The depreciation of childhood.
Horray America! It’s tax time. This is when we really get to see the true worth of our children and this year it’s $3,900.00 according to the Internal Revenue Service. I thought that when my children became adults I would no longer have to even think about them at tax time but this year I walked my 19 year old through her very first 1040 EZ form. Turns out, a baby is forever.
Admittedly, I was somewhat happy to see that my confident collegiate sprog still needed me for something that didn’t involve a credit card. Although I happily agreed to help, I assured her that if she could add and subtract she would have no problem doing the form herself. I should have added that if she learns to add and subtract creatively, she can make tons of cash off of this seemingly mundane obligation. I’ll save that lesson for the long form.
Now, doing taxes over the phone isn’t exactly what I would call fun and add to that she called on the night I had set aside to review last season
Mad Men in preparation of the new season (which starts April 13th, yo) so I totally missed my stories. Goes to show, no matter how old your kids are they still ruin your alone time with their extreme neediness.
Now, I’m not bragging here but I have about a quarter century worth of 1040 experience. Ok so the past few years I’ve used a tax preparer but how hard could this project be? She is still claimed as a dependent by my ex-husband so I was pretty sure that she didn’t even need to file. My daughter, not wanting to ruin the entire rest of her life by making a mistake was understandably concerned that she would be filing unecessarily. “Don’t worry” sez Confident Mom, “the IRS website will tell us just what to do.”
Turns out, the IRS has a shit ton of questions for what would seem to be a “yes or no” question. The first few questions were easy enough: Did you work in 2013? What is your filing status? Was your unearned income over $1,000? (Daughter asks: mom what is unearned income? Me: If you have to ask….) and then there was this:
Was the total of your unearned and earned income more than the larger of:
$1,000, or Your earned income (up to $5,750) plus $350?
I read that question 12,000 times until the words started melding together like an MC Escher drawing. My daughter had a snack, I searched for answers on the IRS’ website, I looked up the question on the internet, I read it outloud, asked my husband to read it to me, nothing helped. At one point I was totally ready to ask her to send me the two w2’s she had and I would just give it to my accountant. Finally, I gave in with a mighty “fuck it” and decided that she should file because it would be good for her.
Like most everything that is good for you, doing taxes isn’t easy, or enjoyable and it requires that you stay sober the whole time. Most of adulthood requires such sacrifices because being an adult, especially one in charge of a kid is an actual job. Working as a parent isn’t quite like working in an office where you can occasionally run into the bathroom to avoid a call, or sneak in a few games of Candy Crush, it’s more like being self employed only your employees are your children who need a lot of direction and you are your only boss and we all know what a pain in the ass your boss can be when it’s you!
My heart was aching at the thought of what I really wanted to be talking about with my beautiful far away daughter. I wanted to ask her what music she was listening to, what she wanted to do for a living with that Philosophy degree anyway, if she was really happy….then I remembered that we never talk about that stuff. I remembered that I have gotten more conversation out of her in the past year that I did all though her high school years. So I kept my nose down and out of her personal life. I learned long ago that I can’t control what happens with her.
When I found out that I was having twin girls over 20 years ago, I pictured tea parties and mall trips and late night finger nail parties. Turns out, my one daughter has autism and hates to shop and my other daughter only likes shopping for antiques and used books. Booorrrring! I have to force both of them to use lip gloss and we have not once discussed hair styling products.
The Buddhists say that all misery is caused by desire. Fuckin’A right.
I imagined a lot of caregiving tasks when I was pregnant, lots of diapers, booo boos and even visiting colleges all of which I would experience with the kids. What has caught me by surprise is that there are far more significant tasks that the kids that they would do over and over long after I am out of sight. I wasn’t raising children, I was raising adults.
We muddled though the tax form. She asked a bunch of questions and I answered most of them with a very authoritative “I don’t know”. The truth is that in life we do a lot of shit that makes no sense on the surface. There are far more questions that we don’t know the answer to and still more questions that we have the wrong answer to but stick with the lie because it’s easier than the truth. If there is a better way to teach this to your adult children than completing a tax form, I’ve not yet found it.
You can try to be a good parent. You can read books and follow protocol and measure your successes and failures in your child’s successes and shortcomings. You can analyze and micromanage and worry yourself into an ulcer over the lifelong job of parenting. There will come a point, over and over again when your kid is like that 1040, you have a moment where you put a stamp on it and send it away. The tax laws change, the deductions come and go but the obligation never ends.