For my thirty-sixth birthday I filled out a mortgage application. Every last student loan, every car leased, every impulse buy on that credit card with the unfair APR and not even a bonus mile to show for it. The job that makes me so proud (and so, so tired) and the salary that was supposed to have been the crown jewel of my negotiating prowess made all but obsolete in the shadow of the Southern California housing market. What a celebration it was, another year closer to forty and my oh my what on earth am I doing with my life?
I think about what my parents were doing at my age. Three kids. My dad just about to hit the peak of his career. Home purchase number six. Private schools and cross-country family vacations and our first of many roots finding trips to Greece. And we weren’t even rich. Not even close.
For years now I’ve been struggling to accept this idea, this FACT, that the world I grew up in no longer exists, that the opportunities available to me are far less than the opportunities that were available to my parents. I had always had my suspicions that we would be taking over a world that at best could be called damaged goods (yes, I was that dorky kid wearing the tie-dyed climate change awareness shirts back when our understanding of climate change was limited to acid rain and some weird hole in the sky over Australia), but as I climbed toward my twenties, I couldn’t help but be taken over by all that hope and optimism that buoyed the rave scene I had come up in. As long as we kept making art and making music, everything would be cool, right? Cause the world is love and we are the world, right?
My therapist calls my taste in music adolescent. She tells me I need to find a different playlist for running, something more sophisticated than punk from the year I was born and techno from the year I started high school. I try to argue that drum and bass is actually a pretty sophisticated form of dance music, at least if you go back to those nascent Roni Size days, but she won’t hear any of it. Maybe a podcast, she suggests.
I tell myself that it’s all just about a good beat, and they just don’t make beats the way they used to. Who needs sophistication on a sweaty, gaspy, 6am run? Then I drive to work with my iTunes on shuffle. Radiohead, 1995. Orbital, 1991. Jane’s Addiction, 1990. Every song a leftover from my younger, fitter, happier days. Maybe I’m not telling myself the full truth.
It’s not that I yearn to be young again. But yeah, sometimes I yearn to be young again. Like on a sunny Saturday morning when I’m driving my daughter to music class and I see a couple of bed-headed twenty-somethings sharing a wake up cigarette on the front stoop of a slightly run down apartment, still in sweatpants, drinking coffee and recovering from whatever fun they had the night before. Sometimes I can feel their freedom so intensely I think it’s mine. I think for a moment I could go back to those years of hope, of open and endless possibilities.
My parents bought their first house for twenty-five thousand dollars. Twenty-five thousand dollars is only ten percent of what I would need just for a down payment on a starter home for my late blooming (by baby boomer terms) family. Even accounting for inflation – which would make this roughly equivalent to $110,000 in today’s terms – and geography – let’s estimate that Southern California is three times as expensive as urban Ohio – the numbers don’t add up. Clearly the math of modern life is just all the fuck out of whack, and maybe those open and endless possibilities just don’t exist anymore. Maybe those kids in cigarette smelling sweatpants were recovering from a night shift, banking tips to help pay for school or saving up for that one big night out they’ve been planning for months, because even raves cost money now.
I’m not averse to hard work. But when I look around at my life, when I look around at my friends, it really does seem that the work just keeps getting harder and the slope just keeps getting steeper. And as that slope gets steeper, I can’t help but ask what it is that we’re striving for anyway. Those shoes made of cement (aka: mortgage and maintenance)? That full time nanny? The private school that will get our own kids striving on a nicer slope than our own? No. All I really want is a regular life. A house like the one I grew up in. The ability to raise a couple of kids and still have room in the budget for a dog or dinner out with my husband or maybe the occasional roadtrip up the coast. I just want a regular life and a little bit of time to enjoy it.
Before my recent blogging break, I promised to return with a new and improved Mom at Work. I’m afraid I may not be delivering on that promise, because no matter which way I come at it, being a working mom is always going to be a challenge. A beautiful, rewarding, invigorating challenge. And because, just when I thought I had gotten a handle on this balance thing, I found out I was pregnant again, with all the accompanying worries and wonders and excitements.
So here I am, back to stressing out about all of my striving, but now with something new to go along with it, now with even more reason to work toward figuring this all out. Hopefully I’ll learn something worth sharing, and hopefully once again you’ll all be willing to share something with me.