Saturday, May 14, 2022

It Might Have Been Otherwise

“No regrets.” That’s what a handmade sign I passed on my running route the other morning read.

What a dumb concept was my knee-jerk reaction when I saw the spray-painted message.

No regrets? Do you have no shame? my inner, barely-there Catholic scoffed.

Still, the sign’s message stuck with me. The timing was auspicious. Before setting out on that muggy morning, I had been talking to my husband about how much I regret not moving. I hate Minnesota, especially the weather, like how it goes from snowing every day in April to smothering humidity in the span of a week. I swear, we didn’t get more than a handful of days that could be considered spring. ("It's hot and muggy where we were going, too," my husband helpfully reminded me.)

OK, summer (my second least-favorite season) is everywhere. And yet, I think about our almost-new-hometown every day – not because the place was particularly spectacular but because I really wanted – needed – a fresh start. But then I run the numbers (yes, I do the mortgage/health insurance/relocation costs calculus daily, too) and there’s no way to make the math work.

No regrets? Aren’t regrets good? Don’t they show that we’ve matured and learned, that we’re smarter and (ideally) more moral? Don’t they prevent us from making the same stupid mistakes again and again?

Since all I seem to have the bandwidth for lately are lists, here’s my list of regrets, from petty to mortifying (though not necessarily in that order).

- Quitting soccer (it got too rough) and piano (I couldn’t read music) in my youth

- Choosing a Minnesota-based college because I didn’t want to rock the boat with my then-boyfriend, later-husband

- Getting divorced (though I really don’t know who I would be today, or if I would be mentally healthy, much less happy, if I had stayed)

- Buying too much house post-divorce (and having to sell at a loss six months later)

- Not consulting a financial advisor post-divorce

- Abandoning my Master's degree program(s)

- Missing out on major swaths of my first two kids’ childhoods because I was entangled in an eating disorder

- Engaging in a romantic relationship with my former therapist (in my defense, I later learned he was a predator who had a history of preying on his patients)

- Flirting with other people's partners in my 20s

- Sleeping with people I didn’t care about (or, more importantly, who didn’t care about me)

- Not saying “I love you” when I felt it, even if it meant saying it first

- Staying in relationships with men who didn’t love me back

- Signing up for any and every form of social media

- A particular newspaper article I wrote about which we shall not speak

- Letting my faith and religious practices lapse (permanently?) during the pandemic

- Contemplating adoption (and the pain I caused the prospective adoptive couple)

Ahh. That feels better. I think we should all get together and share our lists. Let’s normalize regret!

Another thing I’m getting more comfortable with: accepting that I’m having a midlife crisis. I don’t know why saying that should trigger shame. If there’s a name for this phenomenon (and self-help books galore about it), it’s because it’s a developmental milestone. Lots of people freak the fuck out around age 40.

My midlife crisis has manifested as a mild to moderate panic about how little time I have left in my life and what I want to do with it. I want my work to be meaningful (or even better, I want to not work and just take care of my kids). I want to write things that matter. I want to be present with my family. I want to live in a place I love. I want time to daydream (and to believe that there are still some wild dreams that might come true for me).

I think a lot about my legacy, and not in that rich-old-guy-wants-his-name-etched-on-a-public-building kind of way. I think about what I am leaving behind, from memories to my online presence to financial gifts (sorry, not much there, kids). I want to leave on a good note, with a clean conscience.

Having little kids at middle age is kind of a downer. I try not to ruminate on this fact, but sometimes, it breaks through my denial and it makes me sad: my littles will likely live at least half of their lives without a mom. I will only know them for a blip of their existence as adults – if I’m lucky. (Pause for tears.)

“No regrets.” Ha! “No complaining” would be a better mandate for me, and it’s one I’m working on. Even better: “More gratitude.”

Monday, May 2, 2022

A Girl Can Dream

Mother's Day really snuck up on me this year, which is odd because I usually spend weeks dreading it, then cry and feel depressed and disappointed on the holiday itself. Why? Well, I have a complicated relationship with my mother (read about that in Insatiable) and an even more fraught relationship to my own identity as a mother (see also Insatiable and this blog). 

But celebrate Mother's Day we will because the calendar and culture and capitalism demand it.

My oldest child is the only one who bothers to ask what I want for Mother's Day. This year, I told her the truth: "There's nothing I want that you can actually get me."

But that doesn't mean I don't desire anything. Quite the contrary. In addition to things that I believe many mothers want (universal healthcare, government-subsidized childcare), I also want many impossible, ridiculous, unrealistic, and absurd things. So why not share them? At the very least, we can all have a laugh at my expense. 

Here is what I would like for Mother's Day:

- A lifetime supply of Xanax. 

- The ability to eat as many Reese's peanut butter cups as I want with no physical repercussions.

- A nightly massage that does not make me feel obligated to do anything in return.

- A home state where I can walk outside every day but miraculously don't sweat enough to warrant a shower afterwards.

- A new, fulfilling career that does not require me to use the internet...ever.

- An eraser for the internet. 

- Two hours a day to do whatever the fuck I want (but let's be real, I'd probably just exercise and work).

- An affordable au pair who is good with the kids but not so good I feel inferior. Also, not too pretty, for the same reason.

- My very own Sex and the City-style cast of girlfriends. (Circa the original series, not the reboot.)

- A date with a particular ex (or two) where I look and feel 10 years younger than I do now but behave like the grown-ass woman I am (or don't).

Obviously, none of that is forthcoming. (But feel free to surprise me, life.) A girl can dream. 

Seriously, though, children are a gift and I am so grateful to be a mother that expecting presents from my kids seems redundant. My children are my favorite people on Earth and are literally my reason for staying alive. What more could I ask for? Everything beyond motherhood is just icing on the cake.

Speaking of which, there will be cake, right?

Monday, April 25, 2022

A Strange Stirring

Less than a week after a breast cancer specialist discovered a discolored lesion on my areola, I was back on the exam table. The specialist had conveniently gone on an extended vacation immediately after aforementioned discovery, so a different specialist stood by, ready to perform what’s called a “punch biopsy.”

As the new specialist explained it, she was going to inject my breast with lidocaine, then place a tube with a serrated edge over the lesion. A few twists and the lesion would be removed. Then, she would stitch me back up and send the lesion to the lab to test for cancer.

For once, a medical procedure actually was as simple as explained and, as promised, the worst part was the lidocaine injection. The whole thing only took about 20 minutes, after which, a nurse pressure-taped a bandage over my breast and sent me on my way.

Initially, the new specialist seemed skeptical that I wanted to remove the lesion. “That looks benign,” she told me at first glance. The reason why I opted to hack it off is because I am quickly approaching the age my mom was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a mastectomy, she made a full recovery. She is both a cautionary tale and a success story. Either way you spin it, though, denial is not an option for me when it comes to boob issues.

And yet, despite my scary family history, I was less worried about the results of my excised lesion than I thought I would be. I suspected it was nothing, but I also left a part of my brain open to it being something. And if it was something, well, I would deal with it. Because, really, what choice does one have? “At least we stayed in Minnesota and kept our good health insurance,” I thought.

I won’t leave you in suspense. A day and a half after the biopsy, my results came back: negative for malignancy. The specialist concluded it was a mole.

So. There’s that.

But everything else remains a struggle.

I keep waiting for things to get easier, to get better, but they stay hard, and disappointing. (There’s an inappropriate joke in there, but I’m not in the mood to make it.)

The now-dead dream of moving has left an unsettling emptiness in its wake. What will the new dream be? Why does there always need to be a new dream? Why isn’t anything enough? Why aren’t I enough? When will I be good enough to deserve something amazing?

I feel guilty even asking some of these questions, given that I am blessed with so many beautiful (if occasionally maddening) children, a devoted husband, a decent home, steady employment, good health, etc. But I can’t help wondering: what comes next?

These queries arrive as I am reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan for the first time. (I’m a little behind on my feminist manifestos. Sorry, not sorry.) But rather than enlightening, I find the text infuriating. Friedan bemoans the fact that college-aged women are "only" housewives and mothers, and often depressed ones at that. But let me ask you, Betty: are things any better now?

Modern-day moms not only take care of homes and children and husbands, they’re also expected to work full-time, look as impossibly beautiful and bootylicious as the Kardashians, and have porn-worthy sex lives! Oh, and they’re supposed to be humble-bragging about it all on social media while they’re doing it!

Sure, now women can allegedly have it all, but only if they do it all!

Some days, I fantasize about being teleported back to the ‘50s so my concerns can be limited to keeping house, shuttling kids to activities, and having a cocktail ready for my Don Draper of a husband when he walks through the door at the end of the day. (Hmm...Don Draper...)

Seriously, those housewives didn’t know how good they had it! You can take your strange stirring, Betty, and shove it up your, well, you know. Imagine not having the weight of financially supporting a family on your shoulders! Imagine not having childcare headaches! Imagine having a moment to breathe while the kids nap instead of hustling to make slightly less money than your male colleagues! Jesus Christ. Who cares about wasting a college education? I basically wasted mine by majoring in the wrong thing (psychology). All it’s done is saddle me with debt and allow me to think critically about unfair society is while being unable to change anything!

Thanks a lot, feminism, capitalism, and higher education.

Someday, I swear, I am going to do something other than bitch and moan on this blog. Someday, I hope to have something happy to write about again.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

When Dreams Die

My toddler’s favorite phrase lately is, “Same old, same old, same old.” And after the week we’ve just had, it appears that’s exactly what’s in store for us in the foreseeable future.

But let’s back up. After another infuriating round of throw-your-money-at-whatever-house-comes-up-on-the-MLS-and-hope-it-sticks, we gave up on any hope of relocating. We simply couldn’t compete in our wannabe new city’s hot real estate market. When the decision was finally made, and I embarked on another series of cancelation phone calls and emails, the primary emotion I felt was…relief.

The pressure was just too much. I didn’t want to be on my phone all day, waiting for new house listings to pop up like an addict desperate for a hit. I didn’t want to blow all our savings on the slight chance that someone might choose our offer on a house we probably wouldn’t want to live in under any other circumstances.

The housing situation had gotten so stressful, I actually had my first real estate nightmare. It involved me touring our new home for the first time and discovering it had everything I abhorred in a home, including a New York address (aka my hell on Earth), a ton of stairs (hello, strollers!), and a strange configuration where I had to walk through a busy mall in order to go between bedrooms (privacy, please!).

So my husband called his new boss and explained that relocation was simply too expensive and that he would have to turn down the job. To our surprise, the new boss was willing to negotiate. He suggested several cities within a 90-minute commuting radius where we could make our home base instead. He would allow my husband to work remotely as long as he came into the office once a week.

And so the housing scramble began again. One of the cities the new boss suggested seemed both safe and affordable. Our realtor even found a new construction community that would be releasing homes in our budget within a couple of weeks. All we had to do was wait for the release, then slap down a $95 application fee and $1,000 earnest money. In six months, the house would be complete and we could move in. Our mortgage might even be less than it is now!

“This sounds great!” I emailed my realtor. “Almost too good to be true…?”

From my lips to God’s ears.

But it wasn’t the housing situation that put the nail in the coffin of our relocation dream. It was health insurance.

When my husband received the job offer, he was told he would have benefits from day one, and that the company contributed a certain amount towards the health care premium. I assumed the new health insurance plan would still be more expensive than our current one, but I didn’t ask to see the rates because I knew they would be a buzzkill. So I didn’t ask. And because my husband is the Peter Pan of finances, he didn’t ask, either.

Well, now that we were really, truly, finally going to move, I said, “We should probably know how much that new health insurance plan is going to cost so we can factor it into our budget.”

The new boss repeated the company line that the company would contribute a certain amount toward the health care insurance premium. Yes, but...what was the premium? The company dragged its feet on producing the documents. (That should have been our first warning sign.) They punted. They delayed. Finally, they sent the benefits packet...and holy fucking shit.

The monthly health insurance premium for our humble family of four was going to cost more than the mortgage payment on a brand-new home!

Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I had been tinkering with a cost-of-living calculator that told me this move was a very bad idea. Wages in our wannabe city were lower than the national average while health care costs were higher than average. I didn’t want to believe it but there were all the impossible numbers right in front of me. You can’t exactly argue with math.

There was no way we could make ends meet in our wannabe city. This job offer was a losing proposition.

At first, I was irate. WTF kind of country is this that someone has to turn down a job because they can’t afford to take it? Why is health care a privilege, not a right? How the hell are people supposed to survive, much less better themselves, if housing and health care are this expensive? (And I didn’t even mention childcare costs yet!)

When the anger faded, I just felt sad. If the new employer had given us the health insurance premium information when they sent the offer letter, we never would have indulged this dream. We wasted over a month trying to make the puzzle pieces fit and couldn’t figure out why we kept failing. We were willing to make so many concessions, and even then, it didn’t matter. It’s like life gave us a box of flaming shit but it was wrapped so beautifully we didn’t notice at first.

I acknowledge that my attitude is shitty, too. To my credit, I did try to reframe the situation. Maybe I should be grateful we got the health insurance premium information when we did; imagine if we’d moved and then had to figure out how to make over $1,500 a month magically appear! Maybe all our rejected home offers were evidence that the Universe was protecting us. Maybe we learned some valuable lessons, so that when we get another opportunity to relocate, we won’t fuck it up. Maybe there’s some other dream on the horizon that we simply can’t fathom right now. Maybe there’s a reason we are meant to stay in Minnesota. (Ha!) Maybe there’s even some humor to be found in all this. We pissed off a lot of people who simply didn’t understand our indecision and financial restraints during this process. As I remarked to my husband, “Can you believe we’ve already made enemies in a place we’ve never even been?” (OK, maybe that’s not funny.)

On what was supposed to be Departure Day, I awoke to a fresh layer of snow outside (in mid-fucking April). Even though it broke both our hearts, my husband sent an email declining the job offer. I went on a walk and wallowed while listening to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago album (the only Bon Iver album worth listening to IMHO).

Then I used my good-ass, affordable health insurance (the only thing Minnesota does right) to go to my annual consultation at the high-risk breast cancer clinic. The specialist reviewed my mammogram, did a a breast exam, and gave my (high-density) boobs a clean bill of health...until she noticed a strange lesion on my right areola.

"Is this new?" she asked as she palpated the charcoal-colored bump.

"Yes?" I guessed. I had never seen it. It wasn't huge but it was definitely unusual. "Actually, I don't know. I don't look at my boobs, like, ever."

Since all the baby-making business (and given the ways it alters one's body, not to mention the wrinkles and gray hairs parenting causes), I make it a point to avoid mirrors as much as I can. The only thing I routinely check is the size of my stomach. It seems to be the corporeal litmus test of how "good" I am (or not).

But I digress. The specialist said I could go home and try to pop the bump (eww, no thank you), or just watch it, and see what happens. This is my least favorite form of medical advice, but I stupidly said “OK!” (Can I blame the baby? I brought her along because daycare was closed and she was starting to fuss so I wanted to make a quick exit.) No more than 10 minutes later, as I was driving home, I realized I should've asked for the biopsy right then and there because now I was worrying and I knew the worrying wouldn't stop until I got that ugly little bump quite literally off my chest.

So now, on top of not being able to leave this fucking frozen shithole after 40 years of hoping, wishing, and praying, I now get to have part of my nipple hacked off to see if I have cancer.

Isn’t life grand?

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Where There's A Will, There's A WTF Is Happening

Real estate is like gambling. It's financially risky, it's addictive, and the house always which I mean, we have been desperately trying with all our might to find a home in our wannabe new city and so far, have failed spectacularly.

In my last post, I said we were staying put. Now we’re not. Or are we? For once, I am not responsible for the latest big-life-decision flip-flop. Three times my husband called his new boss to tell him, "I'm not coming." Three times he talked with him about who-knows-what but was ultimately unable to utter those three words.

So we reversed course yet again and threw ourselves at the mercy of the most competitive housing market in the history of humankind with the wayward hope that we would find something, anything, in a safe neighborhood that didn't require an hour-long commute.

Thus far, we've made multiple sight unseen offers, from a tiny urban townhome to a renovated trailer in the backwoods to a stately old home in a third-tier suburb. And, apparently, we keep getting outbid. If I were to compare this house search to dating, we're now doing the equivalent of closing our eyes and swiping right on every profile, praying that someone, anyone, will have pity sex with us. (Somehow, that sounds like more fun.)

Everything moves so fast these days, there’s no time for doubt or contemplation. And it's all digital. We can sign away our entire life savings with a few taps on our phones. We have initialed hundreds of documents we have not read. We have basically promised to make the biggest purchase of our lifetimes without doing any due diligence (but have been willing to pay through the nose on a predatory concept called due diligence money, which is unfortunately unique to the wannabe home state in question).

May I reminisce for a moment about the housing market of yore? I fondly remember my family’s impeccably coiffed realtor picking up 8-year-old me, my little brother, and my parents in her brand-new Jeep with heated leather seats (a true luxury in Minnesota winters), handing my parents a stack of color printouts with info on different abodes, then shuttling us around South Minneapolis to frolic through strangers' houses. If you found something you liked, you would calmly return to the agent's office (eerily empty after hours) and write up an offer. On paper. Which was signed with an old-fashioned, branded pen. (Remember those?) You even got to keep the pen! 

Back then, multiple offers were rare. You didn't have to go over asking price, and if you did, it was a couple thousand, tops. Then, the realtor would whoosh off into the night to present the offer in person. It was all very formal and respectful. And if things didn't go your way, the realtor treated you to Dairy Queen -- and I don't mean a dinky Dilly Bar. I mean a large Blizzard with extra mix-ins. (Or maybe that was just our realtor.)

Now, the market has gone rogue. Buyers are throwing 20 - 30 percent down over list price, even when appraisers value the home far below that and mortgage companies refuse to cover the gap (because it's a bad investment!). Buyers are essentially bribing sellers with things like "rent backs" (i.e. We own the house now and we are paying the mortgage, but sure, you can live there after closing for free!) and foregoing showings, not to mention inspections. And buyers are offering tens of thousands of dollars in earnest money, which is due almost immediately upon acceptance of an offer and they won't recoup if the deal falls through.

To add insult to injury, some aspects of our relocation have been stymied due to the indecisiveness. I currently have no childcare in place and my older teen is no longer planning to relocate with us because at this rate, we’re going to end up in the boondocks and she can’t afford to live on campus and refuses to commute. I have often envisioned me in our new, overpriced but unimpressive home, isolated from everything and everyone, alone all day with two kids under 2 years old, trying to work, even more frazzled and exhausted and emotionally volatile than I am now. (Other times, like when it's been snowing almost every day in Minnesota this month, I just imagine us in the sunshine and that seems worth every imaginable inconvenience.)

We’re down to the wire down now and I’m starting to feel like the only way we’re going to win a bidding war is by offering an insane amount we can’t actually afford. This could be the worst financial decision of our lives (and I made some pretty atrocious ones after my divorce, resulting in an unfinished basement bedroom at my mom's, bankruptcy, and food stamps.) I can't go back to that place. But this move means so much to my husband and after hoisting two squalling children on him in as many years, I guess he deserves it? That's what couples are supposed to do, right? Take turns making each other happy?

The thing is, if the whole baby-making venture taught me anything, it's that ultimately, we will be OK either way. Most decisions are not disastrous, many are reversible (albeit not without consequences or inconveniences or costs), and we are more adaptable and resilient than we think.

On hard parenting days (read: most of them), I often find myself fantasizing about what my life would look like without the littles. We would have a lot more money -- enough to buy primo real estate in the city of choice -- but it's also very possible that I would still feel like something was missing. Maybe I would've finished my thrice-started-and-abandoned Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy degree (ha! Me as a family therapist!). Maybe I would've taken the twice-offered corporate job at a global employer (this was pre-pandemic and they refused to negotiate on telecommuting; I wonder how that's working out for them now).

Maybe life would be easier if I were an empty-nester, as I had originally planned on being at the ripe old age of 40. But I don't know if I would be "happier." In fact, I have sort of resigned myself to the philosophy that I will be mildly to moderately depressed no matter what my circumstances. And I'm working on being OK with that.

But then one of my littles smiles or giggles or sing-songs "I love you" and I think maybe, just maybe, there's some happiness up ahead, no matter where we land.

For now, though, it’s all up in the air…

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Once again, I blogged too soon. (I'm starting to think blogging is the best way to doom everything.)

The bad news is…we’re not moving.

The good news is…just kidding, there isn’t any.

I’m thoroughly convinced the Universe or God or whomever the fuck is running things behind the scenes hates my guts or has it out for my family or is doling out some really severe karma.

After executing almost all the necessary arrangements to uproot a family of (what will now be only) five, and placing thousands of dollars down in various deposits, we took an aggressive dive into the housing market of our soon-to-be hometown.

I should mention that we've never even set foot in this city before, but in doing what I thought was extensive research on the location last year, it seemed like an affordable, family-friendly destination. It even looked like we could afford new construction. I was psyched.

But when we recommenced the housing search this spring following my husband's new job offer, we immediately realized we were fucked. Every property coming up in our search was decrepit or in a crime-riddled neighborhood. Gone was any hope of new construction. In fact, I think I hear the real estate gods cackling at my naivete right now.

We were forced to make some concessions. Though we'd sworn to never live in a dwelling with shared walls, we put townhomes back into the mix. Whereas we had been hoping for a three-bedroom, two bath, we resigned ourselves to two bedrooms and one bath. We made peace (mostly) with the idea of an older home that would likely need a little TLC.

And...we were still fucked. Every day, I'd peruse our (very limited) options. As soon as they arrived in my inbox, I copied and pasted the addresses into Google maps and Spot Crime to weed out the bad ones.

I'd usually have one listing a day left after this vetting process. It would be far from a dream house, but it didn’t look like total nightmare either. Then I'd alert the realtor that we wanted her to schedule a showing and I'd contact the loan officer to work up the numbers.

Inevitably, word would come back from the realtor that the offer deadline had passed or an offer was already accepted.

In one case, a 30-year-old house in an OK neighborhood popped up in the search under "coming soon" status on a Tuesday morning. I told the realtor we'd make a generous offer if she could walk through it and make sure there were no red flags. She called and emailed the listing agent over the course of the day and got no response. In the meantime, she sent me the disclosures, which had a concerning number of "no representation" boxes checked. (The state in question basically offers owners the opportunity to "plead the fifth" when it comes to the condition of almost every part of their homes.)

On Wednesday morning, the house officially went on the market and the listing agent called my realtor back. He said the seller was "overwhelmed" with sight-unseen offers and simply decided not to do showings – for anyone! Did we want to put in an offer?

No, we fucking did not.

This vicious cycle repeated itself, over and over again. In a strategy session with the realtor, she told us the median home price in the area had shot up $100K over the last year. She told us to be prepared to offer $20 - $50K over list price in addition to bending over backwards many other ways to make the offer more enticing for the seller. 

We started to wonder if we could afford to live in this city. We offered to fly down for a day to get a feel for our options, but the realtor basically said, “Don’t bother.” There wouldn’t be anything to see. No one was doing showings anymore. They didn’t have to.

We tried broadening our search criteria. We looked (virtually) at homes in neighborhoods best described as “swampy.” We clicked through pics of townhomes sandwiched together with postage-stamp yards. We debated whether an hour-long commute was too long.

The sacrifices were adding up. All our former deal-breakers were now negotiable. Did we really want to regress in real estate status just to make the move happen? Did we want to risk ending up in a money pit disguised as an opportunity?

Our Minnesota realtor described the market in our wannabe new state as "a dogfight." That didn't sound like something I wanted to participate in. Raising two kids under two-years-old feels like a daily dogfight already.

But we wanted to go. We really wanted to.

“I’m 50 years old,” my husband told me, as he often does. (I think it’s his polite way of saying, “I’m going to die soon. Or at least before you do.”)

“I don’t have many opportunities left to reinvent myself,” he said.

Fair enough, but we also don’t have a bottomless bank account and relocating would gobble up my husband’s entire first year's salary.

We argued about going. About staying. About staying but moving into the city. About him going and me staying. About when “going” actually means “leaving.” Both of us, at different points, suspected that the conversation we were having – and the conflicted feelings that went along with it – was not about where to live but about whether or not we wanted to live with one another anymore.

“Dreams are not stupid!” he yelled at me one night.

OK, maybe not. But they can be impossible.

The older I get, the more often I feel like all the Universe has to offer are what my teens call the “Walmart version” of dreams. Destiny is a cheapskate. Fate is a fucking miser. That's the only way I can explain how my husband got an unlikely job offer in a warm-weather state at what is, historically, the worst time to buy a house.

We tried and tried to solve the real estate riddle. The tension in our house peaked. I stopped sleeping. I lost weight. I cried. I begged doctors for anti-anxiety medications that ultimately didn’t work (or worked so well I was dead to the world at night and had a benzo hangover the next day).

I kept telling myself, “You can't change the weather in Minnesota, so the move would be worth it.” But then I’d look at my credit card balance and think, “Being broke is stressful 365 days a year, whereas winter only lasts four to six months.” (Only! Ha!)

We're already living paycheck-to-paycheck. There are not extra funds to pull from. In the end, the numbers just didn't add up. The risk-to-reward ratio was heavily weighted toward the former. We didn’t so much decide to stay put as we were forced to. (Fuck you, housing market.)

And so began the undoing of all that we had done. Phone calls and emails and customer service chats. We each took turns grieving. We had sad middle-of-the night conversations in the dark. Our house feels like a tomb now, half-empty and devoid of decoration, the moving process aborted.

Forgive the pity party, but: Why can't our family have nice things? All we wanted was a simple home in a safe neighborhood and a temperate climate. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Away We Go

Ask and you shall receive.

In my last post, I wondered if there might be an Easter miracle on the way after the hellish month of health problems we’ve had in our household. Well, we just might get it. And, boy, is it a doozy.

But first, an addendum to my poor toddler’s illness ordeal. I’ll spare you (or will I?) the details of her epic recovery from norovirus, which morphed into a wet cough, two scary-high fevers, a steady stream of green snot, and several pounds of weight loss. All this warranted two ER visits along with a slew of traumatic interventions – nose swabs, a catheter, and earwax removal – to help determine what was wrong with her. (Viral cough and ear infection, apparently.) She and I spent almost three weeks quarantining in our home, a single Target trip and a few baby daycare pickups our only outings.

This experience has been incredibly frustrating as a parent. In addition to the sleepless nights and pain of watching my child being treated like a science experiment by medical professionals, it’s been disheartening to see her backslide on so many developmental levels. I was so close to weaning her off bottles, giving up formula, and starting potty training. Now she’s been thrust back into some regressive babyhood, with attachment issues at an all-time high, and no sign of leaving bottles or formula or diapers behind anytime soon.

So that’s the bad news. And in the midst of all this, some very good news arrived in the form of a new job opportunity for my husband. Which means: we are moving! And not just across town – we’re leaving the state…to move halfway across the country…to a warm-weather climate.

This is a huge deal for me, as someone who has (reluctantly) lived her whole life in Minnesota and has been jonesing to get out since age 16. (As the parent of teenagers, I find the urge to leave this insufferable tundra ramps up once one has to drive through blizzards on the regular.) My first marriage kept me here initially, and post-divorce, I was chained to this godforsaken state by a joint custody agreement. Now that my younger teen is on the cusp of turning 18, I am finally free to leave.

But I'm making it sound like saying yes to getting the hell out of dodge was easy. It was anything but.

Though I've moved 20-plus times in my life (mostly between divorce and remarriage), I've never moved out of state. And holy shit, is it expensive!

One must pay for the movers, the truck, the storage, the car shipping, the airfare, the new nanny service. Because we aren't going straight into a permanent home (I refuse to buy without getting a feel for a neighborhood first), we have an insanely-priced (but modestly outfitted) Airbnb to budget for. And that's all in addition to the expenses of prepping our current home to go on the market.

"We wouldn't spend this amount of money on anything," I often found myself saying after tabulating all the relocation costs. And then I realized the total was almost exactly what we spent on making our babies...which shut me right up. Dreams are expensive, apparently. And totally worth it?

One big factor that gave me pause was health insurance. In Minnesota, we have excellent coverage. Where we're going, we won't. Given how sick everyone has been over the past month, I'm scared of being in a situation where I have to deliberate about whether or not we can "afford" to take a child to the emergency room. (No parent should ever have to do that. Shame on this country.)

When it's all said and done, this move might be a lateral one. Meaning: our income will be the same. We'll probably end up in an older, too-small house in a safe-enough neighborhood. The one thing that will be better? The weather. Is that reason enough to uproot our lives? (Ask me in January and the answer will be an emphatic yes. But spring is underway in Minnesota and so is the seasonal amnesia.)

Coordinating the move was, initially, so overwhelming that I freaked out several times and sobbed and said I changed my mind…which made my husband cry. (He really wants to leave.) I considered sending him ahead and staying behind with the littles, then reconsidered because without another adult to help out, my mental health would plummet.

I recommitted to the move and began chucking things left and right. (Getting rid of winter gear was particularly satisfying.) Then it was time for our farewell tour. I silently said goodbye to all the things I do love about where we live: ECFE, music class, the duck pond, the zoo, my running routes. It's been bittersweet.

My older teen, who is transferring colleges so she can relocate with us, recently asked, "How are you feeling about the move?"

I started listing all the relocation-related tasks I had completed that day, becoming aware that I was talking about actions, not feelings. (My therapist would be so proud.) "I guess I feel at peace about it?" I said. (And yet, that didn't stop me from contacting a doctor to prescribe some anti-anxiety and sleeping medication to get me through the next six months.)

I want to believe that the timing of all this is predestined, taking place as it will during the liturgical Easter season. Though my husband has warned me it won’t be a magic bullet (who’s the buzzkill now?), I think it could be a kind of familial resurrection.

So. Away we go?