It’s a Hard Knock Life

Man, this week has kicked my ass.

First, let me just say that raising children – raising children with thought and care – is not for the timid. Or the lazy. Or the stupid crack whores. It’s exhausting. Especially when you have a smart and beautiful but very private teenager (should I be monitoring her internet use or does that invade her privacy? How far should I trust a trust-worthy child?) and a super emotive drama queen who notices every nuance and asks a million frank questions about these observations? All after 8pm.

These kids, I love them. I try to do my best for them. I work hard to NOT be the mother mine was but the thing about breaking the mold you know, the familiar, easy way out, is that you’re left on unsure and unstable ground. I constantly second-guess myself. Am I doing this right? What’s right, anyway? So far, so good, but will I misstep and cause one to get pregnant before she graduates high school and send another down a spiral of depression that ends in substance abuse? Are any of those tendencies hard-wired and thus inevitable? Yes? No?

I don’t know. I do my best. It’s all you can do. Guilt is in there somewhere. I should be paying more attention, right? Or, is that smothering? I don’t know.

This was a week in which money just drained away. Money that is theoretical. Money I don’t have except in “credit”. Credit I have plenty of but also “debt”. Debt is mounting. I took my car in for a $1,500 repair which ended up being two repairs for $2,000. A bargain! A bargain I can’t afford. Who can? Nobody I know. And what can you do? Nothing. I have to have a car.

On top of that, I received a statement that my safe deposit box fee was due. It’s gone up to $50 a year. Used to be $30. I considered getting rid of it, surrendering it, but….one of the keys was in the wallet that was stolen back in October. The other one…is missing. Presumed missing. To replace a key is $30. To rekey the box is $200. The annual fee was due today. I searched for the other key over the weekend and never found it. So….I paid the $50. I had to go in anyway because if I’d done nothing, it would have been automatically paid from a savings account that no longer exists. So, I had to switch that anyway. I paid $50 to buy me another year’s time to find that other key. There isn’t much in it right now. The deed to my house. My kids’ birth certificates. Some pearl earrings I wore when I got married that probably aren’t worth much. If I don’t need that deed when I work to assume the loan on my house, I’m good. If I don’t plan on getting passports this year, I don’t need the birth certificates. As if. Wishful thinking, that whole thing about passports. Like I’ll ever be a person who needs a damn passport. I certainly don’t need those damn screw-post earrings. I’d rather sell them than keep them. But…if I don’t find the other key, I’m looking at $200 to get my stuff. But I’ve bought some time. Time is getting more expensive.

I had hoped 2014 would be a year of paying down debt, being careful, living lean. I hadn’t realized quite how lean it will be. I’m still hoping there will be money to go to the beach this summer. We shall see. First world problems.

The roof is leaking and it won’t stop raining. I sat in the living room on Saturday and listening to the drips in the fireplace behind the wood stove insert. It almost drove me mad. The contractor hasn’t called me back. It’s another worry to add to the others. It has to be fixed. But, it’s money. Money, money, money.

Is it a first world problem to feel horribly guilty after ordering a $30 pair of pants (to replace a pair that is giving up the ghost) and a $30 dress I will wear but probably don’t need? Maybe, maybe not. Every dollar I spend feels wrong. I don’t live extravagantly. My new hobby is to eat all and any leftovers in the fridge so as to not waste food which is not cheap. You may know this already if you’ve purchased any lately. We don’t buy much processed food. We don’t buy many snacks. I cook from scratch almost every single night. My kids don’t eat the same food as me or each other. I’m a full-time short order cook. But because they eat real food, I don’t mind. I am not complaining. But, jesus, where’s the give? Where’s the break? I am not losing weight on this plan.

You pare down and pare down and focus on the things that cost nothing. The gorgeous view on a sunny day. A cat licking your nose – his version of a kiss. The smell of bread baking, coffee percolating, fresh rosemary from the herb garden. A child’s hug. Her fart in retaliation of your own (see: eating all the leftovers). The laughs over stupid celebrities. The spontaneous cookie making. The quiet, stress-free evening watching tv alone with a cold beer.

The dark, cold  endless mornings that start with an alarm clock and a hot shower (something I never take for granted) and then coffee brewing and waking up the grumpiest child….hard but rewarding in tiny ways. The older child is in the shower having woken herself up day after day. The slow unfolding of these children growing older and more independent and doing for themselves. I am grateful for it. I had something to do with all these incremental changes, yes? All those onesies changed and laundered, the diapers changed, the noses unclogged with the horrible plunger thing, the many days and nights of nebulizing and measured cups of Tylenol and ibuprofen, and cleaning up vomit and back rubbing and monster chasing and bed sharing and kissing and hugging and art admiring and framing and hanging on walls. It’s still not second nature to remember to verbalize my love, congratulate them on good grades and efforts made. It really isn’t. It should be but it takes conscious effort. I received love as a transaction – I say I love you and you go down the kitchen and clean it and bring me cookies and that wine bottle and don’t forget to check the dryer for laundry. Love shouldn’t work that way, should it? I don’t think so. My marriage was also very lopsided. I did and did and did and it was all taken. The end. How do you ever know how it’s really supposed to work?

I’m not going to feel anything but gratitude for the days and nights I have to myself now. The hours and days alone, with myself, to walk through the rooms of my house and see all that *I* did to make it so. All the fixing and planning and hammering and nailing and drilling and hanging and painting and arranging and buying and choosing and calling and arranging and paying for. All the millions of little things I did to make all this so. To make it what it is, good or bad. It’s mine. I claim it. I did it. And I will continue doing it. It is my hard knock life and I have no regrets.

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8 thoughts on “It’s a Hard Knock Life

  1. ditto. Lass is right. The work is hard but the kids will thank you for it. Eventually. Maybe. Or their future theoretical partners will. Or their kids. The other day my dad wrote me a thank you note for my daughter. That’s right–he had a great time with my (now 24-year-old!) daughter, and he emailed to thank me. He’s not a demonstrative man–has never been–and has never been one to praise much. So that made a lot of those hard knocks worthwhile, let me tell you. Your turn will come.

  2. One day a year ago or so, my youngest came into the room where I was working on something and said, apropos of nothing “mom, did I ever throw up on you?” After I stopped laughing, I showed him the spit-up milk stains on my bedside table. It was one of the beginnings of a more adult relationship with him (he confessed he had asked the question prompted by something John Green wrote).
    Every day gets better. There are hard things (saving for college tuition) but there are ever-increasing rewards.

  3. As a single mom (for the last 9+ years), this is inspiring. I do a lot of trudging through the day, the week, the month…I struggle. A lot. But I forget to look around and say: hey, I made this happen. Just me. Thanks for that perspective!

    • Hannah! Glad to hear from you. I have found you an inspiration for years. And have been rooting for you from the invisible sidelines.

  4. I don’t have kids, but gawd, I identify with what you said about every dollar spent feeling wrong and about paring down and focusing on the things that cost nothing. Also, gratitude for days and nights to yourself. It has been nearly nine years since my divorce and I still don’t want to give up my own time or space. I love it, and am thankful for it.

  5. To say that I “Like” this post would be an understatement. I absolutely love it for its transparency, familiarity, and the abandon with which you let your spirit and words spill on to the page. The truth is raising children is beyond difficult. It takes everything you have and everything you don’t. There is never a time that I am 100% certain that I’m doing this right. Even with a dear husband, I am found doing most of the work in the household, tending to the children’s every need, on-call and on-demand for when and where they need me to be. It can be exceedingly exhausting some days. Some nights, I feel more than depleted…. Still, I find Joy that I’m getting a chance to do something right by them, to get a “re-do” and unlearn some of the behaviors of my own childhood and the dysfunctional parenting/rearing that I experienced.

    The mounting financial pressures don’t make it any easier, I know. Even as I consider returning to a traditional 9-5, I sweat the question of whether THAT is even the right decision. Should I stay or go? (Rhetorical only). Who will do all this shit? LOL

    Enjoy the quiet time and space, my friend. It is a coveted and creative space that I don’t often get though I am technically inside the home most days. The days are filled with more to do, goals being only slowly realized because yet again, there is more of an urgency to prioritize that which is boiling over – the children, marriage, enrichment, the household itself. Nights are jam-packed, shorter, and characterized by more petulant needs than I’d like them to be. Still… I’ll take all of it for now because it is only a season.

    I love you and am thinking of you in earnest this morning. Not that you didn’t have your voice before, but this writing feels/sounds like a bit of a breakthrough in its fine-tuning. That I absolutely LOVE, not Like. 🙂

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