Monday, December 31, 2007

Beginning of the end

My wife and I saved our best (read "gnarliest") showdown of the year for its last day. The topic: money. (What else?)

And the children had a front-row seat.

For over an hour we had wrestled our way through the cash flow spreadsheet, yanking it like undersized covers, back and forth, category by category. In the same room, Brielle (4), Melía and Ashlyn (both 3) kept up their play, some syncretism of biblical role-playing involving Disney princesses. My male dullness told me we were making progress, that Rachelle and I had patched together a ceasefire of sorts.

That's when she left the dining room table, sat on the couch, and started to cry. All three daughters gathered around her before I could make it across the room. Brielle began, "Mommy, what's wrong?" Ashlyn, the verbal frontrunner of the twins, followed, "Mommy, why are you crying?" Melía parroted, "Mommy, wha' wong? Why you pying?"

Rachelle's weeping broke into sobs that shook with laughter at the empathetic looks on their faces, as she opened her arms to the worried firstborn. I laughed for a beat before launching my ever-so-rational explanation. "Mommy and Daddy want to have enough money to buy the things we need to take good care of our sweet girls. So we want to work enough to make that much money. But we don't want to work too much because it makes us be away from you. And sometimes we want to buy more things but we don't want to work more and be away from you. And it makes us sad."

I waited, eyes on my daughters, but ears tuned to the wife tucked stiffly under my right arm, wondering if she would agree or refute me with her mommy version of the speech. ("Daddy hates Christmas because he is cheap and wants me to dress you in rags and feed you dog food," I feared it might begin.) Rachelle did neither, just crying and hugging Brielle, who had come up onto her lap.

Brielle took it in, eyes wide and mouth drawn. she looked at the floor, and back into my wife's flooded eyes. "We keep finding money all around the house, and I'm saving it in my purse. Maybe we could share."

In a good story, that line would have put an end to the discussion, as the family melted in tears and laughter. But this is my life, which all in all is a good story but not that kind of good story. Which means we did laugh, and Mommy did shed more tears, squeezing Brielle more tightly as we both showered thanks upon her for her generosity. But, no, the discussion and subsequent make-up would go on for enough hours that our kids would miss their New Year's Eve choir performance (by five minutes).

Brielle's simple offer was gloriously insufficient to close the gap in our budget. But the pure grace of it was the happy beginning of the end of the gap between Mommy and Daddy today, an innocent seed sprouting roots down into our rock-hardness, audacious enough to think it might make us crack.

So, on the eve of 2008, here's to the happy beginnings-of-the-end that our children are audacious enough to be to us. May they take root where we most need to be cracked.


Questons I'm asking myself:

- What other things am I making more complex than necessary, where at least the spirit of simplicity might begin to work its way toward a solution?

- What other unhelpful things in me can my children's simplicity begin to put an end to?

- How wrong was it for the girls to hear this whole conversation? How much insulation do they need from this sort of discussion?


Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,
Cool (and brave) for you to publish you life's goings on. Bummer about the budget row (British word for argument). I remember my father frequently saying that "expenses always rise to exceed income." Sad but seemingly true. Afraid I can't offer any budget advise but that I think it is good that you and Rachelle are talking about it instead of waking up one day to a debt you can't handle and then asking questions.
May God bless your future "discussions".

Tamari said...


I just squealed with delight when I received your holiday picture and yearly newsletter. Now this is going to be such a treat. You have the most beautiful family! Your daughters look like little angels...the cutest things I've ever lie. I really enjoy your writing style and appreciate your candid honesty in this blog. I will look forward to checking in with you here from time to time. I hope to get some inspiration for my own "Mommy blog" that I started a couple of months ago.

Stephen said...

Yeah, Daneen and I still have some 2007 reckoning to take care of when we get back home from Tennessee. Whenever the subject of money comes up it's rarely a very pleasant day afterwards. I think that's why we put it off more often than we should. I can only imagine how hard it must be once you have more than just yourselves to consider.

Brielle is a sweety. We miss you guys!

JonCicc said...

Hey Mike,

Thanks for letting 'us' in. :-) Awe yes ... the 'money talks.' Aren't they the best! Nothing seems to grow me more in grace and humility. We're in the season of fine tuning our budget as well. Nothing feels more binding than this season. Interestingly enough though, I just finished a book on fasting (which is an area I'm feeling led to grow in in 2008) which is opening my eyes to things in my life I believe will help us with our budget, etc... I hate realizing I'm more of the problem than I often realized. ;-) God bless you my brother!

At His Feet,

Cari said...

Children are full of worries and questions. So whenever possible we should shield them from our many adult concerns.... in my never to be humble opinion. Very brave and candid of you to share your personal life here Mike.

Cari O.

kcurtis said...

Thanks for the candid snapshot of family conversation that was a bit remeniscent of pages in our own family collection. We've had similar conversations over the years, one quite recently in fact. Most of them have been overheard by our kids, and for the most part, I think it has been a good thing, as it can give them perspective on how to balance all the pieces of life and try to make good choices. In your case, it also provided a great opportunity for family to experince what it means to be together even when the answers are not easy, or the process frustrating. What a great opportunity to affirm and nurture the heartfelt generous impulses of your girls!
What I sometimes found myself concerned about after such a discussion has taken place in our home, was whether or not my kids would come away more with an internalized sense of "scarcity" (as if there is never enough to go around), or one of "abundance" (not that we always have everything we would like to, but that we always had plenty of what we needed the most - which is of course more than material stuff). That's the part I often found myself concerned about, because it is something that gets communicated on levels where we don't always have conscious control of the syntax.
That, however, doesn't seem to be a significant worry here, as is clear from the freedom with which you were all together in sharing the moment. There is an abundance there, that goes beyond the budget catagories!

Lynne said...

It's nice to know my husband and I are not the only ones questioning whether or not it is a good idea for our child to hear discussions such as this. I think there must be a balance between protecting and letting them in on reality but I can't say I know where you draw the line. I do commend you for your diligence in budgeting and my guess is that your girls will benefit greatly from it in the long run - although at the ages they are now, perhaps your oldest will be the only one who remembers the discussion. Maybe age is a good gauge of what to discuss in the open and what to talk about in private. Maybe things they can't fully understand or do anything about could seem more distressing. . .