Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Big Bad Wolf.

Who is scared by this whole “economic downturn” business? Yes, me, too. I don’t have any reason to think that I am going to be laid off in the immediate future, but I still think about the possibility all the time. In fact, money, food and shelter seem to be all I think about these days, and those thoughts have become all-consuming and occasionally depressing. After spending my days working and/or rushing around after my baby trying to make sure he doesn’t lose an eye, picking up the never-ending food and other detritus he incessantly flings around, and putting him to bed with a last pass around the house to clean his dishes and Windex his smeary prints off the coffee table, then I settle into the couch for an hour of self-defeating, tense-necked ruminations about money, and fear, and fear of no money. I can’t watch TV, or get involved in a book. I might scan a vapid magazine if I can manage it. I often fall asleep early, which could have something to do with the current pace of my life, but which I suspect is more likely a way to avoid these overwhelming thoughts. I feel paralyzed; we can’t make any plans. Forget about indulging in the idea of a vacation or even of a night away in the mountains; should we even waste money on a Christmas tree? The baby doesn’t know what Christmas is, and surely we will just spend all our time prying the ornaments out of his fist.

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. In fact, to read about it in the papers, millions of people feel the same way. Unfortunately, this mass trepidation is compounding our economic woes. We’re scared to spend the money we do have, which sets off a chain reaction. When I decide not to buy any new clothes or books at my favorite stores, or to eat at my favorite restaurants, the combination of my reticence with that of so many other consumers translates into lost jobs at those establishments. That in turn results in less people with money to stimulate the economy. The government keeps trying to shock the system with injections of fantastical sums of Monopoly money, but so far nothing seems able to stem the tide. Consumers are going to have to be willing to risk putting some of their money out into the marketplace to keep things from grinding to a complete halt.

The most immediate economic decision my husband and I are facing right now is that we want to remodel our house, but for every argument in favor of forging ahead there is a counterargument that says we should just let it ride for awhile: our family has already outgrown our tiny house, but didn’t American families manage to cram into small houses in the fifties? Maybe we are just being greedy Americans. We might be able to do the remodel for less right now while contractors and manufacturers are hurting for work, but does that really matter when I might lose my job or R. might not be able to get more architecture projects? The increased mortgage will have to be paid somehow. But the finished product would be good marketing for his firm… we go around and around on this until I end up back on the couch, staring into space with a clenched jaw.

Just so you get an idea what we’re talking about, here is a picture of what our house looks like today (well, really a few years ago, but it hasn’t changed).

You can see, perhaps, why we might want to make some changes.

Here are snapshots of the front and back of the new house from a 3-D mock up my husband knocked up based on his detailed architectural plans.

Now, maybe modern is your thing, maybe it isn’t, but it is ours! The dark gray portion will be concrete board panels arranged in some aesthetically pleasing design. The brick will be painted not sure what color yet – somewhere from a grayish off-white to a light taupe, depending on what looks best with the other materials we use. Then there’s wood siding, which we’ll probably do instead of the Finnish wood panels we would both prefer but which are prohibitively expensive. It all looks a bit stark here, but imagine it with plantings below the windows and other signs of life. See the little window that’s like a porthole? That is a floor-level window in the playroom designed for two little boys and a couple of cats to lie down and look out. I don't want the economy to huff and to puff and blow it all down.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's in a Name?

One of the most difficult decisions about having a baby is what to name it. Here I am, 27 weeks pregnant, and R. and I have only just decided on a name for the new kid. When we had our first child, we went around and around on what to name him, too, but as soon as one of mentioned Ian we were both sold. This time, it was even harder.

Kate: “Ian is a Scottish name. Should we choose another Scottish one? I think I might be an eighth Scottish.”

R.: “Sure. I really like Duncan.”

Kate: “Oh, uh, OK, ‘Duncan.’ Maybe we should call him that for a week and see if it starts to sound like something I would like.”

A week later:

Kate: “What about James? We could call him Jamie.”

R.: “Uh, OK. I don’t really like that, but I guess it’s OK.”

Nosy Friend: “I never knew a Jamie that didn’t get his ass kicked.”

Another week and several perusals of the baby name book later:

Kate: “I wish our cat weren’t already named Alix. I quite like Alexander.”

R.: “Who gives a crap what that cat’s name is? She’s useless.”

Kate: “You’re just mad because she won’t come near you.”

R: “She won’t come near anyone! I guess Katrina must have traumatized her, but Jesus. Just because she had to eat people until she was rescued doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to pet her. You’d think it would be the opposite. I should be fighting her off to keep her from clawing my eyes out in the night.”

Kate: “Would it be weird to have a cat named Alix and a son named Alex? It’s the only name that sounds right to me, and it sounds good with Ian.”

R.: “We could re-name Alix. It’s not like she answers to her name, anyway.”

Kate’s Mom: “Oh, Kate, you HAVE to rename the cat. You’ll give Alex a complex if you don’t. He needs to have his own name.”

So now we have a son named Alex and a cat named Alice. She hates us all so much these days, anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if she just moves into the basement permanently when we bring the new baby home. It’s a shame, because she’s awfully cute.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Living the Dream.

My life seems like such a set of women’s magazine clich├ęs these days:

“Mommy, Do you Have to Work?”
“Nanny-Cams – Invasion of Privacy?”
“Why is My One-Year Old Already Having Tantrums!?”
“Hot Wire Your Sex Life!”
“Double Coupons on Wednesdays”
“Costco or Sam’s Club?”
“No Time to Look Like a Goddamned Human Being”

It’s surreal. For so many years I skipped over those types of articles in magazines, and steered clear of impromptu meetings at my law firm on “balancing work and kids.” It wasn’t pertinent to my life at the time, but regardless - who the hell needed advice on making time for a 30-minute bath, needed suggestions on how to “set the mood for love” or had to use coupons? Not me, that was for sure. But what the fuck did I know? Nothing, that’s what. Which doesn’t make life any easier now that I find myself in the thick of it.

My mom reminds me that when I was small, life wasn’t about going to Paris, or out to the newest restaurants. She put that stuff on hold for years while instead there were beach trips and shared Stouffer’s frozen dinners and an ongoing roster of child care workers, each with her own set of quirky problems to deal with. It’s both a blessing and a curse that I had so much time as an unmarried woman with a reasonably lucrative career: now that I’m in the vortex I know what I’m missing since I had it for so long, but I also know that it will all be there when these crazy, early years of my children’s lives are over.

Because even though so much of daily existence right now is just squeaking by, frequently punctuated by fakey crying and a constant demand to be picked up by a 3-foot tall tyrant, if I choose to look at it from the other direction it can sometimes even seem idyllic. My house, which at one point not so long ago seemed so cold and empty I had to feng shui the whole place (shortly thereafter resulting, I like to believe, in a husband and a promotion at work), is now a cozy, lived-in nest that protects me and my family from the cold, cruel world. My husband, though busy doing more than his fair share to keep the whole machine running smoothly, appears to still love and want to be with me in the midst of all our chaos. And then there is our baby, who is simultaneously a pill and the smartest, most adorable little boy I have ever seen in my whole life.

Now if I only had time to even read those magazines for some pointers…

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now Here We Are.

I can still hardly believe it’s true. And sure, I know I’m pregnant and hormonal and all that, but I just can’t seem to stop tearing up every few minutes when it crosses my mind again. We have a black president! We have a president who actually thinks before he speaks, can string a compelling sentence together, doesn’t have a VP who plans to destroy the world from behind the puppet theater’s curtain, has a beautiful family that includes a strong, smart wife, who believes in working hard and pitching in and making the world a more peaceful place…. it’s just such a victory in so many ways.

Even though it’s hard to imagine this administration truly solving all the terrible things going on in the world right now, at least I know that one thing is going to stand very, very strong: civil rights. Among all the problems we have to solve, setting America back on the path to protection of our freedoms is paramount. We have a president who knows that.

Maybe one day soon this feeling of cautious optimism will feel natural again.