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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

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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)

Alice, I wonder if you may be the lucky one after all, even with the one pair of pants and the knot in your stomach.

I have a comfortable wardrobe, and a healthy bank account, but my career required I be back at my desk after 12 wks of maternity leave. I’ve been away from my son 10 hrs a day, 5 days a wk, since he was 10 wks old.

Now Ryan’s infancy is gone, and his childhood is waning. As I sit here in my gray cubicle, I’ve missed them both.

I think of quitting every day. But I can’t. We need the money.

So tonight I’ll go home to the house and yard we can only maintain with our dual-income. After one hour of hugs I’ll put my child to bed so he can wake early for daycare in the morning. I’ll sit by my window, look at my suburban night sky, and think again--as I have every night for two years--of how I might change this situation. How it could have been, and may still be, better.

Tomorrow is another day.

February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEllen
Slippy, you are now too popular for me to read through the comments, but I'll just say you should skimp on everything except a house. Go for what you want, even if it feels like over-extending. You won't notice a few less dollars a month in the bank, you will notice the little things you didn't get by skimping. TRUST ME on this.

That said, love and family are all that matter, and you can have those in a cardboard box.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterthe patriarch
I'm delurking here. This is a good start...scroll down to click on links where you can compare schools. Good luck!
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLori Ferrari
yes, swag! I want a finslippy t-shirt: please sell. (I realize $15-a-pop t-shirts won't solve your problems, but they're a start. This blog is a *terrific* read -- you need to suck every possible drop of $$ out of it.)
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
Just checking in to say I hope you're doing okay.

(Please note rare moment of sincerity utterly unmarred by attempt to be clever.)
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
I have a size 8 lucky jeans that were pre-pregnancy from what my sisters refer to as my "Karen Carpenter" stage. It was post-breakup and I was uncharacteristically not into food.

If you are squeezing into a size 4, they will probably be too big, but they mock me from the corner of the closet and it has grown tiresome. I would love an excuse to send them away. Let me know if you are interested.

Oh, and don't beat yourself up. Moving is hard (and scary), scraping financially is hard (and full time parenting is hard (and scary). Can you take a day off and just go sledding with Henry? I hope things are getting better.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan
Clearly this post was genius on your part.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNikol
Yes, Nikol, I am clearly a master of manipulation.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteralice
God, I know just how you feel -- my husband and I live and work in the unbelieveably screwed up real estate area of the Washington, D.C./Baltimore environs. We did our taxes, and all I could think was, Combined, we make six figures, and yet a) we can't qualify to purchase a home with the space we need, because what we qualify for won't buy an apartment, b) we STILL have no money every month, and WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?!?, and c) we don't have a damn thing to show for it. We rent, and it stretches into late every month -- we haven't got any new clothes, and haven't had for years. Can't have another baby -- too much money for the additional daycare, and can't afford for me to stay home. Oh, and there's that -- can't afford to stay home with my little girl, and that sucks beyond anything else going on. I HATE IT.

You are so not alone, this is epidemic everywhere. Hang in there -- this, too, shall pass, and all will be well anon. Or some shit like that.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Cadorette
I'm so late here. I'm sure you're sick of hearing anything related to this topic by now. But, I'm going to comment anyway, because the only thing I do better than talk is comment.

I went through the same exact thing last year in April. We moved from Philadelphia to a suburb of south Jersey because, lower crime rate, big house, great schools, and no city BS. We knew we'd miss the city terribly, but also that it was the best choice for our growing family.

North and South Jersey are like two different worlds, I know this. But, they are the same state, which hold the same laws. And the same OUTRAGEOUS property taxes. And car insurance. JESUS CHRIST! THE TAXES AND INSURANCE! But, even though they are some of the highest in the country, they're still not higher than Philly. So, that stuff kind of worked itself out. NJ has some of the best schools in the country, so I justify the crazy amount of money I pay in taxes as my kids tuition payments for the private school I would have had to put the in if we had continued to live in Philadelphia.

Moving is so stressful. I moved while I was 6 months pregnant and I cried every single day up until about 2 months after we moved in.

Things will calm down, I promise you. Money will work itself out... and I hated so much when people said this to me because I was all, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT OUR FINANCIAL SITUATION IS LIKE (since we are only a steady one income). But finances did work out.

It took about 6 months for life to go back to *normal* ... It's not the same, of course. I'm used to everything and anything I needed being within 5-10 minutes of my house... now, I have to travel everywhere. And it's not as exciting. Plus, there is the small town BS you have to get used to (Not to mention the jughandles and tolls!). But, it's nice. It's calm. It's beautiful. It's safe. And, in the end, I know we made the right decision. We're still only 30 minutes out of Philly, so we can visit friends and family or just go back for the hell of it without it being a major inconvenience. It works well this way.

Good luck to you and your family. I'm hoping that you guys settle in much faster than we did and that your mental health doesn't take too much of a bruising.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRockStar Mommy
Another idea, get your friends to nominate you for What Not to Wear. Hurry! Everyone send Alice their worst fashion don'ts. You'd be a Stacy and Clinton dream project.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterZifty
Hey! I named my daughter Alice. Don't I owe you a licencing fee or something?
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMimi
Don't feel guilty for feeling sorry for yourself! This is your space on the web and yours to do with as you wish. The only reason I'd say stop feeling sprry for yourself is just because if you do too much of it, it's not healthy and then you start to feel really hopeless. Trust me on this one. I know. But here's what I also know: this too shall pass. My Grandmother always says that and it may sound cheesy but it's true: everything is transient.

Also, randomly, have you considered renting instead of buying? I've found that i'm able to get more for my money through renting. I may not have property to show for it, but I also don't have repair bills (a great boon when a car ran through the side of my living room wall: crazy b****) and I can pick up and move whenever (like I'm thinking about doing now that the neighborhood is on a steady decline).
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterScribbles & Bits
Just reading all these soothing comments has made my day vicariously better. Hope they had triple that effect on your state of mind.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterC
Hey Alice, I'm sorry things are so difficult for you right now. My husband and I are having similar issues in that we're broke and can't afford the house we want are and depressed about it (though we know there are people worse off and etc.), but I can't imagine the stress of going through these mental gymnastics of making choices based on the fact that you don't make enough money when you have a child depending on you. And just because there are people worse off then you, doesn't mean your feelings about your current situation aren't valid.

I hope things look brighter soon.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJ.
Alice, I don't know if you're even looking at comments on this post anymore, but I know what you are so so so much. And it's why we live in Denver now. Not that I am disparaging your desire to remain in the NY metro area - god knows, if I thought we could have done it, I would have clung to the hopes and dreams. I am rooting for you guys.

I used to have a shitload of info about NJ schools (you wouldn't believe the analysis I did while deciding where we should move) - have misplaced it, but would be willing to look in my old files if you want it. Let me know.

I sincerely wish you guys the very best. I know the terror all too well.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
Dear Finslippy,

This post broke my heart. It is okay to be a little sad and frustrated. Sometimes the people who do the most for our society are the most underpaid (I know of what I speak - my husband and I are teachers). If it helps you feel better, you brighten my day with your writing. Where to get money? hmm, I am not sure. I teach ESL, and there is always room for a good part-time teacher in that field.

Best of luck! Claire
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClaire
I have this dream (I had it last night again) that I still live with my mother, I'm still married with my husband though. Sometimes in the dream he and the boys live with me at my mothers, sometimes I live there and husband and the boys live elsewhere for some unknown but very disturbing reason. This dream always ends with a fight between my mother and me. A horrible fight where either I want to leave but can't afford to or she kicks me out and I've got nowhere to go. I always wake up from this dream sweating and very angry with my mother. I know, I'm scary. It's an awful nightmare though and I've decided it comes from fear of not having enough money. I know how you feel. I really do. We own a townhome and would like to move to a slightly bigger single but the money isn't there. Then I figure out a way to save money and something else comes in to take the saved money away. It's a headache and I also own exactly two pairs of jeans (that fit) and don't buy more for guilt (and because I hate the size I must now buy but that's another post) So whine away! and I hope it all works out for you.

February 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTracy1cg
You are not whiny. You are just trying to figure out that elusive balance that we are all seeking to find. I can't imagine trying to make ends meet where you live. Ugh, stressful. And as for being stuck-up--please. You want what's best for your family and there's nothing wrong with that. My advice would be: don't settle outside of your comfort level when purchasing a home; you'll never have enough time or money to fix it up the way you want it, and buyer's remorse is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed. If you find some place worthy of settling for, you'll know it. I can totally relate to your comment about feeling unattractive without the right to be attractive. But for god's sake, buy some new jeans. You deserve them! They won't be taking food out of Henry's mouth, or education out of Henry's brain, or whatever. It won't solve your problems, but you'll feel better, incrementally, and that feeling will rub off on other things in your life; cliche but true. As for that town, the link says it's only open 8:30-4:30; what will you do at night? hahahahaha. sorry, couldn't resist. And I'm really sorry you are having to deal with so much.
February 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMandy
you have every right to feel what you feel and you do not sound whiny or bitchy at all. you sound human, and we all have our ups and downs. i live in the sf bay area, notorious for its ridiculous housing market, with people paying tens of thousands over the asking price for tiny houses that are falling apart. finally it seems the market is stabilizing. this gives me a little hope (not that i expect to ever buy here). but what gives me the most hope is seeing friends practically give up from the frustration of the whole process, be miserable and stressed and trying to hold it together, feeling let down when the deals fell through, BUT THEN, somehow, something happens and they end up right where they were meant to be, at a decent price, a decent neighborhood. these are couples trying to raise families, people who freelance steadily but-you-never-know, people wanting to buy a house to start a family, etc. not super rich folks or inhertance kids (though those abound). but just regular people with regular lives just wanting something simple and safe.that is not a big comfort to you now, i know, and when i feel like shit i hate it when people tell me it's gonna get better and work out (i am way to cynical for that and i don't believe in fairy dust). but i'm just saying...i've seen the seemingly-impossible happen when it comes to things like these. and so from a frequent lurker who loves your writing but who has never posted before but was moved by the feelings and honesty here: good luck and may many, many good things come your way.
February 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterka-girl
I've only started reading this site recently, but felt I should leave a comment as you are planning on moving to my neck of the woods. My fiancee and I just moved out of our apartment in Montclair to a house in West Orange (thanks largely to the help of her parents).

Bloomfield is a tricky town as it has bad areas that you should avoid. Obviously, a realtor will be able to steer you towards the better parts. I would definitely recommend also looking into West or South Orange, as it sounds like they might be in your price range and (I believe) have excellent school districts. Unfortunately a lot of towns in this area (such as Montclair) are filled with big, old homes that are just ridiculously expensive, and make it difficult for couples to buy into (unless you are willing to deal with renting out half of it - I'm not completely sure of your situation).

Not that you should necessarily take advice from an Internet stranger, but if there is any other info about the area you need, feel free to e-mail me and I'll try to help. I could even possibly point you in the direction of a good agent.

And, in case you couldn't tell by this comment, it certainly doesn't matter to me that you are complaining. There will always be people worse off than you - that doesn't mean that you don't have a right to bitch and moan and hope for a better life. It just means that other people can bitch and moan louder.
February 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterThom
Dearest Finslippy, I feel your pain. I feel the same thing you are feeling on a regular basis. While I own a home, it is WAY too small for us, and we never seem to have enough money to do what we want to do to it. I need a root job (badly!) and have not bought clothes in ages! To top it all off, I work my ass off at a full-time job. You are not complaining to us, we all just feel for the pain you are going through. Why does life have to be sooo HARD? Go have a cupcake and hug Henry.
February 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Hi Alice. I'm a lurker, don't think I've commented before. I've been in a similar situation too. We're finally in a neighborhood we love, my husband's been out of b-school for 5 years now, we've been married almost 9, so why the hell do we still scrape by? How long will it take us to get our act together? Will the boys want to go to college too or will scrimping and scraping to pay for preschool be enough??? That said the public schools in our neighborhood are great, there's an excellent preschool across the very quiet street and there's a house for sale down the road! Move to Columbus, I'd love to have you as a neighbor. Seriously, hang in there, times will get better!
February 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Okay. This is just a passing thought: Would all those people who would pay $15 for an overpriced Cafepress Finslippy coffee mug or t-shirt or keychain or WTF please just paypal Finslippy $10 instead?

Geez. Why do you need a coffeemug to give up some of your money to help a 'netfriend?
February 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlady
Thinking happy thoughts for you. And for the t-shirt I hope to soon buy. And for the cool stuff I hope to find in your ads.

Hang in there, mama.
February 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLizM

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