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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

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Sleep Is
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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.

Lets-Panic.com → 

« I know it’s a day early… | Main | The meme that started out promising, but then everything went wrong—just like life. »
Friday
Feb102006

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)

Staying home to raise your own children unfortunately, these days, is a struggle. I tried for as long as possible. My two children (Henry! and Alli) are now High School and College age. My husband was/is self-employed and we couldn't count on a weekly check. It was very hard. Started taking part-time jobs, eventually went back to work with the help of family (babysitting). Circumstances DO GET BETTER - still not great - but I am not complaining.Anyway, time flies and Henry will be graduating High School before you know. Try not to stress.Also, check out Waldwick, NJ. Grew up and raised my children here. Small blue-collar town tucked in the middle of very expensive Bergen county. 25 min to NYC without traffic (ha-ha). Small town with very friendly people - good schools -neighborhoods. Can walk to town. Updated library. Crazy taxes but that is the norm for NJ!Good Luck!
February 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKat
Dear Alice,

Would you please take that wicked imp that is sitting on your left shoulder telling you that you should just stop (feeling sorry for yourself, whining, complaining, expecting...etc) or you should just (be grateful, buck up, get over yourself, appreciate...etc) and stuff the little bugger in a pan of hot paraffin? We can make a real cutesy M.Stewarty candle out of it and you can dine with Jackson by candlelight.

I haven't been there and done that because it is never the same for anyone else but I am sorry it is horrid. Victor Frankl said that wonderful thing about suffering, that it is like a gas. Whatever the amount, it will fill any space available. So, it doesn't matter who has had whatever happen to them, your misery is plenty big enough.

Part of why you're miserable is because you love so much and care so much. You have high expectations for yourself, steep goals and lofty dreams. Another part is because you take responsibility. Another part is because you want to do it all brilliantly. All of that should make you realize you're an admirable lady. You can make words sing, and you knock all the baddies down with such humor and compassion that a zillion of us pop in every day to pretend we are a friend who just stopped by for tea. That doesn't mean that you aren't just as vulnerable as the rest of us or that you can't blow it as badly as we do.

Jackson will have bad days when you do. Jackson will have bad days on his own, but at least he will know that we all have them and we all survive them. He will know that no matter how mad you get at each other or how many doors you slam you will always end up by hugging. Not a bad life lesson really.

We care. We can't change anything by just caring but we do anyway. I hope that great things happen for you. If they do we will be glad for you. If they don't we will sit on the wall with you and scuff the heels of our shoes and grouse until they do. Either way, we are truly glad you are there when we hit the bookmark.









February 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGillian
My dad's side of the family is from the Princeton/New Brunswick area, and my husband is from Verona. I loved the feel of Bloomfield; I remember telling my husband once that I wouldn't mind living there. (He reminded me how I can't handle things like temperatures below 60 degrees, though). My instinct says the Oranges might be a good place to check out as well. Hey, it’s still good enough for Lauryn Hill. Forget Montclair. Like Caldwell, I think a lot of it is out of reach for us mere mortals (and non-mafia). Other possibilities include the already suggested Morris County--I know Boonton has a train that goes into the city--and New Brunswick/East Windsor a little further south does as well. It’s only a 45 minute ride into the city from the Princeton Junction stop. The further you get away from the city, the cheaper things get (well, *relatively* speaking). I also agree with everybody about the killer taxes comments...they might have a point about renting, since having a mortgage is a huge stress in itself. I have three other suggestions and they might be kind of stupid, but here goes: preschool co-ops, housing co-ops, and solatubes. The first two are cheaper alternatives and the third was something we installed to brighten our old dark and coffin-like house. It worked pretty well, actually.

Regarding the "Your Money or Your Life" book, I haven’t had time to actually read it, but I’ve heard it’s a very good book from people with way more sense than I.

And that donation button? I completely missed it until a commenter brought it to my attention. BIGGER! After you get the jeans, surely you will need some cash to come to Blogher ‘06!

P.S. I actually printed out all the comments from your post and it took me two days to get through them all. You have such a great fan club :)
February 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAngela
*big hug*
February 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermainja
I share the boat with you and many commenters. It makes me think of that West Wing episode - Toby meets a dad in a bar who says that sending your kid to college should be just a little bit easier. I think we all need this early part of adult life to be just a little bit easier. My husband's parents are in the midst of buying a second, and possibly third, house in Florida and we can't even afford a little townhouse where we live (and we don't even have kids yet!). Yes it should be challenging, but not this hard. I'm waiting for my birthday to roll around so I can get my hair cut.

Courage and strength to you. You will come out the other side of this. You have to, so you will. Just keep loving your son like you do.
February 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
I've never commented before, but having been in exactly the same place, I just wanted to tell you I was thinking of you. It sucks. That's all there is to it. Before I was left some money by my grandmother, i used to wake up at night because I was afraid I had forgotten a car payment and they were outside takign the cars right that minute. I've pawned my engagement ring to buy us food. I am happy every day that it's not like that any more, but I won't forget when it was.

And a tip on the jeans... go to the thrift stores in nicer parts of town. You can find LOTS of good things there, barely worn, for less than $10.

And I know, I would have felt guilty about the $10 too.
February 21, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBonanza Jellybean
This is the first time I've ever seen your blog and the first post I have ever read and I haven't read the comments.

But GOD! Do I feel for you.

We went through a phase just like yours. I wore hand me down clothes from my mother (shudder) and learned to cut my son's and husband's hair. I would make stew from two chicken legs and it would be dinner for two nights.

It passed for us. I don't know if it will for you. One of the reasons it feels so bad to have so little is because it seems like everyone else has so much. I'd look around at my run down home and crappy clothes and compare it to what most North Americans have. But if you compare it to someone in another country, I was rich!

Trouble is, I didn't live in a different country.

I wish you luck, I wish you well. Try to take care of yourself. Schedule some mommy and me time for you and your boy. It's even better than preschool.
February 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaurieM
Hi,I live in Nutley (right next to Bloomfield). We moved back to NJ after living in FL for the last 5 years. We moved because we were having a lot of the same issues you are currently experiencing. Bloomfield is a nice area and I commute to NYC everyday for work. If you want to see the school report card go directly to the NJ's website.http://www.state.nj.us/education/index.html

Good luck!Toni
February 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterToni
Nice...

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