Friday, August 10, 2012

"Buddup!": that's me, hitting the floor

When I was young, my mother would often talk about the people who spent their childhoods sleeping on the floor. They, she would always say, were the focused ones. They were the ones who worked extremely hard and came a long way socially and economically as a consequence. I'm pretty sure she also said something about them never stopping their quest for wealth but I would be lying if I said I remembered anything specific. I can only say that she did harbor some disdain for those who started on the floor but never lost that hunger, those who, according to her, didn't know the meaning of the word 'enough'. Well, I have news for her, there's a reason the quest is never ending and I'm livin' it.

When I went home this last time, I slept on the floor. True enough, it's a vacant apartment so it's got no furniture, but I did sleep on the floor and that experience brought her words to mind. Having had a certain epiphany (a creaking back will do that to you), let me just say this and then return to my vacation from writing: it really doesn't take much to push your children right from their comfortable perches on their lovely Tempurpedic beds right back on to the floor. One prolonged illness is really all it takes.

By choosing not to have the end of life discussion; by choosing to have no plan for her late retirement years; by roundly and consistently ignoring every recommendation, this is what my mother has done. I realize now that if I were to choose to leave where I am now because it has become difficult to be here, I would have two choices: return home to the house with no furniture (and sleep on the floor for at least a little while) or well there is no 'or'. Obviously, I'll take the floor. But there I would be, on the floor. This is what no plan looks like: your beloved children for whom you have sacrificed so much, on the floor.

The floor represents many things: unpaid bills; debt collectors calling; home foreclosure; credit score in the toilet; car repossession; loss of face; job loss on account of financial difficulties. The 'floor' could be any negative consequence of the financial chaos of long term illness. For me, the floor is actually the floor. And let me tell you that at 40, the floor is a real problem.

Perhaps this sounds extreme. Perhaps this sounds as though we've been wastrels with funds. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been known to hold a penny so tight that the building on the back creaks under the pressure. I don't waste because I don't know how. But when care costs are significant and they keep on coming, there really is no 'enough'. All that works in a situation like this is 'plenty', with 'plenty more' coming in tomorrow and tomorrow.

My family is part of the middle class in the Caribbean that's been middle class for several generations. My generation is the fourth generation of home owners. And we're Black and from the Caribbean so we're the descendants of slaves who some time in the 1800s, one generation after Emancipation, moved into a very large home of their own. I don't know how it was done, I only know that my great-grandfather, born in 1873, married and put his wife into a home that they owned. I know also that it was a sizable home because they had 13 children - and they weren't stacked to the roof, Granny would have told me - of whom my Granny was second. So we've done pretty well for a longish time, but clearly that was just dumb luck because we didn't have the good sense to secure our benefits and lock them in for the next four generations.

So let me ask this: should your situation unravel completely and your children end up on the floor, what next? How do they get off it? Any thoughts? I'd wager that it would be easier keeping them ON the bed in the first place, than trying to get them OFF floor later. Just sayin'.

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