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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

Some Books
I'm In...

Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

The site that inspired the book!

At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

« I know it’s a day early… | Main | The meme that started out promising, but then everything went wrong—just like life. »

Don’t read this.

Yesterday was one of the worst days Henry and I have ever had together. Truly, I have never seen him like that before. I’ve never seen me like that. We clashed on every topic (Are Dried Cranberries An Acceptable Dinner? Could He Watch TV For Just Another Minute? Why Couldn’t He Head Butt Me Repeatedly In the Groin While I Am Talking To the Mortgage Broker?) and each time Henry’s demands escalated into full-blown weepy hysteria; we went to our separate corners to enjoy our respective time-outs; we came back to each other to hug and declare our undying love; then it all started again. At one point I found myself yelling and clenching my fists and hopping up and down. Hopping. And I slammed doors. Twice. I am an excellent role model.

I could point to Henry and say IT’S HIS FAULT and say WHO STOLE MY CHILD AND REPLACED HIM WITH THIS MONSTROSITY? But the thing is, I know what’s going on. He’s reacting to me. I am distracted and frazzled and depressed and it’s making him anxious as hell.

We sold our place for more money than we thought we could, which is great. We’re thrilled. But our large margin of profit is not quite what we thought it was. Not quite enough for the house we want. Take the large amount and remove the $20,000 of closing fees and moving expenses, the huge tax bill we’ll have for 2005, the money we’ll need to put down for a car, the small amount of savings we’ll need in case any expenses come up with the house, and you have a much smaller number. Factor in the added expenses of owning a house—the insurance, the car, the heating bills, the inevitable repairs, the hefty real estate tax bill—and the number shrinks even further.

We could take more of a risk and put more down if, say, one of us had reliable employment. Without going into detail about my husband’s job, we don’t, not really. Not reliable in the benefits-and-vacation-time, check-every-two-weeks, severance-pay-guaranteed sense. It’s a great job for his industry, which is not known for its steadiness. We’ve been lucky for a while, but there’s always the spectre of the work drying up. If the work isn’t there, he doesn’t get money. So we have to be careful. We’ve been careful for years, we know the drill. But now we’re looking for a house, and being careful doesn’t jibe with finding a good and safe place for our family, and it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room.

We decided on this neighborhood in New Jersey; it’s close to the city, the trains are right there, the prices for the small homes with small lots (the kind we want, as we are city folk) are not unreasonable. We have friends nearby. But now it seems that if we want to be in the parts of town that have good schools, we have to extend ourselves past our comfort level. Last week we bid on a great house; we were right at the brink of what we could afford, and the taxes were astronomical, and we were stressed out and fighting about the expense. But the school there is wonderful, and I read the description of the school and I thought of Henry being at that school, and I wanted him to live there. I walked around that house and I thought, We will be happy here. We could just barely afford it, but we could afford it, so we bid. And then one other bidder came in at way over the asking price and swooped it up. This isn’t the first time this has happened; such is the market these days. Even if the numbers indicate we can afford it, we can’t really afford it.

We’ve looked at the less-fancy parts of town, that have relatively decent schools, at least we think, and taxes that aren’t so high. But every house we’ve seen in that area has low ceilings and dark musty kitchens and shag rugs and the neighbor’s windows so close you could pass cups of sugar back and forth, and I know this isn’t what we want. We’re not asking for a lot, but we’re asking for a little more than this.

So maybe I feel entitled. Maybe I’m a stuck-up bitch and I should get over myself and living in the cramped smelly house that after all we could fix up. That is probably a valid opinion.

But this is all symptomatic of the larger problem here. We don’t have enough money. We’re not making enough. Every optional expense has been cut out, and yet there’s still not enough. And it’s hurting us. It’s a constant source of tension; there’s no escaping it. Everywhere we look there’s a sign that we need more money. The dog is overdue for a vet appointment. We don’t have the money. Here’s the list of good preschools in Jersey. We don’t have the money. Let’s get food delivered because I’m exhausted and Henry didn’t let me even get near the kitchen all day, he’s been so clingy. We don’t have the money. Well, okay, maybe pizza. But let’s not go crazy with the toppings.

(We want another baby. We don’t have the money.)

Please don’t tell me I should write a book to make money. Or rather: tell me to write a book, and thank you for having faith in my abilities, really, but understand that such an undertaking takes years, years of nonpaid work, and also no one should write a book for the money. It just doesn’t work that way.

Do you want to know what I am wearing now, O Internet? (Especially those members of the Internet who send me hate mail because of my fabulous bloggy existence?) I am wearing jeans that have enormous holes in the crotch and across one knee. They are dirty, as I wear them every day. They are one of two pairs of jeans that I own; the others were pre-pregnancy and are now laughingly small on me. (Size 4! BLAHHAHAHAHA.) In addition to my crappy pilly too-small and too-old Gap sweater, I am also wearing ugly black leather shoes that I bought when I was pregnant, and thus are now one size too big. I trip in them every day. On most days I wear the too-big shoes and the ripped-up jeans. I could probably buy myself new jeans and new shoes, but the idea fills me with guilt. How can I buy something like clothing when we might not be able to pay for Henry’s preschool?

I know how whiny I sound here, I do. I know many many people have lives infinitely more difficult than this one. I know how lucky I am. Please don’t yell at me because I’m whining about my shoes. It’s just—I feel like I’m decaying, a little. I feel unattractive and like I don’t have the right to feel attractive. I feel like god there has to be more money somewhere, except there’s no time to get the money and no money (for childcare, that is) to get more money. I feel like my creative life is dying because all I do is worry and crunch numbers and do the little writing jobs that might bring in enough to pay the cable bill. (Yes, we still have cable. The indulgence! I know!) I feel like there has to be an answer somewhere and where’s the answer and aren’t I smart enough haven’t I been good don’t I have the education and the intelligence and resources to figure this out why can’t I figure this out?

I know, I know. I’m feeling sorry for myself. I should snap out of it, right? You can tell me.

(p.s. If anyone knows anything about the school system in the above-mentioned town—it’s linked to, right up there—please, please email me.)

Reader Comments (209)

Like you have time to read, but go read Elizabeth Warren's _The Two-Income Trap_ (there are a ton of copies in the NYPL, so you can check it out and not spend the $$ on it). It explains how everyone we know is in this same shitty bind, and it's not because you drink too many lattes and it's not because feminism made the world suck. The book is scary but makes everything in your life all of a sudden make sense, in a creepy kind of way.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMoxie
I think most people feel like there is not enough money regardless of their situation. Economy versus salary versus extreme hikes in real estate do not bode well for anyone. Good luck to you and I hope you find a home and school you are happy with.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterordinary girl

Isn't the moving experience just the biggest downer on the planet? It is so fraught with stress & second-guessing & constant tension that it doesn't seem possible that any of it can work out. I don't really have any words of wisdom, sseing as I'm 42 years old & we just became homeowners 2 years ago. We had some of your same issues -- high property taxes, 1 income, 5 kids still at home, no safety net in case something happened to my husband's job, blah, blah. There were times I thought: we are crazy. We should not be doing this. In the end, it worked out. And I believe it will work out for you, even though I don't pretend to know how everything will shake out in the end. I guess I just believe that a family as nice & intelligent as your's will be able to figure out whatever it is you have to do to make this all work.

And I love Henry -- and I like your honesty about how you deal with him when he's driving you crazy. Who among us with a 3 year-old hasn't jumped up & down in frustration when they push our buttons?

February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTerry
I've not commented before, though I've loved reading your posts for several months now. Just had to say that your post had me all emotional because like all your commentors, I can relate. In my case, we'd like to move to a less expensive home, but we can't sell our house because it hasn't gone up in value enough in the years we've been here to cover closing costs. Our dream is for me to stay home with our kids... For over two years now we've been setting goals a few months out for when my husband will finish grad school and then I'll be able to quit. But his thesis keeps getting pushed off which means so does my quitting. And now he's about to finish up and has been hired on as a post doc, which should be cause for celebration except that... THAT won't pay anywhere near enough for me to stay home either, even if I pick up some part time work. We have two little girls and I feel like I'm missing some of the best parts of their lives. So I went to part time at my job last fall and we've been struggling to pay bills while slowly using up our savings and it's too stressful. The clothes thing is so true - I feel guilty for even wanting new things but I know I can't keep wearing the same stuff. Not only is it falling apart, but I've gone through some serious weight gains and losses, and only a couple items even fit me. Ugh.

All that to say, I feel your pain. Good luck. It will all work out, though "how" is a mystery.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHangerMom
JenB - some jeans AND some shoes. Can't have her tripping over her own feet now, can we?
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterclaudia
Alice...I have 2 pairs of lovely size 10 jeans that I can't fit into...e-mail if you want them. Postage is on me. (They are in "like new" condition...I just "outgrew" 'em.)

Hugs! sue
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBad Hippie
Alice - I will buy yo a new pair of jeans if you e-mail me your size and a place to send them to you or set-up an amazon wish list or equivalent! It's the very least I could do for all the funny ha-has you bring to my day.Hang in there girl - Bills suck, I stress about them all the time and then I try and gain some perspective and calm the inner-panic! :)Lisa
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlisapete
I've been through this myself and I think it's like all those other times in life when you hit rock-bottom and are about to give up and plead with your buyers that you were just kidding and can't move and will they just go look somewhere else is that okay? and are thinking about selling the dog on ebay and you think it can't get any worse - then it does.

Then a couple days later, right out of left field, it all comes together.

Hang on - that day is coming.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
i'm with sarcomical here. why? why did we have to grow up and start paying for things?

p.s. you will make it through this, alice. you have the strength. good luck.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbrooke
I'm a lurker and it sounds like you are majorly stressed right now, and that is NO FUN. about you get a job? Even the dreaded office job, not something that pays executive wages and fulfills your every psychic need but one that lifts your family income will help to alleviate financial stress. Not to mention take the entire burden of providing for all of the family off your husband's back. You are clearly an intelligent person and although being an admin assistant or whatever won't self-actualize the heck out of your life, it will bring an extra paycheck into the family coffers. Writing to make extra money is always a wonderful goal but that isn't steady or easy in terms of addressing an immediate cash crunch. As for the 'but anything I make will go to daycare' it sounds like your son is ready to be in school so you aren't talking full day anyhow.

As has been well and truly noted, to function reasonably well in today's middle class it is very tough on one income. The Two-Income Trap is well worth reading, as someone else suggested. Get a job too at least for awhile and it will get easier, if not easy.

OK, flame retardant suit on.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterFlo's Child
I will try to provide some constructive advice (you have plenty of eloquent sympathy already).Hard, hard won experience from similar situations.

1. Most money anxiety comes from uncertainty and a feeling of a loss of control. This can be ameliorated by really taking a look at your finances and you, especially, understanding where you are financially. Most of the time, it’s not as bad as you think or if it is, at least you have quantified the problem and can have a plan for dealing with the situation. You are back in control. There are plenty of books out there, but I like ‘Making the Most of Your Money’ by Jane Bryant Quinn. If it seems like your husband doesn’t share in your anxiety - this may be the reason (just guessing).

2. Stress Management is important. Especially when things start to hit the fan. That’s when you need to keep your gym appointments, quiet teatime, shopping alone etc. Whatever you need to decompress - it needs to be scheduled and acknowledged as just as important as a dentist appointment. When I bought my first house and was going through tough work deadlines several years ago, the stress got to me so badly that I started having fainting spells. Don’t let it get to that point.

3. I mentioned this before, but if and when you do more creative work - don’t shortchange yourself or your work. Creative people always devalue their own work. You can do something that not many people can - write and be funny and touching and eloquent all at the same time. You may think that it comes easy for you, but it is valuable and should be treated as such.

4. Again, previously noted at the tail end of comment string - but pony up people!! - If you can give 2.50 a week to buy a Us weekly, what is finslippy worth to your lives? Think of yourself as a medieval patron - distributing largesse so that the jester can keep you amused. I gave 24 dollars (2 dollars a month) by clicking that little ‘shameless’ button on the side of the page and I got a very nice thank you from Alice and the satisfaction of knowing I was supporting good writing that made me happy.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbluepaolo
Yes please about the size and preference of jeans. A woman has to have jeans, for pete's sake. Have you ever checked out Target's clearance racks? They have great, cute clothing for like nothing there. SOrry you're struggling so, i feel ya.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLydia
It's so horrible that we sometimes have to feel bad about our feelings because there are other people out there who have it worse. Your problems are meaningful and you deserve to worry about them without feeling guilt.BTW- I am so with Laziza about the T-Shirts. Have you ever though about doing that? I would totally buy some up. Also asking Heather about the ads seems like a great idea as well. She seems to do well with hers and if people complain about it they can go read someone else.I hope things look up!
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAngela
Me agian. I checked your site before reading the Toothpaste For Dinner comic for today and there is no way I could not relate it to you.Please enjoy hope that gives you some joy today.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAngela
I agree with the T-shirts as well. Very Mom is using them to help her pay for her trip to Blogher. I think lots of people would buy a Finslippy t-shirt!!
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Just sending hugs, sweetie.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMir
My husband and I just moved from a house we could afford in Missouri to an apartment we can barely afford (to rent!) in LA. And we went from two incomes to one, since he's in grad school. I feel like I'm always talking/thinking about money, so it's nice (and sucky) to see that so many people are in the same boat. Alice, we made quite a bit of money off of our house as well, only to see it quickly disappear via moving costs... Wishing you all the luck in the world. (And you don't sound whiny at all)
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterleigh
Hi, Alice, you've brought out all your delurkers! I love your site and even though it's tough to read about YOUR OWN LIFE like that first thing in the morning, I have to say I really appreciate your bravery in posting this. We are in the same big boat, out in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I just wanted to tell you something that made a world of difference to us this year. We moved into an OK-for-now neighborhood across the bay, down the street from the worst elementary school on the planet, figuring we would move into a better district when the baby was ready to start school. Then oops, it's twins, guess we don't have the funds to move "up" after all. So what to do about the school problem? Someone told us we could apply, and have a good chance of getting, an intradistrict transfer to a better school. Do they do that in NJ? It's worth asking -- more options -- not that you should have to live amid smelly shag carpets.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
I'm sure it would not be a popular option for you but living in the midwest is cheaper. Good housing and schooling can be had without having to pay astromical amounts. We may not have the opporutinities of Broadway shows..unless they visit us or we travel to see them. Friends of mine who have moved here, have a comfort level with the slower pace and ...don't laugh...a lot of the genuineness of people who have lived here forever. I have a lot of friends in the tech industry and when their employer says 'move or lose you job', they say 'i'm staying because my kids like their schools and i like my neighbors'. No fast tracks to success. Just a much simpler existance.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterxath
HEY, don't feel bad about feeling bad about not having enough money for the things you need. Yeah, alot of people have a lot less, but you know what, a LOT of people have a LOT more and dammit, they do not have to worry about paying for a good school for their kids or having a nice place to live or buying new clothing when they need it. So, hey, don't feel bad for wishing that maybe your life was financially a little more like the lives of the many people who DO have way more than enough to live comfortably and don't have to make really hard choices in life.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlulu
1 pair new jeans + 1 pair new well fitting shoes + 1 goes with everything (ie your jeans and shoes!)non bobbly top = could cost you as little as $50 and will definitely make you feel better when tackling everything else. Don't feel guilty AT ALL.Really, I'd buy a finslippy t-shirt too, it could make you a fortune!
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClaire
You are my sunshine, my only sunshineYou make me happy, when skies are grayYou'll never know dear, how much I love youPlease don't take my sunshine away.

(please sing to yourself in the style of a sick Henry singing himself to sleep. Should make you smile momentarily?)

PS - fix your amazon link so that it will take more than a $50 donation!
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLizRM
Xath, we would leave the NY/NJ/CT area if we could, but unfortunately here is where my husband's industry is.

Someone else up there told me to get an administrative job, but sadly, childcare and transportation, etc. would reduce the net income to a few pennies.

What else? Oh, the Two-Income Trap: Moxie, I read about that on your site! And I got the book out of the library, and I was even more depressed. But it was definitely valuable reading.

Thanks, everyone else.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteralice
I'm so sorry you're feeling so stressed, Alice. I absolutely can identify with you--we'd love to buy a house but just aren't there yet, and now we're trying to figure out preschool.

To echo someone else, friends of mine have recently moved from Queens & Brooklyn to West Orange and South Orange, where the schools are good, the commute is easy, and the prices might not be quite as high as Bloomfield. South Orange I know shares Maplewood's excellent schools. A possibility? Or just assvice? I guess only you can say for sure. But it might be worth looking. If you're interested, email me and I'll pass you my friends' real estate agent info.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClare
Oh, the assvice. I wish I could help. Which, I guess I can by just thinking good thoughts.
February 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJonna

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