Monday, April 14, 2014

Checkin' in on K-daughter

When you write a check, write the account number on your check.  Not your bank account number, of course; that's already on the check; write the account number for the company you're paying the check to.

That's just a little piece of advice that a mother might give to her daughter, perhaps a little bit too late.

The reason for this little piece of too-late advice was prompted by an frustrated email I got from K-daughter, describing the aftermath of a Christmas-night visit we'd made to the emergency room.  On that particular visit, we learned the expensive way that her ankle was sprained, not broken, and also that she still needed to sign up for health Insurance.  In the time that's followed, K-daughter has learned even more about hospital bills and payment plans.  And all those new lessons led up to this email:
Apparently every payment I've been making to the hospital for my ankle they haven't received, which makes me wonder where my $400 went. I'm frustrated because you say I should take this as a learning experience, the only thing I've learned is how to get screwed out of $400 . . .  This has been a nightmare.... Things will start to get easier when? 
Hidden between the lines of this message are all sorts of questions that a mother might ask herself -- particularly a mother who is trying to raise a young woman who will soon stretch her wings and fly solo.  What does a mom do to make this better?

You can probably tell by the way I describe this whole experience that I'm not the sort to swoop in, take over, and fix everything for her.  Even if I were, K-daughter wouldn't allow it.  (At the end of this whole experience I asked, "do you need any money?" and she said "no."  Then I asked, "Well, would you tell me if you did?"  and she said, "Definitely not!").

I think there's a huge part of K-daughter that hopes that there's some secret-adult way way to just keep miserable things like this from happening in the first place.  Don't we all wish this, and don't we all half act as though we believe it?  If I just put away enough money, if I just get this car that doesn't break down; if I just get this job, if I just adopt a kid . . . then I won't have to worry about anything.   But neither of K-daughter nor I really believes that, least of all me.

No, I'm not the kind to take over and fix this one problem; I'm in this for the long haul. I'm not sure that K-daughter believes it right now, but someday $400 bills won't seem like catastrophes; she'll face bigger bills and even more paperwork.  And I want to get her ready to handle those on her own.

So instead, we had a discussion about record-keeping as it applies to paying bills.  We talked about the anatomy of check writing (yes, write the account number on the check).  We talked about keeping a check register (with the name of the payee, not just "ankle").  We talked about how banks keep track of checks for you, and that "date cleared" is different than the date you wrote the check.

We sat down together to call the Hospital to see where her checks were going; after all, the lesson is not supposed to be "you should expect to lose $400 randomly."  And as we got ready to make those calls . . .

       . . . we also noted that hospital visits come with bills from different places, and that paying a bill for "Dr. Tibia" is not the same as paying the bill for "Femur Hospital".   This is all the more confusing if -- as unfortunately had happened in this instance -- BOTH of them asked for partial payment of exactly $127.96 at exactly the same time, one by phone and the other by mail.  So, after we called and confirmed this guess with Femur Hospital and Dr. Tibia, we confirmed that yes, K-daughter has paid out almost $400, and yes, she still owes that amount yet again.

So I asked her if she needs any money, and she said "no".  Would you tell me if you ever do?  "Definitely not".  K-daughter is flexing her wings, even in stormy winds.


Let me close with a different kind of lesson that K-daughter got from me: how to make something of her own.  She's been having lots of fun lately with archery, and figured out how to make her own targets for cheap using burlap bags filled with plastic bags.  (And she laughed that she had to go to other people's houses to get the plastic grocery bags).

About a week ago, she asked to borrow my sewing machine. She thought she might need me to help her set it up, but it turns out she remembered from before.  And she made a quiver for her arrows, using a pattern of her own design.  The only help I gave her was to swap out the bobbin.

Go-o-O-O K-daughter!

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