Friday, June 10, 2011

A Real House

Yes folks, it's that time of the year again, when my landlord pretends that he forgot that the lease must be renewed by the end of June, he stalls and then one week before I would theoretically have to move or re-sign, he declares that rent prices have risen sharply and that I can take it or leave it.

The stress eats away at me the entire month of June, wondering when he will 'remember' to inform me of the rent increase and how nasty he will become during the negotiations.  Then I will debase myself and plead as a single mother, and maybe he will meet me half way, or not.  I became tired of this ritual long ago, and have actively started to look for another place.

Oddly enough, though I have always been very exacting and very careful with my money and my budget, I don't actually know how much I can afford to pay for rent each month, should I choose to move or stay in this location with a rent increase.  Classic business texts say that your rent should be no more than 30% of your monthly income, and so this weekend I plan on crunching the numbers and figuring this out for certain. (Or I could magically inherit lots of money and buy my own place, and not have to deal with Slumlords.)

I have three different real estate agents searching for me, I check on-line listings and have asked my friends and other Gan parents to look out for me as well.  I am happy at the idea of finding a new, more modern place, and I am terrified at the backlash that this current man can inflict upon me, no matter what our rental contract states on my defense.

I gave birth at the age of 41, a late start I know.  At the age of 41, my mother had five children, a husband and an 100-year old New England Colonial.  I don't need a giant house, but I do want a place of my own, a space where I feel safe and relaxed, an apartment in which I feel pride and want to have guests over, rather than feeling ashamed or shy about my living space.

These money issues and house issues are certainly a hold-over from my childhood, my attitudes toward wealth, spending and prosperity influenced and programmed by my upbringing.  The fear of nasty and verbally abusive men can be traced at the very least to the abuse I suffered in high school, and the definite lack of positive male role models in my life.  Time to upgrade the programming, for mine and my daughter's sake.  No one should have to live in fear of being homelesss.


Sarah said...

Suggestion: If he raises the rent now, say that you'll agree but you want a clause put in the contract that next year, if he doesn't inform you of an increase by May 31, he can't raise it. Worth a try.

Amy Charles said...

Doc, you gotta forget this stuff. You're a grown-up woman, you make your own money, your life is not your mother's. There's no reason, by the way, to be embarrassed about not having money.

But you actually have quite a lot. You have a wealthy mother who can and will fly halfway around the world to help you; you have a large family nearby willing to help you and be part of Raphaela's life; you have a nice social safety net; you have enough money that you don't simply laugh when someone suggests you buy two r/t tix Israel-US. And you have some fancy education.

So -- please. Consider sometimes who you're writing to here. Most single mothers, including me, don't have anything like all this. Most of us are operating with little or no net. You wanted into the single-mom sorority, you're in. We all appreciate it's tough and rewarding and will back you on all that. But, you know, don't princess around and fret about what you don't have. Be grateful. Why should you do this? Because otherwise you're going to lay it on Raphaela. She'll grow up hearing you talk wistfully about what your mother had, as if your life isn't good enough. And she'll buy it for a little while, and feel bad, and feel anxious and want to try to fix things for you, and after a long time decide you're nuts. But spare her that long time. You're entirely free to be poor.

As for the man -- don't apologize to him. Don't beg. Just don't. He's a blowhard and a bully, that's all. Know ahead of time what you're willing to pay, and what's realistic, and if he goes over that, say "Too much. X is the top."

Doc said...

Amy, I think you misunderstand mine and my family's financial situation. I am hardly a Princess in any sense of the word. It was a HUGE financial stretch for my mother to fly in and help me when I had my appendix removed. My parents were hit by the economic crisis the same if not more than other Americans, and from what little I know, they are struggling to make changes to stabilize themselves.

And while it is true that I have more freedom in my line of work than many Israeli families, the bottom line is that what goes in, goes out. I don't have wiggle room and I don't have a safety cushion. And no, I really cannot afford two plane tickets at $4K; besides the ticket, that's time that I am not working while bills come just the same, that's paying for a house sitter and an office support staff while I am not present.

Last year when I went to the States on Pessach and got stuck with the volcano residue, it took me a whole year, literally, for my bank account to stabilize.

I live month by month, same as the rest of single parents. At the risk of repeating myself, I am not looking for the five bedroom house in the suburbs, just the security of a place to be, and breathe without fear.

And yet, when I look at Raphaela, I feel blessed every day.

Amy Charles said...

Doc, I truly don't mean to be obstinate, but I don't think you're getting it.

For many of us, the things you're talking about aren't even in the realm of possibility. The money, plain and simple, isn't there. There's no credit card, no stretch: the money is not there. There is no family with a big old house. There's often no intact family. I don't know how many iterations I've heard of the story where the daughter and child move in with the grandfather, who is [ill, a drunk, depressed, unemployed, etc], until the grandfather abruptly acquires a girlfriend and dumps the daughter and the grandchild. Or the "I'd love to be a real mom but I live in my mom's house and she just takes over" story. I mean I could go on in this vein, but you have, really, quite a lot. And it's unreasonable to compare yourself with two-parent families in which the parents are willing and able to hook themselves into a well-off extended-family structure, and live happily there.

By Short Hills standards, no, your life is not princessy. By single mom standards? American single mom standards? Hell yes. Which is why I ask you to consider your audience.

Sarah said...

This discussion about money reminded me, I thought of you when I was reading the latest post over at the Shomer Negiah blog. She's got a sort of FAQ there, and someone suggested she have a baby by adoption or artificial insemination. This was her answer:

Yes I would like to have children but even in the best of circumstances getting pregnant at 40 or going through the adoption process and then spending years raising a child is a long and exhausting not to mention expensive process.

This is not the best of circumstances. I would be raising a baby by myself, on one income, with not much support from my busy and far flung family and friends. I have respect and admiration for women who do this and support the idea of Orthodox women having babies on their own but I do not think that becoming a single mother on purpose would make me happy, I think it would make me exhausted and in debt.

Later she writes:

For other older singles considering adopting or conceiving a baby I want to say that if you have the emotional and financial ability and a good support system and it is something you really want to do I support that.

I'm curious to know what you think of it. Her point about not having enough money to have a baby really resonated with me. I sympathize with Amy's comments in the sense that I feel you are lucky to be in the financial position you are, able to take care of basic needs both for yourself and for someone else. But that doesn't take away from the fact that your landlord sounds like a jerk, or that you work for yourself and therefore have an income that waxes and wanes -- with all the stress that comes with that.

Anyway, the whole post is at

Doc said...

@Amy, I don't claim to have the monopoly on the single mom experience, I can only tell what I know and what I feel.
@Sarah, as far as your question, I wish for every woman to have the chance to look back on their life, when they are old and grey, and to feel no regret.

Amy Charles said...

Sarah, to me she sounds deeply sensible. And it's a shame, because deeply sensible people often make excellent parents. But she's right, and not just for herself. Imagine she has a child at 41, struggles along, is getting by and taking care of the child but with no reserves financially, physically, or emotionally; and when the child's nine she finds out she's got, oh, some sort of cancer. What on earth will she do? And if, God forbid, she dies, who's going to step up for that child? Or make it less dramatic: She's ill for three years and can't work much. Again, who takes care of the child? Who is there to help?

Doc is extremely well-placed to be a SMBC, though I wonder if she recognizes how unusual her setup is. She has a large, well-off family willing to help her and her child when the chips are down. She has a good education and a flexible way of making a living. She has an array of social welfare supports that exist in a few countries, though the US is not one of them. This is really the way to do it.

Lacking that kind of backup, I think it's asking for trouble, for both the mom and the kid. Subtract the family support and Israeli social welfare system from Doc's picture, and an appendectomy becomes a crisis that can snowball.

Doc, come to think of it, when you're doing SMBC advocacy online, I do think it would ethical of you to be frank about what sort of social welfare supports exist in Israel; the support from your family you allude to enough for readers to be able to understand, I think. But I can see women here reading this blog and thinking "If she can do it, I can too!" without stopping to consider differences between Israel and the US.

For instance:
-Health insurance
-Child benefit
-Maternity care/paid leave
-Education grants
-Single-parent/low-income aid
-compulsory ed from the age of 3
-anything else.

Here, the mother is responsible for these costs, and in the first few years of the child's life they can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Maternity alone -- I had an uncomplicated birth, and had a bill of only $700 (after paying out of pocket for health ins. at $450/mo). My nephew was born premature, though, and the co-pays amounted to tens of thousands. Childcare routinely costs $10K+/yr for young children, with public school not starting till age 5 or 6. You're on your own for higher ed. There's no child benefit. Welfare is available if you're destitute for short periods. Etc.

So yeah, it's a good idea to make clear what the picture is.

Amy Charles said...

I should correct myself: There is a child benefit in the US if you're low-income, thanks to Bill Clinton. It's the Earned Income Credit, which is a refundable tax credit, and the Additional Child Tax Credit, also refundable. Both these are subject to Congressional re-approval, but can amount to as much as $6K a year if your income's between, oh, $9K and $20K or so, with three kids. With one kid, you're looking at about $4K.

We do also have promise of sliding-scale health-insurance premiums, but again, Congress will have to vote the money for Obamacare before that happens, and I'm not too sanguine about it.

Commenter Abbi said...

Amy, you seem to have this really weird chip on your shoulder about the blogger's situation. I'm not sure how Doc is supposed to blog about anything else except exactly how her life plays out. Or why she would be required to put disclaimers on each post such as "Not every country offers the universal health care or high quality, low cost day care discussed above". I know Doc has expressed in previous posts that she's interested in becoming more of an SMBC advocate, but I'm not sure why she is required to do so within the strict parameters you describe.

I don't know Doc or her family personally, but many far from well-off, middle class families are capable of taking a last minute trip to Israel. It's not far fetched at all. Maybe not the families of inner city single mothers that you know, but I know many families who can scrape together miles and credit to pull such a thing off and they are far from "well off".

Doc is very lucky that she lives in a country with UHC and good day care and just welcomes and loves children way more than the US. I'm not sure why she should be penalized or prevented from engaging in SMBC advocacy because of this. It's infantalizing on your part that a woman considering such a major decision would do so just by reading one woman's blog.

Amy Charles said...

Abbi, as far as SMBC advocacy goes, I think you're mistaking cautioning for attack.

I meet a lot of single women with baby-lust, and I talk to a lot of single mothers. We aren't good, in this society, at talking about how women get blindsided by the responsibilities of motherhood; we tend to be deeply sentimental about that. And the result is that a lot of women, and a lot of children, wind up in serious trouble that defines the children's childhood, and consequently adulthood. It also, too often, leaves the women impoverished and dependent in old age, and puts strain on the mother-child relationship when the child is grown.

It's tough enough to be realistic about the obligations and vulnerabilities of motherhood when the woman's married and all looks fine from outside: enough money, family support, etc. But we have real trouble talking about the burdens and vulnerabilities of single motherhood. These issues are still so mixed up in rhetoric about blame, morality, (in the US) race, and poverty that useful talk gets derailed almost immediately.

Doc's in a great position to be a SMBC, but I'm really not convinced she recognizes how unusual that is. And that's important to think about when doing advocacy. If you help persuade a woman who hasn't got Doc's backup to have a child on her own, and something happens -- then what? If the woman later comes to her, and says, "You helped convince me to do this; now I'm sick, and need help for my child, and help is not coming like you said it would; please help me," is she going to do it? Or is she going to say, "Omg, you should have thought about that before"? At which point the woman says, "But you never said anything about that; you were so positive about it."

You really have to be careful about what you're encouraging less fortunate people to do when you do advocacy work. They're vulnerable in ways you aren't.

As for the complaints -- yes, these annoy me. They seem wildly ungrateful. I see what I do, I see what other single moms do, how we get by, how we make do without -- and here's someone who has, and doesn't even seem to recognize and appreciate she has.

Yes, I appreciate that she has serious difficulties with her family etc. But the effect is still to rub it in, in a chipped-nail-catastrophe way. You know? I mean I have real probs with my ex, things that have real and deeply troubling effects on our kid, things that hobble my life. But I don't go complaining to the universe about him, because frankly, a lot of women would give up five years of their lives to have a setup like mine, for themselves and for their kids. Why rub it in? They've got it tough enough, they don't need more reminders of what they haven't got, let alone to listen to someone complaining about having what they'd give their eyeteeth for.

These blogs aren't private diaries, you know? You have to look around, think of who you're talking to.

All that said, I think it's magical that Doc's got the setup she has. The social welfare first & foremost. Every mother should be so lucky, partnered or not.

Doc said...

As far as my being an advocate for SMBC, I have made it clear on a regular basis (both in the blog and to those who come to consult with me in person) that this is a major life choice, and that not every woman is sutied for it, no matter how much they want a child. There have been times when I have actually said to someone, "You should not pursue this, you are not ready for it nor do you have the resources, in my opinion."

Yes, it is easier in Israel where there is governmental suport for women and fertility, no matter what the marital situation, or lack thereof. I don't think it invalidates my experiences.

And as far as my not appreciating what I have? You don't know me personally, and I thank G-d every day.

Commenter Abbi said...

Amy, I'm still not sure what you mean by "our society". We live in Israel. You clearly don't. We don't share a "society". Doc's experience is that of a single mother raising her child in this country, not America. If you consider her circumstances luxurious, that's your hangup not hers.

Yes, these blogs are not private diaries. They are also not required reading. If you feel she's misrepresenting the "true" SMBC experience (whatever that is), than don't read here.

As for comparing "problems", I find that really juvenile. I just read a horrific article in the New Yorker about a father who loses his 9 month old daughter dies of a horrific brain tumor. Can you top that? Why would you want to?

Doc said...

I myself am also not a fan of the School of Relative Suffering; when I was a kid and I was given the line of "Finish your vegetables, children are starving in Africa," I offered to mail my vegetables to the starving Africans.
I believe that each person, in each lifetime, receives challenges both positive and negative that cater to that individual in that situation. What seems difficult for me may feel like a cake walk to others, and vise versa. But at the end of the day, the purpose of any life experience is to refine ourselves, give us greater understanding, and make us better people.
I, like any other human being, sometimes do better on my spiritual midterm exams and sometimes fail.

Amy Charles said...

Hi, Abbi and Doc.

@Abbi -- Yes, I know you live in Israel. The online Anglophone reading population is not primarily Israeli, though, and while Doc is Israeli, she also sounds American. And there's a fair number of women in the US interested in being SMBCs. I think that if you're publishing about SMBC, it's responsible to keep that in mind. Women are looking to you as an example and for hope.

I think it's one thing to say "you have to think about it carefully, you have to do what's right for you", and quite another to get concrete about resources. Women considering SMBC necessarily understand that Doc is in a country with a significant social safety net, with benefits they'll never see in the US.

What they see, reading this blog, is that -- working as a chiropractor at home, estranged from her family -- American-sounding Doc manages to pay her bills, hire sitters, enroll her daughter in daycare, weather medical emergencies, and take the occasional trip. That's super-encouraging. But without a breakdown of how that happens, it's not possible for them to look at that and say, "Realistically, could I do that?"

IUI clinics here do not require a sit-down with a counselor to go over questions of whether you can afford to do this, whether you have adequate back-up, whether your thinking is realistic, etc. You buy your sperm, schedule your sessions, and off you go. So -- having seen far too many times what happens when women decide to have children unprepared, but trusting/hoping it'll all work out -- I think it's crucial that SMBC advocacy puts these issues front/center, and talks plainly and concretely about them. So far I've yet to see the equivalent of the rabbi telling you three times to go away -- not in books, not online.

There are ten million single mothers in the US. With an income below median, no family within a thousand miles, and little family interest or support, my situation is still far better than the majority's. I have a nice house in a safe neighborhood, a good school for my child, good health and dental insurance, an excellent resume, and plenty more, including regular child support. While I'm not a fan of "relative suffering" either, I am mindful that there are a lot of people who have it much, much tougher than I do, so I take care not to kick them in the gut, and make their lives more demoralizing, by complaining publicly about things they'd be so grateful to have in the first place, and likely won't get. Again, it's a matter of public v. private. I'm happy to do my complaining about my good fortune in private.

I guess what I'm saying is, "Like it or not, if you publish, it's responsible to consider the audience and the effect of what you're doing/saying. Particularly if there's the potential for harm."

I'm in no way saying Doc's experience is less valid in any way than anyone else's. Merely that by writing publicly about something few write about, but many think about, she sets herself up as a public example, and that it's good to be aware of who's reading and why, and what effect the words might have.