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Beyond the Mentalities that Change Us

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Commentary:

Some people strike me as the type who never relished slowly pulling the plastic film off something new they purchased, something for which they saved all their extra cash for months. Those are the people who may have never been flush with cash, but who had the privilege never to think too hard about whether the money was there. They operate in a world that runs alongside the world of others who think about even the simplest things in a much different way.

I recently watched a video that showed a mom at the edge of tears describing having come from a childhood of poverty, where birthdays meant the difference between getting what she wanted and her mother being able to keep the lights on or put food on the table. She panned to the back of her car, where a bunch of Target bags were filled with toys.

"It feels so good, and the feeling doesn't really go away," she said.

I knew exactly how she felt. The first time I felt rich was when I bought dance classes for my daughter. It's a local dance studio, the name of which my boss at the time — with a six-figure income — recognized and mentioned how much I'd love the school because, of course, her daughter had gone there too, since she was my daughter's age all the way until she graduated high school.

However, with her saying that, I felt like a fraud. We were not in the same tax bracket, and me buying classes was a luxury I scraped together, not the given that she implied.

Money doesn't make me uncomfortable, and I never felt poor as a child. Yet, when I was 17 and needed to know exactly how much my dad made when I asked him to help fill out the paperwork to qualify for loans or grants for college, he immediately bristled. It was a process so awkward, including spy-scenario sealed envelopes, that it made me more curious.

When I signed up for grad school, in English of all things, he gave me more grief, mostly about wasting money. But, just a year later, he would brag to his hospice nurses how his daughter was getting a master's degree. He never made it to my graduation.

I only learned about my parents' finances as he was dying, so when after he died and I, for the first time, made more money than my father ever did, it was frightening. That I could make more money with the product of just my mind left me incredulous. I couldn't get beyond thinking about the 18-hour days that my father spent working on planes and seeing how the knuckles on his hands swelled.

He never wanted that for me, he told me when he was already bedridden. And he never saw me come through the other side to have a relative security with money that he never had — something he did want for me. My mentality toward how money serves a life instead of how life serves money came through one of the hardest times of my life.

From the pandemic, I would have hoped for a return to the traditional mentalities that guided and helped us survive during other hard times — maybe frugality, enough discipline to still allow us to take in joy, and a sincere reliance on our community. Instead, we've etched other things in our collective mentalities: the need to be right; the need to be loudest; the need to take life for granted. Those mentalities might be hard for some to shake, and others will feel like those who can't, or won't, are still just pretending.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.