by Dvora Elisheva

The tin soldiers stand at eternal attention. It is all child’s play and Toyland is not a place of joy, but of terrible terror. Numbers serve as horrible reminders—mathematical cold logic will win and it will destroy you.

Spending money is so easy, paying bills is the challenge. Ruth was bill-challenged in a world where credit was supposed to provide an easy way out. Instead it seduced and deceived her into a buying frenzy. Then Ted died and she got the money from his life insurance. She had to do something with it. So she bought a life-time membership to the spa for she and her daughter… never mind that they were planning to move out of state in a few months’ time… never mind that the money was gone when the owners of the spa ran off with everyone’s money less than a year later… never mind all the mindless exercise that just made you hungry for a banana split as a reward afterward.

Never mind….

Then the picnic table went on sale at Sears.

Ruth never could understand why her daughter was so offended by the purchases; it wasn’t her business anyway, was it? But the money ran out. She started cleaning houses and baking bread, bringing home ironing. Never mind that her daughter ended up doing the ironing better and faster than she could. It paid the bills.

But the song from Babes in Toyland, “I can’t do the sum,” would still fill her mind as she sat each month to balance the checkbook. Years later, following in her footsteps her daughter would confound the bank manager with her own inability to do the same.

With complete and total regularity the monthly balance was always a few cents off. He kept warning her that she had to be careful. It was not good living with a checking account dangerously close to zero. A few cents off and the debt would be horrendous.

Debbie felt out of control when it came to money. She felt guilty when she had it and she felt desperate when she didn’t. It didn’t even occur to her that all those feelings were a complex mix bequeathed to her by parents who were equally confounded by the tasks of economics.

How had her father ever managed, she wondered one day. Raised in a well off home, he had never lacked for anything. The best schools, camps, training. He lost most of that when he chose to study music rather than business. His parents paid, but only for the bare necessities. What did it feel like for him, a few years later, to be unable to meet his family’s basic needs every time he got fired from a job or was put into a position to have to quit?

Somewhere along the way, with the world of calculators, computers, and Excel spreadsheets, Debbie learned to make ends meet. But she still felt guilty when the end of the month came and there was more to spend. Maybe she should give it away. Wasn’t it selfish to keep it all to herself?

Big decisions, like spending more than $100 dollars always made her panic. Eventually, with Sheri’s help, the panic stopped. Suddenly it wasn’t so hard anymore… at least not all the time. But still, on days when the insurance or taxes come due, the same haunting words come to mind, “I can’t do the sum.”

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