Saturday, November 16, 2013

Once Upon a Time, in Grown Up Land

Before I tell you this, you need to know something. I'm an adult, with a job and a mortgage, a 401(k) and life insurance. I have purchased and leased cars, and I understand payments and interest. I also understand risk management and credit worthiness, and the effect certain things have upon credit scores. 

Today I did something that felt dirty and explicitly wrong.

I applied for a credit card.

I know, that sounds crazy, doesn't it? How does a grown woman feel like a kid sneaking a cookie by simply applying for a credit card? Like any other good mental hang up, this one has a back story.

When I was just barely old enough to drive, I started getting credit card offers in the mail. And like most dumb kids, I opened a bunch of credit cards. Like, a whole bunch. And while I was responsible in that I paid the bills (well, the minimums) each month, I surely didn't track how much I was spending. Which led to my ultimate mortification of having my Carson's card turned down when I was buying a gift for my now husband. I stood there, defiantly telling them to check it again, when they finally said, "You've reached your credit limit, miss." I spent YEARS paying off those damn cards. 

Later, I was married and had a decent job, and started opening credit cards again. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson. This time it was two if us opening credit lines like there was no tomorrow. Thousands of dollars later, we entered a credit counseling program to pay off the cards. Strike 2! After some time, we were able to clean our shit up and buy a house. Cool, right?


Know what comes with buying a house? Furniture and repairs and broken appliances. Leaks and breaks galore. And when you run out of case for these things, you open up a Home Depot account. And a Lowe's account. And a Wells Fargo account. Then you take out a loan to consolidate, but end up opening more account afterwards. Then one day you take a look at your monthly bills, and all of a sudden a ton of seemingly small monthly payments adds up to eat away at a major portion of your income. Ouch. So you enter credit counseling. Again. 

A few years ago, stressed to the point of death by a job I hated, my return to school, parenting Thing 1 and Thing 2 and caring for my mother through her cancer diagnosis and treatment, I may have forgotten to pay a bill or 6. Like most households I know, I, the wife, managed the bills. Our cell phones would get cut off because I'd forget to pay them. Our car insurance lapsed. It's not as if we didn't have the money to pay them, it was simply that I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't think straight. So I took Jesus up on his offer of taking over the bills for Martinez, Inc.


Back when I managed the bills, I's sit up and night and worry to the point of physical sickness. If I was late paying the day care, I'd draft letters in my head to the director, asking for one more week to get caught up. I'd call our car insurance guy and beg for an extension. I was missing payments, overdrawing the bank account, double paying the cable bill. It was terrible. I'm so glad a responsible adult stepped in! Now, I don't even look at the bank account. I'm not even 100% sure when I get paid. Or when the car payments are due. All I know if that since he took over, we've actually had car insurance and cell phones. And he manages to pay for things like our new fence, and the sod that finally made our house look like a real house and not the scary dirt covered mess of a yard that it was before. 

My contribution to all this? Not using credit cards. (Let's not discuss my $40K in student loan debt just yet, ok? And the Bloomingdales account which is really for charity anyway....) I figure if he's managing the ins and outs of our money, the least I could do was not add to the balancing act. It's a little embarrassing at times to not have any credit cards. For my recent business trip, I had to go tell my boss that I don't HAVE any credit cards for booking travel, and so the company would simply have to do it for me. Yeah, way to be a professional adult there. Or when we had a collapsed pipe and didn't have any credit cards on which to put the thousands of dollars it was going to cost to fix. Yeah, had to go ask a friend, and we're STILL paying the monthly payment on that account. And probably will be forever (as I said, I do understand interest.)

So what prompted me to open a credit card? Especially after chiding a co-worker for her recent credit fueled shopping spree? Simple. Christmas is coming, and my dear husband manages our bank account. There's no possible way for me to buy him a christmas gift - which he tells me every year not to do, but really? - without him seeing exactly what it is and what was paid for it. And besides christmas coming, what if something happens and my kids suddenly outgrow everything they own? They are boys afterall. What if I need emergency shoes or coats or whatever for them? I can't exactly go to Bloomingdales for the essentials, now can I? Sure, that's my justification. It's rational. But it doesn't make me feel any less dirty.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Walk in Dark Alleys

Here's a confession of sorts: I walk in dark alleys. 

Apparently this is bad, or so my husband tells me. Alleys are simply a part of living in Chicago, thus I use them to my advantage. They may save me a whole minute sometimes. Yesterday when I got off the train, I could plainly see that the shortest and most direct route to my car was through an alley. Normally I would not even stop to consider an alternative, but something made me remember the admonishments of my dear husband, as I looked down that perfectly shortened route to my car. 

So I had to share my lack of understanding with him (for which I'm sure he's eternally grateful) I called and explained to him that it made NO sense to me to walk a longer route down a dark side street, instead of a shorter one through what looked to be an incredibly well lit alley. I mean, come on. If you were going to mug someone, wouldn't you rather do it on a dimly lit side street instead of the alley behind McDonald's which is lit up like Times Square? No, he implored me to go the long way, far from the alley. I did, but I didn't like it. Later that night when I realized I was missing some (well, most) necessary ingredients for my planned dinner, I asked Jesus if he was coming with me to the store. Which is literally a block and a half from us. You guessed it, a block and a half down the alley. So I warned him, if he didn't go, that I was going to walk straight down that dark alley to get there.

Alleys don't scare me. Sure there are cats and rats and the occasional opossum. Bums and drunks and hipsters, too. Wait, I could make a song here. Wait again, I have no musical talents. Ok, where was I?

Nothing particularly bad has ever happened to me in an alley. Once I thought I saw a dead guy, and called 911. Turned out he was just tremendously drunk. When I was a teenager, I forgot to tuck my big, gold nameplate into my shirt before walking home one night. Walking down a busy, well lit street, my chain got snatched off my neck. Street: 1, Alley: 0. Another time as a teenager, I was surrounded by a group of thugs who wanted to pound me to a pulp for reasons I never quite figured out (maybe it had to do with someone's boyfriend? Or wearing the wrong colors? Who knows, they were thugs, not Rhodes scholars. Rational thought wasn't exactly their forte) and was thankfully rescued at the last minute by a known gang member. Again, on a busy, well lit street. Street: 2, Alley 0. 

Oh, sometime around 1984ish I was in a laundromat with my mother, and some creep got naked in between the commercial size dryers and came stalking up behind me. My mother screamed and pointed, then everyone screamed and pointed, and when I turned to see what all the screaming and pointing was about, all I saw was a naked butt running out through the back door. Later, say around 1992, walking home from a school dance, admittedly dressed like a child prostitute, a scruffy old guy grabbed my arm. When he realized that he was scaring the shit out of me, he let go and backed away, and I ran as fast as my booted feet would move me. Street: 3, Alley: 0. Of all the weird and unpleasant things I can think of, not one of them ever happened in an alley.

Why are we conditioned to be so afraid of alleys anyway? They're always being associated with bad things. Back alley abortions. Alley cat. Wikipedia (my go to source to end all go tos) says, "An alley ... is a narrow lane found in urban areas, often for pedestrians." Am I not a pedestrian? In an urban area? I say we reclaim our ability, nay RIGHT, to walk in alleys! Who's with me!? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Dissident

Driving down lovely Logan Blvd this evening, my children somehow got on the subject of China and it's comparatively restrictive culture. They had some thoughtful discussion (sort of) and landed on the topic of the one child policy. Sometimes I forget that kids process things in a different way, and today was my reminder. Isaiah joked a little about what would have happened if we lived in China, that maybe he or Daimean would have broken the policy. When I explained that Daimean was first, so Isaiah would be "illegal", he cried out, "I can't go to China! I don't want to go to jail!" When I asked him to explain, he said he figured if second kids were illegal, they must be putting them in jail. He went further to say that we can't even visit China, because he doesn't want to go to jail. He doesn't understand why it's ok to visit with two kids, but not to have two kids if you live there, he thinks they're rounding up extra kids at the airport I guess. It's funny that he didn't even consider the parents would be to blame. Nope, they must be tossing kids in jail there. He declared his love for America then, and said he's thankful I had him here and not China.

As if that was really a decision on my part.

Of course there are other places he insists he can't visit. Japan. London. Mexico. He's always got a reason. Once, he told me he doesn't "speak Mexican." I countered with, "You don't speak American, either." We went to Chinatown for lunch, and poor Isaiah couldn't recognize a thing on the menu (in fairness, neither could I, being that it was written in Chinese, but I digress) So now he believes there's nothing in China to eat. Well, for him anyway. Last week I told him we went to an Indian restaurant for lunch, and he made a face like someone had been shot. Is there a word for someone who's afraid of any kind of ethnic foods?

Oh yeah, the word is "child." Silly me, what was I thinking?