Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Seven Sure Signs of Success

I keep seeing lists on line… silly lists like 43 cool things to do with the Elf on the Shelf or 11 pictures of Batman through the ages type of thing. There are the lists that promise to make life better in one way or another, for instance you can find the 10 best cookies, the 7 habits of happy people and the 5 rules to success. There are funny lists too, the 23 worst architectural mistakes, the 15 best church signs, the 18 worst logo design concepts or 50 worst family Christmas photos.  I admit it, I love the lists! I decided I could make a list of my own, the __ ways I knew I was making it in life. I can’t put a number to it yet because I just don’t know how many I might think of!

1.    MY BANK BALANCE HAD NUMBERS IN FRONT OF THE DECIMAL AT THE END OF THE MONTH
I kid you not here. I wasn’t measuring in the thousands or even the hundreds! I was measuring my success by the number of dollars over nil that I had managed to finish my month with. Until you have finished a month with all bills paid and no one starving to death with 12 cents in the bank you simply cannot understand how empowering it feels to see a figure like, say…$7.83 staring at you from that ending balance line on your statement.  Of course, I took that fortune and blew it on gas station red wine and a Hershey bar and a magazine…. A girl’s got to have some fun, right?

2.    MY HOUSE CONTAINED MULTIPLE PAPER PRODUCTS, i.e., PAPER TOWELS AND TOILET PAPER (2 PLY BABY, 2 FREAKING PLY!) AND KLEENEX AND COFFEE FILTERS, TOO!
I can tell you that the cheapest white paper towel, torn in half makes a decent coffee filter for a 12 cup pot, and that the same amount, wetted in the sink, will wipe a babies butt just fine! They work as Kleenex too, as long as you can stand the feeling of sandpaper ripping the skin off the end of your nose! Two ply TP was a miracle unto itself and I have to say I moved up to that amazing creation when I started having multiple months with more than a few cents in my account at the end of the banking cycle. Coffee filters are a whole other story! You can use them to soak up grease under fried foods, to clean your windows and even to blow your nose into, it feeling more like fine grit sandpaper than the cheap paper towels. I won’t say which kid suffered the indignity but I even used them on occasion, wetted in the sink, to wipe a babies butt in a pinch. When my balance started showing double digits, that’s right, numbers like 18 whole dollars at the end of my 30 day banking period I added the most generic nose-blowing material to my shopping list. They were still pretty horrible but had the paper towels beat all to hell. I still feel rich when I see boxes of the good stuff, with lotion no less, in every room of my home.

3.    I COULD CONSIDER A PET
I don’t mean I could have a pet, I had a dog by this point, and two cats, I just mean I could actually consider them. I could take them to the vet once a year. I could buy food with pictures on the labels, not just a white bag with black lettering that said DOG FOOD or CAT FOOD on the front. I had to hit the 3 digit bank balance regularly before I felt okay doing this. By this time I had developed a healthy fear of single ply TP and sand-papery paper products. I was living the good life and wanted to keep it that way!


4.    I COULD EAT AT A RESTAURANT THAT DID NOT HAVE PLASTIC FURNITURE BOLTED TO THE FLOOR AND GARISH PRIMARY COLORS EVERYWHERE I LOOKED
Now don’t get me wrong… fast food was a miracle as far as I was concerned. We never got to have any of course, unless my mother took pity on the kids and treated us to paper wrapped cardboard tasting crap which we all adored and craved intensely since it was as foreign and unreachable to us as, say, platypus steaks or monkey brains. When we regularly hit the double digit ending balance I took the kids about once a month for a terrible yet horribly satisfying greasy tasteless lunch. When I realized that I had finished my current month, and the one before and the one before that with close to 100 dollars (Say what? No way? Money money money I was rich, yeah baby come on!) I decided we would eat at a real restaurant, with dishes, and drinks other than soda and iced tea and actual waitresses that had to be nice to you even if you came in with 4 loud and excited children. At this point the neighborhood’s bar and grill was fine freaking dining and we jumped in with both feet! To have a cold beer, a bagged salad, a frozen piece of fish was deeeee-vine! I knew the food was less than so-so but someone else cooked it, served it, listened to the kids whine about it and cleaned up after us.  The day I could take us all to a decent Mexican restaurant or an Applebees or TGI Friday’s was the day I decided I was happy where I was in life.

5.    I OWNED MORE THAN ONE PAIR OF SHOES
Can I find any words to describe the joy of buying a pair of shoes JUST BECAUSE?  Of actually thinking about what you want instead of just what you need? Of buying shoes because they are sexy or stylish or God forbid trendy? Of course the dog ate the shoes but that isn’t the point! I had options! Along with this goes buying shampoo which has a better selling point than being non acidic and not harmful to your eyes… much, of buying mascara someplace other than the Dollar Tree, of going to Great Clips and getting someone to wash and cut my hair that wasn’t me with kitchen shears in the foggy bathroom mirror while the kids yelled “Mommy where arrrrreeeeeeeeeeeee you? I’m (fill in the blank—lonely, hungry, dirty, bleeding, bored)”

 


6.    I COULD GIVE MONEY TO CHARITY
I absolutely cannot describe to you the joy of giving. For years and years I had been the recipient of other people’s charity. The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the local food bank and emergency services and Lighthouse ForThe Blind all came to my aid more than once. The Marine Corps provided all of my kid’s Christmas presents one year. The local Fire Department brought food one Thanksgiving. All of these groups helped me when I needed it most. I knew what it felt like to be hungry, to be unable to get the bare minimum for yourself and your children.  I needed this help desperately, and I appreciated it more but I felt so humiliated, so terribly useless accepting it that it haunted me to think about it and kept me up at night. The year I was able to drop a really nice stuffed animal, and a scooter into the Toys for Tots box at the mall was the year I crossed a major hurdle and my perceptions on charity were changed forever. It felt just so damn good to give. To think of a woman, like myself, who was doing everything they could and still couldn’t do enough to make it being able to give her children something real and good and fun for the holiday made me burst into tears. I want to tell her that it really does feel good to give and they shouldn’t worry about it. It is from my heart to hers.

7.    I QUIT WORRYING ABOUT THE END OF THE MONTH BALANCE IN MY BANK ACCOUNT
It hit me a few months ago that I don’t even check that balance line anymore. For years I opened each statement with a knot in my gut, hands shaking and sweating and blew out huge sighs of relief when it was over 0, even if only over by 13 cents. I worried literally about every single dime I spent. If my kids found money on the ground I had to bite my tongue and put my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t snatch it from them and scream mine mine mine! No more bill collectors call me… I can always pay my mortgage and keep the cable on. I am not afraid to open the mail box, to see the pastel envelopes which announced to the world or at least the entire staff at the post office that I was behind and in danger of losing power, water, gas or worse. I worry about too many things but not about having food on the table or being able to go to the doctor if I need to.

In the end I think you make it when the bare necessities are met with little thought. It doesn’t mean I am touring Europe or buying a new car or dressing in designer clothes. It doesn’t mean I eat caviar or drink champagne and hob nob with the wealthy. It does mean if I want steak I buy steak without wondering if I will still be able to keep the electricity on if I do.