Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Good Day

The summer after I turned seventeen I started volunteering once a week at a small, local nonprofit. It was a small house in a park and it served as a day space for homeless folks to get a cup of coffee, take a shower, do some laundry and meet with the Outreach workers who were working to get them into housing. I loved it so much that when school started I successfully petitioned my high school* to let me volunteer there on Mondays instead of going to school. I was there once a week for a year; at the time their only volunteer. My time there is what I remember most about my senior year of high school. The staff  became my mentors and friends, and the integrity and kindness they exhibited fundamentally shaped my worldview.

Then I left for college. As I grew, so did they. On visits home I saw the organization inhabit two different buildings, each larger than the next, and I heard about new and exciting programs.

When I moved back to Portland nine years later I started volunteering again. The building was bigger and nicer, some of of the staff I"d know where gone, and there many, many other volunteers. A lot had changed, but I was heart-warmed to see that the fundamentals of the organization remained the same. The character and conscience that shaped my outlook as a high schooler were still being lived every day, to a frankly awe-inspiring extent.

On my 29th birthday D$ and I attended the organization's second-ever "fancy" evening fundraising event. I dragged D$ over to the table where they'd posted their Values and Principles. He was so impressed he got teary-eyed and took a photo of them with his phone. Then, for the first time in my life, I gave a significant  financial donation to a organization that I fundamentally believe in.** It was a good day.

Today, I became the newest (and youngest) Board Member of that nonprofit.

I am so. fucking. excited.

* Literally petitioned. The administrators said no at first so I went to each of my teachers and asked if I could miss class once a week to volunteer. Every single one of them said yes and signed a letter showing their support.  The school caved, and I never went to school on Mondays again. 
**Of course I have donated to causes and nonprofits here and there for years but this was different. This was taking money out of savings to give to an organization because I 100% believe in what they stand for, what they do and most of all how they do it. It felt like giving myself a present, not them. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The nervous voms

We put another offer on a house.  Then they counter-offered and we had to decide what to do about it. I ended the night scrolling through pictures of adoptable dogs on the Internet to calm myself down. Except I did not calm down and I haven't calmed down since.

This house is at the top of our budget. Slightly over it, actually. Let's break down the reasons this makes me want to nervous vomit all over the place.

  1. This is a house that we cannot afford on just D's salary. If we buy this house and have children we will struggle to allow me to stay home for six months and then I will have to go back to work. End of story.

  2. D$ makes really good money. What the fuck is wrong with me that I want to buy a house that isn't affordable on a salary that is more than the combined salary of almost everyone I know? How is that even possible?  What is it that I think I need that can cost so much money? 

  3. The house has three bedrooms. It has a dining room, a garage, a full basement. It is cute. I feel like buying this house (when I could buy a smaller house in a not-as-nice neighborhood for an amount that would allow me to take more time off of work) I am selling my future children down the river so that I can have nicer "stuff." Wrapping my  hypothetical babies up in blankets and leaving them on a church doorstep so that I can have a guest bedroom.*

  4. What happens if we become miserable in our jobs and cannot follow our dreams because of our mortgage? What happens if we lose our jobs? 
Of course there are counter arguments: the neighborhood has the best elementary school in the state. Those three bedrooms mean that we can live in this house with our children for many many years without having to move again. It's a really good price for the neighborhood and the amount of space.  I don't know if I would want to stay home anyway. We have free, amazing childcare in my mom(s) so staying home is a bad financial decision regardless of the price of the home we buy (not to mention the impact on my career, independence, etc). 

All of these facts did nothing to soothe the ache in my gut when I think about 1-4 above. None of these facts eased the guilt I felt about not living in a dirt-floored cabin, sharing a bed with my children, and Living Simply So That Others May Simply Live. That rationale did not stop me from wondering what our (artist/teacher/librarian) friends will think when they see it. Will they whistle under their breath and decide we must have lots of money, then hate me when I am home with a baby and stingy about going out because of the cost? 

Really, I should have had this freak out a long time ago. When we set our housing budget D$ told me what the top of the budget meant. I knew it. But I didn't know it. Now - now that I was deciding if I wanted to  sign my name to documents that will commit me to that amount of money -  well I sorta started to lose my shit. I second guessed my priorities. I doubted what I thought I knew. I spoke to my dad on speakerphone while huddled in a ball on a stool but failed to be swayed by his advice. It felt like there was basically no way for me to know if we were doing the right thing. 

*      *      *      *      *

After hours of deliberation we took a deep breathe and counter-offered back. Neither one of us felt good, or sure, or remotely sane. 

Today, they countered (again, these assholes!) with something we'd considered offering. 

And I was excited. D$ was excited. 

Hopefully, that's all we need to know. 

We're gonna accept. 

*D$ rightly pointed out that the third thought is pretty much 100% about me. I don't think that D$'s choice to work is selling our kids down the river, do I? 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

House Hunting and Privilege

When we first started looking for houses one of the first pieces of advice we got was to write a letter to any potential sellers. Really ham it up - tell them that we look forward to raising our children in the house, send a photo of us and the cats, etc. Apparently a friend of ours - who sent a photo of himself and a pretend wife along with his letter - got a house in this manner, despite the fact that there was a higher offer.

I hate to admit it but at first I thought this might be a good idea. D and I are attractive, our cats are cute, who wouldn't want to sell their home to us? Anything to gain an edge and get what we want, right? Thankfully I have D$ - level-headed, fair, "just give me the numbers" D$ - whose swift and disgusted refusal helped me understand what I was really proposing.

D$ and I are a white, straight couple. We are in a monogamous relationship and want to have children. We fit exactly the mold that mainstream America considers acceptable, safe, and expected. The mold whose ubiquity in American culture and media makes life harder for anyone for whom it does not fit. That letter we could send? It would say (to what, in Portland, is highly likely to be a white seller):  "Sell your house to us because we look like you. Sell your house to us because we fit your expectations of "nice people." Sell your house to us because we are white. Sell your house to us because we are straight. Sell your house to us because we deserve it more (because our orientation and lifestyle do not make you nervous).

And this? This is a thing I will not do. My whole life I have benefited from who I am.  Yes, it was without my choosing, but that does not erase the fact that my white, straight privilege is undoubtedly key to the fact that I am even in the position of being able to buy a house at the age of 29. Knowing this, I will not chose to forcibly wield that privilege in order to knock any potential competitors off the playing field.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On the hunt

Woodpiles along the street in Portland, Oregon, 1939
Dorotha Lange via the Library of Congress

So, remember how I said that D$ and I were going to try and stay still for a while? Yea, turned out to be a total lie.

We are house hunting. Have been since July. It's been a process.

First we had to have a huge fight about where to look for houses. We are committed to being in the city so this mostly meant that I had to deal with several days of white guilt about my choices of a) choosing an already wealthy neighborhood with really good schools but limited diversity or b) choosing a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood where I would loathe half of my neighbors (white hipsters in faux native American head-ware) and fear that the other half of my neighbors (primarily low-income minorities being pushed out of the neighborhood) hated me.

Once that was done we had to decide a budget, the amount of which hangs precipitously on whether I think that I'm going to want to stay home for more than six months after we have a baby. (Cause that's such an easy thing to know in advance). Then we had to make a spreadsheet of "must haves" and "would likes" and compare that to our budget and other life priorities.*

Finally, we got a Realtor. She is a truly a wonderful unicorn of a person. She gives us great advice, points out potential flaws, and makes jokes about key parties. Unfortunately, most of the houses we'd looked at have had some sort of fatal flaw: rancid stench of cat pee, weird leaks, hideous renovations, etc. We fell deeply in love with one house only to have our Realtor look at me sadly, put her hand on my shoulder, and tell me that the the "vintage" brick foundation would crumple to dust in the earthquake for which Oregon is 300 miles overdue.**

By late October we were starting to get depressed (and, grouchy).

Two weeks ago we found a perfectly great house that was priced really reasonably and was within two blocks of a  well-ranked elementary school. It also had three offers within a day of listing. We decided to throw our hats in the ring and made an offer late on a Sunday night. We spent the next 36 hours not-sleeping and willing our phones to ring. Tuesday morning we found out we hadn't gotten it - we were the runners up.

The search continues.

*The jury is still out on the whole "time home with hypothetical baby" versus "pricier house with two bathrooms so I can poop in peace" debate. I mean, think about it this way: if it turns out I can't have kids anyway I'm going to be mad as fuck about giving up that second bathroom.
**Two days after we looked at the house (and were mooning over it) there was a presentation from a geologist at my work. She basically said about the earthquake:  it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Then she told me to make myself an emergency pack and showed me detailed slides of how fucked Portland will be when the earthquake hits. I went home and told D$ that I'd had a sign from God not to buy the house.