Monday, March 9, 2009

ooh, february...

you are such a bastard, aren't you? I think Brian at Looky, Daddy! may have done the best job summing up the general spirit of the month. In our own armpit of stank, various things happened. We coped, in the way that one does. We did not pretend we were British. There was not so much with the stiff upper lip. But then, you may have already gotten that I am not so much the stiff-upper-lip type, hmm?

We had two days of sun this weekend. I took it as the sun's promise to come back sometime in a more full-time kind of way. Also, we have had about a week with no new problems. Huzzah! More news as it comes.

Monday, February 9, 2009

a nice day

Today was just about everything I imagined when I dreamed about what good could come of L's job situation. D woke up AFTER 6 AM. HOORAY. Okay, there are just not letters large enough to convey the size of that hooray. You'll just have to read them very very loudly in your head. So, anyway, today D woke up at a reasonable hour. I got up with him, we read books and played play-doh for a while, then L got up and took over for the remote-controlled car hour while I went and made breakfast for myself and D. L and D ate their breakfasts while I got going on work. L took D to nursery school, finished fixing our car (hooray!) and then took it to get inspected -- this time successfully -- while I got to continue to work. L picked up D, we all had some lunch together, D went to bed and L picked up the mess left in his workshop from his weekend furniture-building while I, yes, got to continue to work. When D got up, L and D played until almost 5, when I made dinner and then we ate. D got to watch an episode of Blue's Clues, L went to his blacksmithing class, and then I read books with D, gave him a bath, and put him to bed. I was happily productive, L got stuff done and then got to go hit red-hot metal, D had fun at nursery school and played with both of his parents. Awesome.

While we waited for D's bath to fill, we watched a little YouTube. D's favorite for the day was the following They Might Be Giants song:

(Getting into the bath, D observed that he would be seven when he grew up.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

political input

Hoping the moderation of our state's Republican senators works to our advantage, I sent an e-mail to Collins and Snowe in support of the stimulus. Go women of Maine!

Dear Senator:

I'm a constituent and I'm writing to ask you to support the stimulus bill.

I live on [x] St., which is a street in a residential. middle-class neighborhood near to downtown Portland. My husband and I have a toddler and this neighborhood is a very comfortable place for us to live as so many of our neighbors are right in our stage of life. Many of us are 30-somethings with one or two young children, owning our first home, college-educated and trying to succeed both at our jobs and in the life-work of being parents and responsible members of our community.

My husband was laid off in January; in this, he joined at least four other people on our street (that we know of) who have been laid off in the last few months alone. My husband is a cabinetmaker and as an aspect of registering for unemployment benefits (thank you State of Maine!) he signed up for the state job bank. Setting his search parameters at a 90-mile radius, he searched for any jobs that used any of his skills and found none. The area ninety miles from Portland includes most of southern Maine -- and southern New Hampshire too, for that matter. There is no work for woodworkers in all of the most populated parts of Maine and New Hampshire. That is a big problem for a state like ours which is nationally known for the expertise of its woodworkers. There are a lot of people here who have spent years and years becoming good at making beautiful cabinetry and there is no work for them now. Our neighbors are in a variety of different professions but the effect on them is the same: men and women who have already spent ten years of their lives on developing an area of expertise in order to support their new families, and now they are out of work because there is no work for them to do what they have been trained to do. It's pretty early in this process so the principal effect on the neighborhood has been a lot of extra dog-walking during the day. But eventually people won't be able to meet their mortgages, and who knows what will happen then. There aren't so many McDonald's in town that they can absorb all of the mid-career laid-off workers.

This is a situation unlike any that I have faced at any other time in my life -- or that occured in my parents' lifetime either, for that matter. We are at the edge of a frightening precipice right now and need you to take this seriously and not play politics with it to the extent that you can avoid doing so. Tax cuts are not enough. There was no work for the cabinet shops to do -- before my husband was laid off, he was just cleaning the shop every day for weeks. Tax cuts alone will not bring back the work he was doing, at least not in the immediate future.

We need a stimulus that will provide money for jobs in new areas in which people like us can develop expertise -- the weatherizing and energy conservation-remodeling jobs, for instance, happen to be a very good match for the legions of currently unemployed Maine woodworkers -- and we need it now, so that we don't all lose our houses waiting for things to happen. Please support the stimulus bill so that we can try to get on with the business of responding to the new economic conditions.

Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


As of today, more or less back to fine.

For a few days there, things were feeling like we were in a little boat heading up against the current, and then a storm came up. Nothing life-threatening, just wet and cold. Cold like water coming out of your ceiling in several rooms sequentially. And then your boat springs a leak. Again, the boat isn't going to sink, but you kind of have to keep bailing in order not to constantly be walking around in an inch of water. Or heavy, wet snow. Or vomit. Or sleeplessness due to toddlers who've had their routines disrupted. Okay, that last one overstretched the metaphor.

Anyway, we got a day off from any new minor crises today. Maybe things are turning around. At minimum, I got two hours of lying in bed in the middle of the day. When you're tired and feeling a little buffeted, there is nothing that beats lying in bed in the middle of the day with a cat on either side of you. Even when they start meowing loudly for no particular reason, or get into a fight right on top of you, or start neurotically and loudly licking a plastic bag because they've just been pushed off the bed by the other cat. Even then, lying in bed in the middle of the day feels like heaven.

Monday, January 26, 2009

please to stop with the minor annoyances

OK, if you're one of the people who's written about how you can't stand hearing about the drip drip drip of irritating events in our lives, this is a good place to stop.

Vomit. Copious amounts of it this morning. Poor, poor D, who never ever vomits. We believe it is just a bad combination of extremely fibrous orange, post-nasal drip, and too much milk drunk too quickly. At nursery school, though, we learned that there is apparently a nasty bug going about that involves considerable liquid drainage "from both ends," as it were, so we are all praying that it's not that. Because honestly, what you really don't want at a moment of health care transition (a.k.a., moving to the catastrophic-insurance-and-otherwise-out-of-pocket standard) is for someone to have a real sickness. Go fibrous orange and morning mucus! Go!

My sense of personal worry was put in some perspective this morning when I read about the heightening pace of evictions in Maine. It is so cold here right now. It's not like when we were in California and you could spend a few minutes outside without risking damage to any exposed flesh. We're landlords, not tenants; that puts us one step higher on the food chain that ends in the gaping, insatiable maw of the consolidated banking oligopoly. One fairly small step, but a step nonetheless. I think I'm going to see if there's any way I could volunteer for Pinetree Legal.

Okay, back to work.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

oh no!

Oh ceilings, why can't you just stay where you are above our heads? Is it really that much to ask?

To entertain ourselves while L scraped the leak-causing ice dam off the roof, D and I performed a dramatic reenactment of the water pouring out of our kitchen ceiling yesterday. One of the things we gave D for his second birthday was a giant cardboard box. (I know. Do we not come off as effete eastern liberals? Of course we do.) So the box is folded up at the top non-tape fashion, with all of the left-hand sides of the flaps tucked under all of the right-hand sides of the flaps, and this leaves a small hole in the middle. D passed me a handful of binkies and then went inside the box, where he yelled, "Through the roof! Binkies through the roof!" I pushed the binkies one by one through the hole in the top of the box and listened to them bonk off the top of his head and hit the inside of the box, the whole thing making D totally hysterical with laughter.

So, the day alternated between frustrating (no car, ceiling issue, construction zone in kitchen, D being two years old) and amusing (cat smushing, playing in tents, huge piles of snow and ice falling off the roof, D being two years old.) Probably a little more frustrating than amusing on the whole, but definitely within the bounds of toleration. Especially since L and I both drank two beers rather than our usual one. And I made shrimp pot-stickers, which D even ate.

Friday, January 23, 2009

blah blah blah

So, today was the first day of the rest of our lives. D went back to nursery school, which he had missed on Wednesday on account of the Hideously Timed Cold (the details of which I have mercifully spared you), L took the car in for inspection (a.k.a., the sad news about exactly how much we have to pay to get by with this car for another year), and I went to the library to set myself up in a decent writing spot.

The upshot: D had a good morning at school; we must pay a ludicrous amount to the Car Piper (and have also apparently cashed in some karma points -- carma points? Ahahahahahaha -- since a ball-joint is so rusted that we could have had a wheel fall off at any moment); and I found a good place on the 6th floor to write. It's under an excellent loud airvent that simulates the white noise simulator I often use while writing. While D took his nap part of our kitchen ceiling caved in, thanks to the ice dam that's built up on one of the lower eaves of our roof. L was somewhat distraught; I said, eh. We weren't really that keen on the decor here anyway.

For your weekend-starting pleasure, some more Sesame Street.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

you TURN at the turn

The other morning L told me a dream he had had the night before. In the dream we were going up to Machias and I was driving. I was driving badly, as usual (what?), and was going too fast; the car felt out of control as we cruised along next to the ocean. We came up to a turn in the road, but instead of staying on the road I just kept going straight and drove off into the water. As we sat in the car in the water, L looked at me incredulously and said, "You TURN at the turn."

So, instead of hanging out in the freezing January ocean, we're turning at the turn. I'm going to start working on my dissertation full-time at a place yet to be determined (but probably a desk on the 4th floor of the local university library.) L will be in charge of D during the day. I'm hanging up my SAHM badge and he's becoming an official stay-at-home dad.

He'll keep looking out for work although neither of us is exactly expecting employment to come through anytime soon. When L registered for unemployment compensation he simultaneously signed up for the state's job bank. He specified all of his experience, education, and interests in his profile and discovered that there are jobs for someone with his experience....within 90 miles. 90 miles. That basically means there are no jobs for woodworkers within all of the most-populated parts of Maine and New Hampshire.

So that's not good. But you know, this really is an excellent opportunity underneath the frightening parts of it. I'm excited at the prospect of finally finishing this qualification that I've been working on for over seven years. Further, even before this happened, I had been thinking about how D is at an age where I feel like his relationship with his father is gaining a new dimension of importance. He's wanting more and more physical play and has become less and less clingy. I'm aware of how he's developing a separate sense of himself as a social being, making choices about how he wants to behave and trying out different methods of getting what he wants. So far, in my mind, his gender has been basically irrelevant. He's just been a baby. Lately, though, I feel him becoming a little boy. What that means to me is that his social self is starting to present issues of gendering: I suddenly feel a need to make choices about how I help him regulate his behavior towards others and there is inevitably a gendered aspect to those choices. This isn't really the point of this particular blog so I'm not going to ponder at length about it here, but in some ways it makes me feel less like I'm giving up my baby and more like I'm handing my child on to a mentor who is appropriate for this particular stage. I think L is exactly the kind of man I hope D can grow up to be: comfortable in his body; self-possessed and solid; attuned to others' feelings. I think the training to become that starts now.

The rent from our upstairs apartment covers most of our mortgage. Unemployment compensation covers more than half of what L brought in. We'll be going into our savings during this period -- but even if we spent the whole time just freaking out about L's job and living in our regular patterns, we'd be doing that. The Department of Labor doesn't require that you're miserable and moping around the house the whole time you're looking for (largely unobtainable) work -- and if L is offered a job, we can decide what we want to do at that point. My yogini cousin suggested that maybe this happened for a reason. While I am a confirmed non-believer -- and that goes for concepts like fate and destiny too -- I think that considering it that way helped me get to a place where I was able to see the faces around the vases in our situation. So thanks, Rob.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This morning was nice - we had all slept well, felt even-tempered, relaxed, happy. It felt like our fever had broken, with the same sense of being a little sweaty and not fully done with the sickness but nonetheless around the turn.

Then L started feeling badly again. It was mostly due to a sore back from shoveling too heartily yesterday afternoon, but of course sometimes our physical and emotional selves are fairly closely linked. Anyway, I'm hoping that the fact that I feel better will help the house. We're like a three-legged race around here with the constant tugging on each other forward and back. When we're in a groove we're pretty speedy, so the trick is to find our way back to that rhythm.

Speaking of in the groove, one must speak of our new president. When he went live, so did his new homepage. The whole past gone, whoosh -- as far as I drilled down on the site were all new pages. The speed of the website transfer does suggest a new competence, a new orderliness. In observance of his Day of Service yesterday I started doing yoga again -- a dozen sets of Sun Salutations. Getting my own house in order before attempting the business of messing with other peoples' lives.

Monday, January 19, 2009

ruts and dynamic waiting

It's Monday, and although it's a strange one on account of MLK day, it's still a strange one. It feels like vacation at our house because we're not following our usual Monday routine. Not that our routine was awesome by any means. It started too early, it involved unnecessary D-hustling and D-bundling and other forms of toddler-wrangling that tended to make us all a little extra tired and irritated. But it was our routine, and it was the same every weekday. No nursery school for D today either on account of MLK and such, which further worked to peel the "Mon-" off our "day."

I was thinking about trains (as I often do, seeing as how I step on or trip over one basically every time I walk through the living room) and about how the disruption of daily routine is like moving from the train to the station. On the train you're moving forward, although ironically you're really just sitting there, waiting to get to the next stop. It's movement but without consciousness. On the station, meanwhile, you're milling around, getting some coffee, eyeing the strangers, maybe going up and down escalators or something. You're not moving forward, but you're moving. You're attentive and you're present. It's a state of dynamic waiting.

The state of dynamic waiting isn't bad, but it isn't as easy as just sitting there on the train. You do have more freedom to go up and down the escalator, for instance, and escalators are always fairly awesome. Yet, there is only so much waiting you can do before you start to get tired of it. Or go somewhere else, I guess.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

lay off, man!

I'm kind of surprised at how we're feeling the gender issues present in L's lay-off. Even though we're both clear on the fact that we don't agree with the social premise that men are supposed to be breadwinners and women are supposed to be home-based caregivers, the issues still seep through. I've always wanted to be the main breadwinner for our family and periodically feel embarrassed about the fact that I've been home with D for the last two years. I get by, psychologically, with the dodge that I'm still "in school" while I work on my dissertation, but still. L and I have talked forever about how once I'm finished that I can provide the main income and L can go back to school for his MFA. Yet in our house right now I've been the stay-at-home mom and he's been the go-to-work dad. That pattern is so familiar in our post-baby world that changing it feels like waking up in the middle of a dream and being like, where the hell am I? Oh I am.

L talked about how losing his job made him feel somehow less manly. I don't know that the experience is making me feel less womanly, but it is definitely making me think about love-based (rather than money-based) caregiving and its contrast with doing the moneywork. Today I met my writing page goal for the first time in a while; recently, a post-Christmas writing slowdown had left me experiencing only periodic fits of good writing productivity. (I am currently giving myself a pat on the back for this in the form of letting myself write this blog post.) For me, writing my dissertation is moneywork because I have to finish it before I can go out and get a job. When I'm in a writing zone, I'm no good at the caregiving. I let D watch TV rather than trying to jolly him up with various creative activities; I don't pick up around the house or do any dishes; I don't think about any of the bills I should pay or appointments I should schedule.

I've known about this tradeoff in my own head for a while. However, the new situation is making me think about how it operates in the experience of marital relationships, even in 'enlightened' ones like mine. For example, I fear L becoming depressed about finding work if it turns out to be difficult or take a while. My fear about the prospect of his bad feelings leads me to want to do all sorts of prospective emotional caretaking. However, even the thought of putting out all of that extra caretaking energy is exhausting. Plus, he's not even asking for it. Any emotional equivalent of pillow-fluffing and chicken-soup-providing I could do at this point would be purely from my own initiative. And if I became resentful as a result of not really having the emotional energy to be doing that, how ironic would that be?

My job is thus actually not to think about how to make L feel better, or to organize L's job search (on the assumption that he's too overwhelmed to do it himself), or even to assume that I know how he's feeling at any particular moment and to try to provide what he needs before he even asks for it. I'm not a geisha, I'm not an administrative assistant, I'm not his mother. I'm his life partner and my only real responsibility towards him is maintaining clear and open communication with him about what we're both feeling. And that is a job and a half, all by itself. But it's amazing what it does to make everyone feel better, even when you weren't sure you knew what you needed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

and so it begins

Alas and woe is us. We're part of the latest hip thing, whether or not we want to be.

L and I talked this morning about the loss of his job yesterday. We reflected on how it is a weird mix of bad and good, frightening and freeing, isolating and embarrassing and yet communal at the same time. He's very aware of the negative social messages about losing your job, even if it's with the somewhat mollifying reasoning of being a "layoff" because "there's no work" and so "there's no money to make payroll". Nice and depersonalized, which is just how we like it when we get a big punch in the face.

At any rate, there are a lot of feelings here. Many of them are negative. The experience of losing your job, or losing the main family income, makes you feel like you have dropped out of productive society. It makes it harder to have conversations with people. It makes it harder to know exactly who you are in relation to others. It makes it harder to imagine the future. And it definitely makes it harder to interact with your parents (hi Mom! hi Dad!)

At the same time, I'm suspecting that a little coin that tells me that this is an opportunity for positive change will also periodically come up when I dig into the velvet bag of my current emotions. At least I hope so, or this will be one seriously depressing blog. No, I'm pretty sure there will be some good feelings about this change too. As our President-T-minus-3-days always says, Change! It's what's for dinner!