This and That

We had an unexpected episode of bed wetting,so we are all up about an hour earlier than usual, everyone has been fed and dressed, and I have a tiny bit of free time! Just enough to jot down a few lines.

I have been working on the book and it’s nearing completion. Well, at least the form I will submit for publication. I have managed to pare it down to about 112k words and still have some relatively serious editing to do.
The experience has been interesting. One insight — trivial when you think of it, but still somewhat unexpected — was that the newer posts were generally better quality than the older ones. Better flow, better editing. I don’t sound quite as constipated as I used to.

This reminds me of an exchange that Zach Weinersmith (“Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal“) had, I think on Reddit. Someone asked Zach something along the lines of “Your newer comics are so great, you hardly have any misses! (As in, unfunny jokes.) The older ones, not so much. Why do you think that is?” To which Zach replied something like, “That’s like asking an NBA player why he spent his toddler years $hitting his pants and not making three-pointers from halfway across the court.” Damn straight.

Of course, you get better with practice, but I guess you don’t realize just how much better, until you really look at the material and compare. It’s humbling, really. There is some good stuff there, but much wasn’t as good as I remember it. Or maybe this whole book business is making me a touch grumpy (shut up, CPP).

But it’s getting there and I want to be proud of it.


In other news, I have been reading some working mom blogs, and the issue of being near family at the price of living in a ridiculously high-cost-of-living area came up. One particular blogger and her husband, both professionals and with the student loans to prove it, work for not-for-profit organizations. Being that they live in an extremely pricey area, in large part to be near parents, they can only live fairly modestly on their income and it bothers the blogger.

I must say I don’t really understand this mindset. I am not judging, but the blogger’s priorities appear to be different enough from mine that it’s not easy for me to appreciate what she considers to be positive trade-offs. I grew up middle class-ish in Europe, according to local standards. My parents worked, yet we all lived with my maternal grandparents. It was cramped, but a very common living arrangement. I was not poor; had I stayed there, I could have had a modest life. I already had a job, but there were no opportunities — not to grow, not to learn, not to change jobs, not to travel, not to ever buy property. I might have ended up living with my or my husband’s parents pretty much till they died. My kids would have grown up to be scrappy and rude little monsters, as is common there. I would have had a lot of help from family, and the proximity of them and my friends would have been nice in some ways. So I feel like I left a situation that would not have been much worse than what the blogger describes, yet it was absolutely suffocating for me. To me, actually not being around family and friends of yore is liberating (there can be a lot of emotional manipulation involved in all that free babysitting).

I grew up in a large city and thought I always absolutely had to live in a place like that. It turns out, I don’t. I currently live in a very nice city that’s about 1/10 the population  of the city I grew up in. It’s still plenty large, and with what DH and I make, we have a very nice standard of living. I am happy that coastal people think we’re in flyover country; all the better, they won’t come here and raise our property prices. Being able to afford things — a house that’s big enough so we can spend 6 months snowed in without going stir-crazy, going on non-extravagant vacations (note the plural) every year, having college savings for the kids, paying for extracurriculars and enrichment — this is all very important to DH and me.

Being away from ancestral home is an added bonus. There’s love, but also so much drama. You don’t want to know what a gloomy piece of crap I would have been 24/7 if I had stayed at home. An example: my mother’s mantra is “If you think your life is great, put a small pebble in your shoe so it bothers you.” That’s how you grow up to be anxious, suspicious of your good fortune and good times, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, accepting crappiness as the normal state of affairs.

I am not judging the blogger, I simply admit that I don’t fully understand why someone has to end up living extremely modestly (the blogger is bothered by it, that’s why it’s a problem) just to live in a certain city and be near parents, when they could live quite comfortably elsewhere and have the money to travel to see said grandparents and other attractions. And they don’t even have to emigrate to do that, as emigration is not for the faint of heart; they remain technically among their own compatriots.  This is such as great big country, people should take advantage of what it has to offer. Again, I am not judging, but it’s just very different from my perspective and what I consider important, so it’s not easy to relate. Then again, I might just be a crappy daughter.

But the US of A is wonderful. One of these days, I will drive coast to coast, and then north to south. Okay, it might take more than one of these days.


A very nice post by Mel of “Stirrup Queens”on how the online life is the real life.


  1. I get you on family. It has not been easy for us two immigrant academics to raise our daughter without family support, but family support comes with its own drama. I for one am glad that we don’t have to deal with my parents on a daily basis.

  2. “Crappy daughter” is overly harsh, but as an emigrant, your position is indeed unusual. You chose, when you (and they) were quite young, that your parents would never be a significant part of your family life, either while you were raising children and in their old age. This is true whether your relationship is very close or somewhat more strained (as some of your posts have suggested).

    Emigrant societies have always had to deal with this and it’s usually framed in terms of what is best for the whole family and as an unfortunate, but necessary, response to poverty and lack of opportunity — as well as a source of sadness and loss. Often there are traditions about who stays to take care of the parents (oldest son, youngest unmarried daughter…) (Some countries and times have simply been ‘get everyone the h— out asap’, of course.)

    But being able to have your family in reasonable proximity (while still being able to establish one’s own household at decent standard) has become a feasible luxury in much of the “rich” world — certainly in the US and Canda, in W Europe perhaps a little more recently (post WWII/EU era), in the Asian “tiger countries”.

    And this is really really important to most people. Even in e.g. European countries with big safety nets for the aged, people strongly feel that caring for one’s parents is important: family meals are better than meal delivery from social services; dropping by for a chat and oh-btw taking care of a few things around the house is better than a hurried standardized visit from a minimum wage home-services worker, etc. And eventually when the time comes, even an efficient, subsidized medical transport service does not compare to someone you love taking you to and from chemotherapy or stroke rehab…

    Americans do move rather a lot, but they move ‘back’ as well as ‘away’ — most people live close to at least one set of parents. So there is a change in having to make big sacrifice to be near family, in a culture with little recent history of family breakup due to emigration. (I think this is not just US, but also European cities like London that have got ludicrously expensive.)

    Also my sense is that modern “middle-class professional” immigration seems to be a little different. Before, some siblings had to go and some had to stay and that was that. Now there are smaller families, longer lifespans, ease of travel and communication, more global opportunities. Some of my friends in the US, now with kids and aging parents, are starting to feel squeezed and uncertain about how they will handle this.

  3. I also emigrated from my country, leaving a parent behind. I enjoy being with my mother a lot! And I hate being apart right now. But US health system is not exactly cheap…so still thinking on how to reunite…

  4. I live in an area where my wife has family and I don’t, so it works out well for both of us.

  5. Oh dear, what does it say about my writing that our older posts are the best? We’ve gotten a lot lazier about editing, I think is the answer.

    Said blogger’s family also have provided a lot of free childcare, including full time daycare, which cuts costs dramatically. They could have charged closer to market rent for the unit they’re renting (or full market if they made it legal) than they’re charging their new tenant which would also increase their income. But that is another tradeoff. There are a lot of different tradeoffs. Also their income will be more comfortable when they are no longer servicing loans, unless they spend more to fill the gap, which they may do. And, based on what she has said about herself, it is possible that they would still be spending in ways not aligned with her long term wants if they had more money or lived someplace less expensive. There’s a lot to unpack and she does a lot of psychoanalysis on herself. So not just a live somewhere expensive vs cheap dichotomy.

  6. Interesting. After years living all over, we solved our two body problem by moving back to our hometown (a relatively large city). It was a financial hit for us given that our prior home was in a super low cost of living area & yet the employed one of us was very well compensated.

    But for us, we are so so happy to be living in an area we love and having our kids grow up with beloved family members (aunt, cousins and grandparents – my MIL is a nut who we don’t see too often…). This choice was a sacrifice for us in terms of net worth but we are happy with it for now. We certainly didn’t do it for childcare but we certainly do benefit from proximity. Although we are renting a house right now, we still are able to do most of the things on your list – vacations, enrichment, etc.

  7. Everyone makes different tradeoffs. My wife and I chose to live in a beautiful area with nice weather but very expensive housing. We’re not near family (except one of my wife’s brothers, whom we visit once a year for Thanksgiving).

    We chose to forego expensive vacations and owning a car, so that we could buy a house in an place where other people come to vacation and where you don’t need a car.

  8. Everyone makes different tradeoffs.

    Oh, of course. It’s only an issue when a person says that they are very unhappy with an aspect of their life, e.g., the standard of living (defined as the things and experiences they can afford to purchase) on a given income for that blogger. To me, it’s clear — on that much money, you can have the experiences and material goods stuff you crave, but not in that locale. If the experiences and stuff are important, and your income is quite limited, then a lower cost of living area is a must. In other words, if one is enamored of an expensive area to live in (or doesn’t want to move away from parents who are there), yet constrained in income, of course they won’t be able to afford a whole bunch of stuff; as you say, it should be seen as a tradeoff not something to lament over. You can’t have everything everywhere on a small income; I guess my point is that I don’t understand why the problem is a real problem.

  9. It’s a definite personality divide. My sister and I are the children of the only son who left home (and a mom who moved regularly as a child). Couple that with an introverted personality, and living away from family has never been an issue, whereas the few times my cousins have moved away, they didn’t last long before going back.

  10. yeah, I’m with you on not wanting to be too close to family. And yes, we should make our trade-offs and own our choices and not complain, but it can be hard sometimes, particularly when you may not be 100% committed to something or there are conflicting values. For example, maybe your spouse is the one that wants to live in a higher COL city or close to his parents, and you theoretically agree & support this (and may even benefit from family help with childcare), it still sucks to make those trade-offs. Or perhaps your parents are aging and you feel responsible for caring for them, so you move back near them even though your job there makes less—again, you may chafe a bit at the imposed limitations even though you DO value caring for your parents and CHOSE to move back.
    Its a lot easier when everyone is on the exact same track (rare) or you are on your own. When you are talking about family, its never fully just YOUR choice.

  11. @Ana– I shouldn’t be too hypocritical, I mean I complain about living in a red state where I often have to choose between voting for the libertarian and the tea party candidate (I generally choose the libertarian because at least they don’t spend money to control my body). I could move to SF, but then I wouldn’t have a job. Those are my trade-offs.

  12. And complaining about bad weather is totes fair game no matter where you live ” from your post made me smile.
    The weather is probably my biggest complaint about where I am now. We optimized for best department & best public schools for kids & good job for spouse when I was interviewing, and this place gave us great options for all three.

    Because of the weather, we wanted a comfortable house where we wouldn’t be go stir-crazy cooped up all winter; we rented a couple of years and then bought a beautiful, large, relatively new, and reasonably priced house in a great neighborhood and only 15-min away from from downtown and work. Considering that people routinely had 45+ min commutes where I went to grad school, and I grew up in a city where I had to take public transport and take 30-90 min to anywhere, the 15-min commute (plus I love driving) is nothing. But I have colleagues here who absolutely have to be downtown and insist on being able to walk (or bike, and not for long) everywhere; then they have to buy tiny, very old, and very, very expensive houses, and they complain about the cost and shit breaking all the time (duh, old house) and the fact they have no garage so the car keeps getting snowed in… But that’s the price of being close to downtown, it’s not some magically unfair injustice…

  13. It’s funny how our standards for how nice our house had to be went way up when we moved from a city to where we normally live (and how they’ve dropped for this year when we’re similarly living in a city). It’s like this would not even be remotely acceptable where we normally live, but we’re willing to make that trade-off in a city worth living in. I’m still going to complain about our dishwasher being broken though. And maybe a bit about our rent being 2x our mortgage at home for a third the living space. But I would totally make that trade-off if I could just keep my job.

    So I dunno. #2 and I were discussing, and I think the two main things that make me more sympathetic to complaining is 1. That it isn’t chronic (because chronic complaining gets boring) and 2. that it doesn’t seem entitled (I guess because that makes me feel like I deserve more too but I’m not going to get it so that makes me irritated and I’d rather feel like I have agency)

  14. I shouldn’t complain about people complaining, I whinge here all the time about all sorts of things. I guess I sometimes just can’t relate to the topic of complaining. For instance, my husband is overall very chill, never fazed by interactions with other people no matter how difficult they are; the only thing that he ever gets riled up about is politics, both national and local. He is very passionate about it. I have urged him to get involved in the local politics, get active with the local democrats or something, but he doesn’t want to do anything of the sort. I really don’t understand being so upset about something over which you have virtually no influence whatsoever aside from voting (and the little influence you could have, by becoming more politically active, you don’t want to have).

  15. Your complaining is always entertaining! I’m not sure that was always the case, but it’s been so long that I can’t even remember.

    In your husband’s defense, I get really riled up about education, but I learned in graduate school that I need to NOT make that my area of study because it is bad for my blood pressure. So instead I work on something I’m intellectually interested in, but don’t get worked up about. I could see politics being the same way. My mom, OTOH, gets enjoyment from political (and educational) activism.

  16. I think immigrating and being far from family is fine for a long time, or in many ways, but sometimes there’s an event that makes you question it. One of my parents is an immigrant, and when that parent’s mother was getting dementia and started forgetting she had grandchildren in America — started forgetting our faces — I think it really shook up parent. Parent did not feel the need to keep in touch with family before and was glad to avoid a lot of crazy…. but I think Grandmother dying in old country really shook up that balance. Parent wasn’t there in those last days, and it prompted a lot of introspection.

    It had a big effect on me, too. It was weird that my grandmother was declining and couldn’t remember me and there wasn’t much I could do. As a college student I didn’t have the money or time flexibility to fly over there; it was before Skype and FaceTime, and phone calls were very expensive. I think it’s one reason I live where I grew up, rather than SF (besides rents). Here I can show up to get lunch for other grandmother when shit hits the fan — I just need to cancel a lunch with colleagues and swing by the grocery store on the way. I live closer to my parents than my grandparents, but honestly I see my grandparents more often: I like my parents plenty but we’re all introverts, and I just see the writing on the wall for my grandparents. (“We Know How This Ends,” to rip off a recent book title.) My husband has remarked that he figures we’ll be here until my grandparents pass…

  17. Tell your husband to run for city council so you can experience a strange facet of American culture: being a political wife. You can film a YouTube series about a European scientist becoming an American political wife.

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