Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fulfilling Motherhood

Hubby and I watched Garden State the other day. It’s another one of those movies that reminds me that many, many people feel just hopeless in their lives. Can I state for the record that I do not feel that way? There have been times in my life when I have, but I don’t now and hope to never feel that way again. I count my blessings. Life is busy taking care of a house and three little people, and I don’t have as much leisure time as I might like, but I do not hate my life.

I’m usually pretty happy with my lifestyle as a SAHM. I live in my insulated little world, and my friends and I all congratulate each other on our excellent parenting. Every now and then I emerge enough into the other world to recognize what I don’t have. Last year when the baby was very small, when I was still measuring his age in weeks, I went to my 10-year graduate school reunion. I got to introduce myself as a stay-at-home mom to people who create policy and run companies and governments. I said I wrote letters to the editor (had to say I did something “worthwhile”).

This weekend I’m going to a baby shower for a college friend. In college she was very fun. Now she’s a pathologist. I can hardly fathom what it is she does and the amount of knowledge she’s crammed into her head. So on Sunday I will be leaving my safe little world and heading out (without children) to talk to people who may not be parenting small people. Who may be doing highly worthwhile work. Who, if they have children, may not parent like me. I am nervous.

No value judgments, of course.


I've been uncertain about homeschooling for awhile. I've told people that I love the philosophy, but "we'll probably ship Parker off to kindergarten and see how it goes". Well, we're getting close to decision time. Our kindergarten visit is March 17th.

The funny thing is, what I'm most worried about is what I though I'd been "talked" out of (that is, convinced otherwise by what I'd read) -- socialization. I'm worried about him feeling like he belongs. It's kind of a cultural literacy thing. I need to go back and reread some things, I think.

On the side of homeschooling, kindergarten feels like it will swallow our lives. It will be hard to do anything with the two younger kids when we have to meet the bus twice each day. And Parker will miss out on fun stuff like playgroups and visits to fun places.

There's the vaccination issue too. The thought of having to fight the authorities gives me a stomach ache. That also pushes me more toward homeschooling.

Right now I hardly have time to spend with Parker working on whatever. But by September the baby won't be ten months old -- he'll be 18 months old, which could easily be a different world. How much time would I realistically need with Parker? It seems like an hour a day would be plenty, and I could buy that from the other two with TV.

A few months ago Parker would tell people he wasn't going to kindergarten, he was going to do homeschool. Now he says he wants to go to kindergarten. Maybe because we haven't been to our homeschool group recently. His opinion matters, but it won't make the decision for me.

I'm very on the fence right now, but I don't want to close any doors, in any way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

February is finance month (2nd meeting)

For our second finance meeting our homework was to figure out what percent of our spending was in each of eleven rough categories. Of course each of us tracks things differently, so even the large categories weren't exactly equivalent. We compared percentages to account for differences in income, which we haven't specifically shared. I imaginee that much of the difference in spending would be found in the housing category, and certainly there were differences. The highest percent on housing (which included utilities) was 33%, but that household is paying extra interest on their mortgage.

When we got to groceries, we shared actual numbers -- they varied from something over $300/month to over $700/month. Some of the discrepancy is in the categorization of household items like soap, shampoo, detergent, etc. But the woman with the lowest grocery bill works hard on saving on groceries -- she reads circulars, makes list comparing prices of items she buys, and uses coupons. Since it looks like she's saving about $200/month over the rest of us, that is work that seems to pay off.

I found the exercise useful. I'm not sure that these are the supercategories I will use, but at the bottom of the list were Entertainment or Frivolities, Donations, and Investments, and in our household those categories are big enough that I can see where we could cut if we wanted to. My husband isn't that happy at his job, and I'd like to feel that if he takes a lower paying job, we can figure out how to keep paying for the house and generally making ends meet. Interestingly, although I haven't been reading blogs lately (until today), apparently personal finance is the topic du jour. Elizabeth at Half Changed World is discussing it, as are some others.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

February is finance month

I have been meeting with four friends to talk about household finance. We all have kids, so this meeting is five women and eight of our eleven kids — try that in an office!

I think we all have a slight sense of panic around our finances, even though it doesn't appear that anyone is sinking. I know I feel out of control of our finances, and now that we have a family, it matters a lot more. When I was single, or when we were married without kids I always had the sense that we could recover from any financial setbacks (as, in fact, we did). In a pinch, we could live with our parents. That no longer feels like an option, and so knowing how much we earn, how much we spend, and how much we save seems important.

My friend Carrie did an excellent job of putting together an agenda for our three meetings. The first meeting we talked about our systems — where we have our accounts, how we spend money (cash/debit card/credit card/checks), how we keep track of money, how we know when we're in financial trouble, and whether we have a budget. It turns out that none of us has a budget, although we all have a sense of how much we spend in various broad categories. We have a variety of systems. Two of us use Quicken (older versions, though) and do some online bill paying. Another has a spreasheet that she uses to track spending in a variety of categories (it takes a fair amount of hand calculation using checkbooks and credit card statements, and she’s usually months behind). One (who owns and rents apartments) has a fairly comprehensive manual system with good filing. The last system is all manual with less overall tracking.

One issue that comes up for all of us to one degree or another is how our approach to personal finance differs from our husbands', and how to talk about finance. There are the wives who want to pinch pennies and the husbands who don't want to talk about it. There are the husbands who wants to retire in five years (at thirty-something) or are simply happy with very little and the wives who wants to spend "normally" (my designation, not theirs). I imagine few couples are totally in sync about money, and it can be an anxiety-producing topic, which makes it a mine field in a marriage.

These meeting have helped me to talk with my husband about money. Actually making changes is more difficult. I recently gave up one of two days of babysitting a week. I’ve had the arrangement for years, and in previous years I used the time to do paying work. I’m no longer working much. Also, the sitter doesn’t take the baby, so I wasn’t really gaining “free” time. The kids adore going to the sitter, so cutting it out entirely didn’t feel like a feasible option. I’m hoping my husband can find a similar small, relatively painless change to make in his spending. Although we do okay from month to month, I’d like to save a little more – mainly for trips in the future, but also for any large home repair bills, and for down payments on new cars when the time comes.

I’m trying to find “enoughness” around many aspects of money. I’d like to keep enough records and do enough analysis to know where we are financially. I don’t have the time to track every penny, and I’m not convinced that the time it would take would be worth it to us. I want “enoughness” in our planning – I’m not convinced we need a budget per say, but I do think we need some way to be sure we don’t overspend on a regular basis. I try to find “enoughness” in my purchases – I like to end up in the middle. So my grocery budget is in the middle compared to my friends’. When I buy something, I don’t buy the cheapest or the most expensive, but try to end up somewhere in the middle. For instance, my new digital camera (good, but not the SLR I yearn for), my PDA (about $100), and my sewing machine (it does embroidery, but I got it used for under $1000). I’ve read Your Money or Your Life, and I admire the approach, but I’m not sure I want it for myself. Or maybe it’s that I’m almost positive I could never persuade my husband to do the program. At any rate, in my book, it’s more radical than the middle ground I seek in my financial affairs.

A stolen quote

I'm borrowing this from rebecca's pocket. It reflects my blog name.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I should get out more

I started a pottery (Wheel Forming I) class last Friday. It's three whole hours away from my family — heaven. There are only five other people in the class, and they are all basically like me. Their ages range from 20s (the instructor) to maybe 50s, all women, and well enough off to afford this class. But none of the other students has small children. They have been together in this class for at least one session, and they chat as they work, and I listen. I suddenly realize that they have spare time, leisure, time to themselves. For me it was a window into another world — when you have small children, you are always "on," always working. Even when I do take time for myself, I am likely to be called away from it very soon. And the volume of work to do in my house is heavy — there are dishes, laundry, meals, changing diapers, picking up, vacuuming, organizing, etc. It is literally never done. I am an adequate housewife, a long way from a neatnik, and I could be busy with this stuff all day long. But anyway, my point was that I felt like a window opened into a different world when I was listening to my classmates. It made me aware of how much I live in my own world — and when I get out, I socialize with people like me who have small children and stay home with them. My husband lives in at least three worlds — our family, work, and the fire station. This class will be good for me, I think. Being reminded that there is another world out there reminds me that there are many other worldviews out there.