Accepting the New Normal

Funny how the mind works, isn't it? You live one way for so long, that when things change your brain can take forever to get with the program.

My mind still balks at the tiny indignities I deal with on an almost-daily basis. I find myself, after almost 3 years of living without much money, still trying to accept things as they are.

Not as they always will be, mind you. But as they are for now.

I received a nice tax refund a few months ago. And by the way, my definition of "nice" has changed a lot over the past few years as well. It wasn't a king's ransom, in fact, it was less than the average teacher takes home every month. But to me, it was nice.

We didn't have any specific plans for the refund, but I could have spent it a hundred times over. I had looked forward to its arrival for months, and had told the kids "The Tale of the Refund" over and over again.

"There's no way we can do that this month. But maybe when the refund gets here..." and
"I know you need that. But I can't do it right now. Maybe when the refund arrives...." and
"You know what would be nice to do? Rent a cabin up north and go away for a week. Maybe when we get the refund."

I had let that simple little check grow into a giant mountain of possibilities. Why, I could get that new computer I've needed! I can get my old laptop fixed! We can take a mini-vacation! I can pay the balance I owe for the little boy's week at bible camp!

In the end, I decided to pretend like it wasn't even there. I put it in the bank and went on with life. Life as it is now. You know, normal.

I don't get paychecks during the summer, so having that little cushion in the checking account has been a great stress reliever. It felt so good to just be able to write the checks out and not worry about when they got deposited or whether I'd have enough to cover them.

Don't get me wrong; we did live large a few times. We stepped back in time to the days when we could decide, on the spur of the moment, to go see a movie. At the nice theater. And get treats.

I filled my gas tank all the way up to FULL a couple of times. To the tune of around $160 each time. But man, did it feel good to not have to keep a mental mileage log for a few months.

I marched into Famous Footwear and bought new shoes for two of the kids and a new pair of gym shoes for myself. Regular priced shoes, the nice brands (ok, mine came from the clearance rack, but still...new shoes for me!).

I went to Costco a couple of times and not only did I renew my lapsed membership, I let myself just shop. I shopped without keeping a tally of what I'd spent, without asking myself, "But yeah, do we REALLY need this?". The kids went nuts when I came home from one of those trips. You know those clips you see, of American soldiers or missionaries going into poverty-stricken towns in poor countries far away from here, and the village kids just swarming them, cheering and smiling and then clutching their bags of rice or crayons or shoes for dear life? That's what it was like, a little bit.

It was so far from our normal, you see. All of it. The relaxed mom, the first run movies in the nice theater, the fridge and cupboards just stuffed full of Costco bounty, the gas tank running on so much more than the usual fumes.

It was nice. It felt good, as a mother, to be able to say "yes" a few times. To be able to buy them little things that we haven't had for a long time. To be able to just stop worrying and to just start enjoying for a bit.

The little boys went to camp. It's a bible camp, and they went with our church. Molly and Charlie had both gone, I've gone up there for a retreat with my confirmation group. It's a lovely place, a peaceful place. Henry dug his heels in, right up to the day I dropped them off at the church for the bus ride there. He was furious. I was ruining his summer! I looked at him in the rearview and said, "Mark my words, H. 6 days from now you'll be sitting in that same spot, all tan and dirty and happy, and you'll say how glad you are that I made you go."

And he did.

So I guess the refund did have some magical powers, after all. It wasn't much, but it gave us some peace, it gave us some freedom.

It gave us a taste of our old normal. And believe me, it was fun. I loved feeling that old normal again, even if it was just for a little while. I had forgotten how nice it was to just live. To just live without my constant companions Worry and Fret sitting next to me, smothering me, blocking my vision, interrupting my dreams.

Now, the cushion is getting thin. I'm tightening the reins. Things are going back, back to our New Normal. I knew things were shifting back when my eyes flew open at 4:00 in the morning the other day. Worry and Fret were standing there, next to my bed...arms open, they leaned in and embraced me. "Oh how we've missed you!!!" they cried. Like a beaten wife going back to her monster of a husband, I let them back in.

Did I do wrong by the refund? Did I make mistakes? I'm sure I did. I'm positive that Suze Orman would take me over her well-toned knees and paddle me while ranting about INTEREST BEARING SAVINGS ACCOUNT or ROTH IRA or something wise like that. I should have just bitten the bullet and purchased a new computer, but God help me, this 9 year old Dell still works and I am so stuck in the "if it ain't broke" school of thought that buying a new one seemed frivolous to me. I should have had whatever it is that makes my truck shimmy like a stripper when I brake, fixed.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Like I said, it could have been spent a hundred times over. But I'm glad that I did what I did. I'm glad that I let it cushion us this summer. The kids and I, we needed to be cushioned for a little bit.

Just for a little bit, before we get back to our new normal.


  1. It sounds like you're talking about MY financial life. I've gotten down to where all I have is my social security retirement and it pays the rent and the bills, but forget anything else. No renewed Costco membership for me. 3 years ago it was Nordstrom's and now it's Goodwill and Walmart. It is so much harder when you have kids though. Hopefully, things will get better before too long?

  2. To hell with Suze Orman. I hate people who tell us what we should be doing with our "savings" when we can hardly make ends meet. I think you did the right thing with the refund, that's what I would do. Just sayin'

  3. Hard to put a monetary value on happiness, regardless of whether it is temporary or permanent.

  4. I thin you made the right decision with the money. We were supposed to save or invest our refund this year too bu instead we bought a new laptop, went on shopping sprees & ate out at fancy restaraunts. Needless to say we definitely had some regrets afterwards but what was done was done & there was no going back. At least we can say we had fun!

  5. Thanks, everyone, for chiming in! I think money truly is the root of all evil. At least the root of most stress, that's fo sho.

    I did cut my cable even more, which is saving me a nice little chunk every month, and I finally called AT&T when I was pissed off AND PMSing. They gave me a $250.00 credit but still wouldn't let me out of my contract. T-minus 6 months and counting until I can snuggle up to a new carrier. And have a phone that works in my house.

    Baby steps.


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