Money, Pain

Why when I think of the word money, do I instantly equate pain? Why when I hear the word money, do I nearly flinch? Why, when I attempt to master money, do I feel slightly unclean, uncouth, uncool?

I don’t know, exactly. But I think it might be important to find out.

I’m 49 years old, and still trying to understand money. My relationship to it, my understanding of it, my history, my epigenetics…

Epigenetics might be the most important factor here. That is, the feeling my ancestors passed down through the ages to me. I’ve heard that Irish Catholics prided themselves on not being overly-concerned about money. Survival, yes. Money — no.

Is it Irish really, though? Catholic, really, though? Or some kind of weird noblesse oblige that made my mother so weird about money?

My mother was a complicated person. A person I have not understood yet. In fact, I don’t think I’ve done even three percent of the work I will need to do to understand my mother.

Also, the people I would need to help me no longer exist, or may not be available to me. My father is past the point of speaking, with advanced dementia and a new inability to even sit upright in a wheelchair. Whatever secrets he held about my mother that I failed to unearth will go with him to the grave.

My aunt is a tough nut to crack. We seem to have developed a wary, uneasy relationship. For that, I am sorry. And sad. Especially considering she is one of two relatives I have in this country. I’m fairly alone, as far as blood goes. Also, denial is that family’s strongest suit. I’m afraid she won’t be much help.

I do know however that my mother was weird about money.

We grew up in Piedmont, California. A tony Northern California community of mansions and mini-mansions with its own school district, fire and police department, and mayor, surrounded by Oakland. We had one black student in our elementary school: Jimmy Campbell.

Yet, we were not representative of Piedmont. I don’t know how my parents got in there at all. My father was a merchant marine, my mother a journalist — both union members. But, this was an age when the wife rarely worked. They were a double-income family. I think my dad’s eccentric father gave them a few thousand dollar for a down payment.

And voila, they were able to buy a house in Piedmont. And not just any house. A rather nice one. We weren’t in lower Piedmont. We were “on the line.” Saved from that shameful “lower Piedmont” moniker.

We grew up with famous names: Kaiser, Knowland, Van de Kamp, Huntington. Coors. Yes, those Kaisers, Knowlands, Van de Kamps, and Coors.

Kids were dropped off at the local elementary school in sleek, shiny new cars with fashionable hood ornaments. We had an old, metallic gold Mustang until my dad sold it for a used big yellow Chevy station wagon. After that, we had a long, low-slung Chrysler with a peeling vinyl roof.

I was embarrassed.

My dad loved our cars though. My mom dubbed the station wagon “YELO SUB,” — the license plate she always wanted to get.

My point is, we weren’t “moneyed,” like the others.

In fact, as the years wore on — as my mother’s illness worsened and my father spent increasing spans of time overseas, we grew less secure. Money became a major point of contention in our home.

My father was rarely home, but when he was, my parents fought about money.

In my teens, we weren’t allowed to turn on the heat in the winter.

This, in what would now, nay, what I now, consider to be a mansion. We had three floors, expansive rooms, a garden room, a bar, a sunroom, a big garden with two levels and a garden shed. We even had an elevator.

We also had ridiculous mountains of presents at Christmas, presents that would take hours to unwrap and that rarely hit the marks they intended.

My father sent money home. My mother spent it. We never had a enough. Arguments were rife.

Yet, my mother insisted on shopping at the most expensive grocery store around. She bought only items with pretty labels.

No one taught us a thing about money.

Later, I learned that Catholics (Christians too?) have a kind of antipathy toward money. It’s considered “dirty.” This comes from the Bible? or something. Some people believe this, anyway.

The fact that my mother — my smart, Stanford-educated mother — did too bode ill for me.

At least, she seems to have.

And, well, I inherited it.

I had and still have I’m afraid (I’m working on it) a weird push-me, pull-me conflict of being both over-entitled and under-entitled.

I’ve always, like my mother, had Champagne tastes and a beer budget.

If I had money I know exactly what I’d do. I know what beauty is, class, at least there’s a part of myself that believes I do.

I dated someone once, or more than once more like, who had plenty of money and zero taste. He saw the look of astonished pain on my face as I surveyed his home and said, pleadingly, “You can re-decorate!”

Today, I learned for the second time in a month that I have a poor credit score — too poor to re-finance my house.

The amalgam of emotions that rose up like a stench off a foul lagoon when the mortgage broker called to tell me is enough to alert me that my tense relationship with money remains unresolved.

Money and I need couples counseling.

I take it personally, see.

The mortgage broker calls, tells me my credit rating is below 680, tells me they can’t work with me. And I immediately personalize.


I’m flooded with emotion. Hot. Breathless. Ashamed. Humiliated. Embarrassed. Defensive. Haughty. Arrogant. The march of emotions, the patch-work effect of them is breath-taking. I’m pummeled.

I barely know what to say and probably sound half-crazy as I cry, “What? Wow. I told you that might be the case! Not sure why you made me fill out all those papers and then pulled my credit score!” (Indignant)

“It’s my fault. I need to fix it. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be yelling at you.” (Ashamed, accepting responsibility)

“I know, I know. I don’t like paperwork! I’m a writer! I don’t do numbers! OBVIOUSLY.” (Arrogant, superior)

A haughty toss of the head.

A part of me, a large part, I’m afraid, believes money is beneath me.

How arrogant can you get?

But is it really arrogance? Is it old tapes? Is it homage to my weird mother who with all her (quite significant) flaws, had class?

Even as I write this, I realize how skewed and barely sensical this is.

What is comes down to is the following: I have a warped relationship with money. I want to overcome it. That means I must pull myself up by my bootstraps and learn about money. Take responsibility. Take control. Take my power.

And make it work for me, same as everyone else.

Stop being a victim, in other words.

Step into the light. And stop being ashamed of wanting money. Because being poor isn’t the way to help those with less. Joining the sick and afflicted will not raise them up.

The only solution is to take the bull by the horns, learn, grow, make the best decisions possible, take some risks, and leave that old shell behind. That quaking, fakely fragile shell that claims she’s too good for money — yet knows deep down she’s not good enough.



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