If there is a phrase that sums up this particular moment in my life, it would be “getting there.” Two weeks ago I handed in the manuscript of my second book, and in about a week I’ll get it back from my editor with edits. I’m thirty-odd weeks pregnant, with a baby due to arrive… a little sooner than expected. I’m part way through my massive list of tasks that I want to accomplish before I go on a (semi) maternity leave. On every front, it feels like I’m getting there. I’m not there yet, but I’m at least at the point where it’s clear where I’m going. More or less.
And that, obviously, is half the battle, even if it’s not half the work.
While it does feel like some of the pressure is off, after a hellish seven months (write a book, grow a baby, vomit for months, manage a growing business, raise a toddler, run a household, try to maintain a healthy marriage, try to live in gratitude. Try not to lie down and die.) a lot of the relief comes from far more ephemeral sources than tangible accomplishments.
The (Damn) Dusty Corners Of My Mind
My last pregnancy made my mind a minefield, a danger zone, a pit of frightening depression. This time around, thanks to good medication and luck of the draw, I missed that bullet. But that didn’t mean that my mind was always a cheerful place to be over the last many months.
All of us have those unresolved issues that bother us, but that we’re generally able to push away to a dusty corner of our minds so that we can carry on with the good stuff. But pregnancy’s trick this go round was to make me dwell (and dwell, and dwell) on things that seemed not even vaguely worthy of the brain-space they were getting, but that my mind had obviously decided were of primary importance, as well as being clearly unresolvable.
Do real adults… fill in the blank?
Despite my embarrassment at letting you into the inner workings of my not-so-wise pregnancy brain, let me recount my recent obsession with the insane nature of the Bay Area real estate market, and my ponderings on what adulthood really means.
Buying a house (or more specifically, not buying one) has been rolling around in my head for many (many) months. But this year, as I turned thirty-five, I couldn’t let go of the fact that I’d always assumed that by my mid thirties, I’d own… something. A house, an apartment, something. Not a fancy house, not a huge apartment, but a property I lived in. I grew up in an area where housing prices and incomes were very low, but home ownership was very high. Owning something, sometimes a tiny something with a lama in the back, seemed like the thing you did when you were a real adult. And thirty-five-year-olds were real adults. Or at least, that was my working theory.
In the past thirty years, it’s clear that the nature of adulthood in America has undergone a profound shift. The days of working at one job for your whole career are more or less over. Student loan debt is a burden most of us will carry in some form or other for years. Health insurance premiums are through the roof, and many of us are paying for them out of pocket. Social Security may well be something of a pipe dream. And housing prices, well. They can’t seem to stop skyrocketing and cratering, at least where I live. The theoretical trajectory of the idealized American adulthood—marriage, house, kids, retirement party after fifty years—is mythical for more people than ever. But that doesn’t mean the Mad Men dreams of getting married, having kids, owning a house, drinking too much, having affairs, being miserable, getting divorced… wait a minute… have lost all their power over me.
In the past seven months, I approached the home ownership issue from every possible angle. I looked at houses (mostly on the Internet). I theorized about what we could (maybe) afford. I did the math seven ways from Sunday.
I was not the only person in the Bay Area doing this. Friends pitched me ideas they had, including buying teeny two room cottage in the middle of nowhere for many hundreds of thousands of dollars; moving into a tiny house/trailer with a composting toilet (because an affordable mortgage!); renting two apartments on the same floor of one building and putting tiny children in one and adults in the other and propping the doors open, raising a whole family in their one room studio and staying there till they died. You know, normal “both property and rental prices have doubled in the past two years” stuff.
And while I skipped past the Tiny House idea pretty quickly, once I heard about the compositing toilets, I kept on looking at what David called “real life tiny houses!” or, 6oo square foot tear-downs overlooking a freeway that were supposedly such a great deal, for all the money we’d ever made plus a huge mortgage.
At the end of the day, I kept coming up with the same outcome. I didn’t want to buy these houses. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to buy a house at all. I really, really liked our rental house. Our much-more-affordable-than-a-crazy-ass-mortgage rental house. My actual interest in having to pay for our own plumbing repairs and worry about the state of our roof was very small. I didn’t trust the Bay Area housing market as an investment vehicle. I liked having my money in a real investment fund, where I could count it and liquidate it.
But my Mad Men dreams do not die easy deaths, so I stewed. And stewed.
And then the other week, David casually said to someone, “You know, buying a house has never quite worked out for us. But we’re really great at renting.” And it felt like someone opened a window in my brain, and the light finally came pouring in. Because, sure. We live in a culture that values buying a house (and marriage, and having kids, and having a particular kind of job, and looking a particular way, and and and) above all else. But those values don’t have to be my values, and those skills don’t have to be my skills. And I thought I learned this a zillion years ago, but just kidding. I might always be learning it.
Real Adults Do It Their Way
Turns out, I’m not that great at working a traditional 9 to 5 and climbing the corporate ladder. But I’m really good at running a women focused business (that most people don’t take seriously). I’m not that great at being a progressive, organic, stay mostly at home mother. But I’m really good at being a loving supportive working mom of a happy kid in daycare. And I’m not that good at buying a house. But GODDAMN if I’m a good renter, who can find an under-market deal and make a happy and beautiful home out of it for years and years.
In short. I’m getting there. I’m thirty-five and the almost mother of two, and I’m still slowly learning to accept myself as I am, and the world as it is, and not force myself into some model of adulthood that just doesn’t work for me. And in the meantime, I’m spending a little bit of time relaxing saying over and over, “I FINISHED THAT GODDAMN BOOK.” Because you know what? I’d rather have the book than the house anyway. And I’m profoundly lucky that right now, I get to do it my way.
P.S. My thoughts on growing up and turning thirty-five, and the debate on the current state of American Adulthood, and what it has to do with capitalism.