Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Less is More

I was driving home from a lovely breakfast with my brother, sister-in-law, and their kids this morning, listening to NPR broadcast at length about our culture's propensity to incur personal debt, and I found myself getting more and more disgusted. I don't get it. These call-in listeners were all complaining about how they'd gotten themselves into thousands upon thousands of dollars of debt and couldn't understand why.

Ok people. Here's how money works. If you have it, you can spend it. If you don't, you can't. Simple. It's basic math. And if you're in debt. Stop spending, and start putting that money towards your debt. Why is this concept so damned hard for people in this country to understand? Are we so wrapped up in our consumerist culture that basic concepts elude us? And are we so consumed with living a lifestyle we can't afford just to keep up appearances that we're willing to destroy ourselves financially?

People were calling in, some on the verge of tears, complaining about how they can't seem to get themselves out of debt. In the meantime, they're calling from their state of the art cell phones, while driving their Cadillac Escalades on their way to their receptionist jobs. Now granted, I've been out of the workforce for almost three years now, but last I checked, a receptionist, even in the most upscale of offices, pays only slightly more than a stay-at-home-mom.

And the same holds true for dieting. I'm so tired of hearing people complain about not being able to lose weight. I myself was on weight watchers 4 years ago after gaining 25 pounds. The concepts were basic; eat well, eat just enough to feed your body, and exercise. It works. There's no magic bullet or wonder drug or undiscovered truth about it. It is what it is.

And yet, our culture still seeks out miracle cures for our indulgences. Are we that delusional or that arrogant to think that we're above the basic laws of science and nature? And at what point are we just going to have some culpability for our actions and say, "Wow, I'm in a lot of debt and I'm a huge, fat cow. Maybe I shouldn't drive my gas-guzzling monstrosity of a car to the most expensive restaurant in town tonight and stuff myself with beef wellington and chocolate cake." As I always say, life is about choices and consequences. If you don't like the set of consequences that comes with one choice, choose another....and save the chocolate cake for special occasions while you're at it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wondering if It's All Worth It

A little more than two and a half years ago, I gave birth to our first child Emma. Nine days prior to that, I went on maternity leave from my job at the Bronx Zoo and never went back. As it turned out, quality child care in New York was so expensive that approximately 80% of my paycheck would be spent just to have a stranger take care of my child. Since I knew I could make the remaining 20% working part-time on Doug's off hours, he and I decided it would be better for me to stay home with Emma rather than pay a stranger to raise her. And since I was already home with her when we had Nicky 15 months ago, well, it just made sense to stay there. But now I'm wondering.....was it all worth it?

I've made many sacrifices as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) that I never could have foreseen prior to having children. And no, I'm not talking about sacrificing being able to buy new clothes on a whim or go out to fancy dinners or buy Starbuck's lattes every morning. C'mon. I was living on a teacher's salary in New York City. I couldn't do those things even before I had kids. No, I'm talking about more insidious sacrifices; the kind you don't even know you're making until you've already given in to them.

This was all prompted by my attending an information session at the local medical university a few weeks back. You see, I've been toying with the idea of changing careers and attending medical school for years. Of course, now that I have children, that's easier said than done. And of course, I've reconsidered medicine as a career since I know the time commitment will be daunting, and I actually want to see my children sometime in the next 5 years. So, naturally, I was in search of alternatives. I found the P.A. profession. A Physician Assistant, for those of you that don't know, is a trained clinician that falls above a nurse practitioner and just below a doctor. For all intents and purposes, PA's have all the privileges of a doctor including prescribing power, but without the crazy time commitment. It seemed like a nice compromise that allowed me to pursue my goals and still enjoy my family. Only one problem.....I've been out of the workforce for almost 3 years, and out of school for 11.

Apparently, in order to qualify for said Physician Assistant program at the Medical University of South Carolina, one must have recent work experience (within the last 3 years as luck would have it). Furthermore, one's prerequisite course work must be completed within the last ten. Excellent. I'm just outside that window on both. So, I don't have the resume or the education to get into the program at this time. Here is what I do have....

....I have two great, well-behaved, well-rounded, healthy kids. They are smart, advanced for their ages, social, compassionate, funny, and all around good kids.

....I also have a three year hole in my resume, and a useless diploma from a top 25 school.

....I have a dwindling savings account.

....I have a sorely neglected IRA that has not seen a penny's worth of contribution in 3 years.

....I have 2 and a half years of education to retake just to be considered for admission into a program that is already a compromise from my original goal.

....I have to find time to volunteer in some medical facility so that I'll have recent exposure to the field, which of course means I have to find a babysitter....a cheap babysitter that's willing to work around an unpredictable volunteer's schedule.

....I have a mortgage. And bills to pay. And no idea how I'll pay for two and a half years of prerequisite course work that does not qualify me for financial aid because I'm not degree bound.

....I have guilt about not being able to afford enrichment classes and extra-curricular activities for our kids because we have sacrificed my income (granted, they are only 15 months and almost 3, but I know Emma would like to take dance class). Although, Emma will be attending a preschool in the fall that has a dance component!

....and I have disappointment....that I don't have the income to make all of this easier for my family, and that I didn't do all of this career changing earlier so my kids wouldn't have to feel the brunt of it.

BUT, I also have two beautiful kids and countless moments with them that I would not have had otherwise if I had continued to work. I know that I am lucky to have this time with them. But it has come at a price....financially, psychologically, and socially. The question is....was it worth it?

Here's some pictures of my days with them. You be the judge.

...yeah...it was worth it.