Friday, July 17, 2015


I hope I'm not alone in that I sometimes wish I could hit the "redo" button in life. I say something stupid, I do something stupid, there's a litany of mistakes I make. Most of these are relatively minor things that occur throughout the course of a day.


One big thing I wish I could redo is my upbringing. Hit reset, plunk myself down as a baby into a very different environment (two-parent, stable home with traditional parents where mom makes me cookies and dad has a decent job and gives me a parent speech once in a while). I wonder if I'd be in a different place now and perhaps feel differently about my place in the world.


Both of my parents didn't talk much. My mom and dad divorced when I was very young. As I've stated before, he never got his act together; holding down a job and paying his car payment was too tough for him even though he lived at home rent-free. His parents spoiled him and weren't communicative; that's how he ended up like that. His origin story was easy to determine, especially since I experienced my dad's parents first-hand and my uncle was happy to fill in any gaps on how my dad was the "favorite child."


My mom's more complicated. My grandmother died before I was born, and my grandfather died when I was 5. He was great, as I remember. My mom has a lot of defenses built up. She will not admit to being wrong, and she becomes defensive at the slightest comment. She's over-the-top rigid about everything. For example, laundry. She folds her dirty clothes. She washes clothes on a specific day of the week at a specific time. If you call her and ask her to do something at laundry time, she won't go because it's laundry time, even though she hasn't started the laundry, and she has a washer and dryer in her home. She doesn't talk about feelings. She's extremely critical, and I always feel judged around her. And she's rather negative…about everything.


She's also not very generous--with compliments, time, money, the whole bit. If there's a way I could only pick one of the qualities I could unlearn from her, it would be this. She gives crappy, cheap gifts off the clearance rack most of the time. When I was young, I learned to have no expectations of gifts from her because it would be whatever was on the 80% off rack at Target. If someone calls her and asks to do something, she will make inane excuses like doing laundry she hasn't started yet. Or do that exaggerated sigh like you're putting her out. If you have a conversation with her, she will inevitably cut you down as well as many other people. When I was younger, she didn't want to pay for me to have a yearbook or even give me money for friends' birthday gifts before I could earn my own money. She gives 10% tips or less at restaurants even if the service is good. She only gets her hair cut when there are those $6 haircut deals at Great Clips, and then she gives a $1 tip off the $6 hair cut. That's my mom.


Full disclosure: She's giving most of her significant assets away to charity when she dies. THAT is generous, but I feel that there's something said for living a generous life and not just leaving a generous legacy.


I don't feel that I was particularly generous growing up mainly because my only model for such behavior was my mom. Compared to most "normal" people, I feel behind on the generous curve. I see my mother's ways and know that they are way too stingy. I think I've moved myself from where she raised me to a "better" place. I am frugal in many areas, but in others I try to be more "normal." I tip 18-25% at restaurants (rarely over 25% though). I may get the $6 hair cut deal, but depending on how much time they spend with me, I'll tip anywhere from $4-10 on it because I'm still saving money in aggregate, and they're getting a tip more commensurate with how much the hair cut would actually be. If people ask for help/have a question, I try to get back to them ASAP.  I try to be more deliberate about complimenting people, but I could probably be a whole lot better. I buy my daughter the school yearbook.


My mom's a big literal and figurative scorekeeper about life. I did this one favor for you, and now you owe me. And I'd say she gets resentful very easily if she thinks she's done more for you than you have for her. She taught me the scorecard, not explicitly but in her words and actions. And I now have that stupid scorecard in my head. I intellectually know it's meaningless and doesn't matter, but I can't get it out of my head. Scorekeeping isn't generous. It's not something I can just will to go away either.


So I work on the concept. My husband is very generous. My friends are generous. I have numerous examples of how I WANT to be. But 18 years of ingrained stinginess is difficult to eliminate. I just take the chisel and start picking away at it.


And then my mom will call and muck it all up. Seriously. She focuses on the "I'm being taken advantage of" element of everything.


She calls me. This was late last week, my most recent interaction with her. After very little in the way of formalities, she starts.

Mom: "I'm going to Anaheim for a conference in October. There are a lot of hotels we can stay at. Which one are you staying next month at Disneyland?"

Me: "Red Lion."

Mom: "Let me see. That one's $149 a night. Is that more or less than you're paying?"

Me: "I don't know." (I don't because I booked it on Expedia, and each night was a different price, long story but I did two different reservations.) "I think mine was a little bit less though."

Mom: "These conferences don't get good rates. I think they take advantage of so many people coming at the same time. I was thinking I could get a better rate if I booked it myself. But they told us not to do that…" Rant continues for a few more minutes as I glaze over.


We went on a mini vacation a couple months ago. I say where we're going, and her first statement is: "That's expensive." Actually, she says that about everything.


I need to quote more conversations with my mother. EVERYTHING she says revolves around money and things being too expensive. The implication seems to be that I should be like her and buy food from the dented can store, never do anything that costs money, never buy anything, and basically count my nickels daily like Ebeneezer Scrooge. Needless to say, it's not that enjoyable to hang out with her, and why I frequently think about that "redo" button on being raised by a more generous person/family.

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