Life and Work

Yesterday, I finished the rough draft of an article that has been killing me for three weeks. The editor can’t look at it for another week, so I have a nice reprieve. I don’t want it to come out until after the holidays anyways, because nobody reads online articles in December.

Tomorrow, I’m going into New York City to watch a video team prepare a short clip on an alternative school. I’m supposed to write an accompanying article for the video, but I won’t have to do much until January.

So, I’m finally able to get my holiday chores in order. I’ll run to the mall in an hour, after the Adobe technical team and I hash out the last issue with transferring my old computer applications to my new computer.

I need this day really, really badly. We’re all off our game here with my work and Steve’s. Steve got a nice promotion this week. Yay, Steve. But he’s had a couple of late nights with holiday parties and all that, so I haven’t had his help with Ian’s homework and kitchen cleanup. He’s going to have more responsibilities at work, so that means more for me at home. Which is fine. It’s not like I have two little kids with one being very autistic-y anymore. I can get a full day of work done in my little office and get to the gym and make dinner.

In the early days of Apt. 11D, I was very frustrated by my inability to make progress professionally while having responsibility with the kids. Poverty made things more complicated, because we couldn’t afford help; we lived in an area that only had very expensive help.

Autism made things even more complicated, because nobody could help. If Ian threw up in the school cafeteria, because of food sensitivities, only I could drop everything to pick him up from school. Only I could go to the IEP meetings. Only I could calm him down when his anxieties got the best of him. Only I could understand his garbled speech. We’re in a whole different place now. Today, he plays with the school marching band.

Steve and I were thinking about poverty this week. When we were finishing off our dissertations and Jonah was a toddler, we survived in New York City on $30,000 for the whole year. Even a couple of years on, when I first started blogging here, we made very little. We’ve been thinking back to the poverty years and how time-consuming poverty was.

Being poor meant some obvious hardships. I had one pair of shoes. I returned Christmas presents in order to buy diapers. We didn’t go to restaurants. No vacations. But it also meant that I had to get WIC to purchase baby formula. That took time. I had to walk twenty blocks to Columbia Presbyterian, talk with a bureaucrat, attend mandatory lectures on health, get the vouchers, walk to a supermarket that accepted the vouchers, haul the supplies back to the apartment.

Doing laundry was horrible. After a week with a kid with a stomach virus, we would have to carry all those stinking clothes and towels down four flights of stairs and around the corner to the laundromat. I couldn’t carry it on my own, so laundry had to wait until Steve could help. We would spend all Saturday afternoon in the laundromat, while pushing Jonah around on the wheelie laundry carts.

We couldn’t afford the fancy pre-school at the hospital, so I had to walk Jonah to the cheaper half-day school which was almost two miles away. Ian would be strapped to my stomach in one of the baby sacks.

I got shingles from the stress.

Why did we do that? We were in our mid 30s. Other people our age had nice jobs in law or business. Many already owned their own homes. As “smart” people, why were we living like that? We didn’t have much choice. We had to dig ourselves out of the hole that we got in by spending our 20s in grad school training for jobs that didn’t exist.

Being bourgeois now has meant that I can buy an extravagant coat for Steve for Christmas and replace my computer without excessive stress. We’re not so rich that we can afford a private college for Jonah or a new car for Steve, but we’re coat and computer level secure. It’s nice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to write about in 2018. I think it’s going to be mostly about people like the 30-year old me, not bourgeois me. I don’t make a lot of money with writing, but I do have a nice soapbox. I’m going to put a laser focus on those issues in 2018. It will be fun.

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17 thoughts on “Life and Work

  1. It’s hard work being poor. And I don’t mean that with any bit of snark! Add in finding the time to help your kids with homework and school projects while one or both parents are doing shift work.

  2. I ready your description and thought — i have never felt poor. I think the security that you describe is a big part of the feeling. There have always been people around me with more, even now, when we are definitely not poor. But I’ve never juggled paying the bills, or not being able to buy or having to delay buying something I needed (tires, coats, food).

    I recently missed the decimal point on our gas bill and payed 100x the amount that was owed. When I described the mistake, my kiddo asked (he says jokingly, but I think not completely) whether we would still have money for food and stuff. I hadn’t thought about that worry at all. When we called to remedy the mistake, the folks at the gas company were very sympathetic, with real concern — but for us, it’s just a funny mistake.

    I look forward to the theme, here, and professionally. The crooked timber article you cited in the previous post was thought-provoking. I’ve been thinking about some of the same issues and what the solutions are, given that most of us are not willing to sacrifice what we see as our children’s needs for the benefit of the system.

    1. Thinking about feeling poor…I’ve talked earlier about growing up blue collar/working class. I remember my dad on his hands and knees repairing a worn part of the carpet with a curved needle. And rarely having fresh squeezed juice – even the carton of Minute Maid was much too expensive. We didn’t buy many books but went to the library every week. Summer vacations were camping in a tent.

      I didn’t feel poor either. I didn’t feel deprived. Part of that is due to being well fed and watered. And the other part is that I didn’t really know anyone weathy. The “rich” people in my circles went skiing. That’s what I thought “rich” people do.

    1. These supposed underground bunkers in Wyoming that the super wealthy are building probably is a good indication of how successful they think this tax cut will be. When the gated communities can no longer keep people out…

      1. I’m very amused by news reports of super wealthy bunkers, which have been featured in the news for longer than Trump’s been in office.

        It just goes to show, you can be super wealthy, but possess no common sense whatsoever.

        They are literally digging a hole on the other side of the world (i.e., New Zealand), and throwing money in. If a super duper crash comes–zombie apocalypse, whatever–they are the people most likely to be thousands of miles away from their bolthole. I suppose their maintenance staff would be grateful for the luxuries.

  3. Your reminiscences bring back memories of our own years of “relative” poverty. However, having come from Brazil (where we got married right out of college and didn’t even own a car and depended on my parents and then, when they moved, public transportation to do groceries), our lives as grad students who were TA and RA and also had a small stipend from a sponsorship from Brazil was relatively comfortable. When my husband started his postdoc at Penn we moved from Massachusetts and downsized from two to one car, bought a house that was four blocks from the train station and lived for 3 years on 42K. That wasn’t horribly bad. The kids were on CHIP, but we didn’t qualify for WIC and we could afford trips to Brazil. K’s short lived Big Pharma job threw us in for a loop and sent K running back to academia and now we are stuck with small salaries forever unless he becomes an administrator someday… nah… I don’t know if that will happen. They just got a new chair in his department, a colleague who is about our age. Unless this guy moves on to dean or another position in a few years, my husband won’t be a department chair.

    It’s ok. I hope we can afford college for the boys, even if we have to sell some property in Brazil or something. I don’t want them to have to borrow money. In Brazil we went to college for free (I mean, those of us who were able to enter a public school). Sigh…

    As always, I’m looking forward to your articles!

  4. Along the themes raised in the Crooked Timber post, but at private prep schools: “https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/nyregion/trinity-school-letter-to-parents.html?_r=1”

    The answer, of course, is No, prep schools can’t fight the class war. But, sending a letter to the school population like Allman’s (at Trinity in NYC) is a part of this conversation:

    “Invoking the country’s current state of chaos, he wrote of a sense of alienation among students at the school — regardless of race, class and privilege — that stood apart from the larger political and social crises besieging us. He blamed, in large part, “consumerist families that treat teachers and the school in entirely instrumental ways, seeking to use us exclusively to advance their child’s narrow self-interest.” He called for a dismantling of “this default understanding of Trinity as a credentialing factory,” warning that without it, students would merely ascend to “a comfortable perch atop a cognitive elite that is self-serving, callous and spiritually barren.” Without a shift in ethos toward greater commitments to the common good, toward social justice and activism, he said in the letter, “I am afraid we are, for a majority of our students, just a very, very expensive finishing school.””

    1. “a comfortable perch atop a cognitive elite that is self-serving, callous and spiritually barren.”

      This is something I’m very curious about. How cognitively elite are these kids? Are they really that much smarter, or is it just that they have access to such an insane amount support, tutoring, and nepotism that they are able to end up rich and successful without even being very bright? This is just one problem with inequality and intergenerational transfers of wealth, that we end up with mediocrities (Exhibit A: Donald Trump) in positions of great power and authority who never would have gotten anywhere had they not been born into wealthy families.

  5. I’ve had angsty sleepless nights over a version of that question — not that the kids at an elite prep school aren’t bright (because I know enough kids who are privileged, rich, and bright, that it is not difficult to almost completely fill a school with them), but whether the way they are selected means that the population is any different than any other group of kids.

    But, for the purposes of Allman’s letter, it doesn’t matter if it is directed cultivation (of supports and tutoring, although nepotism and cheating might have different effects) that will put these children at the perch atop the cognitive elite, or some form of innate “brightness”. If they are going to end up rich and successful and in charge the characters they have developed (or trained to develop) will matter. The schools are worried (though also conflicted) that they are helping to create a musk/theil/ryan/holmes cult of ayn rand inspired individuals who think they are supermen, potentially reinforced by the skills they’ve actually developed.

    It is undoubtedly true that many affluent modern children are highly supported, with different parents drawing their own lines about what they think is too much support (with reasons ranging from the children’s needs, to their own needs, to their community, to what they had, to personal opinions).

  6. Given what we know about the highly hereditable nature of IQ, and its modest but existent malleability, it ‘s safe to assume that the students at Trinity are mostly in the top half of the population in native intelligence, but not necessarily much higher. (Note that Trinity admits most of its students in kindergarten and first grade, so it isn’t selective the way Exeter and Andover are; on the other hand, it does ask students to leave if they can’t keep up intellectually, so there is some culling.) The rest of the cognitive advantage that Trinity students have is due to (most of all) highly-involved parents who value intellectual achievement above all else, albeit often for instrumental reasons, and also to motivated teachers, small class sizes, outside tutors, etc. But so what? At the end of the day, the graduates are certainly in the cognitive elite as measured by test scores and academic degrees.

    I don’t have much visceral sympathy for people who run incredibly expensive schools, available only to the financial elite, and then complain that their clientele is mostly interested in money, and I don’t have any philosophical sympathy for people who claim that education has some inherent purpose different from whatever the students’ goals are. The top American universities were founded to educate clergymen; maybe everything they have done since that ceased to be their primary purpose is decline and perversion.

    1. Then I have good news for you what with the Republican administration trying to knock “evidence-based” out of the language of researchers.

      1. I’m sure it’s all just fun with words for economists and lawyers, but in medicine “evidence-based” is a bigger issue with a very concrete meaning. For the CDC to block its use is to either indicate pig ignorance (like maybe dropping in an oil company executive from the war on the war on coal) or a systematic attempt to undo a couple of decades of (incomplete) work at aligning medical practice with research (that is, trying to get doctors to stop doing things just because that’s the way they always did it). Given that they outlawed “fetus” and the same time, I’m guessing the former and I eagerly await reading my first bit of research that mentions ‘unborn baby rats’.

      2. This post and its comment section may also be interesting to members of the Greater Levendee Co-Prosperity Sphere: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=35836#more-3583

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