understand living in relative poverty but she can be making better decisions overall and I’m hoping eventually she listens to me so I can help her start on the path to financial security. I’ve always said I would never let her end up on the street and I definitely wouldn’t, but I want her to at least take responsibility to try to manage her money better. She doesn’t have any debts outside of the car situation, so that’s good, but she also doesn’t have enough money in an emergency fund and it’s different now that my mother can no longer afford to help her out if needed. I can, as long as I don’t own a house and I keep my job, but I really want her to try as hard as possible for it not to come to that. It’s not like she spends a fortune on things, but when you make that little you have to be even more cautious with your budget.
  • There is so much crap in the house that selling it will be a nightmare. My father has always been a “collector” of (likely) worthless stuff — paintings and sculptures from art shows, baseball figurines, records and CDs and DVDs, books, and who knows what else. Maybe some of it is worth something but selling it all and determining if any of it is worth more than pennies on the dollar is going to take more time than it’s worth. Once he was diagnosed with terminal cancer his collecting definitely increased. I get it – he was dying and collecting was a hobby and maybe helped him feel like he wasn’t in such a horrible position. Still, I wish there was some fiscal logic in the behavior those last years the my parents should have been downsizing anyway, not buying more stuff.
  • My father almost built an additional storage unit in the back of our house (the house already has 3 attics!) as my mother is a hoarder and has run out of room for stuff. Did I mention I’m not looking forward to cleaning out the house to prepare it for sale?
  • My parents spent a lot on making the house accessible and livable for my father. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the amount of years of use vs the probably better thing to do of selling the house years ago and moving to an accessible building just is sad when you look at it from a sheer numbers perspective. Even if they did want to stay, they could have more wisely spent those dollars, and less of them, to make it livable but not to the point of spending way more than the house will ever be worth.
  • Meanwhile, parts of the house are falling apart. The oven has been broken for years. Who knows when a new roof is needed (not my mother, that’s for sure.)  There will be costly updates before selling the house likely that weren’t handled with all the money spent on additions and renovations.
  • He paid for years into long term care but ended up not using it at the end because to use it he would have to admit he was dying soon and he never could. He also wanted to be home and the LTC policy did not cover the full amount of in home care, so I think he knew he didn’t have the money to use it- but unfortunately was unable to have an honest conversation about this – so his last months were spent first in the hospital, then in rehab, and then for a horrible few weeks at home where my mother could not properly care for him, and then his condition worsening (who knows if it would have been better if he never went home or had actual in-home care), and then back in the hospital and then back in a different rehab where he died. That whole process is a long blog post or a book of trauma which haunts me and makes me feel sick every time I think about it. But from a financial perspective, it was just extremely sad that he didn’t use his long term care policy when he needed it most. Meanwhile he stopped paying for my mother’s LTC policy years ago because he said it was “too expensive.” Well, now it’s too late to get her one (probably) and she probably will be the one who needs it. I’m terrified of what happens as my mother ages. She may be a looney toon but she’s still my mother and I want to make sure she’s as ok as one can be in her senior years.
  • My father constantly mentioned wanting to pass money down to his children (myself and my sister) and while at this point I do not expect that, it’s still sad that he made this comment time and again (esp for my sister since he saw her as incapable of taking care of herself) and now there’s basically nothing left. I don’t know how to advise my mother on this as I don’t want to have anything to do with whether or not she cares to pass money down to her children (and I certainly don’t feel like I have the right to anything) but I am worried about my sister and I also just think it’s sad that this was so important to my father but he failed to set things to up to make sure it happened. As a parent now, and one who hopefully accumulate substantial wealth, I want to make sure my child(ren) are set up to be ok even if the world goes to shit.

Well, I’m sure I’m forgetting and/or not seeing other financial issues that will come up. Thus far we’ve successfully filed 2015-2017 taxes (and have an extension on 2018) so that’s step 1. Baby steps. I see the light at the end of the tunnel here, once the taxes and loans are paid off, and the main house is sold. I think her Florida condo, as a full time dwelling, should help her get to at least break even for a few years, and hopefully she can even save some of the pension and social security money at some point to increase her investments and stretch out what’s left of the IRA.

Update on the Whole My Mom’s Finances are Fucked Situation

Sorry for the foul language, but hey, when things are fucked, there isn’t a better way to describe the situation than the appropriate terminology.

The saddest of all is that THEY SHOULDN’T BE FUCKED. At first, I felt super guilty for letting my dad convince me that he had $50,000 set aside for my wedding to spend without, I don’t know, asking to see all of his bank statements before signing the contract for my venue and vendors. Ok, I still feel super ridiculously guilty about this.  I feel guilty for never saying thank you in the right way for this generous gift.

BUT – it turns out, the $50,000 wedding was just one financial mistake in a list of what may be hundreds. Even if I were to repay my mother back every penny, she’d still be in quite the pickle. And I’m willing to repay every penny (my father would never let me do that, but he’s not here anymore, so there’s that.)

I’ve run the numbers. I put them in front of her face. I try to share how each year, not counting the tax debts and family loan she’s overspending her income $40,000-$50,000. Despite her $50/$60k or so after tax income with her SS and Pension, she’s still draining her IRA. She keeps saying she’ll take money out of the IRA. I keep telling her the IRA won’t last forever or anywhere near it.

The house has to go. I really, really, really don’t want it to go. I know it’s just a house. It’s just a stupid piece of property with a dumb room that I lived in for my first 17 years of life. It’s just a dumb piece of wood that has so many memories good and bad all jumbled up in it that I see maybe twice a year if I manage to make it out to the east coast that often and with it I can escape back to childhood and feel like there’s some sense of stability in the crazy fucked up world, but that’s not enough reason to keep a house that’s costing my mother $40,000+ a year to maintain and that isn’t even counting big fixes like… needing a new oven (it hasn’t worked in years now) or a roof or carpeting or anything else.

But I tell her over and over again that the house needs to go, and now that I’ve run the numbers, sooner than later. I tell her I’d love if there was a way to keep it, but there isn’t, and the best thing to do financially is to sell it ASAP. That means starting work on getting it ready for sale NOW. But she’s down in Florida in her winter condo, swimming for a few months. I’ll give her this winter — her abusive husband just died and left her with a bunch of unexpected debts and she needs to just get away and have some time to relax and not think about it. But then she’ll say in summer it’s too nice out and she has to go to the pool and she doesn’t have time to clean. My sister, who lives in the house for free, btw, works a minimum wage job and always says she is too tired to help with anything (her job does require her to be on her feet all day) but she lives there for free and really is no help… physically or financially….

I wish there was some way to have reasoned with my father about his spending… but he’d just blame my mother for HER spending. Well, they both spent too much. I understood and empathized with him wanting to spend his retirement income before he passed away. But he didn’t need to buy a zillion worthless paintings and sculptures at local art fairs (that now represent a rather large collection which has to be sold or donated or trashed) or all the worthless “collectables” and my mom didn’t have to spend so much on shopping and they both probably should have moved to a smaller property a long time ago (vs buying a second home which was cheap to buy but expensive to own in Florida) and…

I just feel absolutely sick because no matter how many different ways I spin the numbers they don’t work unless she sells the home. The whole tax situation is a trainwreck as well, as we’re now awaiting to find out what penalties will be assessed on some very late taxes that he refused to let my mother file on time and lied to her about having the correct amounts paid off (maybe he thought he did, I think he lost his mind in these last few years.)

You know, even at the end, my mom had to rush around to find a cemetery plot and paid top dollar because my father couldn’t handle thinking about these things and kept putting it off, despite being diagnosed with a terminal illness 13 years ago and told he had 2 years to live. Even after all that. So my mother ended up spending god knows what on the cemetery plots for both of them and funeral home expenses and all that, plus a brunch at a decent restaurant afterwards and poof there goes the money that my father said was saved for my sister’s wedding! Oh, and there was no liquid assets to speak of so my mother had to put it all on her credit card. My uncle did offer a $30k loan after we asked him for help to pay off the bills but that’s coming due next year as well and I’m sure he wants his money back and I unofficially said I’d be on the hook for it if she couldn’t pay or some reason. They have a legal agreement signed so he gets proceeds from the house when it’s sold. All that, just to pay for a funeral my father couldn’t properly plan for because he wanted to be immortal. I wanted him to be immortal to, but clearly we cannot have what we want.

And I feel guilty about moving away but I also know if I was there every second of every day these last 10 years it would be no different as my father only complained about my mother’s overspending but never ever would look at the bigger picture. I understand that being terminally ill was horrific and he couldn’t admit it to anyone so instead he just bought things as they made him feel like he would live forever, I guess, but those things are just things and I wish there was a way to bring him back and somehow give him happiness without having to just spend all this money on so much stuff that now has to be sold just to sell the house…

Even with the house sold, my mother will still be overspending, but I think she’ll be ok… if she were to sell the house immediately, which she won’t do. She says she needs years to clean it out. The reality is that she needs help to clean it out. A lot of help. Emotional and physical help. It will be very hard and stressful. It will be very hard for me as well. I certainly will struggle to part with my childhood furniture, which I thought one day might be used for my own children (especially if I had a girl), but it probably doesn’t make sense to ship it across the country, esp given right now I live in a one bedroom apartment with no room for it.

I wish I had a zillion dollars and could just throw money at this problem and be done with it. So. I have some liquid assets right now and I’m tempted to do just that. I mean, my parents paid for my college education AND my wedding so it wouldn’t be the strangest thing to pay my mom back now and help her out financially. But I also have a child and need to support my own family as I’m the breadwinner and I have serious mental illnesses and I can’t maintain my jobs for long enough and I still can’t afford a house.

I’m really struggling and I’m not sure what to do. I can just let her run out of money in a few years and go into debt, but then what? Do I just say “I told you so?” A few years ago I set her up with a Mint account and tried to teach her how to budget and it went nowhere. I think she’s starting to get why she needs to budget but she refuses to, so what do I do? She can’t spend $700 a month on food (I get how she can, I’ve done it before, but she can’t) and she especially can’t if she’s keeping the family home with its $700/mo variable home equity payments that will pop up to $1700/mo in 2020 and also whatever this tax payment plan of ~$1000/mo will be for 72 months…

Then these tax lawyers and enrolled agents want $3k-$4k to help her reduce her penalties for taxes and I’m sitting here thinking maybe we should just try to do this ourselves because she doesn’t have $3k-$4k to pay for help (if we can do it ourselves) and I’m just sick of feeling like I have to protect her from vultures who prey on the weak but also don’t want to be stubborn like my father and refuse help when it’s needed.

I could give her $100,000 but it wouldn’t solve anything, it would just delay the inevitable. I’d rather save the $100,000 for when she’s older if she really needs the support, vs now when she’d just spend it on things she doesn’t “need” though she’d say she does.

So that’s the state of that.

When Long Term Care Insurance Terminates (Or, Almost Does) Due to Dementia or Confusion

Welcome to the sandwich generation — taking care of kids and elders all at once. That was the message that I got loud and clear this week at 37 weeks pregnant and with a father in the hospital who has, sadly, accepted that he needs to begin using his long-term care policy to receive in-home living support.

The challenges of being 37 weeks pregnant are largely understood, but what about managing the care for a father with a terminal illness who has been to the hospital with repeat episodes of source-unidentifiable delirium within the past 2 months? Continue reading

Can you teach empathy? Pregnant daughter of narcisstic parents would like to know…

My sister and I surprised my parents this weekend with the news – I’m pregnant. While I envisioned the surprise – in a normal, loving family -to go something like this…

My parents would meet my sister, who was visiting for the weekend, and she would enter their condo and go to her room to pull out a gift from me to give to them, without them knowing. I would call “from the west coast” as a coincidence, to say hi, and they’d mention my sister just arrived. Then my sister would give them the “gift” and they’d open it to see inside something that clearly stated they were going to be grandparents. At the moment they were having a loving, emotional, “we’re so happy for you” reaction, I’d knock on the door and they’d be further surprised that I was there, not across the country, to celebrate with them this wonderful news. We’d embrace and cry, especially since they know and understand how much we’ve wanted children and how hard it has been to get pregnant, and we’d all go out to celebrate, excited for them to be grandparents, excited for my sister to be an aunt, and excited for myself and my husband to soon be bringing new life into the world. Continue reading

14 Weeks Pregnant, 2 Weeks Until I Tell My Parents!

Today I have officially entered the second trimester. I’m fortunate that my first trimester was actually not that bad–no major morning sickness outside of mild nausea if I didn’t eat anything in the morning. The side effect of NOT having morning sickness is that I did gain weight — too much weight — during the first 13 weeks of this pregnancy. I had plateaued for a while at 11 lbs gain and then shot up to a total of 16! Yikes.

Outside of my rapid weight gain, though, what I’m really concerned about is this 6 weeks maternity leave situation. The more I think about it, the more upset I feel that my work does not allow me to use any vacation time (since we have “unlimited vacation” they do not have to approve any and it’s not possible to accrue PTO) so I have no choice other than to head back to work at 6 weeks post birth or quit. Since I have no plans of quitting (and it would be rather devastating financially for many reasons) I’ll be headed back to work fairly soon after I meet my first child.

Continue reading

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May the Force Be With You: Bringing a Child into this World

It has taken 34 years, but I’ve finally – almost – accepted that my parents will never be the loving, empathetic, caring people that I’ve always assume parental types should be. Like any human, they are flawed, but unlike many humans, they are extraordinarily self-centered,  giving only financially as a means to feel powerful and in control. Continue reading

Babies on the Brain – Preparing for My (“Our”) Future

The majority of my friends are popping out their first children or well on their way to their second child by now. My Facebook feed, filled with folks I went to school with, mostly lesser educated yet clearly happy people, showcases families now of three or four kids. At nearly 33, I remain childless. I don’t FEEL old, yet it terms of childbearing years I’m getting up there. If I can get pregnant easily (which is unlikely) then I would have my first child before 35 – which is fine. However, I don’t want my second child to feel rushed as I know how much work having one child is, and I want time to enjoy being a mother of one before rushing on to try for my second.

Although I’ve thought a lot about the logistics of getting pregnant and childbirth before, the reality of the situation has never felt quite so pressing. Now that I’ve checked the marriage box there really is nothing holding me back from getting pregnant – except maybe an overdue international honeymoon which I was unable to take after the wedding for a variety of reasons (call me silly to put off getting pregnant until a honeymoon but I’d like to be able to enjoy this trip as much as possible and not feel sick on it, and I’d like to try regional cuisine including wine/sake depending on where we end up going.) But – I’m also at the point where I’m sincerely concerned about my ability to get pregnant and although I keep telling myself life will go on should I not be able to actually procreate, I feel like everyday we don’t try is another day I might eventually regret.

Before you say I’m being ridiculous, let me remind you at the ripe young age of 15 my gynecologist told me that my irregular periods were not to be of concern (and did not mention PCOS) but that as long as I have my kids before 30 I’ll be fine. That comments haunts me to this day. I am terrified that because I didn’t heed her advice, I’ll blame myself when we are stuck in cycles of IVF, I’m taking dozens of unpaid leave days from work and ultimately losing my job because I’m massively depressed over all of the emotional drama that goes along with infertility treatments and getting used to failures and picking back up and trying again and watching our bank accounts drain at what amounts to playing fertility roulette.

Mr. HECC is the type that doesn’t worry about the future. Generally, this is a good thing. He lives in the moment and I admire that. He doesn’t really have plans and while he wants kids he isn’t getting himself into a tizzy over how hard it might be for us to make them. He figures we’ll deal with it when it’s time to deal with it and if we can’t have any then we might adopt. I’m not sure about adoption (I have very mixed feelings about it and that’s something I won’t think about until I really have to) – but in the mean time I feel like this is pretty important and there are so many things that effect my ability to get pregnant and be pregnant and have children that require proper planning for a what may amount to a non-occurance and in this case I think I’m in the right to be a bit concerned about what this future of ours looks like which may or may not include offspring.

Work isn’t exactly stable right now. My company has no written maternity leave policy and because they have under 50 people they have no legal requirements to provide time off. Basically, how they treat maternity leave would depend on how much they want to keep me around. They can’t fire me if I get pregnant, but they certainly can make it not the easiest to stay. And, honestly, with the amount of responsibility I have I can’t say I’d be the best employee with such distractions. I’d never admit that to my employer, as that might set all of women back hundreds of years, but it’s kind of an unspoken truth – especially in the case for someone like myself with very clear mental illness who has already proven herself incapable of handling personal stressors and maintaining quality, consistent work at all times. The thing is – I WANT to have a few good years of focusing on work with no distractions. Even if I am uncertain of my career, I do like doing good work. I have been so distracted with the wedding (which was just a frivolous, inconsequential life event beyond actually getting married) that I can’t imagine what I’ll be like when I’m rushing off to IVF treatments (should they be needed) and waiting to see if one of them happen to take. Even just trying to get pregnant the good old fashioned way can be extremely stressful – as can be the potential of miscarriage, which is, according to some reports, 30% to 50% more likely in women with PCOS.

The amount of emotional stress that will go into getting and staying pregnant with my condition is above and beyond the normal challenges faced by pregnant women who work. Two of my good friends had horrible first trimesters where they were constantly nauseous and sick, and if such illness struck me I honestly don’t know what I’d do with having to work and not having time off to take. I’m already in a not-so-great situation in my current company where my company isn’t sold on my value, but if I leave and go to another company it would be even harder to ask for time off should I need it to deal with infertility treatments or standard morning sickness. Larger companies are probably better overall in handling the challenges that come with getting pregnant (in most startups I’ve worked for the majority of employees are men and the women in the company are typically younger / not of childbearing age. Executives are rarely female and if they are they are often childfree by choice. My last company was the exception with one highly-valued exec who was pregnant and had a child – and she barely took any time off to do so.) I dislike that at this point in my career not only am I trying to sort out my career but I also really do need to think about how this will effect my ability to have a child and remain gainfully employed. As I’ve noted many times before, I make more than double what my husband makes, so I really can’t stop working. I don’t want to stop working either – but I am worried about the sheer biological and emotional challenges which I cannot avoid once I start trying to get pregnant.

As is, I have about 15 PTO days per year (no “sick” days) – which is actually really good for a US company – and I’ve used nearly all of the ones I’ve accumulated so far on getting married. If I do take the extended honeymoon I’ve dreamed of since forever (Mr. HECC and I have never traveled internationally together in our 10+ years of dating), then I’ll wipe out the remainder of my PTO once I have enough to actually leave for two weeks. It will take seven months with absolutely no days off (no sick days, no vacation) to collect enough time off to actually take a two week vacation. Unfortunately I’m taking a day this July for a funeral so that means my accrual of days starts in August. That means it won’t be until March that I can take the time off to travel for a real honeymoon (well I can maybe negotiate some unpaid days earlier but I’d prefer not to lose income – the amount it costs me to miss a day of work isn’t worth it.) Meanwhile, I have friend’s weddings which require travel and I’d like to take some PTO for them this fall, but I can’t because I want to save up for the trip…

The bigger problem is that once I do take a honeymoon I’ll be left with zero PTO days just when it’s important for me to start immediately trying to have a child. It’s an easy conversation to tell your (male) boss you are pregnant, but highly uncomfortable to discuss how you are trying and have PCOS and need to go see multiple doctors and you don’t know exactly what the process is going to look like or how long it will take or if you can get pregnant but you are going to try really hard and you need some time to go to the doctor and you don’t know how much and you just used up all your PTO on your vacation but besides the fact you want to stay at your job and keep your job you also need your health benefits so you HAVE to stay at your job…

And as this is all so soon, I feel like I should be thinking about it and planning. It’s not just typical HECC anxiety/neuroticism, it is my life, my career, my income, my stability, and my future. I can just wait and deal with it as it comes, but I see exactly how this plays out and it isn’t pretty.

My current plan is to stay at my job at least until December and then maybe take a few weeks unpaid between starting a new job, ideally at a larger company that has a maternity leave policy and that supports pregnant mothers. I don’t know if I can get a job at one of these companies, but at this point in my life that is probably the most important benefit I can seek out (other than good health insurance.) If I was thriving in the startup world I’d fight harder to stay, but my successes are few and far between, and I think life is point me towards some kind of change. Mr. HECC may go back to school for teaching in a year, and with that I hope he’ll have a stable (albeit low-paid) job which enables him to maintain a level of happiness and take care of our “who knows if they will ever happen” children while I continue to do whatever it is I end up doing professionally. While I don’t see how we can afford to stay living in this area, his plan is to have his mother live on the same property we do and help with the down payment (my thoughts on that are for another post at another time.) In any case, life is complicated as always. I am happy to be married, but thought I’d be a bit more stable in other aspects of life by now. It will certainly be an interesting ride over the next few years of adulthood. I think the only thing I know is that I want kids, so I somehow need to manage a life around making that happen… even if financially it isn’t the smartest and logistically it isn’t the easiest.

 

Going to the Chapel and We’re Gonna Spend M-O-N-E-Y

Jewsus Crust, weddings are expensive. While my father has offered to pay for the entire thing up to $45k, that offer hasn’t been sitting well with me as I’ve shopped around for everything from venues to gowns. I’m a grown-ass woman and I should pay for my own g’damn wedding… or at least a reasonable, sizable chunk of it. And so, tonight I had a bit of a epiphany — I’m going to pay for my own wedding (catering/venue) for the guest list I feel comfortable with (100-120 attendees.) Any additional attendees my parents want to invite (their friends, distant family) they can invite but they would cover.

The whole bride’s family pays for the entire thing and the groom’s family pays nothing is completely outdated and actually offensive. Sure, most brides want a wedding that’s a bit bigger and grander than what a groom would select, but that doesn’t mean that the entire wedding is a bride-only affair.

My father is very traditional – to a fault. He expected to pay for his daughter’s weddings and has theoretically saved for the big day. However, that money should be kept for my father’s medical bills over his hopefully long life to come and my mother’s wellbeing throughout her retirement. Spending their money on five hours of my life at this age is a concept that makes me physically ill.

I feel really good about my latest idea — that I’ll pay at least for the venue and catering. It seems a little more stomachable to accept a gift of a dress or band for the event, vs having parents pay the whole thing. Really the gifts from people attending should partially repay for the actual cost of the reception, so if I pay for the reception then some of that cost would be recovered in gifts. It doesn’t make my sense for my parents to pay for the reception and then the gifts to go to us. I know that’s the traditional way of doing things but it’s all sorts of wrong.

Paying for my own wedding does mean that I won’t reach my networth goal of $500k before I have kids — but at this point I’m pretty much retracting that goal and just focused on having a happy, healthy life. I’ll probably move somewhere with a lower cost of living in the next few years and hopefully be able to start a family. My priorities have definitely changed since I went from being sad and single to part A of a happily home-bodied couplehood. Paying for my own wedding also makes it feel more real and meaningful, vs just a big fancy party.

I’m just not sure how I’m going to tell my parents yet that I plan to pay. I figure I can just put down a deposit somewhere and then let them know that the venue and food are taken care of. Will my dad be offended? Probably – but that’s because he’s always offended over anything that goes against anything he thinks or offers. But then he’ll probably be happy to see I’m no longer relying on him to pay for any part of my life. And if he wants to provide a gift towards the total cost of the remaining items in the wedding, I’ll gladly accept. That just feels way more right, and brings my stress levels back to moderate.

Mother’s Day: Being Thankful for an Imperfect Mother

Now that I’m 31 and of age to be a mother, I acknowledge that age doesn’t actually poof make you mature enough to be a good mother. Mother’s are just little girls that grew up and made little creatures that they have to take care of – who then go on to become mothers (or fathers) more often than not before they have their own shit together.

I must be thankful that my mother was not a drug addict or alcoholic. She was not a thief, sex trafficker or Russian spy. For all this, I am grateful.

When I see a bunch of my friends post pictures of their mothers on mom’s day and say “thanks to my best friend” I have to wonder what it’s like to have that kind of figure in your life. Don’t get me wrong – my mom and I talk all the time. But we talk at each other. Not to each other. And, without a nurturing bone in her body, she never once was the type of mother who was “there” for me when I needed it most.

My mother embarrassed me time and again in my life in terms of oversharing my “accomplishments,” trials and tribulations to anyone who might be willing to listen – but the worst of it came from how she, along with my father, completely warped my world view and sense of self. I was trained from a young age that all that matters is being brag-worthy. That I’m inherently special and worthy of praise. Yet any shortcoming, any slight imperfection, was not something that I could work on and fix. It was just ignored. Replaced with some story of grandiosity which fueled my oft confused ego.

I’m grateful that despite my mother’s unyielding self-self-absorbtion, she doesn’t have an evil bone in her body. Her acts are just frustrating, inconvenient at best and nails-on-chalkboard annoying at worst. In the most meaningful moments of life, her only though is if she and the others posing around her look good in a photograph. She is just entirely void of the ability to empathize with others. Her own growth was stunted by her narcissistic mother, who is evil and selfish. My mother is selfish but not in the same way. She’ll put her needs above others but she won’t be angry at said others if their needs end up coming first. Her entire life since age 18 has been in an abusive relationship with my father. She’s never cried. Not even behind closed doors. Her emotions seem to have been stunted as a small child, and were never recovered.

There are worse mothers out there. Ones that go out of their way to use their own children. Ones who push their children to do things that they wouldn’t want to do otherwise. Even when I came out as bisexual she cringed but didn’t kick me out of the house (she hoped it was a phase.) And, in terms of being present versus not in my life, my mother was always there – I’m not sure if she was always there for me, but she was always there. Involved in the school PTA, all of my teachers and administrators knew her well. Everyone in the school knew my mother. Her entire identity, at least once I was born, was created by the accomplishments of her children. Without a sense of self, there became an impossible pressure on her kids to be special enough.

My mother did not teach me about love. My mother stayed when my father screamed and threw ice water in her face or when he grabbed her arm and threw her across the room. For all the effort my mother put into outside appearances in terms of dressing nicely and wearing makeup, she didn’t worry about my father’s repeated humiliation of her in public. After being out of the work force for so many years, she was too afraid to get divorced and have to return to the employed life. She enjoyed her life of shopping and lounging by the pool in the long summers and actively involved in her children’s schooling. She saw her own child getting beaten with a belt and said nothing, even though she knew this wasn’t right. She let her young child start to abuse her, because her child learned this was the only way to stop her chronic nagging. She was a victim, still is a victim, and was incapable of escaping the borderline personality disorder eggshells she walked on throughout her life – first with her own mother, and then her hot-tempered, violent husband.

I feel sorry for my mother. Sorry that she will always be incapable of having her own life. Sorry that she does not have the emotional depth to have a fulfilling adult relationship. Sorry that happiness in her life is defined by buying more and more things, even though she’s never actually happy. The normal state for her is anxious, constantly panicking about what needs to be done, yet never accomplishing much at all.

My great worry is that if I do have kids one day, I won’t be able to be a good mother. I know I will try to be more nurturing and caring, more there for them when they need it and out of the way when they don’t. I’d love to be the type of mother who one day, when my children are all grown up, is referred to as a close friend and confidant. I want to be a strong figure, with a satisfying career and sense of personal accomplishment, to show one example of a successful life and ideal, loving relationship.

And all the while I wonder who I’d be today if I was born to one of those mothers who – maybe is strict – but who knows what it means to love and care for her own children – to, outside of financial means, put her children’s needs ahead of her own, especially when they are young and most vulnerable. All of the crazy in my mind – the constant panicking – the inability to get things done without someone telling me I’m absolutely awful, and having to prove them otherwise – my recurring failure to lead a stable, normal life – or to stand up for myself when I should instead of burst into tears – is something that is so ingrained in me, I can’t shake it off. So much of that is due to my mother. My father had quite the influence as well, but since it’s mom’s day I’m writing about the female component of my parental pair specifically.

So as much as I miss my mother, I’m glad that I moved to the other side of the country. It makes me sad that as the years go by there will less and less time I can spend with her. It’s terribly upsetting that if I do have kids, she will barely ever see them – even though I imagine she’d be a better grandmother than parent, especially if my father isn’t around to scream and make for anxiety-ridden situations. I wish I could flip a switch and suddenly she’d know how to feel – how to care – how to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around her. I know that sounds awfully silly coming from someone such as myself who is also so self absorbed. But at least I have some awareness of the fact that this world isn’t all about me – or my future children – or my life. I’m just a speck in the infinite universe. I’m lucky and unlucky all at the same time, but more lucky than not all things considered. While some of what I have has been earned, most has been obtained through chance.

She would never be able to grasp that. She just doesn’t care about other people – or herself. She is driven by a relentless, all-encompassing need to have stories to tell about others who would want no part in the tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Thoughts on Ambition, Depression, and An Otherwise Ambivalent Life

When I was a child, I was remarkably judgmental. My parents raised me as such. For them, having grown up in households with parents who were not college educated, who were bluecollar workers or clergy, who lived only slightly above the lifestyle afforded by poverty, I understood their hatred of all things they worked so hard to escape. Although my town was quite diverse, as a child I always felt better than many of my peers. My parents created and reinforced this notion. I never felt better in the sense of actually liking myself or better in that I was able to make and maintain friendships, but I was told time and again that there is a large faction of others in the town, and while I was allowed to be friends with those people they were not like us.

To be clear, this was not a racial issue, as my parents looked down upon people of all ethnicities – though, of course others “like us” – Jewish families, typically got a pass. It was horrible, and yet at the time it made sense –  was our shared values of education and working hard to achieve goals, with a general disrespect for cultures that, by stereotype and outcome, didn’t have the same type of lifestyle. It wasn’t their fault, or at least it certainly wasn’t the fault of the children, and yet there was still this sense of sameness and otherness that pervaded our view of our town. It is how I, despite being miserably depressed and empty as a child, was able to find some solace in going shopping with my mother and purchasing hundreds of dollars in Nordstrom Brass Plum shirts and pants and skirts and dresses. It is how I managed to push myself harder to get where I am today, because deep down I was terrified of becoming one of “them.” I could never truly envision myself a starving artist or struggling parent. It wasn’t in the vernacular of my limited foresight. It was the only truth I knew, which now I know to be no more truth than any other dream or goal.

We were never rich, but my mother dreamed of great wealth and my father wasted away his life eating himself fat and working long hours to provide for our family so we could maintain our illusion of happiness in the shape of comparative success. My mother would frequently go on and on about how she wished she had married someone richer, not once considering returning to work herself. That was somewhat normal of a train of thought at the time. My father, meanwhile, earned a rather high salary for his middle management consulting role, and we lived a very comfortable life. My father liked to purchase “nice” things, although I didn’t always agree with his taste. My mother, for the most part, liked to purchase whatever QVC or the Clinique woman happened to be selling her. And I grew up with this painful sense of privilege compiled by the guilt of knowing none of it was deserved. Through each year, that guilt grew stronger. When my mother made an off-putting comment about a friend at school whose parents rented instead of owned, I cringed inside, knowing that criticism was completely unjust, especially against a child who had no choice to whom she was brought into this world.

I do believe that so much of your ambition is tied to how your parents wired you for reward. My reward came from meeting and surpassing expectations of this illusion of our stability and relative superiority. If I wasn’t to be a math genius, I was to be a great painter. I had to be something better than the others. I had to be special to matter to my parents at all. They certainly didn’t appreciate when that special came with a fragmented mind and a hyperactive, mess-creating child who longed so desperately for the attention and approval of others, unless, of course, this need for approval resulted in something they could brag about.

As an adult now, having been through enough sociology classes and life to know that everything that I thought was real as a child is a complete clusterfuck of a post-war generation and immigrant family mentality tossed down through the ages, I want out of this. Out of trying so hard to prove something to someone when no one is even listening anymore. Sure, my mother still shares every thing I post on Facebook as if I had won the freaking Olympics, with pride acceptable for a 12 year old daughter, perhaps, but not a 31 year old. And in my little puddle of psyche so empty and ambivalent I kick myself together trying to find the shape of a person who has some motivation, some drive, some reason to exist beyond merely existing or earning a paycheck. And I can’t find it. I can’t find anything that tastes real anymore, except the incredible and overwhelming love which my alter-ego of a boyfriend – warm, quiet, sensitive, needing no attention or approval – bequeaths to me in ample supply.

But one cannot live on love alone. And I often think if I didn’t have this love right now, I would be so fragile, I’d have nothing to keep me going. Thank god for his kind heart, his deep compassion for all the people of the world and all that is unjust and cruel. I am happy to have a safe place to go, wrapped in his arms, far from the judgmental warfare of my suburban family home.

I don’t want to just set out to help others when I’m not ready for it yet. One can easily do more harm than good. If I fuck up in business it’s terrible for sure but, at least in the communications side of things, a fuck up here or there never killed anyone. But to dedicate my life to helping others, I don’t want to do it for selfish reasons, because that won’t go over well. I need to find something deep within me, something so true, which I can become passionately obsessed with, something which can become my intention for life. It could be motherhood. It could be psychology. It could be design. It could be writing should I ever muster up a plot, realistic dialogue and the tenacity to draft more than eight pages. For someone who writes so much as I do it should be easy, but my stunted empathy has made it quite impossible to dream up others. I’m still trapped deep within myself, this little, weak, shell of a human being who attempts to claw out of her flesh to find her guiding light.