Anser Journal

The Single Mother’s
Guide to Money

By Tarn Wilson

There is never enough money, girls. That’s why sometimes I can’t sleep. In the middle of the night, my mind turns over and over, figuring.

By the end of the month, though, when we’re out of groceries, I’ve run out of worry. It’s time for a Friday night splurge. I pull out my new credit card and order takeout from Pizza Heaven: two containers of green salad with gigantic, garlicky croutons and ranch dressing. Garlic bread, crunchy on the outside, soft and soaked with butter on the inside. Four tubs of homemade spaghetti, the thick kind—smothered in marinara sauce. Homemade meatballs rolled with Italian spices.

Both of you girls will feel a little worried—“Do we have enough money?”—but you’re at that age where you’re always hungry, and Pizza Heaven pasta satisfies that deep down hunger most foods can’t touch, so your hunger and trust in me wins.

Remember that woman at work I told you about—the one who’s like the mother I always wanted? She lent us a thousand dollars from her savings. I tried to refuse, but she insisted. She doesn’t want you two to go without anything you need.

I used some of her money to buy our new colored TV. Our black and white was so small, and we had to use the pliers to change the channel.

We all love our new TV. “I feel so middle class!” one of you says, as you plunk in front of the screen with your plate full of spaghetti and your greasy garlic fingers. A meatball rolls off one of your plates, and you burst into the parody of “On Top of Old Smokey”: “On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese . . .” You take a long strand of spaghetti and feed it to Midnight the cat, who tips back his head and nibbles it down.

I tolerate your Friday night shows, Adventures of Wonder Woman and Dukes of Hazzard while we all wait for our favorite, Dallas, the story of oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on his South Texas ranch. I know the show is garbage—but I no longer have to justify my tastes to your hippie father. You’re my only judges, and your bar is low.

Because I work in oil, you two think our family has a special connection to the Ewings. Really, the show is pure fantasy. I do like Jock and Ellie Ewing, the elders, because they love their land. The fans all love young Bobby Ewing, the morally upright son. We don’t like him. So smooth-skinned with that perfect hair and always doing the right things. Milquetoast. I like my men a little more complicated, rougher around the edges. Sometimes, I fantasize that I’ll marry a cowboy and live on a ranch.

The fans also think Bobby’s wife Pamela, played by Victoria Principal, is so sexy, but we agree she’s overrated. Overdone with all that makeup and hair spray. Like my sisters. Mostly we love to hate J.R. Ewing, with all his evil scheming. J.R. Ewing is a lesson on what can happen when you have too much money.

I want more money, but not too much money. Money can make you evil.

I recently borrowed my mother’s credit card again: that will help us get through. She was reluctant, but I promised this time I will pay the monthly payments. Don’t scrunch your face, girls. I will. Really, she should just give me the money, for all the shit she put me through when I was a kid.

Maybe I’ll marry a rich cowboy.

That was a joke.

Never rely on a man.

When I get my second credit card, I can use that one to pay off the first one.

My mother’s best friend just agreed to lend us two thousand dollars. Don’t wrinkle your foreheads like that. She has more money than she knows what to do with.

Don’t worry. It’s not your job to worry about money. Leave that to me.


Tarn Wilson is the author of the memoir The Slow Farm (Ovenbird Books: Judith Kitchen Select, 2014). Her personal essays appear in Brevity, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, J Journal, River Teeth, Ruminate, South Loop Review, and The Sun, among others, and have been reprinted in anthologies, such as the college text The Prentice Hall Reader. She earned an MA in education from Stanford University and an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop.