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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

Some Books
I'm In...

Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

The site that inspired the book!

At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

« I know it’s a day early… | Main | The meme that started out promising, but then everything went wrong—just like life. »

Don’t read this.

Yesterday was one of the worst days Henry and I have ever had together. Truly, I have never seen him like that before. I’ve never seen me like that. We clashed on every topic (Are Dried Cranberries An Acceptable Dinner? Could He Watch TV For Just Another Minute? Why Couldn’t He Head Butt Me Repeatedly In the Groin While I Am Talking To the Mortgage Broker?) and each time Henry’s demands escalated into full-blown weepy hysteria; we went to our separate corners to enjoy our respective time-outs; we came back to each other to hug and declare our undying love; then it all started again. At one point I found myself yelling and clenching my fists and hopping up and down. Hopping. And I slammed doors. Twice. I am an excellent role model.

I could point to Henry and say IT’S HIS FAULT and say WHO STOLE MY CHILD AND REPLACED HIM WITH THIS MONSTROSITY? But the thing is, I know what’s going on. He’s reacting to me. I am distracted and frazzled and depressed and it’s making him anxious as hell.

We sold our place for more money than we thought we could, which is great. We’re thrilled. But our large margin of profit is not quite what we thought it was. Not quite enough for the house we want. Take the large amount and remove the $20,000 of closing fees and moving expenses, the huge tax bill we’ll have for 2005, the money we’ll need to put down for a car, the small amount of savings we’ll need in case any expenses come up with the house, and you have a much smaller number. Factor in the added expenses of owning a house—the insurance, the car, the heating bills, the inevitable repairs, the hefty real estate tax bill—and the number shrinks even further.

We could take more of a risk and put more down if, say, one of us had reliable employment. Without going into detail about my husband’s job, we don’t, not really. Not reliable in the benefits-and-vacation-time, check-every-two-weeks, severance-pay-guaranteed sense. It’s a great job for his industry, which is not known for its steadiness. We’ve been lucky for a while, but there’s always the spectre of the work drying up. If the work isn’t there, he doesn’t get money. So we have to be careful. We’ve been careful for years, we know the drill. But now we’re looking for a house, and being careful doesn’t jibe with finding a good and safe place for our family, and it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room.

We decided on this neighborhood in New Jersey; it’s close to the city, the trains are right there, the prices for the small homes with small lots (the kind we want, as we are city folk) are not unreasonable. We have friends nearby. But now it seems that if we want to be in the parts of town that have good schools, we have to extend ourselves past our comfort level. Last week we bid on a great house; we were right at the brink of what we could afford, and the taxes were astronomical, and we were stressed out and fighting about the expense. But the school there is wonderful, and I read the description of the school and I thought of Henry being at that school, and I wanted him to live there. I walked around that house and I thought, We will be happy here. We could just barely afford it, but we could afford it, so we bid. And then one other bidder came in at way over the asking price and swooped it up. This isn’t the first time this has happened; such is the market these days. Even if the numbers indicate we can afford it, we can’t really afford it.

We’ve looked at the less-fancy parts of town, that have relatively decent schools, at least we think, and taxes that aren’t so high. But every house we’ve seen in that area has low ceilings and dark musty kitchens and shag rugs and the neighbor’s windows so close you could pass cups of sugar back and forth, and I know this isn’t what we want. We’re not asking for a lot, but we’re asking for a little more than this.

So maybe I feel entitled. Maybe I’m a stuck-up bitch and I should get over myself and living in the cramped smelly house that after all we could fix up. That is probably a valid opinion.

But this is all symptomatic of the larger problem here. We don’t have enough money. We’re not making enough. Every optional expense has been cut out, and yet there’s still not enough. And it’s hurting us. It’s a constant source of tension; there’s no escaping it. Everywhere we look there’s a sign that we need more money. The dog is overdue for a vet appointment. We don’t have the money. Here’s the list of good preschools in Jersey. We don’t have the money. Let’s get food delivered because I’m exhausted and Henry didn’t let me even get near the kitchen all day, he’s been so clingy. We don’t have the money. Well, okay, maybe pizza. But let’s not go crazy with the toppings.

(We want another baby. We don’t have the money.)

Please don’t tell me I should write a book to make money. Or rather: tell me to write a book, and thank you for having faith in my abilities, really, but understand that such an undertaking takes years, years of nonpaid work, and also no one should write a book for the money. It just doesn’t work that way.

Do you want to know what I am wearing now, O Internet? (Especially those members of the Internet who send me hate mail because of my fabulous bloggy existence?) I am wearing jeans that have enormous holes in the crotch and across one knee. They are dirty, as I wear them every day. They are one of two pairs of jeans that I own; the others were pre-pregnancy and are now laughingly small on me. (Size 4! BLAHHAHAHAHA.) In addition to my crappy pilly too-small and too-old Gap sweater, I am also wearing ugly black leather shoes that I bought when I was pregnant, and thus are now one size too big. I trip in them every day. On most days I wear the too-big shoes and the ripped-up jeans. I could probably buy myself new jeans and new shoes, but the idea fills me with guilt. How can I buy something like clothing when we might not be able to pay for Henry’s preschool?

I know how whiny I sound here, I do. I know many many people have lives infinitely more difficult than this one. I know how lucky I am. Please don’t yell at me because I’m whining about my shoes. It’s just—I feel like I’m decaying, a little. I feel unattractive and like I don’t have the right to feel attractive. I feel like god there has to be more money somewhere, except there’s no time to get the money and no money (for childcare, that is) to get more money. I feel like my creative life is dying because all I do is worry and crunch numbers and do the little writing jobs that might bring in enough to pay the cable bill. (Yes, we still have cable. The indulgence! I know!) I feel like there has to be an answer somewhere and where’s the answer and aren’t I smart enough haven’t I been good don’t I have the education and the intelligence and resources to figure this out why can’t I figure this out?

I know, I know. I’m feeling sorry for myself. I should snap out of it, right? You can tell me.

(p.s. If anyone knows anything about the school system in the above-mentioned town—it’s linked to, right up there—please, please email me.)

Reader Comments (209)

because of all of you, today i love the internet.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersweetney
I echo two things from most of the commenters: 1) I'm so sorry you have to go through this anxiety and 2) I can absolutely relate. I in fact started my blog for this very reason. My husband and I have three Master's degrees and a Ph.D. between us, and while he has a "real" job, I've been trying to balance making enough money by freelancing and retaining enough time to write. To be honest it was terrible for many months, and we're just now coming out of the worst of it. ("Worst" as in being unable to buy groceries--that bad.) Anyway I'm so glad you wrote about this. I've often read about other bloggers' fabulous vacations or seen pictures of their beautiful nurseries or heard stories about their cars or home improvements or even the movie they saw last night, and thought, "What the hell am I doing here? I have nothing in common with anyone!" Maybe it was naive of me, but I had no idea so many people were struggling--being broke isolates you, and I guess I (falsely) felt like I was the only one. I hope you take comfort from all the encouraging comments--I vicariously took much comfort from them myself! If it hadn't been for my blog and the well wishes I received there, I don't know how I would've made it. Thank you for this timely and valuable post. All best to you.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMidwestern Deadbeat
Sweetie. Not having enough money is so hard. Please buy a pair of jeans. Old Navy has great sales - and when you do? You might start feeling a little better about you. That's worth thirty bucks, no?

I just Amazoned you like four times. It's not enough - how could it be? - but it's high time I paid for your exceptional writing and your generosity in sharing it with the world for free.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Also, these are probably too small for you, but I have some nice clothes in good shape that are about a size 8. I would be more than happy to send them your way.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
GOD. I meant to say TOO BIG for you. You look like a tiny little size-6 girl.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
GOD. I meant to say TOO BIG for you. You look like a tiny little size-6 girl.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
"Life is pain, your highness. Whoever says otherwise is trying to sell you something."The Princess Bride

Sorry life isn't all butterflies and marshmallows for you right now. Take a deep breath and keep hope alive!
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEuropean
I have totally been where you are, exactly, with the "we don't have the money" thing and the shabby self because no money! and the worry.

Wish I had a million bucks to hire you to write stuff for me.

I don't though, unfortunately for both of us.

Here's an internet *hug*. Worthless, but all I can offer, and it's sincere.

Also - I'm sincere when I say, hang in there, it gets better most of the time. It's hard in the meanwhile though.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrobin
Oh, man. Me too. I think everybody is broke, there are just different kinds of broke (the NYC all living in two rooms kind of broke versus the having ten acres and a crappy little house on it and horses and vehicles but still more kids than bedrooms kind of broke, the second of which actually involves less cashflow but the first of which involves better clothes and vacations and food). I read an essay once about how the poor in America (and I'm not calling you poor, or myself, because we're not, we're just on the way up, yeah) have "disappeared" except for the very lowest levels due to the availability of credit and the proliferation of pre-owned automobile dealerships, gently-used clothing stores, business casual workplaces, telecommuting, etc. I'm in the SAME boat, and if you had asked me six months ago if we could afford all the medical bills and childcare and special formula and medical supplies we're carrying right now I would have said hell no of course not, but somehow we are and if we weren't there wouldn't be any "extra" money...I think financial need is the thing that is like gas molecules. It expands to fill whatever budget you have so that there is nothing left. My wardrobe is really bad, too (three pregnancies in five years and currently being several sizes larger than "normal" but all "normal" stuff being out of style anyway) and I type this in a bleach-spotted duckie pajama top and a pair of plaid pajama pants not because I am getting ready for bed, but because all three pairs of pants that fit me (including both of the pairs I can wear in public) are in the wash at once and I don't have enough shirts to wear a "going out" shirt on a day when the likelihood of being vomited upon is so high. Some of my readers are sending me t-shirts, and I can't wait! If you give me somewhere to send it, I'll send you one when I come across a really good one. Love your site (as I've told you a couple of times in stalker-esque emails, but always I am snubbed, SIGH).
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMFA Mama
Word for word I am right there with you. It is so frustrating. I am frequently reminded of how little money we have everytime I go to playgroup with my 2 year old and we can't afford to buy lunch afterward, or get her that awesome toy her friend has. I suck it up because I am happy to be a SAHM but it is wearing me down and some days I just want to cry.

And the wardrobe thing is me to a T as well. I am wearing clothes that I bought several years ago. Some days I wonder why I leave the house at all. But not to hijack your post let me thank you for putting it all out there and for showing me and so many others that we are not the minority. Money problems affect everyone, and for all I know those gals in playgroup are thousands of dollars in debt. I'd like to think so anyway.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTali
My advice: do not max out when you buy your house. You will be in big debt, and you'll be stressed out all the time. If you can't find a house you like in Bloomfield, look at another town. I grew up in NJ, and Jersey is full of little, wonderful towns. Any chance that you can move farther west? I grew up in Morris County. It is beautiful, rural, and you can take the train into NYC if need be.

It is so easy to get caught up in what you don't have and what you really want. . . live within your means and want the things you already have. You'll be a lot happier that way.

February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie from MD
Been there, worn that...

I'll join those who say things DO get better. Hoping it's soon for you.

Also, if anyone looking to donate has trouble with the Amazon link (I didn't even know I had an Amazon account, but apparently I do and it has issues), remember Paypal lets you "send money to anyone with E-mail address." Alice's is up at the top there on the right.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
Oh, man. I completely and totally understand. We're feeling the same way - only we have no chance in hell of buying a house anytime and anywhere soon. (Well, maybe rural West Virginia? No. Not even there.) I think living in and around Park Slope is really hard if you don't have a ton of money. I don't know about you, but Ping's classmates are pretty well off. It almost pains me to have playdates, though I do get to see lots of really great apartments and houses indeed.

I have no answers for you. But you're not being whiny in the least - it's very hard. I concur.

February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrooklyn Mama
Ms Alice,

I think one of your commenters above had the answer. As far as we all know, Dooce lives on her site. You need to up the ad wattage here. We'll understand. We don't mind hers. And think of the income. Plus, best of all, you'll be getting paid (more) for your creativity.

If that's not enough, there are a lot of home-based businesses built for stay at home moms out there. Along the lines of Pampered Chef, Avon, Melaleuca. Beware any that require a lot of money to get into; they are usually a scam. Of course, they're all essentially sales. But you can do them in the evening or when you meet with other moms and bring Henry along.

And if you really didn't want any damn advice - sorry. In the big picture - I feel for you and completely relate.

February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKrisco
Coming out of lurkdom to say that I'm sorry things are hard with the $$ (or lack thereof) right now. I hope that they get better soon. I understand your frustration. Replacing just a few details, I could have written this post. (Though not nearly as well. )

February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermirabel
I feel your pain.

We just lost our medical insurance and had the good fortune to get pregnant at exactly the same time. However, now no one will insure me.

What does canned catfood taste like again?

Many hugs coming your way.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjozet
Alice, please listen to your readers and do what Velma said. We want to contribute.

Also, I will send you my skinny pants which have hardly been worn (because I am not skinny) and are awesome active mom, make your but look good in the spring summer weather pants. Truly, they need a better home and after my almost 10 pound second baby I need new skinny pants. At least let me send an email photo of the pants so that you could be tempted.

We moved last year into a hundred year old Victorian in the less expensive area. At first I was afraid of our new location but have warmed up to it and learned to look at the pretty side of the street while walking a few extra blocks to the safe park. We love the house and plan to be here for a very long time. It is very drafty and needs a lot of work that will not be done for quite some time. I'm not kidding, there is a serious danger of our garage falling down. Loud noises have me looking out the kitchen window to see if the neighbour's cat has knocked it over. BUT I love the house and when I look around it I am happy to be here and it makes it worth it.

The schools in our neighbourhood suck. My children will never enter their hallways. A comparable house in the good school area would be about $300,000 more - again no joke. Instead we take my 3 year old to a private Montessori. Plan B, if necessary is to use our school board optional attendance policy and drive him to the "good" public schools.

Also, as our elder neighbours vacate their homes (we don't ask where they are going but I imagine it is a place with beautiful front porches and an endless supply of fresh brooms and black kerchiefs)new hip, money challenged neighbours move in. Maybe one day there will be enough to car pool our kids to the good school.

Sorry for the length - this is why I don't comment. Will go click ads now
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenternathalie

Hang in there. I have a dear dear friend who is in a similar situation as you. And he has no blog,so you are a dear-ish friend by default.

Do not question your move to NJ. My wife & I are considering a much more radical move to Columbia County NY. Totally white, rural, but also bucolic. Seems like a great idea until we start talking details.

Nike is a poor role model, but they have an excellent slogan (I won't bother to repeat it here). Unless you become a heroin addict, it will work out.

Your life is essentially a choice: Time vs. Money.

Your brain says money, but your heart says...

Enough metaphors for one night. Love the son & husband. Time wins in a landslide.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterswarty
Not going to read all the above comments but perhaps you could include ads in your blog that we could faithfully click? Would that help? T-shirts?

Money issues suck. Period.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
BTW, I think you should move to my smallish city near Vancouver BC Canada. You two would probably be far, far better financially off here. It's all relative my dear...
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
I stopped reading at comment 20 or so; the person who suggested that you sell Finslippy t-shirts to pay for Henry's tuition/new jeans/house of your dreams.... yes, I'd buy one :)
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

Got here late, but man can I relate to your frustration. I live on a fixed income, just like all the grannies in Florida. I'm on SSDI for a physical handicap and I can't work. I'm also a single mom with two kids. We are so financially screwed that your situation sounds like heaven to me. I've become the queen of pinching pennies because I literally have no income after my housing costs. That means we have no money for food. clothing, etc. And with the increased heat costs this winter, it is worse than ever. If we didn't get donated food, we'd starve. We never go out, ever. Movies? We got 3 months of Netflix as a gift and we're trying to catch up with the last few years of movies. When it's over, it's over. No cable, no cell, no tivo, nothing but nothing that isn't an absolute necessity. It is so hard and so exhausting. When people comment on my clothes, which are ripped and stained and ancient, I can't even explain that new clothing is just not possible. It isn't gonna happen. When my clothes wear out, I don't know what I'm going to do because I cannot possibly afford more.

I so understand what it feels like to live like this, but there are ways to cut back, even when you think you've cut to the bone. And I've found them all, out of necessity. People give clothing away on craigslist all the time. You can buy nearly new kids clothing at the semi-annual twins sales. The next one will be for summer clothing and will be sometime in April. Check your local MOT clubs to find out when they occur. They are by far the cheapest way to get kids clothing. The average price for an item is about a buck. They sell toys and equipment too.

Moving costs can be lowered by an amazing amount by packing, moving and unpacking by yourself. You can save at least 1/2 of your costs, and you can always get free boxes on craigslist. Good boxes, too. Get everyone you know to help move, buy pizza and beer, and you can move for a couple hundred bucks. It's hard, but you can do it!

Sell ANYTHING you don't absolutely need. DOn't move it, get rid of it.

Groceries will be cheaper in NJ than in NY. Find the cheap places to shop and stick to a list. If you find it hard to stick to a list, get someone to shop for you. It ends up being a huge savings when you don't have any impluse buys for Hershey's Kisses!

don't let people bully you into getting a job if you feel you want to SAH. There are ways to make $$ working at home. Writing a book isn't one of them, but doing other types of freelance writing, tutoring, selling crafts, and ads on your blog all will help with income. You can research ways to make money on your blog, if you do want to go that route.

If you have any questions about how to live on a poverty budget, email me. I'm happy to help.
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermargalit
I just realized the suburban-hell I was subjecting you to by suggesting you (in addition to ads) think about a mom-focused home-based business. Ha! That idea could make a city-girl re-think everything. Just wait until you're invited to Bunco.

(Although I actually like Bunco...: )
February 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKrisco

I'm delurking today (have been reading your wonderful writing for a while now) because I feel your pain. My husband and I lived in NYC for 13 years, had both of our children there and loved it desperately. But we also had the very small, not fancy-living dream of owning a little place where there are good schools, etc. in which our 2 little boys could have a tiny swatch of yard, etc., etc., etc. As 2 NYC public school teachers, this dream was so not in the picture for us in any place we would ever want to live in the entire metropolitan area. So we left last summer (we're now in Central CT near family) and I have to tell you it killed me. The issue of $$ and schools and quality of life for ny-ers with children (or without for that matter...) is just a nightmare. I don't have any answers for you. And I don't know if you're looking for advice. But I will tell you that Park Slope has one of the absolute best elementary schools in the city (PS 321) and if you're zoned for it you are a lucky girl indeed. There are other great ones in Brooklyn as well. So if it doesn't work out right now in NJ and you decide to stay in the slope, maybe this is your reward? What if you banked your profit from the sale of your apt., invested it wisely to grow it, and rented for a while in the 321 zone (they also have a pre-k, I think it's by lottery...) until the market is more favorable for you in the burbs?
February 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
I would just recommend checking out the charter schools in/around the neighborhood you're looking at - they're a great (free) alternative to the conventional public schools and are often a better choice. Just a suggestion that I didn't see in the comments above. Feel free to email me if you want, I've worked in your area (consulting).
February 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterErin

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