Kat, My Financial Advisor

I had my first financial counseling meeting with my daughter Kat, who is 8. We met at the Barnes N Noble (of course, I drove her). This meeting came to be over a series of events, beginning with the start of summer. Every dime that I make has gone to my girls, and it has always been this way. I struggle to buy things for myself, even the most mundane practical things because I am afraid that they will miss a part of their childhood, that they will not have all the things they deserve.
It doesn’t help that I have guilt from working so much, that I want our free time to be fun and exciting, but what I have noticed lately is that I am barely able to function from all the hard work, tired and exhausted, my cup empty, and what it has produced are two children who just never seem satisfied or grateful.
I know at some level, many parents are going through the same thing, divorced or not.
I have been in deep grief over my financial situation, my wheels turning constantly at night, wondering for some time how I was ever going to be independent, knowing I am about to go in debt for school, sometimes terrified at all the endless possibilities of what may happen without money in my bank account.
I thought that showing them an Oprah show on Haiti might help.
They were for about five whole minutes, changed.
Kat wanted to give away all her toys, and Lola wanted to give away Kat’s toys too.
I prayed a lot about this issue to the Universe, asking for the clues to the puzzle, wondering if perhaps a financial self help book were the answer. Dave Ramsey and Suzie Ormand were bought and on my night stand, unopened. I lay awake, sometimes for hours, and I thought a lot about my own mother, who after a horrific divorce just a year ago was living with me for awhile and now my brother, working long hours for a woman her age. She would and did sacrifice anything for the four of us, and every penny she had or made or inherited had been abused horribly by my father, a man who had countless financial affairs with fast cars, computers, gadgets, vacations, and only God knows what else. Flashes of all the jobs she had from cleaning out school trailers, to throwing newspapers, to working in lunch rooms, to Kroger, would come into my consciousness like bad dreams, all the while we lived in huge homes, drove expensive cars and had nice clothes, going on Spring Break, visiting other countries as young adults.
She had a car that barely operated with no air condition and I never heard her complain.
It made me feel physically nauseous.
She inherited money throughout the years, and yet, was only given her name back in the divorce, my father’s financial crisis so big no one could touch, leaving her with nothing.
My own marriage reflected back to me many of the same issues, working tirelessly, handing over all my money without a thought I deserved to know how it was being handled. He lost two jobs and went bankrupt at one point as well, and the fights over these heartbreaks eventually broke us, money being the symbol of all that we had lost between us. We were emotionally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt.
And so here I am, wondering, searching, asking.
God answered through my brother, a man of logic, an engineer, born into the world understanding its ways, a mystery to me. He has often been often described as an old soul, and with all his flaws, his greatest strength is his ability to cut through the heart of the matter, to speak truth when no one else dares.
He had a long hard talk with my mother about money, a heart breaking conversation for her, and after it, she called me. She discussed with me all the ways she did not value herself, her joy being in giving, and how much grief she had that she had modeled not loving herself the way she should, an unconscious life she had passed down to me.
She had a plan, a rather good one I must add, and I was amazed to see her always transforming, opening her heart to all the ways in which she could be better, doing the hard work to become someone I hardly recognized.
And it hit me.
I had become her. It wouldn’t matter if I became the highest paid photographer in the world. I was going to give it all away, believing I did not deserve money, thinking I could make my daughters love me, and they would feel the pain one day of taking care of me, a responsibility I was destined to fulfill.
It was like a charge of fire came through my body. Something had to change, right then, right now. I had to be something different for me, for them. My heart bled thinking of the ticking time bomb I was handing my girls, and if I lived my life only to see them not become me at 32, that would be enough.
So I came up with my own financial plan, asked Kat if she would join me, a little nervous, clueless as to how she might react. The original thought in my head was that I would explain a little about Nana and me, ask her to learn about money with me, to understand that when I said no to all her wants, it was not because I did not love her.
She sat across the table from me, her little pigtails perfect, her brown freckles adorable.
“Kat,” I said, aware she was not just curious, but painfully quiet, waiting for me to explain what this was all about.
“Do you understand why Nana lives with your Uncle?” I waited to explain it to her.
“Yes,” she said. “She has no money because Papa took that money and he is not in our family anymore.”
It was a very matter of fact answer.
“When I was a little girl like you, Kat.” She leaned in. “Nana made all her dollars and gave them to him, to us, to everyone but herself…”
“Like you” she said. That surprised me. I gulped. “Do you know why Nana did that?”
She thought for a second. “Because mom, Nana does not want money.”
“Really?” This answer surprised me. It was true. If you give all your money away, you don’t want money at all.
“Yes,” she said. “Nana comes and buys us Jason Deli, takes us to get fun things and buys us books because she wants us to love her more, but we do anyway.”
I started to cry then, the tears rolling down my face.
“Kat,” I choked. “Do you see that mommy does the same thing?” I listed Chuckee Cheese, Shrek 3, the last shopping spree, party bands, all the while her eyes widened, full of compassion, breaking my heart even more wide open.
“Mommy, isn’t this what you call a pattern?” I laughed. She listened more than I thought.
“Kat, do you know that when you don’t use money to love people but to value yourself, you put it in the bank and it grows and grows. This is what Uncle J taught Nana, who is teaching me, and now I am teaching you. No one taught me or Nana anything about money, Kat.”
She sat back. Her wheels were turning. “Is this why Uncle D and Uncle J have their own houses and you don’t?”
I sighed. “Wait. wait. wait.” she was on a roll. “This is a girl pattern. Is this why you buy things for Lola that she throws under her bed?” and “Do you never go to the bank?” and “Why would you not know we love you without party bands?” and “Do you not want money like Nana?”
With tears sliding down my face, I told her almost weeping. “Kat, I don’t want you to be me. I want you to be free, to value yourself, to love money, to be bigger than I ever could. I want to make a contract. We are going to the bank every day and depositing everything I make from now on. I want you to help me learn. We will write down all the things we need, and when we finally make our goals, then we can chose the very biggest thing you want to have happen..”
“Like the Water Park,” she interrupted.
“Yes, and small steps will make big changes.” Before I could get any further, she asked,
“How much money is in your bank, mommy?”
Yikes. I told her the amount and she sat in her chair, her mouth open, and she put her little hands on mine.
“That is not a lot, right?” She asked it already knowing the answer, her hands massaging my arms, comforting me as I cried, my heart breaking in front of her eyes. She smacked her little hand on the table then. She was full of self righteous passion for a little thing. “You know what? Uncle D is very smart but Uncle J, well, he is just clever.”
She was making connections all over the place then, a wheel I couldn’t even keep up with.
“This is why you have to live with Daddy isn’t it? You are divorced but you can’t have money on your own yet.”
“Mommy, this can’t be. You have to tell Lola when she is 8 too, okay?” I nodded, my smudged mascara half way down my face. “Why didn’t you tell me about the bank?” She asked it like I had four heads, an answer I only had exasperation for. “KAT, YOU ARE ONLY 8!”
And with that, she put her chin in the air, put her pinky across the table, and I put mine around hers, wrapped in pain, beauty, hope, and unconditional love, a love so beautiful, my heart could hardly take it. I had thought she had been spoiled rotten, ungrateful, would be resistant to a plan to put money in my bank because it would mean it would cost her stuff. I had underestimated my beautiful daughter, a child who looked as if I had just blew her up with the air of purpose, something I had been searching for in books of the wisest financial wizards.
How bizarre. The wizard I needed all along was less than four feet tall, had not lost all her baby teeth, but believed in me with the power of an electrical cord, just waiting to be plugged in.
I wiped my face with a napkin, grabbed my purse and keys, but she hadn’t finished just yet. She pulled my purse with a grip that put me back in my seat. “Mom,” she said quietly. “I know you don’t have a house. You have no money. Uncle J and D have stuff. But, you know what?”
I wanted to put my hands over my face, scared of the glare of truth coming my way, my 8 year old rarely gave me the gifts of hugs and kisses that she once had, now going on second grade, jumping out of the car and rarely even caring to say goodbye.
“Its not so bad to be you.”
With that, she let go, jumping up before I could wrangle her with kisses, her independent little self ready to get home and watch her favorite show, Icarly.
But I heard every word. I put them deep inside, unwilling to trade them for any dollar amount in the world.
She may be my child, but I think Dave Ramsey has nothing on her, my little wizard. I would die before I broke that contract, ever believing the lie again I am not worthy of money, that my children wanted things more than they wanted me. I felt the healing within me, and I wonder what love is capable of, its magic, full of wonder and possibility, hope, and power.
We might just pull off the impossible, my Kat and I, financial independence arriving, whispering, asking if I have what it takes to claim it. I know that financial plans, advisers, investments, and goals are part of the process, important, logical, and should be honored.
But I can’t help but smile and imagine what the power of a pinkie swear just might hold.