A rude (and taxing) awakening

It’s almost tax season, so I thought I’d share this story from the archives of my memory. Even though it occurred a decade ago, the memory is still as fresh in my mind as anything.


It’s early February of 2009. I’m a 23-year-old newlywed getting ready for one of the most exciting things (to me, anyway) I’m going to do that year–file taxes. It’s not taxes that I’m excited about, really. It’s the fact that it was my first year being married, and my first time ever doing taxes with my husband.

I imagined all the things that I could do with our tax refund. Save up for a down payment on a house? Pay student loans? Buy a new couch? I had so many ideas. Little did I know that none of those things will happen.

But at the time, I was SO excited to file as a married couple, because as little as I knew about taxes at the time, I knew that being married has tax benefits. So I went to the local library, got a tax booklet and some forms (back then, we were old school. We didn’t know a thing about online programs), and one day in February we sat down on the teeny tiny dining room table to do our taxes.

I remember sitting there, one of us with a pencil and a form, the other reading the tax booklet, which was like a technical manual. It had words like “filing status” and “interest and dividends” and “capital gains and losses,” and we didn’t understand any of it! Finally, after awhile we decided that the form 1040EZ was the best form to use…simply because it was “easy.” Get it?

Anyways, armed with a calculator, he did the math while I read the booklet, both of us poring over the information and developing a headache in the process. Who knew taxes would be so boring? I thought.

Fast forward four hours later, we’re both exhausted. We were done. As I looked at the last line on the form, where it says, “if line 12 is larger than line 9, this is the amount you owe” and comparing it to the number we got, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

The result was true. Line 12 is larger than line 9.

I stared at the number for a moment, in shock. This was the first time we did our taxes together and we owe money?

I told my husband to look. He did. He couldn’t believe it either. Then the number “$1500” flashed in front of his eyes in the same manner that it flashed in front of mine–with disbelief.

“Your math must be wrong,” I told him. “Go to H&R Block and have someone double check it, please.”

So he did. He came back an hour later, and said, “Yep, we owe that much.”

Now, $1500 isn’t really a big deal nowadays, but back then, it was 2009, and we were young college grads. We didn’t know a thing about money, like saving for a rainy day or anything like that. We had jobs, yes, but we’d always spent whatever we made, thinking there will never be a rainy day.

On that day, it was definitely a downpour.

Even after my husband came back and told me the truth (again), I refused to be believe it. Not just because we didn’t have the money in the bank (how dumb is that?!), but because it happened at a bad time. It was 2009, and we were still in the midst of a recession. Just a month before, I had been laid off from my job at a third party health benefits administrator. So I was counting on taxes to save us, for a little while anyway, until I could find a new job.

The realization of having to pay the IRS back without having that money was terrifying.

By now, you’re thinking – wait, you can ask your parents for help, right?

Well, we did. But we had to be selective about it. Since neither one of us comes from well-to-do families, we figured we couldn’t ask my mom since she made so little money, and same goes for my mother-in-law, so we decided to ask my father-in-law.

He came back and said, “Nope.” There wasn’t a specific reason, just no.

Another shocker. Okay, by now I’m freaking out. We don’t have the money. I’m unemployed. My husband just started a job as a front desk associate at a hotel, and it’s a little well kept secret that front desk people don’t make a lot of money. There was no way he could support both of us. So we thought that his dad would come to our rescue but we were wrong.

I remember crying uncontrollably. After I realized that we didn’t have the money, I cried. After my husband came back from H&R Block, I cried. After he came back from his dad’s rejection, I cried. I thought, “Why is this happening to me?”

Thus, it was the beginning of many important life lessons, the first one being–save for a rainy day. You can’t save all the time, and you may not be able to save a lot, but saving is better than not saving.

Somehow, we managed to pay the IRS back without any help. Terrified of being unable to pay our rent and bills, I got myself a job a month later, which would turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life–that’s a story for another day.

But from 2009 until tax season of 2010, we made some drastic changes in our lifestyle. We stopped driving often. We spent $30 per week on groceries. We set aside money for the IRS payment before any bills. And I vowed that I would educate myself on taxes so I would never have to experience it again.

Since then, we’ve never owed the IRS any money, and if I play my cards right, we’ll never have to owe them again.

The picky eater

It happens like clockwork. Every night, when we sit down for dinner (sounds crazy, I know, but we do it), my son James will take one look at his plate then immediately says, “nana” or banana.

This request frustrates me to no end. Many nights, I sit there seething, glaring at him while my daughter concurrently tries to eat as slow as possible. She picks at her food and spews out at least five sentences before putting two bites in her mouth.

But my daughter’s dinner habits are nowhere near as frustrating as my son’s. James always asks for a banana, and he always gets it. That’s because my husband and I realized that in order to keep the peace at the dinner table, it’s better to just give the little man what he wants. Besides, it’s just fruit. There are worse things to be addicted to, I suppose.

On days when we don’t have bananas on hand, and he asks for them, and we tell him no…boy oh boy–those are the nights when we all incur the wrath of James.

Luckily, tonight we do have bananas and as usual, my husband hands him one. He takes a bite of the banana while my husband and I eat and Lily chirps away with her words. My husband then said to James, “Here, try some.” (He does that a lot). He takes a tiny bit of the curry that he made and tries to get James to taste it.

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. Another attempt, another failure.

But instead of refusing it, James reluctantly takes it in…and it was like my whole world erupted in fireworks. Then, much to my surprise, he asks for more!

“More!” he says, “More!”

It was at that moment I realized two things–one, my husband is brilliant! Not only can he cook waayyy better than me (I will never be able to compete, even if I become a better cook than I am now), he is also slick in his ways of getting our son to eat the foods he makes! This is why I married him! (Not the only reason, of course, just one of many).

As he continues to feed James, he said, “This is like that time he ate most of my duck curry at the Thai restaurant.”

Ahhh yes, I remember. Several weeks ago, we all went out to eat on New Year’s Day, at a Thai restaurant nearby and by husband ordered a roast duck curry, and he had to feed it to James because James was so into the sauce.

“I guess he’s a big fan of the saucy, pudding type of textures,” I said.

Just minutes before this event happened, I had lamented to my husband, “He eats like 50% of what you make, and like 10% of what I make,” to which he responded, “Well, at least he eats most of what I make.”

“It should be more like 80%,” I said.

Now, here I am, moments later, sitting there watching my son eat and realizing that not only is my husband a brilliant cook and good at toddler convincing, this is also like stepping back into the past.

You see–I was a picky eater myself. When I was around James’s age, I refused to eat most foods. It didn’t matter if it was catered by the world’s best chefs–the only thing I would eat is rice with sugar sprinkled on top. So my parents gave in and gave me that. It’s not really healthy and it certainly doesn’t help your teeth, but hey my parents are like us–they didn’t want a ruckus at the dinner table either.

Much to my chagrin, my son turned out to be pretty much the same way. Granted, he’s not as picky as I was–he still eats a lot of different foods for breakfast and his lunch is still a bottle of milk, but it’s only dinner when he gets the nerve to ask for a banana, knowing that he’ll get it every time. I, on the other hand, was very strict in what I would eat.

James

Luckily these days I am no longer a picky eater. I grew up to be a very flexible eater. I love trying new foods, and I’m open to just about everything.

See, that’s the thing that they don’t tell you–that if you were a picky eater yourself, you might end up with the same kind of kid! It’s a 50/50 chance but chances are pretty high to me. It’s almost like fate telling you, “Hey, how about them apples huh?”

I think we know for sure that James will eat curry in the future. And oatmeal. And yogurt. He loves all of those gelatinous, mushy, soft pudding-style kind of foods. He’s definitely my kid.