the season of giving

As some of you may or may not know, the position I occupied at my last job was “eliminated” and thus so was my income. I received a modest severance and because of this will not receive any actual Employment Insurance until the first week of February. For most of my life I’ve lived pay check to pay check. I’ve posted plenty of times about how my handling of and relationship to money, like most people who live in the western world, could stand for some improvement. It is an ongoing investigation and process, involving a lot of self examination and, subsequently, necessitating growth.

As some of you may or may not know, the work that I’ve been doing for most of my working life has been less than satisfying on many levels. While the way in which I’ve chosen to support myself has lacked much in the way of professional validation and stimulus, I’ve managed to support myself when I was alone, contribute to -at times more than half of- the household income during my marriage and now, as a single parent, largely support myself and my son, with my earnings. I want to acknowledge that my son’s father does contribute to our household, and without this contribution we would not be able to enjoy the lifestyle that we currently enjoy. The standard which we live in is largely the standard to which my son was born and the one which we’ve become accustomed to in this affluent north american culture in which we live.

By the same token, though, we haven’t had an excess of loose change, and many of the luxuries that were easily accessible during my married life are no longer a possibility. Every luxury has to be considered and weighed for value and worthiness, even while I was employed.

And, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you also know that there have been some financial struggles in our lives, especially over the last several years since leaving my marriage. The loss of my newly acquired job in January 2010, soon after our move back to Canada, was a huge blow. Without any savings to speak of, the first month after being let go was brutal, and the struggle continued for months after that, while anxiously waiting for the EI checks to arrive and not being able to pay the bills (cell phone, cable, health insurance, furniture I had purchased on credit) that continued to roll in. There was money for food and rent but much of everything else fell by the wayside.

It took four months’ time for me to find another job, one that was not ideal but that certainly was a relief to obtain so that the looming bills could finally be settled, at least in part. Four months later I got into a car accident in which my car sustained lots of damage. Because it was considered my error, my deductible was $1,000, which I of course did not have, but in order to claim my car back from the body shop which held it hostage, I had to pay it. Robbing from Peter to pay Paul, I got the car back, but the hole that was left in the wake of this financial gap was something that I continued to struggle to recover from.

And now, once again, I am jobless. Jobless and truly wondering why the Universe continues to dish up this same meal for me to partake of. Someone recently, after I mentioned that I would not have any money flowing in to the household until the end of January (which I’ve now recalculated to actually be the beginning February) told me that this was a character building experience. Initially, I found the remark to be insensitive and flippant, making light of something that really was very serious and life altering in a way that only someone who has had the experience of being in the place in which I find myself to truly understand. The growth will occur, certainly, and will potentially yield a better direction – at least that is my hope. The choice, as always, remains mine to take, though everyone has an opinion on what that choice should be. And while I “trust” in the Universe, it doesn’t exactly deliver random and sizeable checks through my mail slot just because I need it.

The day that I had that brief exchange, I had been catapulted into complete deer-in-the-headlights mode. How was I going to pay for food and rent? Both my son’s and my birthdays are in January – they would be write-offs, certainly, in that we would not be able to celebrate them. I spent the night tossing and turning, stomach churning and cursing that I had to once again be mired by this burden that I could not seem to pull myself out of.

Finally, I did the only thing that I could think to do and asked my ex-husband for additional help, so that, in the least, I could pay my rent. To put this request into context, you have to understand that much of the strife within our marriage was one spurred by financial discordance. My issues with money. My inability to have enough self-mastery when I was emotionally bereft to come to grips with the management of the funds that he so trustingly put into my very incapable hands. To further frame that, you also should know that I never hid the fact that I had these issues. From very early on, in our conversations, I openly and with much candour disclosed that I was not good with the stuff, and told him exactly what happened with the stuff when I had it in my hands, especially when I was in crisis. He had his own issues with it. It seems that many of us have a rather unhealthy relationship with the stuff – I am not an anomaly, despite being made to feel so throughout the length of my marriage.

So, when I asked for help by requesting the very thing that was the bane of our marriage, it was humiliating in a way that I can not even begin to adequately express. I knew the thought processes which would run through his head when I asked. I knew that ultimately he would probably help, but not without a cost.

Last night, after preparing a very nice meal and sitting down to enjoy it with my son, we got into a discussion about jobs, job searching, how tight things would be for a bit, and that it would be a good thing for him to perhaps find himself a part time job as well, so that he could buy himself the nice things he’d like that extend beyond the necessities that I am able to provide. What he said floored me. He said that I shouldn’t rely on income from his job to supplement our household, and that my lack of an income was affecting others already, including his father. Firstly, I never intimated that I would be asking for his help in assisting with the household. However it was not what bothered me the most about our conversation.

The fact that his father discussed -even merely in passing- our financial arrangements with my son violates an unspoken agreement that I thought parents should have (certainly one that I thought we had), especially those who are no longer in a family unit, in regard to affording their children the semblance of a unified front, a sort of solidarity that despite there having been a rift that separated our mutual ideologies enough to necessitate a parting of ways, that at the core of our interactions and by virtue of our shared history (and joint interest in our offspring), there remained an underlying respect and genuine caring for each other’s well-being.

I resent that I am (or continue to be), whether overtly or subliminally, being vilified – by my ex-husband to my child – when I am in need of the most support. Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to be supportive of each other, and hold each other up rather than beat each other down? Furthermore, I have never spoken ill of my husband to my son, despite there being plenty of ways in which I could list his various failings both as a father and as a husband. We are imperfect, and thus we at times make choices that are not necessarily the best ones. In light of this, I don’t share my thoughts on these things with my son.

I resent that, while my son is too unformed in his own maturity to see it otherwise, his father is engaging in skewing his opinion of me, despite the fact that he does not live in our household (and is not even able to witness it in any proximate way) and is clearly not in a place to judge. Not only that; his lack of clarity not only in this case but essentially in regard to his own role and contribution to the success or failure of our relationship while we were married strips him of the right to comment in this case, but should he desire to comment, it should be to me and not our seventeen year old son to whom he should air.

It is easy to vilify someone, but much more difficult to embrace our part in the failings of an enterprise. For many years I looked to place blame outside of myself for many things, and at some point decided that the only way to begin to tame my demons was to finally accept them, own them and examine them. Sure, there were (are!) reasons for which I am the way I am that were outside of my control, many in fact formed during my childhood despite them not being formed in a way which engages enough life experience to be useful (then or later), and ones which continue to manifest even as mature adults.

I have spent much of my life attempting to deconstruct the reasons why I do things, to gain an understanding of what underlies my instinctive reactions and to gain enough emotional maturity to be able to lay new pathways, to rework those reactions in more beneficial ways. I could cite various and sundry childhood and early adult traumas which are partly at the root of these behaviours and the ways in which I’ve learned to cope with them. I have been alone and unsupported throughout this process, particularly in the context of my former marriage. I understand that we can only show up with what we are capable of (and I did, after all, choose the relationship), that despite our intelligence, knowledge and life experience, things continue to escape us. We are human, after all. I did expect, though, that after all of the things that we shared together, that there would be an underlying sense of compassion that imbued our dealings, post and prior to our parting, though seeing that if that would have been present in the first place, more than likely we would still be together.

So I leave you all with this. Even for a moment, try to imagine yourself in another’s place, not just as an onlooker but as you would if you were in identical circumstances, not in the context of your own life but the one in which they are in. What would you do? How would you feel? What, if anything, would you want someone to say to you or do in order to ease your distress, lessen your burden, share in your human experience?

Being kind costs nothing. Staying out of judgement, despite it being really difficult to do for some of us, affords greater connection with our fellowmen than it does to stand in judgement of them. Compassion is truly the only way for humanity to reconnect with itself, to cure whatever ails it, and much ails it.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13

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