Archive for June, 2011

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I had forgotten what it feels like.

June 28, 2011

This morning, Lemon had an orthodontist appointment.  This was the first of her 4 final appointments, as her braces are coming off on September 1st.  The last time we went, in early June, her orthodontist sat down with us and planned out the final appointments, and she helped me choose days and times.  She could have missed a part-day of camp to go to an afternoon appointment, but she didn’t want to.  So she chose a 7:15 a.m. appointment.

Last night, I reminded her of the 7:15 appointment.  She groaned, but said fine.  I asked her what time she needed to get up.  She said 6:50.

So I went for my run this morning and got home at 6:30. I went in her room at 6:50 and reminded her.  I was sweet – brushed the hair off her face and said, “I know it’s hard to get up early, honey, but you’re really close to getting your braces off, and you can’t miss this appointment if you want that to work out.”  She said, “5 more minutes!”  Less than sweetly.

I went back in at 6:56.  I told her I needed her to get out of the bed.  She did – and stormed to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.  [WD and Mouse were both still in bed, and I think they deserved to be sleeping.]

I went to her room at 7:05 to say “time to go.”  She was upside down on her bed, jammies still on.  “What!?” she yelled, “I’m stretching!”  I reminded her that others in the house were still sleeping.  I told her we had to leave in no more than 5 minutes.

7:12 … she finally has on clothes, but not shoes.  I say, “We really need to leave right now!” and she storms past me, yelling again about how I’m being so ridiculous, and goes back into the bathroom.  “I NEED TO BRUSH MY TEETH!”

And that’s when it happened – right there.  I started to see spots.  My teeth were clenched to the point where I thought I’d break them.  I was so angry with her.  I had been gentle, I had been persistent, and she was just – being a jerk.

When she (and her sister) was little, this was a less-than-rare occurrence.  Especially while I was still married to the Ex, and started almost every day in a pretty bad place.  They would act all toddler-ish (because they were toddlers), and I would get very angry.

Today, while fuming, I pictured myself, in my mind’s eye, slamming into the bathroom, grabbing her by the arm, and dragging her down the stairs and chucking her into the car.  Just like I used to occasionally picture in the past – inappropriate and unkind responses, coming out of my anger.

Fortunately, seeing the scene in my mind’s eye always – in the past and today – is what it takes for me to know “um, no” and keep myself in check.  I act on the anger only in my imagination, see the lines crossed, and behave myself.  I’m not proud of that imagination – but I am glad it stays there.*

I did slam the bathroom door open.  And I told her “you get in that car right now.” With a tone of voice she may have never heard before.  And she yelled “Oh my GOD!”  (indignantly) and slammed out the bathroom.  I yelled at her – truly yelled at her – the whole way to the orthodontist.  I told her that her behavior was selfish, disobedient, unacceptable and disrespectful.  I told her she could not go to crew today, and instead would come home after camp and clean her room all evening.  I told her that the next time she asks me to do something, the answer is no.  “No, the next THREE times!”  I know I swore at least once in there, but I am at least happy to report that I did not call her names, and did not personally attack her.

She glared at me through it all, until I said she couldn’t go to crew. Then she started to cry.  “I can’t miss crew!  I’ll clean my room tonight after crew, even if I have to stay up all night, I promise!”

The orthodontist is about 4 minutes away.  We got there at 7:21 for our 7:15 appointment.  She got out of the chair sheepish and tried to be chatty.   I glared back, but then stopped.  She said, “I’m sorry, mommy, I know I messed up.”  And I said, “I haven’t been that angry in forever.  I’m sorry I yelled at you like that.  You can go to crew.”  And we hugged.

Seriously – I think it’s been a decade since I felt that way.  Since I yelled like that.  It felt so foreign, that bubbling anger.

I didn’t like it any more today than I did back then.  But in some ways, knowing it’s been so long is consoling.  I have always looked back at those days of the first marriage, and of being a stay-at-home mom, and thought, “I’m so much happier, and a better parent with these changes in my life,” but wondered if I was just talking myself into it.  But today, I remembered.  Things didn’t come easy back then  – I was struggling.

 

* The imagination used to kick in with the Ex, too.  I remember one distinct day where we were in the midst of trying to make things work, and we had planned to go on a family hike.  We were waiting for some football game or baseball game to end, and then we were going to go.  But he decided he just … didn’t want to.  He was drowsy.  So he laid on the couch and drifted off to sleep.  Kids running around, antsy, waiting to leave (they were 3 and 5 years old), me dressed and ready to go, and he just … went to sleep.  I stood there staring at him, and in my HEAD ONLY — I picked up a book and chucked it at his head.  Particularly, at his temple.

Then I took the girls on a hike.

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Wait, was there a weekend in there somewhere?

June 28, 2011

The weekend is over, but I am not feeling rested – at all!

First of all, I ahve acknowledged in the past handful of years that I am no longer a kid.  I know that so many young people look to the end of the school/work week ready to GO!  To Play!  To Party!  I end the work week salivating for lounge wear, a glass of wine, and my couch.  If we have Friday night plans, I’m a wreck.  How will I stay awake?  How will I have energy?  I can barely stay awake through a movie, let alone through a party!

But this past Friday, I found myself removing the lounge wear and putting on a pair of jeans – at 7 p.m.  A friend (who, like 90% of my friends, is the mom of one of my kids’ friends) was coming by to drop off sleep over materials, and said, “what if we have a glass of wine? do you have time?”  I groaned a bit inside, but the truth is – I like my friend. I would like a glass of wine.  And so I put on jeans …

While I was waiting for her to come by, another friend texted, “what are you doing? you should drop off those things I need, and stay for a glass of wine!”

[and no — this story does not end with, “and then I was drunk.”

So I hung out at home with friend #1 until she had to go, then mosied over to the home of friend #2 and had a glass of wine and a nice chat there, and then – only then (10:30ish) – did I get home and put back on the lounge wear.

And it was very nice.  WD hung out with my friend & I for a bit at home, so I got to be with him, too, and Mouse came with me to my other friend’s house (and sat in the other room watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid with a handful of kids MUCH younger than her …) and it was all mellow and social, all at once.

Is there a way to purposefully create such a mellow, social time?  I should start a “lounge wear happy hour” at my house on Friday evenings.  No dressing up allowed …

Then Saturday and Sunday happened.  And I had no more happy Suzie social time.  It was all about carting kids, supervising kids, watching kids do sports, fighting with kids, and more.

Saturday, I took Lemon and a friend to the Taylor Swift concert.  It was held in a football stadium, 30 minutes from our house.  Or, rather, 30 miles.  Which is NOT 30 minutes when 50,000 people from various parts of New England are doing their very best to cram into the same football stadium.

We did this last year.  A friend and I took 4 girls – my 2 and a friend for each.  My friend and I had tickets that time, and we had a great, great time.  We were a little unprepared for the post-show chaos, though.  We got back to our car after the concert and got the kids buckled in and …. sat.  For over 2 hours.  We had gotten to the venue pretty much right at the start time, and so were pretty deep into fields-gone-parking-lots.  We didn’t know why we were sitting very, very still for hours on end, but we knew it was hard.  A car full of hyper girls, bouncing, jumping, yelling, singing, and us 1000% exhausted after a long day.

We got home at 2:30 a.m.

This time, I knew better.  Lemon’s friend’s mother and I actually were supposed to go together (we did NOT have tickets this time), and we even looked into getting a room in the hotel on the grounds.  That was silly – thinking we’d be able to get a room without a year’s notice.  It was booked.  So we were going to go and have dinner while the girls were in the concert.  But then she had a work-thing to do.  So I was on my own to figure it out.

And this is what I did:  We left the house at 2:30 for a 6 p.m. concert.  We chose a private lot 1 mile away from the venue.  I offered the girls to drop them off closer, and then go back and park, but they chose to walk with me (“a mile’s not that far!”).  I also offered to pick them up closer, in the parent pick-up lot.  My wise and mature 15 yo charges said, “that makes no sense, then we’re driving right back into the thick of the traffic.  Let’s just all walk back to the car, and that’s 1 mile of traffic we don’t have to deal with.”

We got to our parking spot at 3:30.  We were at the stadium (and its adjoining mall) by 4 p.m.  We shopped a little, and then got in line for a restaurant.  The wait was long, but we thought a sit-down meal would be a good way to kill time.  We had our burgers, nachos and salad, and then I took them to the gate of the concert.  Lemon texted me at one point, having trouble figuring out how to get to their seats, after they were in, and I was a little nervous.  A football stadium!  50,000 people!  2 little girls, all alone!  By the time I could draft my response, she was in her seat, sending me texts of her view.  “These are the best! seats! ever!”

And so I hopped across the mall and sat down for my 6:45 showing of Midnight in Paris!  Hooray!  And when I got out?

Taylor Swift had yet to take the stage.  Aw, geez.

We had selected our post-concert meeting place already – a cute little patch of grass we had rested on while waiting for our name to be called at the restaurant – and I settled there with my book.  But then I was cold.  So I wandered back to the mall, and found a fleece on a crazy “it’s summer, you doofus!” sale.  Then back to the grass, with the book.  Listening to Taylor Swift, remembering the year before, I was kind of wishing I had a ticket, after all.  Then I thought I was tired.  So I went to get myself some coffee.  Coming out of the Dunkin Donuts, the sky lit up.  Concert fireworks? Concert lighting?

No.  Lightning.

Then thunder.

Then nothing for a long time.

Then more thunder – louder than the concert (which is saying something).  Then a little more lightning.

Then WD texted to say “it’s pouring here, but looks like it’s not going to hit you” – then a drop of water hit my iPad (what, you think I meant a real book?  Pfft.)

I put the Precious away, and just sat to listen to Taylor, with an occasional drop of water.  Then it was more than occasional.

I went back to the mall, and sat under the awning of the Express.

For an hour and ten minutes.

People were streaming out of the concert with the first big thunder.  Lemon actually texted to say, “Mom, people are leaving and I don’t know why ….”  I responded that it could be to avoid traffic, or could be because of the thunder.  I didn’t have the patience to text and say, “all the people who are leaving are mothers with their five year olds, and I think they’re leaving because they realized they are insane to be dragging preschool aged children to a stadium concert!”  I mean, seriously?

I encouraged her to put on her hood and stay for as long as Taylor would play.

Which was a long time.  When the rain turned to monsoon-proportions, she apparently embraced it, resulting in thunderous applause and whoops and hollars.  She didn’t stop playing for another hour – and didn’t skimp on the encores.

The rain stopped as we walked our mile back to the car.  We walked not only past stopped cars, but we also passed several hundreds of slow-walking people.  A traffic jam of foot traffic? Who would have thought?

Concert ended at 11; I had the girls with me by 11:10; we were at our car (thanks to the slow-walkers) by 11:40.  We did, in fact, walk past the worse of the traffic snarls, and got onto the road with little to no delay.  When traffic did get backed up, I saw a sign that said, “use of breakdown lane is permitted!” but no one was using the breakdown lane.  Perhaps because, like me a year ago, they thought it was always illegal and bad and sneaky to drive in the breakdown lane.  But Massachusetts disagrees.  Why waste perfectly good pavement in the face of a traffic jam? So I drove in the breakdown lane … past the rest of the traffic!

I had dropped off Lemon’s friend, gotten Lemon home and in her bed (as if that takes much for a 15 yo), and was in my own bed by 12:30.  Take that, 2:30 a.m.!!

And it’s a good thing.

Because on Sunday at 5:30, my alarm was going off so I could wake Lemon and drag her out of bed for a regatta.

Ahh, the joys of summer crew.

WD and I picked up the rest of our carpool, dropped them off at their trailer (in a town 30 miles in the opposite direction of where we’d been the night before) so they could build their boats, and found ourselves a quiet secluded place in the parking lot, where we set our iPhones, reclined our seats, and went back to sleep! Only for an hour.  We had to get up, get coffee, and go watch the race.

Eventually, we found ourselves at home, getting the kids ready for this week’s first week of summer day camp (a creative arts camp).  I got into the bed at a reasonable time on Sunday, which is always hard because I usually sleep in.  Not this time.  Which meant I was able to get up at 5:30 on Monday and go for a run.

And with that, I knew the weekend was over, despite my lack of rest.

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Birthday Party Success (ish)

June 22, 2011

I will be selfish for a moment:  Hurray!  Mouse’s birthday went great!  She had the “BEST DAY EVER!!!!” at Six Flags New England, and I cannot imagine how I could have created more smiles in one day.

Not being selfish — I don’t think each and every girl had the best day ever.  It’s possible that it was 5 out of 6 who did – maybe 4 out of 6.  I guess it is possible that all 6 did, but if so, that straggler has a funny way of showing it.

I stress about dynamics incessantly (proof here).  I am a perceptive person – I catch the raised eyebrows across the table, despite a high level of chaos.  I can see a downward glance, showing unhappiness.  I’m watching these sorts of things all the time, and learn a lot about people’s relationships.   But there’s nothing you can do with it –

“Mouse, your friend S spent a lot of time kind of bouncing up and down trying to get in between you and your friend J. I think she felt left out.”

I chose not to say that.  First, the girls were doing nothing wrong.  There were girls with higher energy, and those with the lower energy were attempting to keep up, or not trying to keep up and hanging back.  Second, it was Mouse’s birthday.  I’ve seen her before, at her birthday parties, pull herself from the fun in the center to take care of her friends (truly friends) on the fringes.  Every fiber of her being wants to be with those whose energy matches hers in a group, but she doesn’t want to have the others feeling neglected.  That’s a lot of work for a kid at her own party.  And I chose not to say anything to her, not to make her do that work.

Every single girl – all 6 – told their moms they had the best day ever. It was great – so much fun.  I will choose to believe them.

 

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Calm Returned

June 18, 2011

Ok, I’m better now. Peace is returned. The girls had hugs & apologies – and I did not run any interference. I merely vented.

I do have lingering worries about tomorrow’s birthday party – I will be very sad if mini groups break off. But I will just continue to remind myself that it is not my life, and watch as my daughter navigates. I’ll have to charge WD with making sure I live up to it. 😉

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So Hard

June 18, 2011

I am sitting in my bedroom, in my cozy, comfy chair. There’s a book in my lap, tasty snacks & a glass of wine at my side.

And i find myself in tears.

When my girls were small, I had power over their friendships. If there was a toddler prone to biting, or hitting, I could decide not to plan play dates with that child. A kid at the park who hoarded all the shovels, or lorded over a certain slide – find another park.

Even in elementary school, Mom’s opinion (and scheduling power) held considerable sway.

But no more. We’re in middle school now.

Now I am forced to sit and watch as my child is treated like a goddamned hockey puck. Once sacred friendships are discarded for the hope & promise of “popularity”. Plans are blown off because something more “cool” has come along.

That it happens on the eve of a several hundred dollar birthday outing only compounds my anger. My sense of protectiveness cannot endure. (First my daughter, then my wallet?)

I so want to march up and say “this is not the behavior of a good friend. Or of a good person!”

But at the threat of my wrath, my daughter’s tears form.

“Mommy, please. I can handle this. This is mine.”

And I think back to my own 7th grade self. In June! Almost 8th. What if my mom marched up to my friends and gave them what-for.

Well, wow. Um, I’d have died.

So I bite my tongue.

I bitch to my husband.

I make veiled references in emails to my friends (the nasty girls’ moms).

And I wonder –

Do they scoff? do they look back to times when they sat, looking across the street at giggling girls while their own was sitting in her room, with a brave smile and forced forgiveness, and think “karma, baby!”

I am struggling, with this independence business. I want to trust. But I fear that my girls allow for too much. They take too much on the chin. They don’t stand up & say ‘enough’.

Tonight, I told her: You need higher standards for your friendships.

Her friend (a fellow blown-off girl) scoffed at me. “if we had higher standards, we’d have no friends.”

My indignation only causes bitterness from the person I want to protect.

This is so hard.

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Birthday Parties Suck.

June 14, 2011

Last month, Mouse turned 13.  I had a frustrating experience planning her birthday party with friends.

We wanted to go to a cabin in Vermont – one that my family has been going to for years upon years – just like we did for Lemon’s 13th birthday.  Mouse had been quite excited for the trip.

But Mouse and her friends, they have sports to play.  Bat Mitzvahs to attend.  And scheduling became, shall we say, difficult.

It became apparent that an entire weekend was not going to happen.  Not with the crucial attendees.

So we had to revise the plan.  Flexibility is key, when parenting teenagers.  Nothing is more important than being flexible.  Head still attached to the neck?  NOT IMPORTANT.

Which is good, because the whole birthday-party planning thing did, in fact, cause my head to pop off in frustration.  Frustration with kids, with kids’ parents, with myself, with my parents, with my kids, with my spouse, with the state of Massachusetts – with everything.

The revised plan is taking place this weekend.  On Sunday.  We are going to an amusement park.  A big, famous amusement park with roller coasters and a water park, and lots of sticky pavement and nausea-inducing rides.

Yee ha.

But hey – wait!  Let’s not get all the way to the Big Day without throwing in a little more frustration? — to wit:

When we made the plan, we had 4 girls on the invite list.  This weekend/trip/birthday folly was always going to be enough of an outing that it was small numbers.  I would have preferred to have 3 girls on the list, but the dynamics of the group are such that it cannot be done.  So when one of them had a big sports tournament or other thing that couldn’t be avoided, it seemed perfect to me.  4 girls.  A nice, even number.

Oops, Mom!  Wait!

“I was walking to school with Friend 5, and I kind of forgot that we weren’t inviting her this year, and started talking about my plans and stuff, and since Friend 4 can’t come, can Friend 5 become Friend 4?  Please?  I really want her to come, and now if I don’t invite her, it will be awkward.”

I run through the issues in my head.  I think about group dynamics.  I think about seats in the car.  I think group dynamics will be improved by the addition of friend 5-now-4, and I realize that regardless of whether or not she is added to the list, our car isn’t going to fit the crew – so I’ll have to work out transportation in some fashion.

So I approved the switcheroo.

About 2 weeks ago, Mouse says, “Um, Mom?  Didn’t you say Original Friend 4 can’t come because of sports?”  “Yep, sure did.”  “Well, today she said she can’t wait to go – and I was confused, so I just played along.”

Original Friend 4’s mom is a friend of mine.  [And no, I can’t just use first initials.  They all have very similar names.]  So I called her.  “No, I really think that sports are devouring our entire life and she has about 15,000 games that weekend.”

I talk to another of the moms from the List.  “Hey, want a hybrid for the day?  So I can shove 7 bodies into your mini van and not pay a rental car company or zipcar to take the kids to the $50/head amusement park?”  She happily agrees.  Perfect!  5 girls, WD and me, fitting into a 7 passenger van.

A week later.  “Mom, Friend 4 keeps talking about my party.  I am confused.”

I again call mom of Friend 4.  “Now it looks like there are 20,000 games that weekend.  I really don’t know why she thinks she’s going.”

This past weekend, “MOM!!  She said something AGAIN!!”

Last night, I sent the reminder email with a list of things that the kids need to bring: “They need bathing suits, but can’t wear JUST bathing suits, because if we’re not in the water park, shirts are required.  They should have flip flops for the water park, but need other shoes for roller coasters, or else they’ll lose their flip flops and drop them on someone’s head.  Please don’t forget sunscreen.  Or towels.”

I sent it to all 5 girls. Meaning the girl who couldn’t come and the girl who was invited to replace the girl who couldn’t come.

Guess how many moms wrote back to say their kids cannot wait and are soveryexcitedohmygodthisisthebest!?  5.  Plus Mouse makes 6.  Plus me makes 7.  Plus WD makes 8.

Goddammit.

So I’m in talks with another friend, because her van holds 8.  She thinks it will be fine to swap cars.  Probably.  She just has to talk to her husband.  Who is out of town.  He may be gone for a few days.  And maybe they’re going away for the weekend.  Not really sure.  But it should be fine.

I think I’ll go reserve a zipcar now …

 

 

Wait!

First, I’d like to just say:

I’ve come a long way from the days of throwing phones into walls because of a lack of grocery money.  But I’ve rounded the corner from that into the days of saving for college tuition.  My financial planner has us saving quite aggressively for this.  At the same time, my kids keep coming up with new camps & stuff that they want to attend this summer.  Result?  I’m freaking broke – all summer long.

So the extra ticket to the amusement park – groan.  But knowing that the kids are so very excited about the FAIR part of the park?  You know, the part where you shell out crazy amounts of cash so they can throw balls into holes and then make ME lug giant stuffed animals all over the place?  I’m not thrilled.  Not at all.

The finances of the whole day are actually freaking me out.

But I know it will be fine.

(I think.)

 

 

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Flashbacks v. 2 — A (Gilded) Brush With Poverty

June 14, 2011

For the past two plus years, I’ve been working closely with a medical/legal partnership organization on a pro bono project at my firm.  I really enjoy the work, and I enjoy being involved in the leadership of a very important endeavor.

This morning, the organization I work with ran a “poverty simulation” for several firms, including mine.  This wasn’t the first year they did it, and it’s often very well received by the associates and summer associates who participate.  The idea is that the young lawyers and lawyers-to-be role play to see what it feels like to live at or under the poverty level.  To “experience” the hard decisions that must be made when your resources do not cover your liabilities.  How once you find yourself in a hole, everything in your life tends to topple right into that hole.

I was sitting with a colleague as the introductory remarks were being made, and she leaned over and said, “have you done this before?”  Meaning – have I played the roles?  In the past years that the firm had the event?

Um.  Yeah.  I’ve “played the role” of being at or under the poverty line.

Only, for reals.

There is no doubt that always, in my life,  I have been very lucky.  Or charmed.  Or both.  I am aware of that.  I’m aware of the fact that my brush with poverty lasted three months – maybe six – makes me so much more fortunate than most who find themselves slipping down that horrific slope of Need.

But back in 2001, soon after the Ex and I split up, I was in dire need.  I left him during a time where we were in an elective state of poverty – otherwise known as living the student life.  We had no savings.  We had no assets.  No accounts to empty.  Nothing.  We barely had available credit.  We had low rent, but that was because he was a student, and we lived in graduate student housing.  But HE was the student.  Not me.  Not me, who had the kids (never was it a question that he might take the kids).

There was nowhere in my very expensive student town that I could afford to live.  First, last, deposit?  Impossible, it seemed.  I was working 28 hours a week in a job that paid ($10/hour?  $12?  I can’t remember – but I took the job as a way to pay for the family’s groceries, not as a way to support three of us entirely).  I was also doing a good bit of freelance work, but it was erratic.

I ended up moving an hour away from my job, from the town that had become my home, to live near my sister, and to pay crappy-town’s rent levels.  $550/mo instead of $1500/mo.  And I drove to and from my hour-away-job, while trying to figure out what I was going to do. My sister watched my girls a couple of nights a week, and the Ex had them on the weekends.  Until he moved.  Very Far Away.  (The Middle of the Country is far away, no matter which coast you live on.)

The situation wasn’t sustainable, but it got me through the initial separation, and helped me to have my sister nearby.  It was such a dark time for me, and for her.  She was struggling through the end days of her own marriage.  She later told me that she had just geared herself up to leave her husband, and I announced to her that I was leaving mine.  So she felt she had to wait.  I think she ended up waiting another year and a half, if my memory and math is right.

So I headed back toward “home.”  I needed to find a place to live, a daycare for the girls, and I needed to find a full time, real-money-paying job.  It may be the topic of another post to discuss how unhappy my parents were that “home” did not mean their house, my home town.  But for many, many reasons, that was just not an option for me.  I believe the primary reason was that running back home to mommy and daddy felt like failure.  I wanted this to be transition, not failure.

So I was heading back to the San Francisco Bay Area with no savings, a part-time barely-more-than-minimum-wage, 2 kids, and a car.

I looked into subsidized housing, but the waiting lists were forever long.  I spoke to daycare centers, and was shocked that I was going to be paying almost $2,000/mo for two children.  (I was making $1200/mo, total.)

It felt impossible.  I really wasn’t sure how I was going to make this all work.  Looking back and telling the story now, it seems almost more impossible than it did back then.  Back then, I was determined.  Now, I look back at that Suzie and shake my head …

Not too long into looking for an apartment, a friend put me in touch with her landlord.  One of those who doesn’t want to keep her several properties up to code, and is happy to charge a little bit less rent to get her tenants to keep their mouths shut.  Fortunately, “not up to code” meant she didn’t have all 3 units in the (very nice Victorian) house split onto separate utilities accounts.  I really didn’t care.  I paid $1,400/mo for a 3 bedroom house on a great street around the corner from a Whole Foods.  And while she took 1st month’s rent and a security deposit, she waived the last month’s rent.  So, that went on my credit card, but how was I going to pay the second month’s rent?  I needed a job.  But how could I look for a job without childcare?

And this is where I went looking for public benefits.  In the form of subsidized day care.  I took my $300/week pay stubs and went to a city office, and I applied for a daycare subsidy.

The miracle?  What I now know to be a miracle, after working with clients who are wholly dependent upon public benefits?

I was approved that day.  I had my voucher within 2 hours.  The woman who helped me was kind, caring, interested.

Wow.

Within a week of the girls being in full-time care, I had a new job.  I was a paralegal in a small firm, making $40,000/year, instead of under $15,000.  And when I got my first paycheck, I brought it back to the office that gave me the childcare voucher, and canceled the voucher.  Boy, was the Ex pissed (since he had to pay for 1/2 of childcare).

So while my truly rocky days lasted less than 6 months (I left the Ex in October of 2001, and I moved into my apartment and started my new real job in February of 2002), the repercussions lasted a lot longer.  Other than the childcare voucher, I didn’t have much financial help in those first months, and I put a lot on my credit card.  I ended up overwhelmed with credit card debt pretty quickly.

Soon after I started working at my new job and was settled into my new apartment, I was able to realize just how lucky I was.  Not just lucky that I got the job – but lucky that I had the education I had, the experience that I had, the credit score that I had – things that were, essentially, handed to me early in life that allowed for these pieces to click into place.  How easy would it have been to fail at my reestablishment if only one of those pieces weren’t in place?  If I didn’t have work experience, or I didn’t have the option to put those start-up costs on a credit card?  Or if I had a sick child? Or if that child care subsidy person wasn’t actually my Fairy Godmother?

I had a lot of hard times in the next several years.  Like the day that the bank decided to put a 3-day hold on my paycheck, locking my funds over a weekend when I had no food.  I was so very angry talking to the customer service representative – how can you put a hold on a paycheck?  The same paycheck I get every single week?  I ended up hanging up on him.  If using the term “hanging up on” is typical for “throwing my phone into a concrete wall so that it shatters into a thousand pieces.”  [The kids were not around to witness that.  But I did do it.]

And when all of that credit card debt came home to roost, and I found myself choosing to give up my car (and my car payments) so I could start digging out of the hole — the mornings and evenings of being dependent on public transportation, being so very anxious that I’d be late to pick the girls up from daycare or from after-school care.  And it was all compounded once Lemon started school and Mouse was still in daycare.  I had to get to Mouse by 5:15 and then strap my bike to the front of a bus (one that came “every 30 minutes”) and get to Lemon by 6 on the other side of town.  Getting home so very late because “every 30 minutes” on the way home really isn’t.  Do you wait for the bus, even after 45 minutes, with 2 very hungry and grouchy children?  Or do you hook their backpacks to the bike’s handlebars, and walk them 30 minutes home, stopping at the grocery store to grab some food before their bedtime?

[They pick on me today – when they look back at those days of eating Annie’s Mac & Cheese more often than we’d ever eat now – they think I made those choices because of a lack of cooking skills.  They don’t remember what our evenings were like.]

But I still look back on that time as proof of my good fortune, and with gratitude.  And I won’t ever let myself forget just how hard that was, and how much harder so many people have it.  Bootstraps had nothing to do with my fortunate transition.  Happenstance – of birth, of education, of privilege – gets the credit, and no one else should be discredited for not having the same.

No one should be judged – ever – for not having things click into place as easily as I did.