How a Daughter Goes From Killer to Savior at 30,000 Feet.

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“I hate God!”

ten year screamng

I was less than an inch from my mother’s face. I could feel her breath. I spit in her eye by mistake. She was kneeling. Stare down at urban sunrise #1,201. This one? This one crossed boundaries.

Fleshy, fatty boundaries.

fat boy

The tiny, crucifix attached to my underwear every morning to “keep me under God’s care,” was a four-pointed golden thorn in my side. A ritual I had grown to dread. Years of passive-aggressive defiance went ignored. I had no say in this tradition passed on from God-knows-who.

It was a worthless exercise. At least to me.

Mom never missed a day. It was her thing.

The power of an undergarment idol was fleeting. I was hesitant to bring up the topic.

Perhaps it couldn’t get good reception or a signal from the heavens buried under three layers of clothing. The thickest corduroy Korvette’s carried. Like the rabbit ears on our old black & white Panasonic television, I didn’t trust “the cross” to do the job.

Religious “underpinnings” failed to protect from constant bullying (about my husky-sized everything). A huge miss.

Although, I come to believe that “God’s care” may have spared me the fate of the yearbook’s chubby road-bump of the year when Mr. K the third-grade gym teacher, speeding in his Pontiac, just missed turning my gut into the consistency of overcooked pasta.

To this day I believe he was intentionally seeking to run me down. I was never able to prove it. But I KNOW. The best news I heard last year was that he died two years ago.

Perhaps all that pinning finally kicked in. Nah.

Who am I kidding?

From diaper to big boy briefs, this small crucifix was a huge part of my childhood. A religious layer under layers. The safety pin increased in size, too – powerful and sharp enough to pierce undershirts and thick waistbands of white Fruit Of The Looms. It was the size of a small pocket knife. Against my skin it felt heavy, like an anchor. It was my personal spear.

Until that morning in October. I remember Mom’s delicate touch was uncharacteristically heavy. Her technique was sloppy. Like her eyes were closed. She had been fighting with dad all night. Non-stop since he staggered in from Delmonico’s after midnight. Her finesse now a fumbled mess of tangled fingers. I didn’t trust her to pin me with the usual grace. I kept looking down. Sweating. I tightened against what I believed was coming.

The pin penetrated like a hot blade. Deep through fat. Blood rolled down in a series of thick, bulbous drops and pooled at my feet now sweating and sticking to a heavily varnished wood floor.

All my exaggerated fears about this moment had come true.

What’s up Jesus? A nail in a cross. Now a pin in the abdomen? What gives?

Frustration and pain compelled me to unleash frustration in mom’s face. I was possessed. Perhaps she observed my father’s anger in me as I bellowed, cried at the top of my lungs.

“I hate God! No, I hate you, too!”

I knew I was dead. Disrespecting your mother in an Italian family doesn’t happen without dire consequences. It’s a no-win for a child. The repercussions are as close to fatal as you can get within the law. Not even police got in the middle of an Italian mother and her kid in the heat of a scolding.

The next move startled me. Her strike was a lightening bolt. Then a loud click between my ears. I felt warmth release from my nose and liquid down my throat. Since mom was lean, mostly bone, it was like getting slammed by a human sledgehammer.

The stab was nothing compared to the slap. The blood released immediately as my bleached-white crew neck t-shirt saturated red. To black.

I was petrified then.

And I am now.

Another female seeks blood. Terrific.

This time it’s my 17 year-old, 85 pound daughter.

Don’t let her petite frame fool you.

She’s a killer.

Hell.

All of us die a little each day as our children grow. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

killer daughter

I study her profile. Separated by an aisle on a flight from New York.

The salt of blood overwhelms my nose. I can taste it. I’m pinned to the aluminum skin of the aircraft.

I’m claustrophobic. I’m now the insane guy you read about who opens an EXIT door miles above the earth and gets sucked into the afterlife.

I’m sweating. Underneath my skin is ice.

It’s panic. Out of nowhere. My right hand is firm around one of the plastic handles on the door. The word EXIT is taunting, telling me that things will be better if I just listen.

One pull and I’m free.

Crazy thoughts bounce inside my head. They are loud enough to drown out the sound of engines.

I ring for the attendant. I need a Bloody Mary.

All I think about is how small I am. Insignificant. As a parent I hold little if any control over her. Or me.

I’m driving blind. I’m scared.  So is she. The thought escalates scare to hardcore terror. What roads will she travel? Alone. Together with another. With whom? I encourage her to consider a lesbian lifestyle. I tell her men don’t know how to wipe their asses good enough. Anything that gets her to switch teams. It’s not working. Yet. I give her advice that I know she can’t use. I’m not stupid enough to have a handle on most of what effects her. She’s her own person now. What did I miss? I know I missed something. What’s her greatest fear? I’m afraid to ask. Because I think it’s mine, too.

I’m headed for the handle on the EXIT door again. My grip is firm enough to white my knuckles.

I see my mother at 16. I study her delicate features. The cabin goes sepia. In her face and what’s beneath. In dark eyes. Pools of challenges thrive and collide. Nothing clear. Replete with angst.

From aisle seat to aisle seat I stare across and realize my mother has returned. The same edge separated by generations and together on this plane. Teetering between hope and hopelessness. A cutting blade. Back and forth inside me. The bleed I never wanted to experience again. A woman who shouldn’t have had children is alive again. Cast thee from my daughter, woman!

At times I’m hesitant to love her. It’s uncomfortable to be around her sometimes. I never closed the circle with the doppelganger. She’s a flesh mirror to the past. I see right through her and it’s my childhood, not hers. She clarifies and muddies everything.

I’m smashed in the nose thinking about the day in 2000 when my mother died on the other end of the phone while I was at work. I tried to give her peace, I did really. From my cubicle during a stock market crash. I cared more about what Intel stock was doing than stopping to comprehend that my mother would be dead before Ma Bell (she was a thing then), disconnected us.

I told her that grandpa was waiting. I heard her say she was sorry and then a man’s voice boomed in the receiver – “She’s gone.” I said nothing. Hung up. Went back to warm calling sales leads. Watching Intel. I didn’t leave work early. Didn’t think about it.

Until I finished the fake, expensive cocktail.

My daughter is frail. I see it. I accept and accommodate. Well, I accommodate. She’s delicate as a fine china plate with a crack in the middle. Her constitution sometimes strong, other times as light as tissue. I’m responsible. Well, my DNA is. It’s faulty. It carries the insanity gene. I was always scared of this. Now the ailments that took down a parent arise. The depression, especially. Today at least there’s medication. In the 70’s, psycho-doctors believed hooking your brain to electrodes and sending electricity through the head was a viable remedy.

I’m a marginal father at best. I’m not certain I’m wired for this parenting thing. I observe the actions of who I consider excellent dads and try to mirror them. I fail miserably. I hold back. Oh,on the surface I’m engaged but underneath I’m so nervous I can’t remain in the present long enough to enjoy the father/daughter moments.

I’m constantly slipping back 40 or so years to the time when I loved a woman so much yet she betrayed me by skipping out when I was a teen.

Maybe I’m not ready or mature enough to heal.

Until that return trip. Perhaps it was a lack of oxygen.

I realized that life-shifting changes do not need to arise from adversity. Sure, hardship ignites awareness. It happened for me in dramatic fashion on several occasions. However, I’ve learned that big decisions to alter course can be subtle. Uneventful. There’s a click in the head (I think) and a decision is made to change and never look back. And you don’t.

So I decide. Just like that.

She’s a savior. Not a killer.

Because that’s how easy it is.

To decide.

Random Thoughts:

I begin with gratefulness. My daughter is a connection to my past. I have been given another chance to heal by understanding through her, what my mother must have gone through at a time when depression and anxiety were ignored or denied. I know now mom must have suffered in silence. Little Italian girls were supposed to be perfect. No matter what. The impossible devil of perfection drilled into them daily. Now I get it. Finally.

All I do is try to be a better father every moment. In turn, my actions allow me to empathize and forgive a parent who battled but succumbed to the flames of inner demons.

I watched her burn. Did nothing to stop it.

I take that back.

I was ten years old. My mind was on Mad Magazine and masturbation. Not a 31 year old female with ignored mental illness in the midst of a seminal breakdown. I tried my best to understand and interpret adult situations.

I delivered cheerleader speeches. I’d stand on her bed pontificating like a midget politician  – “Mom, it’s you and me against the world – We can do it! We can get through this!”

Lots of tears. They did nothing. The drugs, the men, the alcohol, the fears, the electroshock treatments, drowned out my constant pleading for a short semblance of normalcy. Topless and drunk in the courtyard of our Brooklyn apartment building on a school morning was enough to seal my fate as the freak of the neighborhood. And still I tried.

Now I know there was nothing she could do.

woman burning

Through my daughter I forgive my mother for what I lost. A childhood.  I came to understand how the illnesses, the fears were too much to fight. I wish I had the opportunity to tell her that internal demons are scarier than hell. I wish I could say I understand why she had pinned that stupid cross to me every day without fail.

“Please God, don’t let him inherit my weaknesses. Protect him.”

female depression

It hit me. Sitting in the exit row. Finally.

Now I know. The ritual worked.

Big changes can happen without fanfare. Just decide. Don’t make it a big deal. Stay casual. Calm. Today I’ll save more. I’ll say no to lending money to others. I’ll find another job that pays more for what I’m worth. I’ll get up and go to the gym. The less you think about it and do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Like me.

When I decided. Released my grip on the exit.

And re-entered.

Accepted the truth.

I look down and read:

“We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.”

Self Reliance – Essays First Series 1895 Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I have that cross. It’s a tarnished symbol after so many years.

Its power is gone.

Or is it?

As the plane landed, I couldn’t decide for sure.

I’m certain I never will.

And I’m at peace with that.

8 Ways To Go “Money Active” With Your Kids.

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Children are naturally curious. 

2014-08-27 05.18.47

How do you spark an interest in money?

As a child, I was an observer. My mother didn’t have money and my dad always lived for the moment. He died with nothing.

Today, with your children bombarded with messages you need to attempt to “sneak” money lessons in whenever possible.

Success comes from changing up old beliefs about how you think you should go “money-active” with the kids, creative thinking, remaining interactive.

Praying helps.

Random Thoughts:

Be an Example – Here’s an easy one because you don’t need to say a word – your actions are enough.

You children are monitoring your feelings about finances. What is your outward expression towards debt, savings and general household financial management, especially when communicating with the family?

If your relationship with money is positive or one of control and discipline, your children will learn from the example. If your relationship with money is negative, stressful, extravagant or reckless, the kids will pick up on that, too. Smart money beliefs and actions can lead to smart money imprints by the younger generations around you.

Anytime is the Right Time – One simple question framed in a positive tone may provide the right spark to get a money conversation underway. I call it “financial curiosity.” And you can be financially curious with your child anywhere – at the mall, at the supermarket, in his or her room.  If your teen makes a purchase, inquire about it with sincere interest. Out of non-threatening curiosity I ask my daughter for her reasons behind purchases and services she uses. She never feels like I’m prying (at least I don’t think so).

What compelled your child to buy a particular item? What does it do? What other choices are available? Is this item something the family may find useful? How does it work? Will this make their lives better, easier, more fun? How so? Was it a challenge to save up? You’ll gain information about the motives behind purchases and discussions regarding other money matters will blossom.

Get Them Involved – Talking about money is fine, however, it doesn’t compare to having your kids experience money management firsthand – something I call “money active.” Have the kids be responsible for specific money projects, let them fully experience the rewards and feel the sense of accomplishment when the plan is executed.

For example, provide children an opportunity to budget a family vacation or weekend getaway and then all enjoy the fruits of the labor. Partner with them to set savings goals for future purchases, especially the bigger-ticket items. Assist your teens with the research, or offer to match a percentage of the purchase price as a reward for good money habits.

Are the products or services the kids are using viable investment prospects? Now open the door to the investing conversation. And what better way to ignite the money flame — a possible investment into a company that manufactures a product or provides a service the children are passionate about.

 It’s OK to Seek Help – So you’re still having difficulty getting the conversation going? Let someone else help you get the fire started. Seek assistance from an objective person who would be willing to provide money lessons to the kids; perhaps someone in the family, or a friend successful with money management, would be excited to share an experience. Don’t be reluctant to seek assistance and allow someone else to tee up your involvement. I’ve witnessed grandparents do a great job at getting through to the grandkids with stories and financial lessons.

Make Money Real Life – Be candid. Your kids like to know you’re human, and occasionally make financial mistakes. They also want to understand what you did to correct a money mishap. You may need to be a bit creative; children are accustomed to movies loaded with action and special effects.

Take time to compose a compelling story about how you faced a financial obstacle head on and came out a winner. Or if the story doesn’t end well, explain specifically what you learned.

Kids are very comfortable with technology so become “money active,” and take advantage of online money-management tools to help kids achieve financial success. For example, at www.moneyasyougrow.org  there are activities that guide you to help the children work through money milestones grouped by age, beginning at 3-5 year-olds.

Begin a Money Mindset. Out of each dollar of allowance, figure out how much goes to savings, to charity and to spending. You need to help children establish guidelines early on. There are several products that make this division of money fun. Like the Money Box available from www.Moonjar.com. Also, there is an item called Money Conversations To Go which can jumpstart fun family discussions about money.

Have Children Handle Coins  – It’s a great way to get very young children comfortable with money – When my daughter Haley was 3 I had her handle nickels, dimes and quarters, they were shiny and fascinated her. From an early age I would have her place the coins in a bank and shake up that bank from time to time and it would sound like a rattle of sorts. Placing the coins in the bank was a sense of accomplishment for her and it started her on the road to fiscal success – Now, at age 16, she’s become a first-rate saver!

How About a Funky Money Diary? Purchase a three-subject notebook to help the younger kids keep track of the money they want to spend, share & save. Decorate with stickers related to money or cutouts of items the kids want to purchase in the future.  Interactive fun!

The most memorable interactions with children about money are ones you may overlook.

You’ll find discussing money at different times, in various places.

Out of nowhere.

It’ll become so routine, you’ll be smitten with delight.

Then you can focus on the tough discussions.

Like sex.

I’m still not ready.

kid shock

Taking Stock In Your Kids – 4 Initial Steps To Get Children Excited About Investing.

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As featured in http://www.nerdwallet.com.

Begin talking with the kids about investing sooner rather than later.

Interestingly, many parents find it awkward to discuss stock investing, especially with their young children. Some adults don’t feel confident in their abilities to do research. What I’ve discovered is the discussion with young children actually helps less confident parents become better stock investors.

The conversation raises the bar for teacher-parents and the children willing to learn.

It’s a win-win.

winning

There are several milestones to reach. The adventure begins with these simple steps to consider when it comes to engaging the children.

Random Thoughts:

1). Build excitement – Creating passion around the investing process is important. Begin with a dialogue around the children’s brand loyalties (and they start at an early age). When I was young, I drove my parents crazy: I always “needed” the latest Mattel’s Hot Wheels car or Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figure. I would only eat Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, not the store brand.

GI Joe Vintage

So, what products are your kids passionate about?

Create short-term activities to build interest. Come up with a deadline for completion. For example, have the children begin and maintain journals of the products and services they like or use. Have them track the prices of those items over the internet or when you head to the stores.  Remind the kids how the family is excited to hear about what they’re thinking and plan a family gathering around the topic.

One family created a big event around the journals. They had the children select their own notebooks and personalize them with money-related and other types of stickers. The kids paid for the supplies out of their allowances which created a stronger connection to the project.

2). Organize a family discussion – Once the children share their information at a family gathering, expand the discussion to include the products and services the family purchases or uses on a consistent basis, say at least twice a week. From soap to shoes, batteries to bandages – leave everything open for investigation. Nothing is off-limits. Now, you’re building a research list!

3). Watch your words – I’ll never forget when my uncle who was a specialist on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, explained how I had the ability to own part of a large company. I was hooked. Wait: A poor kid from Brooklyn can own a piece of McDonald’s?

How does that happen?

kid surprise

The language used around stock investing is important to help the kids gain healthy perspective and a sense of pride in their selections and the investment experience, overall. The phrase “buying a stock,” is confusing when compared to “ownership in a company,” which in essence is what you’re trying to help the children embrace.

The concept of “stock” is nebulous for the younger ones to comprehend so it’s best to keep the language simple. Using words to connect ownership to investing creates a long-term investor mindset. You don’t want the children to focus solely on stock price movement; it’s best for them to strive to build discipline by focusing on the long-term value of a business – and all because you provided the perspective.

4). Begin with the concept of sales – It’s a good idea to introduce one simple concept before you begin specific stock-research homework. I’ve found kids relate well to the concept of sales. Whether you’re talking lemonade, girl-scout cookies, or school-related fund drives, children have an uncanny ability to understand that sales are positive and can lead to personal reward. It’s the same for a business. Generally, the more goods or services sold, the more favorable it is to the stock price over time.

kent soda

You don’t need to work through these initial four steps alone. Partner with a financial advisor to facilitate the discussion or utilize books and other resources to jumpstart the process.

I recommend the book “Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids,” by Gail Karlitz and Debbie Honig.  Easy to understand and designed for children ages 8-12.

Want to engage the kids about several money concepts? There are 7 great money apps for kids reviewed by NerdWallet including my personal favorites – Virtual Piggy and Bee Farming.

You don’t need to wait (like I did) until you receive verbal cues from the kids to begin the engagement about investing.

You may never get them.

Even as early as age nine, you can begin a dialogue.

In the next report, I’ll take the investing discussion to the next plateau.

Until then, begin the conversations, start the journals, ignite the passions.

And the kids will never forget.

kids and stocks

 

 

 

The Conversation Startlers –5 Ways to Startle The Parents into a Estate Planning Conversation.

My father was horrible with money.

Mine and his.

Grandfather (on my mother’s side), worked six days a week stocking shelves in a downtown New York City grocery store. Thirty years – Twelve hours a day.

When he died in 1969, Joe (Giuseppe) Zappello, a frail man who lived above an ethnic grocery, saved $10,000 – a life’s effort, which he instructed be used for my college education.

Dad spent my inheritance on a new 1969 blue Mercury Cougar with white leather interior. Admittedly, it was a beauty. I still remember that car like it was yesterday.

In pristine condition, the classic commands about $30,000, which looking back, may have been a better “investment” than my college education.

cougar interior

Dad saved once in his life. Just in time for my manager at a penny stock firm to put the entire ef­fort in jeopardy by liquidating all his quality stock positions (without my knowledge) and purchasing worthless securities for a hefty commission. Great.

Dad was part of the working poor and deprived of even the littlest of luxuries as a kid; my grandfather was emotionally freezing cold and my grandmother was the entrepreneur and breadwinner for the most part (very odd in the good old days), so except for his maternal grandmother, dad didn’t receive much attention to compensate for the lack of material goods.

Even when I tried to approach the subject of money with him in 1991 he dismissed my questions as if I was the village idiot even though strangely enough, he allowed me to invest for him.

You never questioned elders about financial matters in my family or dug into the reasoning behind money decisions.

Discussing finances with family, especially parents is difficult and awkward. Conversation starters are tough. It’s important to have them however, as bad decisions or no decisions by parents, will leave you, the kids, the family, in a dilemma later.

Here are five “fire” conversation starters that will help. They’re controversial.  I’ve used them successfully.

1). When you die can I please have that diamond necklace grandma left you?

Replace “diamond necklace” with any heirloom you want. Deliver the line and shut up.
I would soften the impact with a couple of glasses of shared wine beforehand. Coming
across as a selfish ass on purpose is tough. The goal is to jolt your parents to a response which can lead to a discussion about proper will and legacy planning.

2). What do you think I should do if I told you I had a month to live?

Here, you’re asking the parents for guidance. What a way to make the parents go mushy inside.  Lower the defenses.

“Not my baby!”

not my baby

If they start going on about how you should have a bucket list – blah, blah, blah, make sure to steer the conversation back to them. Segue to asking the parents how they’ve prepared. It’s a long way around the subject but ultimately you’ll get where you need to be. I’m sorry.

3). What do you wish you would have said to or asked granddad (grandma) before they died?

Gee, I wish they would have told me where all their important documents were kept so
I didn’t need to ransack the house at the worst time? I deal with clients who
lost parents a decade ago and abandoned investment and banking dollars are still surfacing.

4). Do you realize if you die tomorrow I have no idea whether you want to be cremated or buried?

We’re planning a coin toss but you won’t care because you’re dead. Even parents who laments “Oh don’t fret over me, I don’t care what you do, I’ll be dead,” are full of it.

They do care!

It’s their responsibility to provide instructions for others to follow. This should NOT be your decision.

5). How do you think Snowy would feel if she was whisked off to an animal shelter if you died?

I don’t mean to throw the pet in the line of fire however it’s an effective ice breaker. We
love our pets and can’t imagine the horror of poor Puffy carted away after we die. I’m a passionate animal person.

I’ve experienced, more often than I prefer, owners not communicating intentions for pets. Like those left behind are supposed to assume. Placing Trixie strategically into an estate conversation can break down walls, allow information to flow.

Communicate with your children & loved ones about money. Share your successes and failures. They shouldn’t feel threatened to ask about your financial situation.

If grown kids inquire about your estate planning answer them. Help them understand your intentions.

Don’t make loved ones feel questions about money are “off limits,” or “unacceptable.”

Cater these “startlers” to your situation. Parents will remember your frankness, your sense of humor.

Occasionally, shock and awe works.

Next: How to use a third party to facilitate the conversation.