So. . . I don't consider myself to be particularly materialistic. I mean, I have stuff. Lots of stuff. But none of it is of particularly high quality because hey, I'm a grad student, and because I'm not about brand names or top-of-the-line products loaded with features (OK, except for Apple. I love me those Macintosh computers). I wish I could live more simply--with less stuff--but honestly, most of my personal stuff right now is dissertation- and school-related: books, papers, shelves, desk, etc.
Our living room has an old, broken-down couch and two, er, well-worn chairs, as well as the "kitchen" table and the hardware trappings of Mr. Trillwing's multimedia funhouse. It's not pretty.
Accordingly, we don't have people over much. Grad students, yes. That we can manage. People who understand the madness, the sacrifices, and the teeny-tiny paychecks behind the squalor.
But I'm starting to go to more and more playgroups, and the assumption is that if one goes to playgroup, one hosts playgroup every once in awhile.
And I have yet to see a playgroup held in an apartment complex, let alone in a house that isn't, um, perfect. We're talking new hardwood floors, built-in bookcases, granite countertops, etc.
It's enough to make a trillwing reconsider her life's path. Instead of having (ahem) $XX,XXX in debt, might I have made a down payment on a house in that same amount? If I had done so five, six years ago, it would have qualified as a nice down payment. Today, even if that debt had absolute value signs embracing it (remember those from algebra class?), it still wouldn't be enough for a down payment.
These moms' houses are $500,000, $700,000 homes. So I know these people are carrying a lot of debt, too. But they also seem comfortable and happy in their homes, able to have guests over and entertain.
I'd be embarrassed to host these new mothers at my place: the carpet stains I can never seem to conquer, the ever-present floating dog hair, the stacked plastic tubs of dissertation archive materials, the scratched kitchen cupboards probably last refinished in the 1980s, the boring white heavily textured walls. It's depressing, really, even if it is my current home and if I've had a lot of good times here.
I'd host a playgroup in the park, but it's too damn hot these days.
I think I've mentioned before that my parents bought their home in 1968 for $28,000. It's three blocks from the beach, three bedrooms, big yard, lots of nice wood floors and moldings. At the time they bought it, $28,000 was about 3x their combined schoolteaching income. Today the home is worth about $1.5 million.
(Mr. Trillwing's salary + my salary) x 3 = not enough for even a down payment on a home like that, let alone one in the dusty hothouse of the Big Tomato (aka Sactown, Sacto) or its sprawling suburbs. And there's no way--absolutely no way--we could afford to buy real estate in this pleasant, if scorching, little town where we currently reside.
Don't get me wrong: I don't feel sorry for myself. Not at all. But I'm wondering how I'm going to negotiate this brave new world of mommy networking without a "real" home base.
And I'm wondering, too, if accepting an academic life means I'm stuck on the sad little rental track for a long, long time.