Thursday, February 12, 2009

Starting over-- Coping

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

Divorce hitting at the same moment as an economic downturn.  It's not the best combination for maintaining the lifestyle to which I had been accustomed.  But, it does stimulate the mind to seek creative solutions. Figuring out how to continue paying a mortgage (a problem I am not alone in having), feeding the kids, putting gas in the car, and, if you work for yourself, keeping some kind of marketing budget for a business -- these are major occupations for me now.  It's been a very interesting year so far.

I stopped working closely with the father of my boys in the fall. I still help out occasionally, but ideally for me, our partnership is over.  Easier said than done.  Without me to help bring clients to the door, he's a bit lost and his finances are in worse shape than mine. Thus, minimal to no help from that end. We're both waiting for the bed and breakfast to sell... Once it finally does, it will feel like a windfall.

From the summer on, I've been adding up the possibilities of how to cope with my newly discovered financial scarcity. When I was younger, it was easy to just walk into a temp agency and get a part-time job. It paid the bills -- which were minimal for a single girl -- and life was good.  I had money while I took my time looking for more interesting employment.  But, with two kids in private school (yes this might be a budget to eliminate, as it involves fees, cafeteria bills and lots of driving, but... I'm committed to the kids' Rudolf Steiner education while I'm able to be, such is life) and no nearby family to help out, I needed to become creative and disciplined.

So, I've taken in boarders. Three teens from my kids' school now live with us five days a week.  I've become a "famille nombreuse". Who would have thought after I'd stopped at the reasonable number of two for myself?  So, rather than driving two children to school daily, and picking them up at 4 o'clock three days a week and at noon the other two, I'm driving five kids.  I'm also feeding and cleaning up and doing laundry for a family of six.  It doesn't feel too different from the bed and breakfast.  

The added dimension of teenage girls is quite interesting.  I must say, I'm grateful that of the three, only one is into make-up.  Bathroom time juggling thus has not been much a problem. (The house has only the one bathroom, with toilet, shower, tub etc., all in the same space). Yes, all-natural girls from the Waldorf school are a pretty easy bunch to live with.

I use the various recipes I'd mastered in my prior profession, and continue to pick up all my organic staples at a wholesale warehouse.  This keeps my bills relatively low, and the quality of the food high. The week is ordered by bread-day, yogurt day, house-keeping/laundry day,  vegetable soup day, and as time permits, baking muffins, shopping for the rare extra object, or a pass by the market or local farm for some fresh vegetables and fruit.  Meat is a rare offering, but I get 30 organic eggs a week for 7.50Euros, and we've lots of nuts, cheese, whole grains and beans to cover most protein needs. But the sheer time necessary to prepare food so regularly and in such quantities... Well, it is at times quite overwhelming.

But, on the positive side, my boys are no longer the spoiled kids of a manically working mom who depends on au pairs to cope with her kids when she's not around (which was a lot). They now follow the careful calendar of chores that all share: setting and clearing the table, doing dishes, laundry, sweeping the stairs, bringing in fire wood. All these get shared amongst the brood and each does his part.  Of course, there is also the need to be patient, pleasant, to respect common and private space. 

The household has now been together since September, and it is an amazingly smooth operation. Oh I've had my moments of freaking out. But I only crashed completely once, (the eldest who's 17 took over that night), and have kept yelling to an absolute minimum.  I am no doubt harder on my boys than on the girls. They're mine, and I want them to be perfect, helpful, considerate young men.  So far, they're holding up very well under the invasion, and their mother's expectations of them.

Oh, and no, taking in boarders doesn't by far cover all my monthly costs. I also have translations, a few tours coming up this spring, and I've been helping my organic vintner export his wines to the States. A multi-tasker from birth, I do what I need to to keep things functioning. It's very month to month right now (a cookbook before Christmas, now a wine book, soon some wine web sites..). All rather surreal and at times disorienting.  But I think that though it is very stressful to be so hyper-aware of money and the lack of it, this is a good year when I'm finally truly caring for my boys and maybe, when all's said and done, they'll look back to this year and reminisce about "the year Mom was there, like, all the time!"  It could be a lot worse.

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