Dreams and taxes

April 02,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

This past Saturday, my husband holed himself up in our home office to tackle the big April monster: the taxes. In the past we've usually succumbed to 11th hour pressure and taken the taxes to be done by someone else. But this year, with the kids getting bigger, and money tighter than usual, Scott decided he would do them himself. I was impressed when he emerged from the office, some hours later, with his hair sticking up every which way, his shirt damp as if he'd been doing yard work instead of punching in numbers, and announced that not only were the taxes done, but that we'd be getting a refund!

I'm a dreamer by nature. I like to spend money in my head before I even get it; not because I think I will actually do those things I dream about, but because it feels good to at least pretend that you have some control over how your money is spent, and to imagine what you might do with it. Some months back, for instance, I received a check for my essay contribution to this book. I tacked the check and letter to the fridge, where I could see them each time I walked through the kitchen to the office. I imagined all the things I could do with the money: new clothes? A small trip for one night somewhere? A crazy dinner out for all of us? Something for the house? Deep down I knew the truth--that with bills like the ones we have to pay each month, that money really was earmarked before it even arrived. But I enjoyed dreaming about it all, nevertheless. In the end, after much debating, we used part of the money to pay for paint, spackle and tape, and we gave our home office a new coat of paint--it seemed fitting, somehow. We also used a portion of it to buy an exercise mat, and a mini indoor trampoline for L., so we can slowly build up our own exercise space, and offset the fact that we can no longer really afford weekly occupational therapy appointments.

Because I'm such a money dreamer, I had BIG plans for this year's refund check.

In the walk-up line at L.'s school yesterday, conversation turned to tax refunds, and a fellow parent gave me the lowdown on her Spring Break and sudden financial woes: one root canal, a crown, and her teenage son was awaiting hernia surgery this week.

"There's our tax refund check," she told me, shaking her head and laughing ruefully. "All of it and THEN some."

"I hear you," I told her, thinking about the double blow we had just received: our cat's cancer, the diagnosis almost handed out to us along with the itemized bill. And then, as the punchline for some cosmic April Fool's joke yesterday, I returned home with T. and found a portion of the hallway ceiling crumbled on the floor, a steady telltale drip-drip plunking down onto the slate floor below. Costly plumbing repairs and vet bills are NOT fun ways to spend refund checks, not at all.

"Look at it this way," a friend told me. "At least you HAVE that refund check. Imagine all of this happening, say, in December?"                  

And she's so right, really, when it comes down to it. We may not feel lucky right now, but I guess we really are. Lucky enough to be able to even take our beloved cat to the vet, lucky to be able to call a plumber--instead of living with the damage. And because I'm a money dreamer, I took our refund check and mentally spent it already. I spent it on a road trip to Orsino, Florida, with a stop in Georgia on the way to visit friends. We booked a fabulous hotel near Cape Canaveral and spent a few days touring the space center, and making L.'s dreams come true. We bought day passes to Disney World, so T.'s dreams could come true (she would stay a week, but our refund was not THAT much) and because it was a dream trip (or should I say dreamed-up trip?) both kids slept the entire drive back to North Carolina, allowing Scott and me valuable time to talk, listen to grown-up music, and reconnect--I think I even read a book.