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Per the request of a friend, I am going to briefly detail how Kevin and I handle finances in our household.
ED: it turns out I am not brief. Not sorry
My parents lived and behaved in such a way when I was growing up that I came to the conclusion early on that we were very poor and only steps away from complete ruin. I may have had a little more anxiety about this than was necessary. However, that along with my German ancestry formed a severe aversion to spending money. I sweat over it, in fact. This is good for being motivated to save a lot of money, but is bad for anxiety levels.
So our primary goals are:
1. Spend less than we earn in general, to avoid complete financial ruin and homelessness.
2. Try to avoid Katrina laying awake at night worrying about complete financial ruin and homelessness.
We achieve the first by spending less than we earn. We also have figured out how to divvy up financial tasks in such a way that I worry less. I can’t handle being the one responsible for paying the bills, remembering to pay the bill, checking that the bills have been paid, or figuring out how much money we need to have to pay the bills. I also can’t handle doing what I consider extreme budgeting. I can’t dictate in advance how much we’re going to spend on food, clothes or utilities. The idea of even trying makes me nauseous, and then when we inevitably fail, I get even more anxious that we are clearly failing and doomed to complete financial ruin and homelessness.
I never said I was SANE about money.
I tried using Quicken and Mint, but found that that just encouraged my particular brand of crazy. I would obsess over every cent, every budget category, and then despair when we “failed”. It was crazy making! I am not capable of doing that.
So. Kevin is in charge of handling all bills. He sets up auto-pay, he knows when everything is due, he keeps track of how much we owe each month, he makes sure everything gets paid correctly. If something looks funky, he is in charge of figuring out what the issue is.
What the heck do I do, you ask? I am much like a house cat. I sit around admiring myself and basking in the sunlight.
No, no, that’s only partly true. Kevin is the Chief Financial Officer, while I am the Chief Executive Officer. He handles the regular finances, I handle looking at larger trends and proposing plans, changes, and objectives. Basically, he does all the work, I get to sit on my butt and admire myself in the sunlight.
More specifically: we don’t budget, not in the traditional sense. Some people can handle saying “We will spend $200 a month on groceries”. I cannot handle that because then every trip to the store is fraught with anxiety about whether this unnecessary purchase will result in Budgetary Failure. And since I am the Chief Grocery Procurer, that is no good. I do not want to think about financial ruin every time I want to buy some chocolate.
Instead, we determine our “absolutely must get paid and are always exactly the same” bills/payments/withdrawals. These include: mortgage, student loan and car payments, regular bills like cable/internet/phones, insurance for various things, charitable giving. They also include our automatic savings: retirement savings, college savings for baby, mutual fund savings, vacation savings, and allowances to each of us for ‘frivolous spending’. Everything else that changes from month to month is in the miscellaneous category, and is generally paid with our credit card, which we pay off every month come hell or high water. We do not ever carry a balance.
We keep all of our regular bills as absolutely low as possible, so that we have as much wiggle room with the rest of our budget as possible, allowing us to do as much saving with the difference as possible.
Then, once a month on the last day of the month, we do some data entry in a shared spreadsheet we call “the state of the household”. It goes back years at this point. Every column is a month, every row is a different account. We only keep track of balances in our accounts, not balances on debt (see: stress, sweaty anxiety, etc). I know we are paying down our debt at a good rate, I don’t need to see how much each month because then I have to see how much we have which is no good.
Finances are really psychological. You trick yourself. As long as you’re tricking yourself into moving in the right direction with saving, you’re doing great.
We have two types of accounts that we track, and organize accordingly: cash and savings. Cash is our regular checking account, our daycare flex spending account, our emergency fund (which we consider complete at this point and have rarely touched), and our short terms savings. The emergency fund and short term savings are in a “high interest” account, which is laughable these days, but what can you do? The amount that we have in cash generally doesn’t change dramatically. If it starts to trend one way or another, we have a meeting to talk about it.
Savings is everything else. Kevin’s 401k, our IRAs, Lee’s 529, our mutual fund. We automatically put money into these every month. These tend to move up in predictable ways, as long as the market doesn’t have a hissy fit.
We tally up how much we have in cash and savings. We also keep track of our monthly credit card statement in the same spreadsheet, so we can see how we’re doing with miscellaneous spending month over month. I periodically look at how we’re doing over the previous year, what direction things are moving in (usually up). As long as our credit card statements are within a reasonable amount of our average, and as long as our checking account doesn’t fluctuate too much, I consider us to be in a good place. And that’s what keeps me from being awake at night, fretting.
People I have told about our monthly tracking think it seems like a lot of work, but it isn’t. I do the cash stuff, Kevin does the daycare and 401k, and when the statements for the other stuff come in, we add it in. It takes each of us maybe 5 minutes once a month. We usually have everything ready to discuss, if necessary, by the middle of the next month.
If we notice changes, like our checking account is continually slipping below our (somewhat arbitrary) amount, or we’re building up cash faster than usual, or a big change is coming like having a baby, we have a meeting and discuss changes we need to make. Maybe it’s changing the amount we put into savings, maybe it’s changing where we’re putting money away. Maybe we’ve reached a goal for something short term and ready to start planning how to spend it. We regularly tweak and adjust as our budgets and needs change.
This is where the spreadsheet comes in handy: we can see where we’ve been, what has changed, and what our trends are. If we’re spending too much, we look at our credit card bill and figure out why. I find that to be a lot more informative than trying to micromanage how much I spend at the grocery store each week.
An example of how we’ve used the spreadsheets to make changes to strategy:
For a long time, we had one credit card, and we put everything we could on it. That included personal stuff, like if I wanted to go buy some new clothes or Kevin wanted to buy a video game, or if one of us went out to lunch during the week. Then, if we had a particularly high credit card bill, we tended to point fingers. “Why did you buy those video games? you didn’t need THOSE!” “well you didn’t need new shoes! How many shoes does one person need?” Is not healthy for a marriage. Too much stress. Too much finger pointing.
So! We switched to an allowance system. Twice a month, we each get an automatic transfer of the same amount of money into our separate checking accounts that are linked to the main account. We each have our own debit card attached to our own account. Any time one of us wants to make a purchase that is not explicitly for the household, like new shoes, a new game, or a lunch out, we pay for it with our allowance debit card, NOT the household credit card. What is nice about that is that if you don’t do a lot of spending one month, you still get your allowance, and it can add up so if you want to splurge another month on something, it doesn’t blow the budget out at all. We no longer have conversations every month trying to figure out why our credit card bill is higher than usual and whose fault it is. Good for our finances, even better for our marriage. I know other people do this with cash in envelopes, but neither of us like having a lot of cash in the house or our wallets.
It is worth noting that even though there is a rather dramatic difference in our respective incomes (he makes over twice what I do each month, as I am a lowly graduate student), we each get exactly the same amount in discretionary spending. I think that’s fair, because even though we are not even remotely equal in terms of income, we are equal in terms of the marriage and our value, and we both deserve to spend the same amount on ourselves. I obviously get the better end of this deal, but Kevin is in full agreement. If the tables turn one day, the equality will not change.
Other things we do: our credit card has a cash back rewards program. We get a certain % of our spending and additional for special things. We let it build up all year, and then use that amount to pay for Christmas. Because we put pretty much our whole lives on the credit card, and then pay the card off every month, we can build up a decent amount that covers a generous Christmas without blowing the budget that month.
We have an emergency fund. I consider them vital. Recommendations vary for how much to keep in it, but we generally have 6 months of bare minimum expenses saved. We’ve occasionally tapped into it, like if an unexpected vet bill or car repair pops up. That way we don’t have to worry about carrying a credit card balance or not having enough cash to handle it. Then, we redirect some savings the next month or two until the fund is replenished. It’s worked pretty well for us. Keeps the stress at bay.
We also think it is important to save in advance for vacations. I can’t tell you how much to save, but if you automatically put a certain amount away, you can eventually have a nice vacation that doesn’t blow your budget. Vacations are important, even if you don’t have an expensive one. Plan for it, just like you plan for retirement.
When we hit certain milestones (paying off a loan, crossing a certain amount in savings, etc) we celebrate. Usually by going out for a nice dinner. Hey, it’s an achievement to hit these goals. Celebrate it.
I also follow some financial blogs. My favorite by far is http://www.thesimpledollar.com. He gives a lot of great advice about ways to both decrease your spending and increase your income. Some of his frugal tips have been particularly helpful.
Anyway, this is what we do. In general, I have found it successful. We are well on target for retiring comfortably at 65, Lee will have a partly funded 529 to cover a portion of his college expense (we have no intention of paying for it in full), we have had nice but modest vacations every few years, we are paying off debt and saving for future things like a new house, a new car, and Montessori. I have very few opportunities to lay awake at night fretting about money.
What about you? What do you do the same or differently?
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My grandfather died a few weeks ago, at 91. He had been ill with bile duct cancer for about 18 months, living much longer than anyone expected. Last year, after Lee was born, he wrote him a letter. I was asked to speak at his funeral, and I had something trite and meaningless prepared. Then my cousin gave me this letter, that he had given to her to give to Lee. I decided to read it instead.
“My dear great grandson,
To begin with, my grandfather came to the United States about 1876. My father was born in 1895. I was born in March of 1923, which makes me 90. Your grandmother was born June 10, 1953 and your mother was born 4/13/86. That’s your whole ancestry as far as I know.
A few words of advice – never take yourself too seriously. I hope that you can find your talent(s) whatever they may be real early in life! Some people never find a talent. When I was six, I found that I had a natural talent for sculpting. I have pursued this hobby for all of my life. Another interest that I have is music. I was tenor soloist in my church choir for many years. This just might be your talent considering your Italian background. All Italians have music ingrained in their soul. It would not be too surprising if this is also true in you.
Learn to read – early and well. Books, all kinds of books will be a treasure almost without measure.
Honor and love your parents – always and without question. They will be your guideposts all your life. Both of your parents are kind, hard-working and intelligent.
I don’t mean to be repeating myself but don’t take yourself too seriously. But above all have a sense of humor. So many people lack this in their makeup! I enjoy jokes, cartoons, funny stories, and T.V. comedians. We are the only animals on earth that God endowed with a sense of humor.
Follow your dream. All my life airplanes fascinated me. My mother seemed to be afraid of her own shadow- I never learned to roller skate because she thought that this was too dangerous! But I finally did learn to fly! July 16, 1969. What she didn’t know didn’t hurt her.
In closing, may I wish you much happiness, success in all you undertake, a long life and good health always.
With love sincerely!
It is worth noting that he wrote this, by hand, despite being almost entirely blind.
He was also too weak to get out of bed or care for himself.
But even to the very end, his mind was sharp.
The bits about his talents are true. I have some of his sculptures that he made for me. A dachshund like the one I had as a child, and a bas relief sculpture of the front of the dollhouse he and my grandmother made for me when I was 4. He had a beautiful voice, operatic. He would sing while mowing the lawn on their riding lawn mower and you could hear the Italian opera in the house, over the sound of the mower.
And I will always treasure the fact that the three adjectives he chose to describe Kevin and I are “kind, hardworking and intelligent”.
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A bunch of bloggers have written up a day in their life, so I think I should do the same.
Yesterday was an atypical day, so obviously that’s the one I’m going to pick.
3:30 AM: (over the baby monitor) cough. cough cough. whiiiine. cough. cough. (continues sporadically until our alarms go off at 6:45.)
6:45 AM: (my phone has the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing certain alerts. It’s kind of odd but endearing.) GOOOOOOD MORNING. Good morning, good MORNING good morning good morning GOOOOOD MORNING. Me: Shut up shut up shutupshutupshutup.
And we’re off! I get Lee up and nurse him. Kevin lounges in bed a bit until I’m done, then we trade off. He changes Lee, gets him dressed for the day. I let the dogs out and feed them. We each get dressed and get ready. Lee does baby stuff in the living room under the close supervision of the cat.
7:45 AM: Leave the house. Load everyone up into the car. Drive around the block. Park. Get the baby out and take him into daycare. We both go in, because A) today is Ash Wednesday so we’re going to get ashes after this and B) Kevin is going to Texas for work and won’t see Lee until Friday morning.
I put Lee’s lunch away and hang up his coat and daycare bag. Kevin dawdles, giving kisses and smiling at him.
Me: Kevin. Come on. Let’s go.
Kevin: Fiiiiine. LOVE YOU BABY BOY.
One last kiss and we’re off.
We decided to go to Ash Wednesday mass at 8 at the church in the borough right next to us, instead of at our church, which is at 8:30 and will involve all 300 or so schoolchildren. No, thank you. Pittsburgh is a great place to be Catholic, because there are a lot of Catholics. Within 5 miles of my house, there are something like 5 or 6 Catholic parishes. Within a 5 minute DRIVE of my house, there are three! Three. Come on! Two of them have schools! It’s a little crazy. And so, we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to mass and such.
So, we went to Ascension. And you might think that since it is 2 minutes from our house, in the borough right next to ours, that it would be easy to find. But you would be wrong, because Ingram is a rat’s nest of confusing streets, we don’t often drive through it, and we got lost. Plus, Ascension is in an old streetcar barn, so it’s this tiny, low little church. No big steeple to guide you.
A few wrong turns, an adventure down a narrow, potholey alley, and we’re there. See one of our pals from our church doing duty as the adult altar server.
Kevin: Huh. Bill’s doing double duty.
However, mass was not the quick, daily morning mass I was expecting. Despite having a small congregation, distribution of ashes was very slow. So was communion. The priest there is pretty old school. He even uses what we call the communion paddle: the altar server stands next to him and holds a little brass paddle-like thing under your hands/mouth as you receive communion so as to avoid accidental dropping. Part of the reason that communion took so long is he was the only one distributing it, probably because he requires the communion paddle. The other eucharistic ministers only give out the wine.
I experienced some un-Christian thoughts about how we should have just gone to the later mass at St. Philip’s, with the school children. Probably would have been shorter. I scold myself for those thoughts.
Patience is not my strong suit.
9:08 AM (Mass was an an hour and 8 minutes long. !!!!): Mass is over. We drive home and eat a quiet breakfast together. I have an eye doctor appointment, and Kevin has a plane to catch at noon. Some cereal, tea and juice, reading the news on our phones. Is nice.
9:50 AM: Kevin gets his stuff together to leave. Asks if he has time to get a haircut. He tends to be very laissez-faire about when to get to the airport, and then at the last minute, briefly panics about whether or not he’ll get there on time. I tell him he looks like a kid, and should consider getting a haircut. Kiss, and we’re off again.
10:05 AM: I stop and get gas in my car because it’s on empty.
10:15 AM: Arrive at eye doctor. Time for some visual field testing! Let’s find out if I have glaucoma! (but not until my appointment next week, when they will go over the results.) I stare into a box and click a button every time I see a flashing light. They they take a picture of my retina, numb my eyes and poke them with something. Get text message from Kevin saying he got a haircut, and made it to the gate with 50 minutes to spare. Thank God for the Pittsburgh airport and it’s pathetic lack of traffic.
10:50 AM: All done. Off I go. I am dramatically overconfident in my ability to get from McKees Rocks to downtown without GPS assistance. I get lost in Fairywood. Or is this Windgap? I have no idea where I am. Oh wait, here’s Sheraden. Okay, I can find my way from here.
11:30 AM: Finally in Cubeland. Quick do some things in prep for my weekly meeting with my adviser.
12:00 PM: Go up to adviser’s office. Note that he has gotten a haircut and it’s so short that I can’t tell how much he’s been thinking by how much it’s standing up. Alas. Note also that his rhinoceros collection doesn’t appear to have been moved (sometimes it does. I like to be aware.)
We discuss the next few weeks. I have jury duty next week which throws our regular meeting into unknown status. He’s going away after that. Ok, down to business. Think some thinky things, make some decidey decisions.
1:00 PM: Done. Eat a clementine. Do some thinky things, write some of it down. Work on writing my part of a concept paper. Do a lot of head scratching. Text message from Kevin saying he landed in Charlotte.
2:30 PM: Another meeting. More thinky things, more decidey decisions.
3:30 PM: Meeting done. Do some more thinking about writing (this is basically all I ever do. Think, think about writing, write what I’m thinking, rinse and repeat).
4:00 PM: Get sucked into some student scuttlebutt. Do a lot of shocked eyebrow raising and saying “Oh gosh.”
4:20 PM: Time to get my butt out of Cubeland.
4:45 PM: In traffic. Dad calls. “What time are you going to get here?” “When I get there. Probably 5:30.”
4:50 PM: Pick up Lee from daycare. Get text message from Kevin saying he landed in Houston.
4:55 PM: Get home. Let the crazy dogs out. Nurse Lee. Feed dogs. Load Lee back into the car, then head over to my Dad’s for dinner. Mom is in Erie for work, and Kevin is in Texas, so I invited myself over for dinner.
5:20 PM: Arrive at Dad’s. Dutifully admire the new paint colors. Eat dinner (shrimp mac and cheese, stewed tomatoes). Contemplate whether eating shrimp really meets the spirit of the “abstain from meat” rule on Ash Wednesday. Eat it anyway. Lee also enjoys it, with gusto. Except the stewed tomatoes. He threw those on the floor. Good thing they’re getting new carpet too!
6:30 PM: Help dad clean up from dinner while Lee explores. Chit chat about world happenings. Lee starts to campaign to go, so we pack up and leave.
7:00 PM: Home. Let Lee play with his toys a bit.
7:15 PM: Small person is pitifully whining. Time for bed, young sir! Take him upstairs, wipe him down with a warm wet washcloth, torture him with saline up his nose and the bulb syringe. Get some good snot out, hooboy. Into Santa jammies. Goodness, these are getting snug. Read some books, nurse him. Into bed. He sighs contentedly and goes to sleep.
7:45 PM: Shower for me. In pajamas. Lock up downstairs, get a glass of milk, and read in bed for a while. Catholicism by Robert Barron. Very enjoyable, highly recommend.
9:45 PM: Eyelids getting droopy. Squawking erupts from the baby monitor. Let him go for a bit. Nope, increasing. I guess we’re not ready to give up the dreamfeed quite yet. Fine by me. Nurse the baby, get him settled back into bed.
10:00 PM: Text Kevin goodnight. He sends me pictures of children riding sheep at the rodeo. I contemplate how different Texas is from Pennsylvania. I settle myself into the very center of the king sized bed and hope for a quiet night. Dogs fret a bit about it being bedtime and Kevin not being home. They eventually hop up onto the bed and snuggle up. Everyone zonks right out.
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This is either inspired by or shamelessly copying @TwoAdults when she gave us a tour of her house. Want to nosepoke around my house? Okay, here’s your golden opportunity.
Our house was built in either 1890 or 1895. There are conflicting records so it’s hard to know for sure without doing more research than I care to do. It was originally a lot smaller. Where our front door is now was a front porch. What is now the dining room used to be the eat in kitchen, and there were only 2 bedrooms, and no bathrooms. A 2 story addition was added to the back sometime in the early 20th century, adding a kitchen, a 3rd bedroom, and the first bathroom.
Other fun fact about the outside: in this picture, there are 2 windows that do not exist on the inside! The one on the side of the house, on the 2nd floor, roughly in the middle, but not the tiny one. And the farthest back one on the 2nd floor. The house was flipped a few years ago, and the floor plan was changed. They are both in what are now closets, and were just drywalled over. This is the back of the house. That’s the deck that Kevin built a few years ago.
Kevin bought the house in 2009. Pretty much everything has been repainted, and I did some extensive garden expansion. It originally had exactly 4 bushes, and no other plants. It’s a funny looking starter home that we are going to outgrow sooner than I’d like to think about. But for now, it’s home.
Let’s go inside!
That’s the entry way. It’s surprisingly difficult to get a picture of.
That’s the mantle that is not original to the house with the exposed brick that looks ridiculous with the marble. If I had my way we would tear it all out and drywall over it. Shirtless husband playing a video game, baby swing that is collecting baby crap more than it is doing any baby swinging lately.
Now into the dining room. My teacup collection is to the left. That door is the first of 2 back doors. Because you can never have too many back doors! We never use it. But if necessary, we can exit the house directly from all 3 main rooms on the first floor.
Door to the basement, piano. The dining room is the biggest room in the house, but is used mostly as a hallway. We eat there a lot more now that we have a small person to eat with and teach table manners to.
The house flippers definitely cheaped out when they redid the kitchen. We have almost a 3rd of it that is wasted space without cabinets or counters but not big enough for a table. We fixed that with some help from IKEA.
The kitchen originally had bright ice blue walls and a pale gray blue floor. Ice blue + gray + white was very cold and unwelcoming to me. I love the color scheme we ended up with (and the fact that the floor hides all dirt ever. Don’t eat off my floors.) but I still hate white cabinets. I would never choose them myself. I feel like I am constantly scrubbing off dirty fingerprints and it’s only going to get worse. Let’s go upstairs!
At the very top of the stairs is Lee’s room, formerly known as the “middle” bedroom because it is in the middle of our long skinny house. To the left is the door to our room, and my Grandma’s secretary desk.
Let’s start with our room. One of the reasons we picked this house (besides the price tag and lack of work necessary in it) is the obnoxious size of the master bedroom relative to the size of the house. This is our “dressing room” or “ante-chamber”, that we walk through in order to get into our room. That’s the closet on the left. One of the unused windows is behind the closet.
From the ante-chamber into our room. The dressers were my grandparents’. See how big this room is? A king sized bed, two dressers, an arm chair, 2 end tables and a cedar chest. And we still have a lot of room to walk around. And that’s even with one wall not having any furniture on it due to the closet (original to the house, it’s very shallow. We have shelves in it.), another fake fireplace, and the door way. It’s a huge room. We’re very spoiled.
Huge. (Huge crucifix courtesy of my dear, sainted Grandma.)
Now to the back bedroom. It is one of the reasons we won’t be able to stay here for long. The people who built the addition didn’t bother to include any HVAC vents or anything, so it gets pretty cold in there in the winter, and hot in the summer. It works as a guest bedroom and general junk collector. And because my parents are entirely spoiled there’s not just one…...but TWO double beds. Just having to share a room is difficult enough for them (they never have. He snores, she has night terrors. This is apparently the basis for their happy marriage.) let alone a bed. Luckily this room is big enough to fit two. And a lot of our crap. and my box collection in the giant walk in closet. The 2nd hidden window is behind that wall.
You know how I said that the people who built this addition cheaped out? Look closely at the ceiling in all these pictures. The ceiling is considerably slanted, in both this room and in the bathroom. They also didn’t bother to dig a real foundation, so the floors in both the kitchen and upstairs have a noticeable tilt to them that the rest of the house doesn’t. Let’s be nice and call it “character” and not “cheap-ass shoddy craftsmanship”. Welcome to the world’s smallest bathroom (and don’t forget it has a slanted ceiling!). It’s really tiny. And has a window in the shower. Let’s move into the baby’s room. I didn’t feel obligated to do a lot of work or spend a lot of money on this room, because let’s be honest: no baby has serious opinions about interior decoration. But the room originally had a very dark forest green carpet, and tan walls. Those colors, plus 1 window that faces another house, and it felt like a cave. So we repainted and bought a carpet remnant in a light color and it’s much nicer now. The rest of the furniture was a gift (the changing table) or hand-me-downs. Most of the art was a gift too.
The nursing chair, and the piles of books because we do a lot of bedtime reading around here. The crib. Both the pictures were specially commissioned for Lee! The one on the left is a family picture of us with the baby done by a comic artist a friend and I admire, the one on the right was painted by monkeys that my zookeeper friend cares for. Just for Lee! He is loved.
Shot going down the stairs. That window is original to the house, the only one left, I believe. I would like to replace it with a custom stained glass window but let’s be honest. In a house this weird and funny looking, that’s not gonna happen.
We use the deck so much (except for recently because it WON’T STOP RAINING) that it’s like an extra room in the house. We bought that furniture for $500 off craigslist. The seller probably spent $3000-4000 on it. Table, 5 chairs, sofa, cushions, end table. All heavy duty and GORGEOUS. I love it. I plan on having it forever and ever, wherever we go.
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My cousin died.
I wish I didn’t have to write that sentence.
In my heart, I knew it was coming. I sometimes thought about how I would react when I got the phone call. In my head, though, I didn’t think it would be so soon. She had had such a fantastic winter! She was feeling great, had good quality of life, was able to go up to Vermont to their ski lodge and ski with her family multiple times. She drove around town in the mini cooper her husband surprised her with for Christmas. Then a few weeks ago, she started getting terrible headaches. She had a brain scan and it showed that the cancer had spread to her brain. Intensive radiation was prescribed, but she didn’t tolerate it very well. Her brain swelled and she was rushed to the ER the day of the Boston marathon, to one of the hospitals where the bombing victims had been taken. She had a shunt installed to relieve the pressure on her brain.
It all went rapidly downhill from there. She died at home on May 1.
We drove up to Boston on Friday. The service was on Saturday. We drove home on Sunday. It was so hard, so sad, but so good that we were there. My aunt and uncle needed family around them, and I’m grateful we were able to support them.
I reacted to the phone call from my dad by moaning and then sobbing for an hour. I cried through the funeral, and in the days since then I still find myself tearing up. I’ve tried eating, drinking, and sleeping through my feelings. None of that has worked, so now I’m going to try writing about them.
I’m sad. I don’t normally have strong feelings. I joke that I am a robot, incapable of feeling human emotion. I cried when my son was born but I think that was mostly because I was so exhausted and strung out that I was grateful it was over finally. I didn’t cry when my Grandma died: she was 97 and died in her sleep. Not exactly a tragedy. I was mostly judgy and annoyed at my grandmother-in-law’s funeral when her children and grandchildren made a spectacle of themselves with the loud weeping. A woman in her 80s dying of congestive heart failure, surrounded by her children and grandchildren is not a tragedy. The competitive mourning seemed obnoxious, to me. That probably makes me a jerk.
I never really cried when my dad was sick 8 years ago. It was scary but not surprising. He hadn’t exactly taken care of himself, and a series of strokes and a very early stage cancer diagnosis seemed like the logical result of that. And either way, he came through it all and is fine now.
But this. A young, healthy, vibrant, kind, loving, intelligent woman dying in her early 40s after 18 months of illness, leaving a husband, parents, and young daughter behind, it just isn’t fair. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. I can think of a whole long list of people who deserve far more to die than she did, and they are all still alive and kicking.
So I’m pretty sad about it. If I let my mind wander to her husband, her daughter, her parents, her brother, I will start crying again. When she was first diagnosed, someone on twitter asked me why I cared so much, she’s just a cousin. (I am no longer following that gem of a person for a variety of reasons, that being one of them.) Perhaps she is just a cousin. Sure, there’s a list of people I care about a lot more than her. She’s probably not even in my top 10 most important people in my life, and I would be substantially more devastated if anything happened to them. But she’s still my FAMILY, and my family is awfully small. She’s still someone I have looked up to, admired, and emulated since I was small. Even if we didn’t see each other more than once a year, being in her company was a pleasure. And more importantly, her family is my family, and I love them too. I am hurting over her loss, but they are badly, deeply hurting, shaken to their very cores. The devastation this has wrought for her parents and brother is so much worse than what I’m feeling, and that makes me hurt even more for them. Because they are my family, and I love them. I hurt because they hurt.
Just a cousin? No. It’s a lot more than that. You don’t get to tell someone else how to feel.
I’m also angry at God. I have spent the last 18 months praying for a cure. Every day, multiple times per day, in spare moments, I asked for a cure for her. I begged to have this taken from her. I feel like my prayers have been ignored, but I was raised in the church believing that God answers all prayers. I held out hope for a miracle.
It didn’t come. She’s dead. So where do I go from here? If you don’t believe in God, you are likely smirking and saying, “That’s because there is no God. See? I told you so.” If that’s what you believe, kindly keep it to yourself.
I know that God answered my prayers, even if he didn’t give me the outcome I so desperately prayed for. But I’m angry, furious, devastated that this one thing that I have wanted more than anything, in my entire existence, was not granted.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know. I don’t know how to begin wrestling with this.
And for my final Feeling: I’m petrified. Until now, I have lived in a sheltered world where bad things happened to Other People, not me. Not my family. We were lucky, somehow immune to misfortune and tragedy. For a long time, I’ve quietly harbored a fear that it was possible to be Too Lucky, that it was only a matter of time before things started evening out.
Diane lived a blessed, charmed, lucky life. She was beautiful and brilliant. Everything she did was successful. She met and married a good man. They worked hard and earned an incredible amount of money, lived in a beautiful, gigantic house in one of the most expensive towns in Massachusetts. They had a beautiful little girl. She literally had everything that anyone could want out of life.
And then, she got cancer and it was too late. And now she’s dead. It seems like a punishment, and leveling of the playing field. She had so much, and then she went through 18 months of hell, and now she’s dead.
Our family has had it too good, we’ve been too lucky, and now we lost her.
I’m certainly not anywhere near as wealthy as she was, but I am very lucky. I have a wonderful husband, a nice home, a beautiful little boy. I am working towards a PhD in a promising field. I have everything I want and more.
How long until my playing field is leveled too? Is her death the first step in this? How much more will I have to lose to pay back everything I’ve been given?
Maybe it’s crazy to think that way. Life is random, we are given blessings and tragedies at random, not as rewards or punishments.
But today, that’s how it feels. I hurt. I am angry. And I’m scared out of my mind.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Last May, I got pregnant.
On June 11, 2012, I got a positive pregnancy test. Kevin and I jumped around our astonishingly small bathroom for a bit, and then I proceeded to call my mother and stun her into silence. After a few moments she managed to squeak out The Sentence That Will Haunt Her For The Rest Of Her Life:
“How did THIS happen?!”
Mom! You had a kid! I thought you were aware of the specifics!
Anyway, I then went on to have the world’s most uneventful pregnancy. No morning sickness, lots of naps. I become uncomfortable and whiny towards the end, ready for it to be over and done with, because there was no longer room for both me AND the baby in the same place. All in all, I would say that I did pregnancy pretty well. I patted myself firmly on the back and said, “Self, you are GOOD at this whole procreation thing!”
But this isn’t the story of my pregnancy. Mostly because that story would be boring.
No, this is the story of my labor and delivery, a story that is most definitely NOT boring.
I was due February 17, 2013. A Sunday. I did not go into labor that day. Nor the next day. Nor the day after that! I went into labor on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. It was an uneventful day, at first. I worked on knitting a hat for the baby, to go along with the baby sweater I had started and finished that weekend, a project I had HOPED would send me into labor. I drove to the South Side (and parked! AND WALKED A FEW BLOCKS!) and attended a meeting that, when it was scheduled, elicited chortles and “No way Katrina will be able to attend THEN!” out of my colleagues.
And then I showed up, all round and cranky, which elicited gasps from my colleagues. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!”
“I HAVE NO IDEA.”
I sat through the meeting, grumpily. The young, male pharmacy students in attendance eyed my belly nervously. They got even more nervous when I said I was 3 days overdue. I could practically hear them wishing, “Oh please don’t go into labor here!”
I walked back to my car, drove home. Started contracting in the car, which wasn’t unusual. I had been contracting pretty much every afternoon into the evening for about 10 days. They would even set up a pattern. One night they were so regular and fairly intense that I called the midwives. And then they promptly stopped, and I went to bed. So much for that!
I didn’t think much of these contractions, as a result. I situated myself back on the couch, put on some trash TV, and proceeded to continue knitting the little baby cap, ignoring the contractions. Kevin came home. We decided we were going to run out to Lowe’s and look at…. well I have no idea what we were going to look for at Lowe’s, to be honest. Apparently it wasn’t important. But first! We were going to go to Steak’n’Shake for dinner, because damnit I wanted a milkshake.
The contractions picked up in the car ride. Enough that I had to stop talking. But still, meh, whatever. I was never going to have this baby, I was going to be the first documented case of perpetual pregnancy. Got to Steak’n’Shake, ordered. Had to breathe through some contractions. Started timing them. Well, I’ll be damned. They were between 90 seconds and 2 minutes apart. Psh, MILKSHAKE.
We made an executive decision not to go to Lowe’s, though.
I ordered a milkshake, and a contraction hit so hard that I decided to make it a to go milkshake.
Kevin started suggesting that maybe we should consider calling the midwives? I think it was the groaning during the contractions that gave him this idea.
Eh. Okay, but I was sure they would stop the moment I called.
Long story short: I didn’t finish my milkshake because it became too difficult to suck it up the straw and contract at the same time. So I put it in the fridge? Because I was certain, CERTAIN! that we would be sent home. And I guess, it would happen quickly enough that my milkshake wouldn’t melt in the fridge? I don’t know. Clearly the contractions had gone to my brain, because I stopped thinking clearly.
Minor interjection: Kevin spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy concerned that my water would break, all dramatic like, in an inconvenient place. Like, at a restaurant. Or in the grocery store. Or in the car, all over the upholstery. He would point out places that it would be acceptable for my water to break, like in Costco. Concrete floors! Easy clean up!
We went to the hospital, and by then I was huffing and puffing and holy cow did it hurt. I suppose at some point it dawned on me that I was in labor but I’m not sure when, exactly. Not in the car, because I made Kevin leave his hospital bag in the car (but not mine…?) because I didn’t want us to look ridiculous walking into the hospital. By now, it was after 8 PM. We had called our parents to give them the heads up. We had to argue my mother out of jumping right into the car and driving 4.5 hours across the state in the middle of the night.
We got to triage. I was sent into the bathroom to give a urine sample. Did you know it’s awkward and difficult to do a clean catch when you’re 40+ weeks pregnant and contracting hard every 90 seconds? Me either! And then I came out of the bathroom, and the nurse told me to change into a hospital gown. I took my shoes off. And then I took my pants off.
And then my water broke.
Not quite in the dramatic fashion that Kevin was fearing, but in a definite “Um, did I just pee myself?” sort of way. All I’m saying is, I’m such a wonderful wife that I waited for the absolute MOST convenient time for my water to break: in the hospital, in the triage room, AFTER I removed my pants.
The water breakage was confirmed by the midwife, which earned me a ticket to a labor delivery room. They took some blood to test things, specifically do a platelet count for the epidural I knew I wanted (this will be important shortly), and then I was wheeled off.
At this point, I allowed Kevin to go back to the car and get HIS bag. Aren’t I nice? I thought so too.
We got to the labor delivery room after 9. They hooked me up to various monitors. Kevin was just about bouncing off the wall with excitement. I was excited too, when I wasn’t groaning my way through a contraction. They kept coming and coming, harder and harder. I was about 4 cm dilated at that point, and the nurse said that as soon as they got my platelet count back, anesthesia would come in and administer the epidural. Woo! Okay! Just a little bit longer, I told myself. You can do this for a little bit! Huff, puff.
We waited. I contracted. We waited some more. An hour passed, still no platelet count, still no epidural. Another hour, and then the nurse started getting annoyed, and disappeared for a while. The midwife had me on a birthing ball, leaning over the bed, doing midwifey things. Kevin was squeezing my hips together with every contraction, which made them slightly more bearable. The nurse came back. Small problem! My blood work was stuck in the pneumatic tubes! That’s why the platelet count hadn’t come back! And they had to figure out how to fish it out, or take more blood!
HUFF. PUFF. WHAT. ARE YOU KIDDING ME.
It was at this point that I made some sort of joke about the internet being a series of tubes because it was the only thing I could think to say.
We waited some more to see if they could get the blood out. The nurse then took more blood and walked it up to the lab herself. When she returned she got a phone call from them saying, “success! we got the blood out of the tubes!” GREAT. THANKS.
I didn’t get the epidural until 1:15 AM, about 4 hours later than I would have preferred. Oh, the sweet, sweet relief of the epidural. To the ladies out there who manage to get through labor with no pain relief, I am simultaneously impressed and think you’re crazy. There is no way, NO WAY, I could have done that without an epidural, of that I am certain. Particularly with how it ended up going later. (insert dramatic, foreboding music here.)
They positioned Kevin directly in front of me while inserting the epidural. He held my hand. I was so thrilled to be finally getting it that it didn’t freak me out that they were inserting a needle into my spine. It turns out, it bothered Kevin! When they were done, he stood up, and promptly got lightheaded and tipped over onto the bed. The nurses grabbed him and threw him onto the little bench and made him put his feet over his head. All was well, but boy was he embarrassed. (He gave me permission to tell this particular part of the story!)
We turned off the lights. Kevin tucked himself in on the small bench they provide for the baby daddies. I rolled over and tried to sleep, but of course I was too wound up on adrenaline to fall asleep. And the blood pressure cuff doing its thing every half hour didn’t help matters much. So I didn’t sleep, and this also will matter later. (insert more dramatic foreboding music here.)
At 7am, it was time for the midwife’s shift to end and a new midwife to come on. They did hand off in the room, inspected my undercarriage, declared me 7 cm! and what a roomy pelvis I had! Not much longer to go!
Kevin’s mother stopped by to say hello, then went to our house to let the pups out. My parents had hit the road. Everything was looking good for the baby to be here, maybe early afternoon! Woo! I even twittered a bit! Doop de doo!
By 11:30 AM, I was 10 cm dilated, 100% effaced. The midwife said that when I started feeling the urge to push, to let her know, and we could start any time. No rush. Also, would I be okay with a medical student who is on her OB rotation attend the birth? She really wanted to catch a baby, and I should be done by the time her clinical hours finished. Sure, I said! Why not!
Around noon, I started feeling more of the contractions than I wanted. So I started pushing the little epidural button more. That was a bit concerning.
A little before 1 PM, I started feeling the urge to push.
The midwife, the nurse, the med student, and Kevin crowded around, I Assumed The Position, and started pushing. Great job! Such a strong push! This baby will be out in NO TIME!
Push. Push. Push. Push.
Fast forward 2 hours. I was exhausted. I couldn’t push any more, and the baby wasn’t making the turn around my pelvis. The epidural had pretty much completely worn off, but it didn’t hurt when I was pushing, which made it somewhat more bearable, even though pushing was really hard. But because it had worn off, I couldn’t take a breather and get my energy back because the contractions were extremely painful. I was becoming frantic.
The anesthesiologist came in and gave me an extra jolt of something via the epidural, I think Fentanyl, that basically made me go completely numb. Couldn’t feel anything. No pain, no pressure, couldn’t even move my legs. It was a very bizarre feeling, but also a good one, because I could get a little rest. Turned off the lights, and I passed out completely for about 2 hours.
In 2 hours, they woke me up. The fentanyl wore off, and I could feel all the contractions again. Time to start pushing again. And so I did. I pushed. I pushed. I pushed some more. The med student had to leave because her clinical hours were done, and I had not yet produced a baby. Oddly, I felt guilty because she had asked to be in my room specifically because it was assumed I would have had the baby before she had to leave, and she didn’t get to catch a baby!
It was at this point that I asked the midwife, “How much longer do you think?” and she paused, and then said, “Do you want me to be honest?” and then I started crying.
By this time, it was dawning on every one that this was taking too long, and I was even more exhausted. I was falling asleep between contractions. The OB on call was brought in. He and midwife each inspected what was going on up there. The OB was a giant. Very tall, very large, VERY VERY LARGE HANDS. Which he put in their entirety up into the birth canal. I was sort of stunned that they fit.
It was determined that the baby was not positioned correctly. He had spent the majority of my pregnancy with his torso/back on the left side of my abdomen, his butt in my ribs, and feet in my liver. He had his head turned the wrong way so every push was shoving him sideways into my pelvic bone, instead of going under it (and out! through the ROOMY PELVIS! Remember how I have a roomy pelvis?!) The Large Handed OB repeatedly tried to turn his head, and every time he would get it positioned correctly, I would push, and his head would shift back into the original position. Don’t forget, the epidural had worn off, so I could feel all of this.
Another hour or so of turning his head, pushing, turning his head, pushing, more pushing, and the midwife and OB delicately broached the subject of What To Do Now. The baby wasn’t moving anywhere, although he was still handling labor very well. His heart rate was perfect. I could have kept pushing indefinitely, and the baby would have been fine.
But I was not fine. My first response when they Delicately Broached This Subject was, “But I really really don’t want a c section!” while crying. His response was, “well…”
I was not fine. I couldn’t push any more. I had been awake since about 8AM the previous morning, so about 34 hours. I had been in labor for about 26 hours. I had pushed for 4 hours. I had never been so exhausted, so entirely drained, or in as much pain in my entire life. My epidural hadn’t worked for 6 hours, other than the 2 hour fentanyl break I got. I couldn’t do it any more. As much as I didn’t want a c section, I couldn’t do it anymore.
I cried. A lot. Kevin went out to tell my parents and his mom and sister all of whom had been waiting for a long time. I didn’t want to see any of them. I was in an exhausted haze, and a puddle of self pity and disappointment and pain. While I waited for them to prep the OR and prep me for surgery, I cried a lot.
They moved me into the OR, and gave me more of the fentanyl in the epidural, and that was the last I felt the contractions. The midwife held my hand while they got the drape in place and hooked me up to more fluids. For the record, by now this was my 3rd midwife. That’s how long I had been in labor. She came on duty shortly before the decision was made that I needed a c section. Kevin got into his scrubs, and took her place holding my hand. I was scared and he was scared.
They started the surgery. The whole thing felt like it only took about 20 minutes to me, but in reality it was over 3 hours from start to finish. At some point, my blood pressure dropped very badly and I started dry heaving. They gave me a bunch of shots, and I was in and out of it. Kevin was pretty freaked out when my blood pressure literally disappeared from the monitor for a bit. From this point on, I felt entirely detached from the entire experience.
I didn’t feel any pain, but I did feel all the tugging and pulling that they warn you about. We didn’t know what Lee was in advance, because I really wanted the surprise, the wonderful moment of hearing “It’s a…!” I got that moment, but like I said, I was pretty detached. They pulled him out, and the Very Very Large OB said, “It’s a little guy!” We heard him cry. Kevin cried, I cried. We have a son! But I felt like it was happening to someone else, not to me. I was working very hard at staying awake, because of all the drugs, all the exhaustion, all the blood pressure dropping. They cleaned him up, wrapped him up, and brought him over to us. The midwife took pictures of him when he was first out, right after he was born, when he was being weighed, etc. They held him next to my head and I kissed him. He was born at 7:35 PM, roughly 27 hours after I went into labor on the way home from the meeting in the South Side.
I don’t really remember much after that. I finally gave in to falling asleep. Or maybe it was passing out. I don’t really know. Kevin held the baby next to me while they were working on me. At some point, it was determined that they needed to scope my bladder. They had to wait for the scope to be brought down, and then no one knew how to use it. That freaked Kevin out. All of this I am relaying from him, I wasn’t even aware it happened. That delayed things. Finally they scoped it, decided everything was okay, and moved on. Kevin was asked to leave. They took the baby back from him and sent him outside to hang out with our families. He told them it was a boy. They cried, he cried.
It was about an hour that he waited in the hallway for me, worrying. Eventually he sent the midwife back in, and by then I was pretty much stitched up and ready to go. It was about 10:30 PM.
My parents came in and saw the baby, then his mom and sister. Every one hugged and kissed, while I tried to stay awake. They finally gave me the baby and I tried to nurse him. He latched but wasn’t particularly interested. I was unbelievably thirsty, but they wouldn’t give me anything but ice chips yet. I downed those and snuck water from Kevin’s water bottle. We snoozed. The nurse kept coming in and pushing on my uterus and I came very close to punching her in the face.
Finally, I was allowed to go up to a post partum room. We got there about 1:30 AM. The wonderful nurse there got me snacks and made me a strange but delicious drink of cranberry juice and ginger ale. Nothing has ever tasted so good. We sent the baby to the nursery for the night, and I passed out harder than I ever have.
It was hard. It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. 27 hours of labor, 4 hours of pushing, an epidural that stopped working, a baby that got stuck despite my roomy pelvis, and finally, a c section, which was something I very much wanted to avoid.
I was disappointed. In myself, in the whole experience. I wanted the “Real” birth experience. I wanted it to be easier. I wanted to feel more present, not like it was happening to someone else. I wanted to not feel like I had failed, like I had let myself and everyone else down. What if I hadn’t wimped out and gotten the epidural? Maybe I wouldn’t have had the c section. Maybe I should have done something, anything different.
Who knows if that would be true? It happened the way it happened. I am still disappointed. The recovery was very hard, perhaps even harder than the labor and delivery. C section recoveries are hard enough, let alone a c section after that long labor and pushing.
But, in the end, it was all worth it.
His name is Lee. He was born at 8 lbs, 10 oz, and 22 inches. We love him.
Filed under: Uncategorized
You don’t have to like me.
You don’t have to agree with me.
You don’t have to approve of what I do.
You don’t have to approve of what organizations I belong to.
You can have serious qualms about me in general.
You don’t have to be friends with me. That is your choice, just like it is my choice to do all of the above, and to be friends with you.
But, if you like me, and consider yourself friends with me, I ask this:
Please respect me enough to be kind to me.
I don’t care what you do or don’t do.
I don’t care what you do or don’t believe.
I don’t care what you think about my faith, or me in general.
I would like the same from you in return.
Don’t attack me, an individual person who has done NOTHING to you, for the sins of other people or my faith.
When you do that, you are no better than those you are judging.
And worse, you are hurting a person you claim to be friends with. I hope that isn’t your goal.