Death and taxes


Well, I finally got around to filing my income tax returns. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said that the only in things in life that are certain are death and taxes. The IRS reminds us yearly that we must pay taxes. Luckily, death only taxes us once. But what a tax!

I do my own taxes. Some of my friends are amazed that I’m able to fill out my own taxes. To most people, the tax codes and the Internal Revenue Service are the great unsolved mystery. But all you have to do is follow all the lines on the 1040 form, and if you have any questions, just go to the little booklet that the IRS sends you and find the answer that you need. It’s that easy! People convince themselves that they cannot fill out their own tax returns, and therefore, have someone else prepare their tax returns.

My mother was one of these people. She religiously went to H&R Block every year. Her reason was that she owned a home and had extra paperwork to fill out in order to take advantage of all of her tax deductions. When I started working, she told me to go to H&R Block, too. I was going to, but I had a tendency to do the opposite of what my mother wanted. So I looked at the IRS booklet that I received in the mail and read it cover to cover. My mother was amazed that anyone would read the booklet, let alone understand it! Anyway, I filled out my own tax return my first year of employment. I believe that was the first year of the EZ Form, which was the form I was supposed to use according to the tax booklet. The Illinois state tax return was just as easy to fill out. I was about to mail off my return, but my mother knew I was up to something! She had this secret sense that all Mexican mothers posses. She stopped me at the door. “Are you going to H&R Block now?” she asked, but I knew she knew what I had done. “No,” I told her, “I did my own taxes!” My mother gave me a look that indicated that I could not possibly be of her own flesh and blood. “Let me see them,” she said and took my federal and state tax returns out of the envelopes to examine them. Luckily, I hadn’t sealed the envelopes or put stamps on them yet. My mother pored over those tax returns, much in the same manner as I imagine that archeologists first examined the Rosetta Stone. I nervously awaited her verdict. Finally, she said, “You’re not smart enough to do your own taxes! You’re going to H&R Block!” Obviously, she couldn’t check my calculations to see if I had actually did my taxes correctly. Those tax forms were as mysterious to her as hieroglyphics.

I knew I had done my taxes correctly because I had checked and double-checked. But I was only eighteen and I was supposed to listen to my mother because–well, because she was my mother and I was only eighteen years old and still living under her roof. So, I went to H&R Block without my version of the tax returns I did because my mother didn’t want to be embarassed when the tax preparer saw how wrong I was. Of course, my mother was sure that I was beyond feeling any shame for my boldness to think that I could actually understand the tax law. Well, the tax preparer used the same EZ Form that I did and came up with the same exact figures that I did, only I had to come back in a week after someone else had checked his work and made copies for me.

When I showed my mother the H&R Block’s and my tax returns side by side, she still wouldn’t believe me that I had done them correctly. I never totally convinced her that I was right. She was glad that I went to H&R Block because, “At least, you know they did your taxes right!” She always taught me to second-guess myself. I wasn’t smart enough to do anything right, according to her. But at least I knew I was right, although it took me years of second-guessing myself before I developed enough self-confidence to believe in myself. Nowadays, I have plenty of self-confidence! I think.

Death, Taxes, the IRS, and Mexican mothers!

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David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.