When my father died, my mother brothers and I received survivors benefits based on whatever he had put into the fund while he was alive and working. Given that he was only thirty three when… More
I’ll be teaching some financial literacy lessons in the coming weeks. There are always some students who are shocked to learn that they will not keep every dime of the salaries they earn, nor will the cost of an item they purchase at a store be based only on the listed price. When we calculate payroll taxes, sales taxes and income taxes they begin to realize how their earnings will slowly decrease from what they thought they might be. They quickly learn that purchasing a twenty dollar item will require more money than a single twenty dollar bill.
The mere mention of taxes in polite conversation often elicits groans and even anger or dread. Taxes without fair representation in Parliament led to a very famous revolution in the British colonies that would one day become the United States of America. The art of supporting a government with taxes of one sort or another has never quite been mastered to the satisfaction of either the citizens or the politicians. Much of the disagreement among the American people centers on how to most fairly create taxing structures that will provide adequate funding without placing undue burden on a particular group of taxpayers. Sadly our country has yet to find a system that seems to work for everyone, so ideas for change pop up regularly.
We Americans pay a variety of federal, state and local taxes. On the national level income mostly determines how much each individual will pay. Of course there are a variety of tax laws that allow deductions and rebates. Often the wealthiest among us have so many legal ways of eluding taxes that they pay very little or none at all while the middle class seems to bear the brunt of funding through taxation.
The dreaded tax season drains the earnings of the average taxpayer on a yearly basis. In places like Texas where I live there are also sales taxes that add to the cost of non food or prescription items as well as property taxes that pay the local bills. We tend not to notice how much sales taxes pull from our coffers until we purchase a high dollar item, but if we were to save all of our receipts and calculate the total sales taxes we paid for a year we might be shocked at the additional drain on our incomes.
So how should we pay for all of the services provided by our federal, state and local governments? Which kind of taxes provide the most funding? Which taxes are the most fair? Who should be getting breaks on their taxes, only the poorest among us or everyone? Should the wealthy be paying less than the middle class? These are questions that we all pose and consider and even study. Somehow there seem to be problems with every type of taxation that we try, but we wonder if one way is better for all than another.
In his bid for leading his Republican party Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy agreed to bring a bill called the Fair Tax to the floor for a vote in the House of Representatives. Essentially the idea behind this bill is to eliminate income taxes and substitute a national thirty percent sales tax as the mechanism for revenue. The IRS as we have known it would no longer exist. Yearly payments of income taxes would be gone. Citizens would pay the thirty percent tax as they purchased items including food and prescriptions all year long. If an item was listed for one hundred dollars they would pay an additional thirty dollars in taxes. Sounds simple, but maybe it’s not.
Those who tout this idea insist that it would place the onus of how much each person pays to the government each year on their individual spending habits. They insist that each citizen would have more control over their incomes by deciding how much they are willing to purchase thus determining how much tax they pay. Unfortunately those with lesser funds would be disproportionately affected by such a regressive tax and the richest would still have shelters for their businesses that would likely result in tremendously lower proportion of taxes for them. Even with rebates for the poor this kind of tax would actually make it more expensive for all but the richest to buy their most basic needs. This kind of tax would no doubt have the worst impact on the elderly whose incomes are generally fixed. I even wonder if such a tax would create a black market for goods and services unlike any we have ever before seen.
There is little chance that this bill will take effect because it would also have to be approved by the Senate, which is unlikely, and it is certain the President Biden has already insisted that he will veto this bill if it were to pass. Still, even the symbolic passing of such a bill in one branch of the government is a wakeup call for all of us. We may need some changes to our taxing systems but this plan is a non-starter for so many reasons. The Brookings Institution and other reputable financial researchers have all balked at the idea that such a plan will either provide the needed funding to run the government or the fairness that it portends to seek for the American taxpayer. We all need to be vigilant when such plans are proposed and note who is backing them when we vote in elections. It’s important that we contact our representatives to voice our opinions on issues that will hit us in the pocketbook. If we allow a small group of radicals to determine our financial fate, then we are once again victims of taxation without representation.
I hate paying taxes as much as anyone. Like our Founding Fathers I balk at unfairness in the way that tax laws are sometimes written. Nonetheless, I shudder at the thought of allowing a hair brained idea like the so called Fair Tax bill to even be considered. Let your voice be heard. Make sure you are being represented. Our ancestors died for our rights. We should always protect them.
When my father-in-law came to live with us last summer we had to make many changes to the way we lived. Ours had been an empty nest for almost thirty years except for the year and a half when my mother lived in our home. Her stay was barely disruptive because she settled into our upstairs guest room and we were still working full time back then. Our encounters with her were rather brief given that we shared dinner each day and then she usually retired to her room to listen to the radio or read her Bible. Additionally my brothers took her on outings several times each week and agreed to provide us respite whenever we wanted to travel. All in all it was quite comfortable.
When my father-n-law arrived he was unable to climb stairs or walk without a cane. He needed to sit in the shower and have a special seat for the toilet. We knew we would have to surrender our downstairs master bedroom and bath to accommodate his needs. We hurriedly relocated to the room where my mother had stayed during her sojourn with us. In the meantime we retro-fitted the master bathroom to serve his needs and even created an area to house his computer.
Even the configuration of our kitchen changed as we made space on the countertops for his medications and boosted one of the dining chairs with a cushion. We filled the refrigerator with items that he liked to eat and drink like Silk almond milk, Glucerna, and bottled water. We even altered our schedules which had been rather loose and flexible since retiring a decade ago.
You can almost set a clock by my father-n-law’s habits. Unlike my husband and I he regularly rises early in the morning and goes to bed no later than nine at night, sometimes even earlier. He has lunch at noon and expects a glass of wine with a small snack at five followed by dinner between five thirty and six. Then he enjoys watching a bit of television before retiring for the night.
In truth my husband and I had floated through our days without any great plans since we finished our last days working at full time jobs. There was no telling when we would rise, go to bed or eat. We set out on random trips at the drop of a hat. We were spoiled by at least ten years of being co-captains of our own ship with very little responsibility for others. We had also grown older ourselves and set in our unplanned ways. Changing so quickly was like trying to teach old dogs new tricks, but somehow we have managed to reset our course and settle into a compromise for living.
In many ways having an upstairs area has been our life saver. Our bedroom is tiny compared to the one we once had, but it is quite comfortable and we only use it for sleep and storing our clothes. The bathroom is tiny as well, but no smaller that the ones that we used when we were young. We only need the basics to take care of our needs, so that has not been a problem. We even transformed a little nook upstairs to hold a couch and a small television that we can watch after my father-in-law has gone to bed without disturbing him. It’s quite comfortable.
We have adjusted and my father-in-law has grown quite strong. Now he ascends the stairs each day to walk on our treadmill. He spends time on his computer and enjoys the magnificent view from the window of his room. Of course he still rises early but he eventually insisted on preparing his own breakfast. He now does quite well after a few bad starts that burned food and filled the air with smoke and a bit of concern on my part. He takes care of his own lunch as well. It is only his evening cocktail hour and formal dinner time that forces us into his schedule and I have resigned myself to temporarily abandoning our free floating ways.
We have found a steady routine that works for him and that we are flexible enough to accept. I miss the luxury of spending dreary or cold days lounging in my pajamas while I write my blogs and read the news. I mostly have to get dressed because I have not adapted to the idea of being around my father-in-law in my bed clothes, mostly because he arrives each morning fully dressed with his shirt tucked into his trousers and a belt around his waist. It just does not seem right to be informal around such a formal person.
My sacrifices are rather small and I’m happy that I have been able to make this work. I talk constantly with God asking him to give me patience. I want to be nice and there are some days when everything makes me grouchy. I have a tendency to think too much about my new restrictions that no longer allow me to wander off on an unplanned trip on a sunny day. I know that as well as he is doing, my father-in-law now needs someone to be with him everyday. It is a huge responsibility but I have to remind myself that it is a blessing that we are able to do this for him.
Without those honest conversations with God I suspect that I would not be doing well at all. I have had to be flexible and also learn how to forgive myself when I grow weary. I know that my anxieties and complaints are nothing compared to the problems faced by most of the people in the world. I’ve taught myself how to just take one day at a time and enjoy each moment with my father-n-law while I can. I don’t know when travel will be in my future again, but I sense that somehow we will figure that out as well. For now we’ve all found a way of living together in harmony and it feels nice.
I often hear people my age or older pining for the days of physical punishment for children and teens. They point out that young people don’t seem to behave as well as they did when parents and teachers used a paddle to punish infractions. They seem to believe that if we brought back a tiny bit of pain for childhood misbehavior, we might live in a much more peaceful world.
Before I comment on this idea, I have to give a full disclosure about my own childhood upbringing. I only got one spanking from my father for something that absolutely merited a wake up call. It was more like a swat with his hand on my backside that didn’t even leave a mark on my skin. He lost his temper with me because I had done a tap dance with tap shoes on his new Pontiac while singing The Eyes of Texas, a mortal sin for the children of die hard Aggies from Texas A&M like he was.
Daddy had provided me with an opportunity to simply comply with his request to get down from the hood of the car and stop singing the song that irritated him. If I had obeyed I don’t think he would have even yelled at me. Instead I giggled, gave him a daring look and kept dancing and singing. At that point he lifted me off of my stage, turned me upside down and popped his hand against the padding of my buttocks a couple of times. I was in complete control of my faculties and understood what I had done, so I did not hold it against him for responding in such and uncharacteristic way.
That was it, my one and only spanking and I grew up to be a rather considerate and law abiding citizen. The same goes for my brothers neither of whom ever got spanked. Both of my parents seemed to believe in the value of long talks and incredible role modeling to help us to become good citizens in this world.
I suppose that my own experience has led me to have extremely negative thoughts about corporal punishment. I have never wanted to redirect either the behavior of my children or my students by hitting them. Sadly in the early years of my teaching career the paddle was still alive and well in schools and I either had to witness the whack of a board on a child’s backside or sometimes do the deed myself.
I was terrible at hitting a student. I merely went through the motions as demanded by my superiors. I don’t know how the kids kept from laughing out loud because I barely touched them and sometimes even missed on purpose. My inability to beat kids did not seem to result in a classroom overrun by barbarians, but instead endeared me to my students who seemed to realize how much I despised physical classroom management. They tried hard not to put me into the unenviable position of being told to bring someone to the office for a trial and punishment all rolled up in one.
When it finally became illegal to use corporal punishment in schools I was ecstatic. I found that the students did not overrun the school once it was gone. Instead I learned that the most effective way to gain the respect and cooperation of my pupils was to first show them how much I respected and cared for them. I was honest with them about why I demanded certain things and we openly talked about the need to work together in a group with so many different personalities. It worked.
That is not say that there was never any mischief. I had to correct the chatty students who seemed unable to be quiet. I had a few spitballs and staples whiz past me. There were a precious few who refused to do homework. Once in a blue moon something was stolen from the classroom. When I got frustrated I referred a handful of students for detention, but mostly I saved that for the most serious infractions.
Many of my students were already being either physically or emotionally abused at home, so they were unfazed by meanness. They had already developed tough skin and lots of anger. They responded to my encouragement and belief in them. They often noted that I was strict in my demands but quite fair in consequences for breaking the rules. They seemed to all know that I loved them and they reacted in kind.
I find that there is already too much violence in the world. Too many people answer their frustrations with anger, guns and even war. I can’t imagine the value of returning to a time when teachers were allowed to strike their students on the knuckles with a ruler or lift them off of the ground with a paddle. My parents did not find the need to correct our behaviors with switches or belts or even blows with their hands. It probably took more time and effort to model integrity, kindness, compassion, truth but it was a powerful way of teaching me and my brothers.
I not only do not want to return to the days of adults hitting their children, I don’t even know how to do those things. We can’t allow our youngsters to grow up without rules and ethics, but we don’t have to hurt them to instill character. Meanness only begets more meanness. I’m so glad my parents knew this and most of all I am happy that nobody is allowed to physically hurt someone else’s child at school. We’ve moved forward and should not look back.
I grew up watching the Jetsons and imagining the world of the future. I often dreamed of having my own Rosie the Robot to do my chores. I remember how hilarious it was to watch Maxwell Smart talking on his shoe phone. I recall being astonished by a program with Arthur C. Clarke in which he predicted that one day we would all have the capacity to live anywhere on earth working from home if we wished. The predictions of life in the future seemed as impossible to me as the ideas of H.G. Wells must have been to people who read his books at the end of the nineteenth century, and yet I have lived to see the most amazing inventions becoming available to ordinary people like me.
Five days a week my Roomba, whom I have named Reggie, busies itself vacuuming the rooms in my home. My floors are dust free most of the time without my having to lug out my big Dyson. I listen with great joy to Reggie making my home immaculate and the only thing I have to do to keep the little machine happy is to regularly charge it with electricity and provide it with a new bag for trapping all of the dust now and again. I keep a few small spare parts on hand to do minor emergency repairs, but all in all Reggie quite independently and regularly completes the tasks without a fuss even when I am away on a trip.
As a youngster I took turns with my mother washing the dishes each day. Mama was quite fastidious and insisted that I perform my duties immediately after each meal on the days that were allotted to me. She insisted that I follow her strict guidelines in the art of washing and rinsing each item. It wasn’t the worst job I ever had, but I have to admit to enjoying simply placing my kitchenware inside a dishwasher, pushing a few buttons and walking away as I now do. The onerous task of handwashing is almost becoming a lost art.
I remember once having to walk for several miles to find a phone to call for help when my car broke down. I surely would have appreciated having my smart phone with me on that occasion. Like Maxwell Smart I might have called for help from the comfort of my car rather than searching for signs of civilization on a long hike across unsparing terrain. Who knew that I’d one day be able to carry such a powerful apparatus in my purse. How could I have guessed that it would become my map, my encyclopedia, my entertainment and my means of contacting people all in one tiny package?
My husband is determined to make ours a smart home that responds to our commands the way a highly professional assistant might do. We can turn things on and off without lifting a finger. Our assistant will fill our home with music if we request, or provide us with a recipe for dinner while keeping a timer going as well. We can wake up and ask about the weather and find out what has happened in the world while we were still sleeping without ever crawling out of the comfort of our bed.
Not long ago I had major surgery from a robot directed by my doctor. With only four small entry points that are hardly noticeable now I recovered much more quickly than I would have in an earlier time. I had no large abdominal scar that needed to heal, no major pain that prevented me from getting around. It was almost unbelievable.
Of course during the pandemic most of us learned how to work from our homes. I taught my small group of students from an upstairs bedroom for two years with my trusty laptop computer that is more powerful than the huge mainframes that guided humans to the moon. I realized that Arthur C. Clarke had been right when he predicted that we would one day be able to perform the duties of our jobs wherever we wanted to be.
Even though all of these things have become common place I still find myself being in awe of the advances that scientists and engineers have made in providing us with tools for taking care of tasks that once required our focused efforts. We have gone beyond the realm of George Jetson in so many ways. We have enjoyed the dreams of futurists of the past. Anyone born in the last two decades no doubt takes everything that I have described for granted. It is simply part of everyday life to have such conveniences in the modernized world, and yet there are still people who toil each day with old fashioned tools. They live in homes without the luxuries that I enjoy. I try to keep in mind how fortunate I am.
I look forward to watching the wheels of progress turn ever so much more quickly. I dream of the wonders that are still to come. Will I one day travel in a self driving car? (That’s a bit frightening to me.) What are the greatest minds in the world planning for us? Will people indeed live on the moon or Mars? Will someone find a way to eradicate mental illness with just a few adjustments to the brain? What lies ahead and how equitable will it be for all of the world, not just the parts that are wealthiest? I’m certain there is much more to come and I can’t wait to see it and to use it. The future beckons.
Way back when I was in my mid twenties I experienced what I call my “year from hell.” It began when I was diagnosed with hepatitis just before Christmas. I had been feeling lethargic and lightheaded, but I pushed on. With two little girls under the age of six and classes to teach at my church I had little time to pamper my symptoms. I kept pushing myself even as I silently worried that something was quite wrong. It was not until my next door neighbor, Carol, looked me in the eyes and saw their yellow tinge that I agreed to contact my doctor to find out what was wrong. By the time I actually knew that I had a legitimate reason to feel so bad, I was too weak to do the simplest of chores and both my husband and mother-in-law had contracted the same disease. To say that the Christmas holidays were a bust that year would be an understatement. It would not be until the end of February that I finally beat the illness and began working my way back to good health.
Just when things began to look sunny my husband, Mike, became feverish and weak with a strange illness unlike anything either of us had ever seen. After a disturbing rash appeared on different parts of his body, he consulted with a doctor who was as baffled as we were. He referred Mike to a specialist in infectious diseases who eventually determined that Mike had somehow contracted a fungal disease called blastomycosis. The treatment for the sometimes deadly illness was a long stretch of chemotherapy with a drug called Amphotericin B.
From May until well into the fall of that year Mike spent three days each week in the hospital while an IV slowly dripped the drug into his body. It took hours for the process and sometimes resulted in violent reactions like chills that made his entire body shake. Meanwhile I was at home caring for our two girls and wondering at night if I was going to become a young widow like my mother had been. There were no guarantees that that treatment would work and the doctor prepared us for the possibility that the fungus would overtake Mike’s body in spite of the aggressive drug and end his short life.
I remember being beside myself at the time. I had never really recovered from my father’s death when I was a child and I worried that my children might have to endure the kind of grief that had stalked me for so long. Additionally I had already become a part time caretaker for my mom whenever her bipolar disorder raged out of control. I felt a huge weight on my shoulders and all I wanted was for all of it to just go away.
I have incredible friends who stepped up to watch my children so that I might sit with Mike during his infusions of the drug. I’d go to visit and always found my mother-in-law already there taking charge of the situation. It was an uncomfortable time for me because it never seemed to occur to her that I should have been the person conferring with Mike’s doctors and discussing potential outcomes with them. It bothered me that she was treating both me and her son like children. The family dynamic felt totally out of whack.
I broke down one day and complained to my mother about the situation. She listened patiently and without voiding my feelings, she noted that since Mike was my mother-in-law’s only child it was quite natural for her to be invested in his care. She noted that our concern for Mike should not become a contest between two women who loved him. She suggested that for Mike’s comfort it was important that I understand how frightening the situation was for everyone and be willing to step back and allow his mother to handle it the way it made her feel best. She reminded me that I needed to be the adult in the room.
The dynamic between grown “children” and their parents can be difficult. Loving concerns have the potential of turning into battles for independence and even dominance. Letting go of the parenting role can be incredibly hard. Passing the baton of leadership to the next generation can be almost impossible for some parents. Knowing when to step in and when to simply watch in silence it tricky. I learned in that moment the importance of respecting the feelings of my mother-in-law. It did not diminish my role as Mike’s wife to allow her to focus her entire being on her son. I instead decided to spend more time with my children, reassuring them that we were all going to be okay in the end.
Since that time I have twice had to step into the role of caretaker for a parent. The first time around it was my mother who came to live with us in her final year and a half of life. I saw then how maddening it was for her to let go of being the parent while I administered her medications and created a new routine for her. The conflicts were many, but we always settled down once I remembered to deal with the situation with less demand and more finesse and understanding of how she was feeling.
Now I have spent almost eight months with Mike’s father living in our home. At times it is wonderfully comfortable, but the strangeness of the dynamic rears its head again and again. In his mind he is supposed to be the head of the household, the adult, the caretaker. In ours, we are responsible for him and this is our house. The push and pull is a delicate balance and once again I often find myself giving in to my father-in-law because I understand how horrible this must be for him. None of us want to be treated like children.
I read today that there are probably fifty two million households in which traditional roles are reversed. Adult children are caring for their parents and often their own children as well. There is a great deal of love involved, but also much tension. Finding the balance that works for everyone takes compromise and sometimes, as my mother taught me, one person has to be willing to lead the way. This is what we do out of love.