Forget the Price of Rubies

No matter how old you are, you never quite think of yourself as fully an adult. Surely, you think, there must be someone else around who’s truly mature. Not you! Someone else! Someone a little more experienced.

Texas writer Prudence Mackintosh referred to this phenomenon when she was bringing up her sons. In the middle of any childish imbroglio, she once wrote, she always found herself wondering, When is the real mother going to show up? You know, the adult woman who actually knows what she’s doing.

But then, you notice there are certifiable markers of adulthood and maturity that can’t be denied. Things like:

1) paying a mortgage on time;

2) going to the dentist without anybody nagging you to do it;

3) breaking a tooth on a cakeball (if you’ve never eaten a cakeball, please be advised that it’s about as hard and crunchy as, say, cotton candy. Breaking a tooth on a walnut would be sad; breaking a tooth on a cakeball is ignominious);

4) showing your maturity and class by “rising above it all” on a regular basis. (I would like to say I’ve got this one nailed, but the truth is more complicated. Based on my recent, unattractive behavior as a pedestrian, I believe I may be remembered not as a classy, mature, above-it-all woman, but as a pedestrian fatality whose last ((shrieked)) words were “Fuck you, moron!” This leaves something to be desired on many accounts).

Anyway, I could go on listing other certifiably mature behavior, such as burying a parent, but who wants to get all gloomy and downtrodden? The point I was originally planning to make — which also got buried — is that I am currently engaged in the certifiably adult behavior of tending to our financial lives. I find it excruciating, exhausting, demoralizing.

I see numbers and dollar signs and I get the vapors. I am not a details person or a numbers person. I prefer vague generalities and unfounded rumors.

In any other family, I would be the grasshopper frolicking and doing whatever else grasshoppers do, while my ant of a husband took care of money. In our family, where the grasshopper heroine fell in love with a bigger grasshopper, there’s not an ant to be found. A few times a year, I have to become a fake ant. I get in such a foul mood that the Big Grasshopper keeps his distance.

I pore over our accounts and I brood. To break up my work, I look up a Bible verse that’s bugging me. It’s in Proverbs and it gets hauled out, usually, at funeral services for women who have sacrificed their lives for their families: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” Then it goes on to list how the virtuous woman works with wool and flax and plants vineyards and girds her loins and clutches the distaff and “eateth not the bread of idleness.”

I always get unreasonably depressed when the old price-of-rubies quote gets dusted off, while everybody sobs about what an unappreciated doormat Old Mom was and now it’s too late to thank her and we’ll have to learn to wash our own laundry.

Before I go back to our finances, I would like to put the Big Grasshopper and my children on notice: No price-of-rubies homages at my funeral. Just say I went to the dentist and I paid the mortgage on time and I managed to rise above it all on a case-by-case basis. Maybe I was a Bad Ant, but I grew up when I had to.

And, I almost always got to the point, eventually.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)



18 comments… add one
  • I think that virtuous woman sounds like your kind of gal. While the whole rest of the house is wearing scarlet , she’s decked out in purple.

  • I have heard the verse at way too many funerals- starting years ago at my grandmother’s. It is time for a 21st century boomer update. Any words of wisdom, writers and bloggers? For starters some idleness reinvigorates and energizes – let’s make it a positive attribute (maybe change the word – downtime, breaktime, respite, time out, interlude…)

  • I feel this a lot. Who’s minding the store? Who’s running the town? When are the adults going to come back from coffee break and simply put it all right again by saying, “I’m back, now.” Sometimes I’ve had enough and I’m pushed to take a stroll through the city cemetery where I discover all the real adults I knew or knew of. Then it hits me. Those adults raised us during “the best time to raise children.” But they were navigating uncharted waters so forgot to teach us babies when to stop the pleasures of booming, settle down and take charge. Oops! We may not see the likes of them again.

  • Cindy A Link

    I’m a hard-working ant and sacrifice myself like that, but only on a part-time basis. The rest of the time, look out. The good news is that they eat great meals and have clean laundry about half the week…

  • M.K. Link

    Yeah, women should be on alert when they drag out the old paeans to the virtuous woman who is worth all those rubies. The hymns of praise usually mean that the current object of all the attention is being exploited.

    Women all down through the ages have voluntarily and involuntarily subjugated their lives to the success of others: husbands, and oh! those beautiful, beautiful sons.

  • Has never heard that rubies quote. In my first marriage, my ex-husband took care of budget, taxes, etc. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was. Guess who has to do it now? So, yes, I totally sympathize.

  • Here is my all-time worst funeral moment. At my grandmother’s Catholic funeral, the ancient priest starting going on about how people used to live to be 200 or whatever the Bible claims, then came original sin, and, as he rapped his knuckles casually on the casket, said “This is what you get.” It took everything I had not to leap up and knock him on his keester and slug him.

  • I asked a girlfriend of mine the other day if anyone ever felt like a grown up. And if they did, if it was a good feeling or a bad feeling…

  • My husband and I are both grasshoppers, and there is no ant in sight. So, you mean there are no grown-ups who are going to come to save us? Crap.

  • Like Melanie, I had a similar conversation with a friend in her late 50s–she said she still feels like she’s 20 on the inside, her body reminds her otherwise. Thanks for the laugh today–believe it or not, I’m working on my taxes.

  • With potentially several funerals in my near future, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for this rubies thing. Thanks for the tip.

  • This is so true: “When is the real mother going to show up? You know, the adult woman who actually knows what she’s doing.”

    And, man oh man. I feel your pain. I am so bad at dealing with the intricacies of a budget and banking. And I’m also married to a big grasshopper.

  • Yeah, I don’t want that rubies thing either. Just as long as they don’t do the Lilies one…”Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” This is the 2nd time I’ve quoted my father here, but every time I bought a new dress as a girl, he would say”consider the lilies”.

  • Sheryl Link

    Just having finished the bills and other assorted awful financial duties, I am in a foul mood. Where are the grown-ups when you need them??? (certainly not in THIS house).

  • Ruth, since you write so much about aging and the aging process I’m curious to know how old you feel on the inside. I know it probably varies on a good day vs. a bad one. I ask because I was joking with my dad about this recently, he’s just shy of 80 but feels like he’s in his 40s on a good day. I’m in my 40s but some days I still feel like a young adult. (Of course, on a bad day, I feel every one of my 47 years.)


  • Holy crap–rising above it all is a sign of age? I need to be immature more often!

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I usually feel like I’m in my 40s, too, on a good day. It’s a nice, neutral age somehow. On my bad days, I feel geriatric.

  • Merr Link

    I pay the mortgage and yet still I wonder (often) when is the real grown-up (I know it said mother, but still) going to show up?

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