I Thought I Grew Up Poor…
…but I didn’t. Financial abuse warped my perception.
It’s what my mother always told me. Sometimes I cringe at many tone-deaf statements I may have made throughout my life based upon my faulty premise of my socioeconomic level.
Things like talking about taking vacations abroad, or moving from New York City where everyone in my family owned their own house, to an affluent suburb in Connecticut, to all the years I spent at sleep-away camp, didn’t jive with my preface about growing up broke.
My mother used money to control me and I mistook that for poverty. She refused to buy me clothes from any place other than discount stores like Woolworth, Ames, and Zayre’s because she said spending money on kids was a waste of money. For herself, she had a second bedroom for her own upscale wardrobe.
We’d fly to a foreign country. She’d rent a condo. Hire a nanny, then disappear for days. If I wanted a souvenir, it wasn’t in the budget.
I was fortunate to attend private school, but for years I went hungry because she wouldn’t get food I could make for lunch, nor pay for school meals.
I had an allowance…of sorts. When I was in elementary school, I received ten dollars a week, in theory. On the weeks she remembered to give me cash, I ate lunch at school. On the weeks she didn’t, I got an IOU that didn’t fill the belly that growled all day.
When got to the tween stage, I got twenty dollars a week via an IOU that became a running tally sheet stuck to the fridge by a magnet. If I wanted the cash, I needed to present a compelling reason for the money. Even when she acquiesced, I had to hope that she remembered to go to the bank.
That was a high bar for a single sweater from Macy’s.
By sixteen I wised up enough to request all the money she owed me to open a bank account. I squirreled away all gift money, and when I had a secret job, I added those earnings. By the summer before college, I had several thousand dollars…until my mother found out. She was buying a new house then and coincidentally came up short by a few thousand. It was my duty to give her my savings to help out the family. Since I didn’t know how to say no, I went to college broke.