Strangely enough, I still love pancakes.

I don’t quite understand it, but untitledmother wants nothing to do with this new house business. She doesn’t want to talk about it, she doesn’t want to hear about it. I’ve gently brought up the subject a few times, and she shuts down right away. It bothers her, us moving into this new house. She was much more comfortable with us ten years ago, when we were poor. She’d come for a visit, and treat us to breadbowl salads at Perkins. “My dad always took me out to eat when I was your age,” she’d say. It felt so good, having untitledmother mother me, even though I was 24 years old. More than the food, I needed to feel protected and cared for.

Back then, untitledhusband and I had just graduated from college, and we had moved to the big city, where we lived off of approximately $25,000 a year, if that. We had these mammoth student loans and stoopid college credit card debts to pay off. Whatever possessed me to buy a $350 mountain bike with a credit card? Here I was, still paying for it at 11 percent interest, and I didn’t even have it anymore. I ended up selling it to my roommate, so I could pay rent.

During those years, I learned that yes, it is possible to feed yourself on $15 a week (egg salad, pancake mix, ramen noodles and Kool Aid). We weren’t poor. We were po’. But we never asked for money from our parents. Every time we came back home, we were thinner than the last visit. I remember wondering “Is this what four years of college gets you? Will it always be this hard?”

Back then, we dreamed of one day buying a brand new Dodge Neon. That was as far as we would let our imaginations run. We had no health insurance, which was pretty scary when untitledhusband came down with mono. I thought he was dying — seriously — so I took him to the free clinic. I remember being amazed that the free clinic was actually free. No one had ever helped us out like that before.

For Christmas one year, we gave everyone a plate of homemade holiday cookies. We also signed up for a book club, so we could give all these free books as presents. My tactless sister-in-law still makes fun of us for that. We had one TV – a 13-inch jobby. There was a drug dealer down the hall, and an old lady above us that insisted we turn our TV volume down after 10 p.m. and use the close captioning. Somehow, she had convinced our landlord that we were rowdy kids. Fuck, we were too poor to be rowdy. That would’ve required a 12-pack of Red Dog and some shred of hope for the future – and we had neither.

Knowing this was not how we wanted to live, we made some life changes. I went back to grad school. We made strategic career decisions. I clearly remember talking with untitledhusband about refocusing his career to something web-related. He was in the bathtub, I was on the toilet. That moment, that decision, changed our lives.

Ten years later, here we sit, with jobs we kinda sorta like and paychecks we most definitely don’t deserve. So when I talk about this new house, please know where I’m coming from. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d set foot in, let alone live in, a house like we’re building. I just about shit myself when I think about it. Growing up, I remember eating government cheese. I remember my parents sitting me down and telling me “Christmas is going to be tight this year, kids.” I remember getting a pair of Lee jeans and a $25 Wal-Mart suitcase for my high school graduation. Building this house means that untitledson will never have to ask himself if we are poor. He’ll never have to spend his own money on clothes. And he will never, ever feel guilty for going farther and doing better than Mom and Dad.

The mother of all dilemmas.

I got a check in the mail yesterday for $2,000-some dollars. Made out to me. Holy shit, right? I was running up and down the hallway, waving my hands just like those ninnies on “The Price Is Right.” If all I had to do to cash that check was hop around on stage without a bra and rub up and down Bob Barker a few times, I would gladly do it. But it’s not that simple.

This check was sent to me, in my name, because my mother recently cashed out my life insurance policy. She had taken it out on me when I turned 18. Since I now have my own life insurance, there is no longer a need for it.

Technically, this money is unequivocally hers. But from a karma standpoint, she doesn’t DESERVE this money — and anyone who knows my mother would agree with this statement. Let me present the evidence:

  • She spends about $500 a month on clothes alone (she recently went four whole weeks without having to do a single load of laundry).
  • When she comes to visit, she doesn’t bring so much as a ball of lint for untitledson.
  • When she does buy the occasional outfit for untitledson, it is usually from the dollar store (not the luxury department stores she shops when buying for herself).
  • She rarely offers to pay for lunch when we’re together, and has even stiffed me a few times.
  • When I asked Mom if she would be interested in contributing to untitledson’s college fund, she said “no, that’s ok” (keep in mind she always told me the reason she didn’t pay for any of my college was that she never had the money).
  • When her granddaughter (my niece) was in the NICU for three months after birth and my brother and his wife were experiencing severe financial difficulties as a result, my mom told them all she could afford to give them was $50. (another relative — one who has always given my mother money when she needed it — generously stepped in to help them out)

This last incident disturbed me greatly. I am my father’s daughter (he was pretty giving), and I know he’d be turning in his grave over this one. The reason she has the money in the first place is because of his death. But it seems the more she has, the stingier she is. I mean, I would eat ramen noodles every day for lunch to be able to pay for art lessons for untitledson. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving to him. For most mothers and fathers, that’s the way it is.

So back to the dilemma — should I play karmic police and withhold the check? Should I cash it myself, perhaps put it in untitledson’s college fund? I’m almost positive she would never find out. In your heart of hearts, what would YOU do? Don’t tell me what you say you’d do — tell me what you’d really do. If you need further evidence to make your decision, click here and here.