Thrift Queen

Posted: October 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Clothing, Housewife Fashion Tips, Money, Shopping | 20 Comments »

When I was eight I had an interview to get into a private school. It was with the head of the lower school, a woman known as Miss Page.

Miss Page was in her late fifties, and wore thick woolen dresses with flat, sensible shoes. She had stocky calves and styled her hair in a blunt page-boy. She was, I would come to learn, one of those rare, wonderful institutional legends. She worked at the school for decades, taught in the classrooms, cheered alongside playing fields, and in her clipped New England way, greeted students by name as she bustled through the campus.

Because my sisters attended the school a decade before, I sensed–whether it was real or imagined—a genteel familiarity she had with my mother. I got the feeling that our “little talk”–an important step in the admissions process—was something only I could fuck up.

Which, I’m happy to report I didn’t do.

I wish I could be a fly on the wall looking back on that day. I’d love to remember the questions she asked me, and of course, how I answered. I know I had to do some memory exercises and a few puzzles. Probably some math too. The only thing I recall specifically is she asked me what “thrifty” meant.

And I had no idea.

Which, if you knew me today, might shock you. It’s not that I’m a penny pincher. On certain things I’m more than happy to spend spend spend. But I also love a good thrift store. I veer to the side of roads for yard sales. There’s nothing more thrilling or satisfying to me than a good bargain, a good find.

Yet I’ll also spend lavishly on dinners out. I’m an experience junkie and a whore for travel—whatever the cost. I shop infrequently for clothing but when I do I tend buy in bulk and gravitate towards expensive “quality items” that I rationalize are worth it because, well, cashmere never goes out of style.

But lately my psyche has embraced this idea that I can scale back across the board. This, it turns out, is one of the silver linings of unemployment. Along with having less money to spend, I have a lot of time these days to simply re-assess my modus operandi.

Last week I took my mother-in-law (an obliging sidekick shopper) to Nordstrom on a quest for new jeans. I’ve lost some weight recently, and as much as I’m trying not to spend money, all my jeans are now too big. I think I need to repeat that, MY JEANS ARE TOO BIG FOR ME. They’re actually—wait for it—BAGGY IN THE ASS.

Hold on a sec while I go high-five myself in the mirror.

It seemed somewhat Draconian to deny myself the glory of buying a new, smaller size of jeans. Especially since, given my current stay-at-home mom status, I wear those frickin’ jeans EVERY SINGLE DAY.

See? My amortized-over-time rationale is kicking in again.

I have a brand I like, but I was curious about what else was out there. While Peggy waited on a Gothic-looking wood-carved couch, I tried on roughly two zillion pairs of jeans. Even Peggy, a seasoned fitting room advisor with solid Midwestern staying power, had to wander into another department at one point to relieve herself of my relentless asking, “Wait, I think I look slightly thinner in these than I did in the ones three pairs ago. Do you?”

I finally settled on a fabulous dark blue “skinny” pair that cost a whopping $180. Well, that minus the $50 gift card I had.

I told myself this was thrifty.

But at home later, I tucked the pants and receipt carefully into my dresser and questioned whether they were there to stay. Two of my O-town besties had mentioned a mall-store that had good-fitting, cheap jeans. And, although skeptical—could a woman my age really shop in that store?—I was curious.

So two days later I took my dear, patient mother-in-law to some Godforsaken suburban shopping complex a half-hour away to TRY ON MORE JEANS. (If you saw a gray-haired woman pawing at the window of a silver Subaru heading to Pleasanton last week, that was her.)

But guess WHAT? Cheap jeans look cute too! And you can still feel cool about getting them in your new smaller size! In fact, you can get one pair that works with flip flops and another to wear with boots—all for $80!

Woo hoo!

High on my jeans buy I made another, possibly rash cost-cutting call. I decided to cheat on my hairdresser—the extremely talented, extremely gay, extremely expensive guy I ADORE and go to in San Francisco (a not extremely convenient location). I have my first low-to-the-ground local cut and color in less than an hour. And when they don’t hand me a mug of organic mint tea or offer to put money in my meter when it runs low, I’m going to be okay with that.


If I don’t come out looking like pre-makeover Kate Gosselin, that is.

Oh and yesterday? Getting a new prescription for my contacts the doc tells me there’s another brand of daily-disposables that are much cheaper and just as good. It’s like SHE KNEW I’m high on a money-saving binge. I’m all, “Hook a sister UP!”

When you see me next you won’t even notice the lenses I’m wearing are less expensive than my old ones. As long as I’m able to see you back, that is.

There’s really no telling how long I’ll ride this austerity wave. I’m fearful I’m just in the honeymoon phase and I could go back to my old ways faster than you can say “new pair of fall boots.” But in the meantime I’m enjoying my newfound thriftiness.

Miss Page would be so proud.


Give Me Your Money

Posted: September 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Money, Other Mothers, Parenting | 1 Comment »

I’m a sucker for a compliment. Like last year, a friend emailed me saying she needed someone like me—”a responsible person with a dynamic personality”—to do her a favor.

Responsible? Dynamic? Aw, shucks. Before even reading what she wanted, I was in.

Turns out she needed someone to round up some folks and get them on a bus to the farm where she was getting hitched. The task required a firm but friendly approach. The ability to work with old and young alike. It called for one part charm, one part organization. It’s like the gig was custom-made for me.

I shot her back an email. “When do I start? And do I get to carry a clipboard?”

So it was not surprising last spring when I got an email from the Development Director at Kate’s school, and responded like I did. They needed a “captain” for Kate’s classroom. Someone to be a liaison between the parents and the Board of Directors for the annual fund-raising drive.

“So many people have told me you’d be perfect for this,” she wrote.

What could I say to that? I mean, other than, “I’m your gal!”

It wasn’t ’til a few weeks ago when our first meeting was announced that I wondered how I got reeled into this role. Did the Development Director really hear I’d be great? Or had she sent the same message to four other people before me? People who were smart enough to not take the bait.

I decided that she must have been sincere. That it was my winning personality that got me into this. Into what some might find an unenviable role.

While I got ready to head out to my first meeting, Kate stood by the sink to chat. With a toothbrush sticking out of my mouth I explained to her what the fund-raising committee does. “All the cool classes [brush brush brush] like wood shop and Spanish [spit!] and music, and movement [brush brush]—I’m helping raise money for [spit!]. You know [wipe mouth with towel], to make sure you can still have those classes [peer into mirror, fluff hair].”

Oooh,” said Kate, pondering. “Well Mama, I hope you raise one… hundred and… fifty-five dollars!”

“Thanks, kiddo,” I said kissing her head and slinging my purse over my shoulder. Walking out the door I thought, ‘God help me if that’s all I can do.’

But thankfully, I’ve put some thought into this whole fund-raising thing. Even if traditional approaches don’t work, I’ve come up with some innovative ideas. You know, I’m thinkin’ outside the box.

Like, I figured I can volunteer as a car-door opener. Some parents help do this in the mornings in front of the school. It’s like drive-thru fast food meets private education. You pull up and don’t even have to get out of your car. Someone just opens your back door and yanks out your kid and their over-sized backpack.

I figure if I volunteer I could peer in at the parent drivers and say things like, “Nice new Mercedes, Jim! Things at the bank must certainly be going well for you. Have you thought about what you’re giving to the school this year?”

Alternately, people with crappy cars (like mine) must be saving money by not indulging in German automotive technology, right? “You’re certainly not throwing money away on fancy cars,” I can bellow to the driver as I use one hand to extricate their child. “Get a tax break! Bust into that nest egg you’ve been hoarding and make a fat donation to the school!”

I can see it now. People will be pulling over to dig out their checkbooks (I’ll have a pen handy) to make dazzlingly impressive donations on the spot. (Which may, I realize, cause a traffic jam. But really, in the end won’t it be worth it when those spiffy new xylophones arrive in the Music Room?)

I’ve also been scripting a few lines about donations based in direct correlation with the size of women’s engagement-ring diamonds. “What’s that there, Sheila? Two carats? Two-and-a-half?” I’ll purr admiringly. “You must have some moula you can shake free for the school, no?”

I can’t wait to share these guerrilla fund-raising tactics with the committee. I think they’re really quite brilliant. And to think, I never even went to business school! I was just an English major!

Last year I rallied the moms in Kate’s classroom to go out for drinks one night. Even deep into the school year there were so many mamas I’d barely gotten to know. Birthday parties and playdates are fun and all, but it’d be nice to hang out without kids demanding our attention. And with wine.

So this year I decided to start early. Back to School Night was last week. Mark was in Australia for work, so I needed a sitter. I figured I’d make good use of her services and go out for une petite drinkie after the meeting.

So I emailed the moms in Kate’s class—would anyone like to join me? Let’s tack a little socializing onto the end of a school meeting. Let’s let our hair down a bit. Let’s tie one on, sisters, free and unfettered, without our little ones (or even spouses) nipping at our heels. What better way to kick off the school year?

But I didn’t have everyone’s email addresses. Kate’s in a K-1 combo class and I didn’t know the new kindergarten mamas’ emails. So I promised I’d track those women down later. But if anyone knew how to reach them, please forward my email along.

And what a night we had! Fast forward to me, ravaged senseless by gin and showing off my C-section scar at the restaurant. Then later, the moms of Room 2 went all Coyote Ugly—dancing on the bar in an act of drunken homo-erotic bacchanalia. It was off the hook!

Okay, okay… so those things really didn’t happen. Our outing for drinks was lovely, but not wild by any means. Sure, we considered jetting off to Vegas on the fly at one point, but the idea never really took off. In fact, it was what happened in planning to go out that makes up this here story.

Because one of the moms forwarded my email to the group list the teacher uses. A perfectly reasonable thing to do. So ALL the parents in the classroom got it—not just the mamas. This may or may not have left some dad’s feeling left out. Which certainly was not my intention. But I fear that some papas were wondering why they couldn’t come and booze it up too.

The emails started flowing. A handful of women “would love to join.” Others were checking with their better halves to make sure they could slip away. One mama suggested a tiki bar that’s in staggering distance of her house. Another said, “as long as they have wine” she’s in.

Then one brave dad spearheaded the retaliatory drinking brigade. “Why don’t the fathers get together for a beer too?” He summoned an opposition party of wounded left-out daddies. It was a decided “if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em” approach. And even though I could have offered for us to all go out together, it seemed apparent that we were well past that.

Oh it was lively. It was interesting. My small idea was certainly taking on dimensions I never anticipated.

I was suddenly envisioning Back to School Night in a new light—all us parents wedged into small wooden seats in the classroom, moms on one side, dads sitting across the room separately, sneering.

Hell, the way this was unfolding I was maybe going to have to host a pre-party so everyone could loosen up a bit before the meeting. You know, some kind of tailgate in the elementary school parking lot. I mean, there wouldn’t be any drugs or anything. But you know, maybe a few pony kegs. A tray of Jell-O shots. And maybe some of the sensitive new-aged dads would get into the spirit and arrive in face and body paint—in the school colors, of course—like some misdirected, intellectual Oakland Raiders fans.

All I’m saying is I’d be open to seeing that.

At the end of Day One: The Happy Hour Email Incident, the two room parents and I got a note from the teacher. She kindly cautioned us not to use the group email she’d set up. Turns out she’d also been getting everyone’s responses throughout the day. And although she was chuckling about it, several other teachers let her know that they’d been getting the emails too.

Yes, my innocent let’s-grab-a-drink-together invitation—and everyone’s RSVPs, commentaries, and alternate plan suggestions—were being sent TO EVERY TEACHER AND ADMINISTRATOR IN THE SCHOOL.

Um… oops!

Yes, the next morning an official email went out to the entire school community outlining the Dos and Don’ts of the school’s group email lists. And it encouraged us to set up our own email lists.

Message received.

Oddly, a few hapless fathers continued to respond to the all-call for Dad Drinks throughout the day. “Wish I could, but I’m traveling for work!” “Sure, beer’s always good!”"Catch you guys next time for sure!” [Wince.]

On Back to School night one of the teachers—a sweet, funny guy who I adore—whispered in my ear as I walked into the room, “We’ll keep this quick, Kristen. We know you have some drinking to do.”


Another mom informed me that some school staffers were now referring to Room 2 as The Drunk Tank. Greeeeeat.

Yes, it’s all hideously embarrassing. But the way I figure it, Kate’s only got four years left at that school. And Paige starts there the year after next. So hopefully in the seven years before she graduates my reputation as the Boozey Rabble-Rouser Mommy will have waned some.

But in the meantime, I want to humbly say to all the teachers, administrators, moms, and dads whose feelings I may have hurt or whom I otherwise annoyed, “I was wondering if you might be interested in writing a nice big check to the school.”

1 Comment »

Travel Don’ts

Posted: July 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Money, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sleep, Travel | 13 Comments »

Here’s how NOT to fly cross-country with your two young children. Consider this a parental Public Service Announcement.

1. Take a flight scheduled at the end of the day, at the end of a weekend of 100-degree temps in New York City.

2. Before the flight, go to an expensive restaurant for brunch. Buy your children blueberry pancakes, which they refuse to eat (a first), though they nearly fight to the death over the side of bacon (giving you a perverse sense of pride). Watch as they have concurrent meltdowns over a small sticker, in front of your friends from London whom you see once every five years, and whose children are not only perfectly mannered, but also have British accents (which makes them seem MORE polite).

3. At the end of said over-priced, un-eaten meal, discover that the restaurant is cash only. Watch your two devils and your friends’ two angels as she runs to an ATM machine. Set down the insufficient cash you have and promise your friends you’ll “get them next time” (i.e. in five years).

4. Take taxi back to other friend’s apartment and discover it’s the one cabbie in New York City who doesn’t take credit cards. Drive with him to ATM where you’re so jangled you withdraw only the cash you need to pay him. Thrust the money his way, and drag your whining children—who are exhausted and grumpy, as well as ravenous—inside.

5. Realize that the worst possible thing you could do right now would be to take a 6-hour plane ride. Check!

6. Frantically finish packing and call car service. Ask kids to try to pee. Have urination standoff. Give up. Drag luggage halfway down hall to elevator and have three-year-old announce, “I have to tinkle. Really bad!” Head back to friend’s apartment, at which point (you later learn) the car you’ve called gives up on you and leaves.

7. Schlep:

  • 1 immense roller bag (containing 3-weeks worth of clothing, toiletries, and 2 bottles of marina sauce made by your hometown priest)
  • 1 carry-on small duffle bag
  • 2 car seats
  • 1 double stroller
  • 1 laptop bag housing a computer and DVD player
  • 2 empty-bladdered children

Call for another car to come while schvitzing on 100-degree sidewalk (See: earlier-referenced NYC heat wave). Realize you have to pee. Ah, irony.

8. Watch your three-year-old doze off on the short ride to the airport, and realize your chances of getting her to sleep on the flight have been officially shot to shit.

9.  Arrive at airport 45 minutes later then planned. Hand driver credit card, which he swipes several times without luck. Watch as he takes his card-swiper-thingy outside, holding it up to the sky like a carrier pigeon he’s about to set free, in an attempt “to try to get a better signal.” Time ticks on. Your three-year-old wakes up from her car seat and bellows wild-eyed, “I need Baba [her stuffed animal lamb who's is wedged God-knows-where in some bag piled on the curb]!!!” Driver gives up on getting a signal for his credit card machine and/or making contact with alien life forms. Tick tock, 40 minutes until flight departure. Driver asks you to call into his office with your credit card. You call twice and get busy signal. You age five years—maybe even nine—and nearly bust an artery in your neck.

10. Struggle into airport and realize you were dropped off near Virgin Atlantic terminal when you need Virgin America. Ask someone if they are next to each other… of course they aren’t. Haul aforementioned bags, car seats, strollers and children with weakened, rapidly-aging body.

11. Check in. Oddly, without incident.

12. Wait in security line. Ten minutes later realize it’s just a line impersonating the security line and set out to find actual security line.

13. Ascertain that Security is downstairs. (You still have your big-ass stroller, though other bags were checked.) One elevator broken. Wait as working elevator is crammed like a clown car with a sizeable Indian family. Door will not close since Grandma’s wheelchair repeatedly blocks elevator’s invisible eye. Tick tock. Check cell phone: 4:00PM. Reference boarding passes to see that it’s boarding time. Stop to reflect on all the fun you’re having. Have thoughts interrupted by three-year-old’s ear-piercing scream, “I. WANT. BABAAAAA!!!!”

14. At front of security line TSA agent asks you, “Why do you have only two boarding passes here?” Have full-bore flop sweat and begin to whimper and paw through purse when he looks down and says with a chuckle, “Oh, HERE it is…” then winks at you. Determine you hate all men. Except your husband who you can’t wait to thrust the children at when (if?) you eventually arrive in San Francisco.

15. Experience public act of deeply-mortifying mothering when, in the security line with 10 minutes ’til take-off, your five-year-old refuses to enter scanning machine. Scream head off, drag her in. She wriggles free and flees like a feral cat. Compassionate TSA agent ushers kids through. Maybe all men not so bad after all.

16. Sprint like madwoman to Gate B25 with children stacked on top of each other on one seat of stroller and laptop loosely jostling in the other. Arrive to hear “final boarding call” announcement and, panting, hand boarding passes to ticket-taker lady. Three-year-old proffers high-decibel request for stuffed lamby, with glaring omission of word “please,” and without British accent.

17. Ticketing agent writes you up stroller tag and says, “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’ll have to take that carry-on. Our overhead bins are totally full.” At which point you burst into tears. You blubber like a baby howling, “No! You CANNOT take this bag!” (Which contains books, crayons, coloring books, snacks, wipes, and extra clothes. Oh, and Baba. At that point a wild boar could not force you to hand over Baba.) Ticketing Agent Woman fears you and your tears—especially after they trigger both your children to start sobbing in an if-mom’s-losing-it-we-probably-should-be-too moment of solidarity. She sends a male underling down the ramp with you, where you learn there’s plenty o’ room in the overhead bins. (Clearly that other chick just had it out for you. You decide you hate all women.) The carry-on bag with Mommy’s Flight Survival Contents gloriously remains with you, and you settle into your seats.

18. All is well with the world.

19. Flight delayed 30 minutes due to storm/air traffic control/your shitty luck.

20. Flight delayed an additional 25 minutes. God making sure you know He’s still watching. Clearly somewhere, somehow you’ve been a very very bad person.

21. Lift-off. Joy!

22. Discover the plane has wifi. Battery dying on laptop, but looky here—there’s a power socket! Children ensconced in small back-of-headrest TV screens. Losing brain cells rapidly, but also not bugging you.

23. You start documenting your day. You chuckle to yourself as you type. See? You haven’t lost your sense of humor! In fact, you feel a bit smug. Victorious even. Why, you’ve survived evil airport employees, demanding ill-tempered children, and non-functional credit card machines. You made your way through that security line, girlfriend—even if it did mean getting publicly clawed at by your child. You even resolved to always carry more cash. Oh, see how far you’ve come!

23. From your peripheral vision you notice your three-year-old makes an odd wiggling motion with her upper body. Then suddenly a warm pinkish liquid gushes forth from her mouth covering your arm, her lap, her legs, and nearly filling the cavernous void between her seat and yours. Why, of course.

24. And now your day has gone perfectly wrong. Giving you statistical hope that something this miserable is likely to never happen to you again.

25. Mop everything up with the help of an amazingly-kind flight attendant. Decide to un-hate women. And marvel at the fact that Baba has remained virtually un-touched by puke. What excellent luck.


Tell Me that Story Again

Posted: January 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Earthquakes, Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Money, Parenting, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Last week I did two things I never do. I turned on the TV when both girls were awake. (I think Paigey’s still too wee to develop a boob tube habit). And I tuned in to—of all things—a telethon. Specifically, the ‘Hope for Haiti Now’ telethon.

Weird, right? But in my defense, replacing Jerry Lewis with George Clooney goes a long way in my book. And it was for a good cause.

Anyway, the second the TV clicked on, Kate ran out of her room like a junkie moving in on a fix. It was both thrilling and confusing to her.

“Wait, the TV?” she asked in a frenzy. “Are YOU watching TV, Mama? Can I watch too? Please? Please?!”

I swear the girl would happily watch Hogan’s Heroes if I let her.

But this was music. People strumming guitars and soulfully singing songs like “Let It Be.” So I figured, what could it hurt? She perched on the arm of the couch and immediately went into a glassy-eyed zombie stare, letting the TV’s narcotic hit wash over her.

Then Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood started talking about some courageous man, and it seemed likely they were about to get into the details of how the dude had died. So I hit Mute, and when Kate protested I made up some excuse .

Eventually I decided to venture into the what-happened-in-Haiti waters. Age-appropriately, I hoped. “Blah blah blah earthquake… Blah blah people got hurt… Blah blah houses fell down, everyone very poor. People there need help. And money.”

More music, volume back up, and me in the kitchen to check the roasting veggies.

Kate, calling out from her couch perch. “Mama?! Tell me that story again. What’s the shaky ground thing called again?”

“An earthquake.” I walked into the living room.

“Oh,” she said, turning the idea over in her mind. “Do they have those,” I braced for her question “–in Rhode Island?”

“Oh, in Rhode ISLAND?” I said, exhaling. “Nope! No earthquakes there!”


Two second pause.

“Do they have ‘em here?”

Crap. “Well, uh… Well, uhhh, nnnnnooooo. Well, not like that. I mean, it’s just not something you have to worry about.” I handled this nearly as poorly as I did when Kate asked me in front of a neighbor how babies come out of their mommies. (Don’t even ask.)

At dinner, it was like I could feel Kate’s brain processing what I’d told her. While tuned into the telethon she’d seen a doctor holding a baby with a tube in its nose and its head all bandaged up. A couple times she said, “Tell me that story again, Mama.” And a couple times I tried to get though on the phone lines, hoping I’d get a chance to chat up George Clooney or Julia Roberts as I made a paltry donation.

The phone lines were busy, which was great for the telethon, but dashed my hopes of hobnobbing with the real-live pages of People magazine. Or of doing anything to pitch in.

Kate was clearly worried about the Haitians, and getting ready for her bath asked questions like, “When those people got hurt when the ground shaked, did they have blood?” For my part, busy signals aside, I was feeling frustrated that we’re not in a position these days to make the level of donation I’d really like to.

And then, like a good Italian girl it hit me. Kate and I could cook. We roll up our sleeves together, do what we do best–bake!—then host a bake sale, right out in front of our house. We’d donate everything we made to help the relief effort.

She LOVED the idea. Her concerned line of questions turned instantly to excitement. “We’ll make Rice Krispie Treats! With little M&Ms! We’ll make chocolate chip cookies, Mama!”

On Sunday we had our sale. We timed it to get foot traffic from our nearby farmer’s market. And we made $189. People were amazingly generous, handing cash over to Kate without even taking a treat, or giving us a twenty for one item and telling us to keep–or rather, give away–the change.

I love our neighborhood.

The next day, we visited Mark’s office to sell the left-overs, and tacked another $71 onto our earnings. And since we were feeling unstoppable at that point, I called Kate’s school and arranged to spearhead a bake sale there too.

Kate said she thinks all the kids in Haiti are going to get Hello Kitty band-aids for their boo-boos, on account of our two bake sales. And damn it, I hope to hell she’s right.

The other night, in our bleary-eyed first adult words to each other after the kids were in bed, Mark told me he was proud of us. But quickly added something like, “Why is it you and Kate decided to save the world after we handed in her school applications?”


Well, this morning Kate has the first of her private school assessments. (Two more to go after that one.) We’ll bring her to the school for a 90-minute visit where she’ll play with other kids, probably do some writing and drawing, and be asked some questions.

I’m hoping that Kate won’t have tired of her “Tell me that shaky-ground story again, Mama” question. And that she’ll ask me in front of the school’s Admissions Director. That’ll give me a chance to gently recount once more what happened to the people of Haiti.

Then I can set her up by asking, “And what did we do about it, Kate?”

No Comments »

Expectation Setting 101

Posted: October 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Money, Parenting | 3 Comments »

Last week I tried on a Vera Wang wedding gown.

No, no, I’m not getting married, or remarried, or even renewing my vows. I’m happily hitched, thanks. And, I haven’t actually tried on any dresses recently. The Vera Wang wedding gown is my favorite metaphor to describe venturing into territory you can’t afford.

Back when I actually was on the market for a nuptial frock, I acted prudently. One of the benefits of holding out to meet your second husband (and skipping over the first), is that nearly all your friends have gotten married before you. So you learn from their mistakes.

I don’t even remember now who it was who told me, “Don’t—I repeat DO NOT—try on a Vera Wang gown. You will look stunning. You will fall in love with it. And it will be impossible to go back to the dresses that are in your price range.”

What you have there is good advice.

Shopping for real estate gives one another good opportunity to learn this lesson. Pop into the open house for a multimillion dollar fabulously-renovated Victorian (with garage!) and you will be ruined—RUINED, I say!—when your agent shows you the $750,000 ranch-style fixer that’s in your budget.

Alas, time goes on, and without vigilance we slip up. For me, it was at an EBISA event. No, not a sushi restaurant, EBISA the East Bay Independent School Association. They host a fair where all the local private schools have booths and gleaming 4-color info packets and engaging teachers and smiling students. All the ingredients to reel you, if you happen to be me, in.

I’d spent the night before sitting up in bed scouring some materials Mark brought back from a similar event at Kate’s preschool.

“This one doesn’t even talk about the teachers,” I bellowed from the bed to the bathroom, where he was brushing his teeth.

“I have no idea where this school even IS,” I mutter, flipping through the pages as Mark pulls off his t-shirt to climb in bed. “You’d think they’d at least include the school’s address here somewhere.”

But one place totally drew me in. Quotes from alumni discussing how the school shaped them to become thoughtful, caring adults. An interview with a long-time teacher who was retiring, and her words about the school being like family. There were the requisite pics of happy diverse students in creative classroom settings. And an unexpected section about their commitment to service-based learning. An academic backbone and a heart.

“Oh my God, this one!” I say to Mark, slapping his back as he attempted to sleep. “I LOVE this school. And… Oh God.  It’s TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS a year for kindergarten.”

At the school fair the next night, I bee-lined for their table. I saw the head of the school, whom I recognized from their flyer, and two fresh-faced teachers who radiated enthusiasm.

“Okay, so I feel in love with this school last night, reading your folder in bed,” I proclaimed, surprising myself with my dramatic opening statement. But I got the attention of the head of the school. She laughed and put her hand on my arm. “Great!”

“It reminds me of the school I went to in Providence called Wheeler,” I said. And oddly, I suddenly felt the smallest bit choked up.

“Oh, Wheeler!” She said. “I know it! A wonderful school. In fact, for years I sat on the board there.”

That was it. It was like the cupid of expensive private schools came and shot me with his bow, a direct hit to my nostalgic heart. It was like it was meant to be.

I mean, I’m not one to look past those obvious signs in life. And this one was huge. Neon. Indisputable.

On the drive home I was giddy. Because of her late September birthday, Kate wouldn’t qualify for entry until fall of 2011. But I was so fired up, so ready to become part of their community, their family, the thought of having to wait seemed like torture.

But by the next morning, the real torture was the crushing reality of the school’s price tag. How could we ever swing $20k a year? And for 13 years in a row? And that’s not even taking into account Paige’s eventual tuition.

“I guess we could just pick which one of them goes there,” I told a friend later on the phone. “You know, like, ‘Sorry Paige. You need to stay back on the farm and work. Kate? Well, she had more potential for book-learnin’.'”

Later in the day I drummed up the idea that I could get a job there to get discounted or free tuition. I’m no teacher, but there must be other things I’m qualified for. Janitor? Crossing guard? Lunch lady?

I called My Frienda Brenda, a college chum who is currently kid-less. “So,” I tell her. “It’s totally depressing that in two years we may be spending $20,000 a year on school for Kate.” But really, once I sober up to the fact that we’ll likely never afford it, what’s more depressing is that we may not be.


Putting the Braces Back On

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Daddio, Discoveries, Eating Out, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Money, Shopping, Working World | 1 Comment »

I used to be the Patron Saint of Interns. It was, of course, a self-appointed role. But one I took quite seriously.

The thing is, at one point in my career, or rather, the making of my career, I held quite a number of internships. Positions in TV newsrooms, hippie liberal radio stations, and various magazines where I’d earn a meager stipend, or sometimes just an appreciative thump on the back.

The hope being that the inverse ratio of earnings to hard labor would have some karmic redemptive upside.

I’ve lost count now of how many of those posts I’ve held. But suffice it to say, years into real grown-up paying work, my friend Mike and I were catching up on the phone and he asked how my internship was going. Sadly, I fear he wasn’t kidding. But that did become an evergreen joke for us when, over the following years, I’d worked my way through positions of mounting managerial responsibility and in our long coast-to-coast calls he’d ask the same question.

Good times, those.

Alas, aside from dignity-robbing name tags, epic Xeroxing tasks, and occasional demeaning-to-my-education lunch runs (I won’t even get into the pervy remarks from crusty old newsmen)—aside from all that, the biggest challenge with my Intern Era life was my short supply of cash.

Well, actually, I don’t know how much it really bothered me then. I mean, I think I attached a certain nobleness (not to be confused with the richy-sounding term “nobility”) to bushwhacking my way through a poorly-paying, romantic, writerly career path. But looking back, I can’t imagine how I did it.

I mean, I always managed to eat (and drink), God knows. And much as I worked towards self-sustainability, this Daddy’s Girl has thankfully never lacked anything of true importance. That is, even when my father’s definition of importance and mine differed. For some reason, he was maniacal about never allowing a child of his to sleep on a futon, of all things. Guess it seemed all Gypsy-like and what’d-the-neighbors-say to him.

Anyway, back then apartment-establishing jaunts to Target required first off, that I borrow a car. And once there, accumulating crap was a practice in restraint. Necessities like mops and cleaners and such went head to head against fripperies like ceramic Italian-esque pasta bowls and bright striped shower curtains. Sometimes home decor, to the extent it could be humbly called that, won out over specialty toilet bowl bleaches.

Thankfully, I never contracted any illnesses from my less-than-sterile but kinda cute living conditions.

These days Target is still the soup kitchen to my soul. But I shop with heedless abandon. Bolstered by their don’t-need-the-receipt-just-your-credit-card return policy, I toss whatever shiny thing I see into the cart.

Clothing? Well, I prefer not to buy it there (for reasons of snobbery alone), but sometimes a little cotton short catches my eye. And who knows if it’s the Small or the Medium that’ll work best. Buy both. Return one later. Candles, brooms, weird flower-shaped sprinkler attachments for kids to run through on hot summer days. A hectare of Size 4 diapers. I never leave the place without mindlessly spending, well, a lot.

The thing is, somewhere between the Intern Era came, well, the hoped-for karmic career redemption patch. Widely known as the American Dream. Or more precisely, the Internet Boom. Right here in Northern California, USA. And instead of having to desperately take an ‘Intro to the Internets’ class at The Learning Annex, I’d somehow managed to retool my media career into an internet business-type kinda job before all the hoopla kicked in.

Looked up from my laptop one day to discover I’d become a cherished ladder-climbing leader at a company where 27-year-olds made Vice President, bought homes based on the momentary health of their unvested stock, and earned bonuses their hard-working parents no doubt found obscene. I traveled non-stop, managed teams in multiple cities, and spent my days telling people twice my age how to run their companies. All that, plus shrimp cocktail and top-shelf booze at Friday afternoon office Happy Hours.

Like many folks at that time, I felt pretty damn invincible.

Unsurprisingly, my spending habits changed. I could buy one of those loft condos with Corian counter tops if I wanted! Buy last-minute tickets home to RI. Go to swank dinners with friends, order beyond the dinner salad, and not dread someone’s inevitable suggestion to “split the bill evenly between us.”

But more than the stuff I could get, what struck me most—initially, at least—was the lack of worry that my new financial sitch afforded me. More than the thrill of ownership any of the crap I bought, knowing I had what I needed to comfortably take care of myself gave me a supreme sense of contentment. A deep, proud-of-myself-for-making-it-so self-sufficiency and security.

And I realized yesterday that my memory of those days, that feeling in particular, is starting to fade in my mind, alongside the Intern Era. With the Global Economic Recession lurking in the pit of everyone’s gut, and me intentionally unemployed and Living La Vida Housewife, it’s hard to remember spending freely on a credit card that someone else (someone I’m not married to, that is) pays.

Prudence seems to dictate a throttling back on spending. It’s not that a crap run to Target will have us living on the street—blessedly. It’s just that, well, used to be we had two jobs and no kids. Now we’ve got one for the four of us. I’m no math expert, but that nets out to less all around.

So I get it right? I’m able to intellectually understand all this. It’s just I’m not certain how to get there. Regroup with that little voice in my head that used to say, “You can’t afford this.”

I mean, it seems obvious, right? Just spend less. But I’m deadline driven, motivated by fear, and perform best under pressure. I know that I should ratchet back, but I’m not feeling a sting to do so.

And Mark, poor dear. His concerns in this arena should be all I need to react. But I’m not getting spurned on. I’m not kicking into thrift mode with any of the novel glee or romantic challenge of it all.

And I can’t help but think that the monumental passage of the Intern Era’s to blame.

It’s like people who wore braces as teenagers, or however old you are when you do that. Elastic bands with colors or cutesie names, nightmares about corn on the cob, fears that getting inextricably locked with a co-braces-wearer during a make-out sesh might not just be urban legend.

I, thankfully, never had them. But I have to believe that once you get your braces taken off, you put all that gnarly, miserable, clingy-food-bits trauma behind you. Close that door and MOVE ON. You just get out there and enjoy your new straight teeth life, and revel in the knowledge that you’ll never be able to fry an ant with the glare off your teeth again.

That is, until as an adult you discover that your teeth have somehow moved. Shifted when you weren’t paying them any attention. And now you need to get braces AGAIN.

Which, is kinda where I feel like I am today. Perfectly straight teeth, thankyouverymuch. But having, despite myself, to go back to that uncomfortable place of restrained spending, at Tar-jay and beyond.

Well, that, or get a job. A job, or maybe a high-class internship.

1 Comment »