Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rejection at the Check-Out, Ba-Humbug Christmas and Accidental Thievery

Begin rant/confession:

Today I'm ashamed that I couldn't afford to buy all three of the medications my daughter needs during a jagged bout with the flu and a deeply infected ear. Screw splurging during the final holiday gift rush when I have bigger fish to .... Well, you know the rest of that tired, old cliche.

"Ouch," the pediatrician said, squinting her eyelids into thin slivers of skin as she peered with a light-up thingamajig into Pigtail Sprite's tender right ear only hours ago.

"That looks so, sooo painful. It's as red in there as that chair. And so FULL of pus !" The good doc pointed to a kid-sized plastic primary color red chair to illustrate her point. "She's tough not to cry through such pain." And I'm numb enough not to pick up on it.

Money. Think Simply Red and his "too tight to mention" bit, but with a much less swanky voice. I wish I weren't such a biff who spends far too much money on overpriced, overindulgent holiday treat flavored caffeine jolts I could just as easily brew at home. While I'm synthetically wide awake, abuzz and alert, my daughter is wheezing ever so slightly in her sleep.
Sound the bad mom alert.

Money is so scarce lately that buying a grande nonfat pumpkin spice latte could very easily send us into the red. On the other hand, not buying one could send me careening asleep at the wheel and off the road.

How was I to know that Pigtail's meds would total some $65? After Frosted Mini Wheats, Juicy Juice boxes, cheap one-ply toilet paper and a thick pack of sugar-free Bubble Yum (to quiet Pigtail's cantankerous at the check-out brother, Cheeks, 3) rolled down the conveyer belt at Target, I was left with hardly enough cash to cover sick visit co-pay, my usual remaining balance at the doctor's office and antibiotics/inhaler/bronchial opening medications.

Suddenly, standing at the crowded pharmacy counter this morning, I felt an odd kinship with the millions of American senior citizens who can scarcely afford their medicine. Humiliated. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Thankfully my daughter is too young to understand how broke we are.

The astounding rejection beeps of my only two debit/credit cards sounded like dueling fog horns in my red, hot, embarrassed ears as the cashier kindly tried to appear casual and unmoved while sliding the thin plastic rectangles through the little machine over and over again.

"Sometimes the connection's just slow," she whispered, trying to assuage my obvious embarrassment. My face was beet red by now. I felt the eyes of the onlookers behind me boring with judgment into my tensed up back.

I wish I could blog about something other than my failures, including a glaring F minus at keeping my shoestring budget assembled and at the ready for emergencies like these. I wish I could blog about something far less narcissistic. Something meaningful. Something that would inspire, entertain, perhaps even change the world for the better. After all, this blog is supposed to be lighthearted and funny.

For now, though, I'll stick with documenting the complaints of the working poor living over our heads under the crush of overwhelmingly huge mortgages (that we ignorantly bit off by choice) in Southern California.

(So much for the people I meet/know who say that I shouldn't be so candid, so all-revealing on my blog. To them I say, why cover up reality? Why hide from the hard truths of my situation? This is how my day was. Plain and simple. There are few topics as touchy as money but I have nothing to hide. I'm not looking for pity, just for a venting venue. Trust me, I feel and act so much nicer, so much more relaxed as a woman, wife and mother when I have a place to publish/let off steam and know I'm being heard and possibly even understood.)

The sick thing is, I don't really know a bloody thing about struggling. Not like my grandmother did during the Great Depression. Not like the health insurance-less, food stamp/WIC eligible mothers struggling to make ends meet in South Central Los Angeles. Not like the grimy faced, out of control dreadlock-spotted afro mop-topped homeless man who begs outside our neighborhood Starbucks.

I see Salvation Army bell ringers trying to ring in the holiday spirit of giving outside the local grocery store and hesitate to drop even a penny in their festive colored metal buckets. Every cent counts right now right here in my home with my family. All this holiday cheer and the last-minute gift rush give me a terminal case of the bah-humbugs.

This year, each of my children will receive one measly gift from their parents, which really should be more than enough when you look at the overcrowded toy shelf in their equally overstocked playroom brimming with action figures and Leapster-brand everything that they never even play with. Consider also that they will receive lots of loot from their grandparents, aunts and uncles. Somehow I think receiving less as more is pretty cool, even if they hate me now and only fully understand when they are older.

I'll spare you further (over)exposure to my rejection of Christmas as commercialism. Think charity instead.

Maybe this year I'll show my children how to help others truly "in need." Perhaps teaching them "service" and "charity"by example will give us some much needed perspective on our own SAHM, single-income in SoCal situation, which embodies plenty of non-material wealth to be thankful for. As my 5-year-old son always tells me, "Mommy, we're rich with love." (Cheesy, I know, but very touching coming from my 5- going on 30 eldest son.)

My father often missed holidays at home because he was serving hot meals at the local homeless shelter. Though he never asked me to accompany him, I always understood and respected his choice to give to others on Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas. I still wish I could have been a part of his selfless service.

BTW, I got busy chit-chatting with a mom from my sons' preschool at the check-out this morning and accidentally "stole" a pack of Size 5 Huggies in all the catching-up conversation. They were on the lowest section of the cart, beneath my wired children, who bounced like Mexican jumping beans around the cart when the cashier informed me of my total. She had to repeat herself three times.

In all the hubub I ignored the patient cashier and hastily shoved a $20.00 bill in her direction. I didn't bother to check the change she gave me back or whether or not she included the diapers on the bill. I couldn't understand why the total was so small ... that is until I was miles and miles down the road from the store, heading in a hurry to Cheeks' preschool and next to Pigtail's pediatrician. I'll have to pay for the accidentally "lifted" diapers after picking up both of my sons from preschool. Just another mom-brain moment. Sheesh.

Have you ever not been able to buy something you really needed because you were so strapped (or pathetically unskilled with personal finances)? Have you ever accidentally "lifted" an item from a store? If yes, what did you do about it? Did you ever return to the store and pay for the accidentally pilfered item? Can you afford Christmas in the commercial sense this year? If you are going to volunteer at a local charity for the holidays, what will you do and who will you help?

This is your brain. This is your brain on too many Domestic Slackstress questions. Just try being my kids.

Ps. I met a nice journalist mom in the sick room at the pediatrician's office today and shared my blog address with her. I had hoped to write something intelligent and influential for her to mull upon her first visit. Today's rant-like entry seems a rough introduction to my blog.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger mad muthas said...

well, first of all - i have no idea how anyone is supposed to manage when meds for just an ear infection come to - what? - 60 dollars! i may moan and groan about the nhs, but all we pay is a standard nominal prescription charge, and not even that for children under 16, and if you're on benefit, i think the charge is also reduced. maybe our health sevice isn't as fancy at the top or even the middle, but we can access the basics for free if we really need to.
funny, some of us were talking just the other day about accidentally pinching things. i bought a sweater along with my groceries and the girl must have forgotten to scan it. in a dream, as usual, i didn't twig that my bill was less than it should be. i decided no to take it back in the end - cos i thought the girl who made the mistake might get into trouble. also it was from a huge store that swallows up small independents and undercuts high street booksellers. i reckoned they could take it! (convenient for me, no?)

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Kara said...

I acidentally forgot to pay for cat litter once, it was on the bottom of my shopping cart and, coincidentally, I was making an emergency trip to the grocery store with a feverish toddler.

I didn't realize it until I was at home and happened to check the receipt. I didn't go back. My kid was sick and I was exhausted.

Times are tight for us as well. You're not alone. Check this site... I've found it very enlightening:

Hang in there.

At 10:44 PM, Blogger creative-type dad said...

Wow- I don't even know where to begin. I'll start at the end.
Yes, in college living on $8-17 a week working 2 jobs and not getting any help from family because the parents don't agree with your college decision.
Loosing 27 pounds in 3 months...

Yeah, I know what it's like to not get the basic needs and not just the wants. To this day, I'm pretty freakin' cheap. I never want to be like that again.

BTW- great blog you have here. Glad you stopped by. I'll be coming by again--

At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, some people may have been judging you at the check-out. But they're fucktards. Don't worry - I'm sure the majority were recalling the last time that happened to *them*.

If it happens again (it will), just use only one card and act like there's a "problem" at the bank. Hey, your account COULD be locked as an anti-fraud measure!

At 12:38 AM, Blogger Miz BoheMia said...

Yep.... been there with the debit/credit cards... when it would happen to me I would pretend to be really pissed off at the bank for "once again" screwing up my deposit and "man, if you knew how much trouble they've been giving me! Seriously! don't bank with them!"... always worked and I got to look good and cool as I huffed and puffed my way out of there, on "my way to the bank to fix this damn problem once and for all... hold the item for me! I'll be back as soon as I can!"


Yep... have had the accidental-not-charged-for-it thing happen to me too but nope, didn't and won't go back to pay for it... and I don't feel guilty either, bad? Perhaps but it's the truth... I figure they should have done their job right from the getgo and with bouncing kids and noise and mayhem something as simple as getting to my damn purse in time to pay for the shopping, put everything back into my purse and bag and the like while making sure I don't lose a kid or somehow kill them is enough... so nope...

And as for being strapped to the bare minimum, tell me about it!!! The sad part is the BMW was supposed to hold us over for some 3, if lucky, 4 more months until the house sells, buying us time and some peace of mind and now, we are lucky if we have enough for the month (I have yet to do the banking and am avoiding it like the plague when I shouldn't because I WILL fall into a depression when I do it!) and so yeah, gotta swallow my pride, take it up the a** and ask my mom for a loan which I will pay back as soon as the house sells or if I get any money whatsoever back from the insurance for the car (which looks doubtful)... almost 3 years of no income, courtesy of Spain, can do that to you you see...

SF, when am I coming home?

Hey, you wanna go cry together? Now I'm depressed! ;-P

Hang in there my friend... take it from a sistah who is in the same boat but refuses to be kicked down... times WILL get better!

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Julie Pippert said...

This is why I am hosting a town toy exchange.

We all get together in a big hall at a church with gently-used toys that were either failures with the kids or outgrown. Then we trade around. We even have a wrapping portion.

But otherwise, I agree. My kids have plenty. I don't feel good about so much "I want...I need."

Primarily because I worry it leads to...well, where we are now financially.

We blew through our 20s. We didn't do it smart, financially. And we accrued debt. Worst of all, we didn't build up a huge savings cushion like we ought to have when we had two really decent incomes.

Now we are on a dollar to dollar single-income shoestring budget where some months I have as much cash as is in my pocket for groceries for a week. I've made due with $10.

We're out of debt and are living modestly, mainly on our budget. But it's tough. Can't see to get ahead of it. We'll save, and then some crisis will hit. We'll budget, but then an expensive healthcare crisis will hit.

Financial planners say to have cushion for this. I guess we do to some degree, but limited. If both kids get expensive infections the same month the car needs servicing and the water heater needs maintenance, we could sink.

The tiring part is the dogpaddling all the time to not sink.

I know it can be worse, and I am grateful, but tired.

So oh right...this wasn't all about me LOL.

I do understand.

And my kids are total kleptos. I usually catch it, but not always. And once or twice I've cruised out, forgetting the bottom of the cart. They understand. :)

I'm glad you were so honest.

I waffled on my current post...should I be soul-baring? I decided to go ahead.

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Pendullum said...

I was/am with you all the way.

Debt is a four letter word...

We have cut cable... hell, I haven't been to a haridresser in 8 years.
We do not have a car...
We baught our house when the housing market was low... soI mortgage is normal compared to everyone elses... and yet we are stil lsinking in the quicksand of debt...
I hope your daughter's ear feels better... But o na side line...
Silver Collodial... It is in the health stores as a liquid. Purchast that and a sprayer at the dollar store... put the silver Collodial in the sprayer and spray your daughter's throat and ears whenever she gets sick...It is a natural remedy that saved my daughter...(My daughter was the queen of these infections... and then I found the elixer that helped her through a homeopathic doctor)it will help yours too..
Good luck with it...

At 7:43 AM, Blogger liv said...

Oh, girl, I just want to hug you. Right now I am struggling in a way that I haven't in many years. We look alright on the outside, yeah? We have decent cars and cute kids with toys and cute clothes and no one knows that we're broke.

Reminds me of my first married December when I was doing temp work because my boutique job couldn't afford to keep me on staff for its own short sales. I was working at a law firm where no one was working because they were all out on holiday break. My biggest challenge was remembering the alphabet soup of partner names to greet callers with. That said, the parking each day in the deck was 10$ Even with the promise of reimbursement in my weekly paycheck, I didn't have that up front money. I ended up having to park in a grocery store lot and walk to work each day after driving 20 minutes. It was freezing, I had no lunch money, and all I wanted to do was cry.

The stupid thing was that I was afraid to tell my husband that I was broke. Maybe 10 years down the road I can now see that if you can't be honest with the person you sleep with, THERE'S A PROBLEM! (Did I just shout that?)

Broke. And seriously, why does it just make you want to swipe your card for another grande, nonfat, nofoam, 1 equal latte as in abject defiance?

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Moobs said...

God Bless the National Health Service.

My mother once forgot to post my grant application form for my university maintenance grant. She then loast the form and forgot that she had lost it. I could barely afford to eat at all. I bought a loaf of longlife bread, a packet of spreadbale cheese (for calcium) and some Bovril (for whatever it is meat is supposed to bring to the nutrition party) and lived off it for weeks.

In my experience money worries eat at you like no other.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Crunchy Carpets said...

My doc is so horrified that we don't have medical coverage that everytime i need to fill a prescripription, he raids his free sample cupboard.

My credit card is maxed out and I barely make big enough payments to pay more than the interest.

I did once inaverdantly 'steal' a pair of socks from Marks and Spencers. I had been wandering around looking for other things while clutching said pair of socks, found nothing else and wandered out. I was up the street before I realized. I never went back to that store!

Money is tight here. We spend too much. But get so frustrated at living without. I hate worrying that I can't even afford a hair cut.

We can't even afford to buy a house.
I don't even think me working would make a difference.

So pull your shoulders back and keep saying that being a sahm mom....even a 'poor' one is YOUR choice and so is the poverty that comes with it!

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Rae said...

I just wanted to add my Christmas experience. When I was a kid, we didn't get a lot of gifts for Christmas. When I had my own children, I wanted to change that. For the first 7 Christmases of parenthood, my kids were showered with presents.

Last year, we were broke. B-R-O-K-E. I took the advice of a fellow SAHM on a budget, and bought them a few cheap, choice items. A pad of drawing paper. Watercolors. A few books. Bouncy balls. Squirt gun.

I probably spent $20 on each kid. On Christmas morning, I was just waiting to hear them whine and complain about how Santa brought nothing good. But guess what? They didn't. They were just as excited as they have been every year. Not a single complaint.

Ever since then, I've done the same for their birthdays as well. I love that they're learning to enjoy the experience instead of the materialism.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger KELLI BELLY said...

Wow, it's good to know other people share the same experiences as you. I have been in the checkout line MANY
times and pray that my card will go through. I have had to put item's back one at a time and say "what's my total now". I have raided my daughter's piggy bank and taken it to Coin Star so we could buy food at Target, letting her pick one toy from the dollar spot. Just the other day I realized I didn't pay for a stinkin carton of goldfish my daughter was eating. I had already checked out. I almost left and guilt overcame me and I returned a can of food so I could pay for the goldfish. My husband and I both drive cars we cant afford and actually got a three month extension on the loans. They add it on to the end and you don't have to pay for three monhs. You can only do it once for the life of the loan, but it was worth it. I had no idea you could do that. Now we can catch up on the bills we're behind on. Like you I go to Starbucks when I shouldn't. Like EVERY day. Knowing we have no money. Our credit cards are maxed, with the exception of a little bit on one. But we have too many. I'm a SAHM, so one of my husbands whole paychecks goes to our mortgage. The other we have to pay everything else with. We both suck at finances! We really want to adopt a family this year or help out in a soup kitchen. We need to get our butts in gear and just do it. I think that's great your kids are getting a present from each of you. I myself get caught up in the hub bub too and go overboard. With that, I feel your pain :0)Your not alone!

At 3:12 AM, Anonymous karrie said...

Maybe the ped has samples? Hope your daughter is feeling better.

When I was heavily pregnant and my husband was in the hospital recovering from surgery, I went to Trader Joes to stock up. All of our cards were declined. I was so mortified and furious with my husband for overspending. Luckily, I had an old savings account card that was not linked, so I asked them to hold my stuff and drove to the nearest ATM. They seemed shocked to see me return.

As for stealing, I unintentionally left Whole Foods earlier this week without paying for the roll I gave my son so he would let me shop. He was a terror at the checkout and I forgot to tell the cashier to add in his half-eaten roll.
I realized it in the parking lot, but was too tired and frazzled to run back in with my son and wait in line again to pay for it. If I remember, I'll tell them next time I go in.

We can afford Christmas in the traditional sense, but we're going to volunteer. I'm an atheist and my husband is a lapsed Baha'i, so we're kind of confused about how to deal with this time of the year anyway.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger metro mama said...

I've had my credit card declined before, several times. It is embarrassing. "Oh, they must not have processed my payment yet," I lied.

Thanks for being so candid.

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