Leaving Home Money and Intimacy by Ness Mountain
1993 seemed like a particularly rainy year.
I was 28. I had just gotten my bachelor’s degree, and I’d been out of work for about six months. I was co-parenting my son Mo, and fighting with his mom whenever we saw each other. I was struggling with my spirituality and my sense of self. Being poor made it all worse.
It wasn’t the lack of things. I’m not materialistic, and I don’t mind improvising. It was emotional: the sense of inadequacy, of being on the outside looking in. I lived in SE Portland, and I remember walking through streets full of snazzy vehicles, thinking, “I wish I owned that pickup, I could sell it and have money.” What an awful feeling, to be poor and jealous and alone. Never again.
Then there was the sense of alienation: to be surrounded by people who are allowed in the gates…we couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t eat out, couldn’t see a concert, drive to Seattle, buy new clothes. Not that we really needed to do any of these things, but it was hard to talk to people: should I pretend that I could go see a movie any time I wanted to? “I’ll wait for it to come out on video.”
I had to ask my parents to help out with money. That was painful. They did help us out, but it was terribly uncomfortable. I recall dreadful silences on the phone, trying to be grateful but sometimes feeling resentment. Confusion. They had so much more than I did…they were sharing what they had, of course, but they didn’t know how to be an emotional support as well, which I needed so badly, even more than I needed money, really. They did want to support me, but our relationship just wasn’t at that place yet. I didn’t want them to be disappointed with me, to look down on me, see me as a failure…I don’t think they did, but I couldn’t tell for sure. We just weren’t that connected.
After about six months, I got a job and times changed. I got married. I moved around from job to job for a few years. I didn’t really have the social skills to deal with a corporate environment very well, and I got fired a few times. Eventually I ended up working for myself, with two small practices: alternative therapy and computer consulting—writing database systems for nonprofits. That’s what I’ve been doing since. There’s never been a lot of money, but we’ve always gotten by.
I guess I’ve gained confidence in that time, and improved my social skills. My parents have been through a lot of changes and done a lot of therapy (pretty good for people in their sixties). I spent a lot of time working things out with them, and our relationship improved. So when the issue of money came up again recently, it felt a lot different.
It started with my son, Mo. He’s a basketball player, very serious about it, and we were short of money to support him. He used to have a hoop outside the house, but it broke and we didn’t have the money to replace it. My parents are very doting grandparents in their way, but it never seemed to occur to them to do much for Mo financially. They gave him $100 or so on his birthday, that was it. I’m still not really sure why.
I finally got up the courage to ask them about it. “I know you guys really want to be close to him,” I said, “but I think that the money thing is in the way. He knows you two aren’t hurting for money, but he’s never seen a Blazer’s game, he needs a hoop, he needs shoes. Why don’t you do something about it?”
It wasn’t easy to bring it up because it reminded me of the despair I’d felt earlier. I didn’t want to feel humiliated again. But I was stronger this time, and I felt it was necessary to do what I could to help my parents overcome the barriers between themselves and their only grandchild. So we talked about it. In a way, this was just another issue—it sounds simple, but I can’t tell you what a relief it was to feel that way about it.
The important part was not being negative towards them or myself. I wasn’t a failure for asking for money; they weren’t stingy for not having offered it. We were just working on our relationship. When they did help us out we were able to thank them sincerely, and it felt good to all of us.
Ness Mountain is a counselor and urban shaman living in Portland. Comments on Leaving Home are welcome. Email Ness at <[email protected]>.