Monday, January 25, 2010

Goodbye May Seem Forever

If you've ever met me, you probably know how much I love Disneyland. In my presentations for my second (very part-time) job, I always explain that the money I make from it supports my "Disney addiction." It was where I first held a job, it's where I've taken my daughter for the last 4 of her 5 birthdays. It's a favorite place to hang out with great friends and family. When I was in Jr. High and High School I had an Annual Passport and would frequent it with my cousin; many times when it was raining because it tends to be less crowded. I've had an Annual Passport for the last 4 years and my daughter has had hers for the last 2 years. But come this April I will not renew my daughter's pass, and in October I'll be giving mine up as well (because both of our birthdays are in April, I chose different months to buy them to avoid totally bankrupting myself when it came time to renew).

My daughter and I have been living with my parents for a little over 4 years; ever since my move back to California following my separation and impending divorce. Having not had a job since before I was pregnant with my daughter and having gone through financial trouble with my now-ex-husband, I was not able to afford my own apartment or house. So my parents took us in without any question or concerns.

Since then, most of my paychecks have gone to daycare, car payments and insurance and cell phone bills. I didn't have much left over for savings and I wasn't working enough with my second job to do much saving. And child support has been sporadic to say the least.

This fall my daughter started Kindergarten and my mom was so kind to offer to pick my daughter up from school and keep her at home in the afternoons. So when my daughter went to her dad's house in the summer, I was able to stop paying for daycare altogether. I was so excited to finally be able to save some money for our own place. But then I had two root canals (including last-minute appointments that brought the root canals to light), had to have all 4 tires on my car replaced, expenses for my daughter (she refuses to stop growing!) and then Christmas was approaching and I bought gifts for everyone in my family. Suffice it to say, the money I was supposed to be saving was finding other places to be spent.

This December, I took a look at my finances and tried to figure out better ways to save my money. I changed health insurance options at work, so instead of paying $40+ per paycheck on premiums, I'm now paying $3 per paycheck on premiums and putting $30 dollars into an HSA which my employer is also contributing to. And I no longer have money taken out pre-tax to pay for daycare, so that brings another $190+ each paycheck. With these changes, I was able to increase my direct-to-savings deposit amount from $75 per paycheck to $300! My final car payment ends in March, so there's another $300 each month I can save. My plan is to create a new 12-month CD for the amount of money I've saved each month. In about 15 months, I'll have saved enough for a down payment on a very small home. But it's just me and my daughter; we don't need much. Just our own place.

Which was hard to explain to my daughter; all she's known is living with my parents. I've not had my own place since my daughter, now-ex-husband and I had an apartment in Oceanside in the summer of 2004. When my ex-husband got out of the Marine Corps, we moved in with my folks to save up money for our own place, then ended up moving out of state to live with his folks to save up money for our own place that would be cheaper there than in Orange County. We never made it out of his parent's house; we started the divorce paperwork 5 months later. So all my daughter knows is life with me and my parents. And her dad still lives with his parents, so when she visits him, she sees another multi-generation household.

So, how to explain to a 5-year-old why Mommy wants us to live in a different house than Grandma and Grandpa? Her question of "Why?" makes me also question the reasons. Yes, I'd like to have my own living space, but why? So I don't have to do the dishes as soon as I'm done with dinner? So I can have friends over without asking first? So I can have my boyfriend over and not feel awkward because my parents are also there? So I can walk from my bedroom to my bathroom without having to cover up because my folks are awake? (ha ha) So I can do Yoga in my own living room without having to ask if it's okay if I use take over TV and not feel self-conscious about the weird positions Yoga makes me do?

My daughter got very upset at the idea of moving away from her grandparents. I think in her mind she was thinking about how far away she lives from her other grandparents and doesn't want that to be the case with my parents. She was concerned that she would miss my mom's cat (who has effectively decided that she's my cat now) and what about all of her toys and she wouldn't get to see Grandma every day (ok, just typing that is making my eyes water). Even after both my mom and I explained that Grandma would still watch her after school, so she'd be at the house every day, she was confused. Again she wondered why we would need our own house. And, to be honest, I was at a loss for words. I know in my head and heart why I want/need my own place; Grandma and Grandpa need their own space and I need my own space, but a 5-year-old still doesn't quite understand why we need to be away from each other (and we didn't explain that it's not just being away from each other, but having the chance to be alone without wondering how much time we've got alone before someone comes home. Sorry if TMI, but it's true).

After we got her to mostly-accept the idea of having our own house (it's like having a slumber party every night!), I had to explain to her that houses cost lots of money and that Mommy needs to save her money to she can get a house. And to save money, Mommy has to not spend as much money as she has been. And one way to quickly save money would be to not renew our Annual Passports to Disneyland. Yeah, not a fun conversation to have with your kid. Again, the "Why?" questions and the "I'm gonna miss it so much" statements. Grandma helped a bit by explaining that she and Grandpa can help us go to Disneyland sometimes (Grandpa works there). And my heart melted again when my daughter offered a better option: she would save all her money and let me use it to buy the house. "All her money" is made up of tooth fairy money and random loose change she finds. She hasn't had an allowance for a while, so there's not much in her piggy bank. She'd be willing to give me all her money in exchange for renewing her Disneyland pass (insert tears here).

Granted, Disney came up with a brilliant idea of not making me pay for our Annual Passports all at once; we can pay for them monthly. But still, it ends up being more than $800 a year for the two of us to go. And that's just the money for the Passport. There's the food we eat there and the pin collection my daughter adds to. It would be easy to take our own food and not buy pins for trading, but that's part of my daughter's Disneyland experience. Disneyland is her place to be. She loves all the rides and can't wait to be tall enough for more. She'll take anyone and everyone on the Tower of Terror ride, promising to hold their hands if they get scared. She loves the fireworks and even though she's seen Fantasmic! many times before, she gets genuinely frightened of the dragon. Every time. She got to experience her first rainy day at Disneyland last week, complete with jumping in puddles and getting completely soaked, all in the name of fun. To my daughter, Disneyland is a part of who she is. She's a princess (though not spoiled) and needs her kingdom.

So it's heartbreaking to have to tell her that we won't be going everytime we get the itch for a ride on Space Mountain. That we'll have to plan with Grandma or Grandpa on when they can get us in. But it's all in the name of Mommy's sanity and personal growth. And she knows that after a while, we might get our passes back. But it's gonna be awhile. So, we're saying Goodbye to Disneyland. Not for forever, but for a little while. We're going to miss it terribly, but we know it'll be waiting there for us when we're ready to come back.

My fearless child, friends and I on Tower of Terror at DCA

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