Realigned Perspective

Photo by Eli 5 Stone

This year is flying, just like last year did. Seedlings are starting to come up, we’ve begun to tackle yard cleanup, a multi-week endeavor, my 10-mile spring road race is just one short week away, oldest child won an art award that is a pretty big deal, and our lives are totally different than they were just a week ago. We’re in the process of making our final decision on whether to adopt a very cute brother/sister pair, and we’ve been moving forward as if it will be a yes. It’s both exciting and overwhelming, and with not a small touch of worry about the impact on our biological kids tossed in.

We have a lot to do this spring – the big, split-trunk pines are finally coming down, as are a couple smaller dead pines and a giant pine that split and fell behind the garage but didn’t hurt anything, thankfully. There’s a lot of old, very tall pines here, and taking them down is a very expensive endeavor. But it’s critical to do, and worth the it so that we don’t worry every time we have a windstorm. The split-trunk pines are house and human killers, and we’ve been putting it off, but we just can’t now. These are not a-guy-with-a-chainsaw trees, these are where-do-we-put-the-crane trees.

And our walkway, which is filled with pea gravel is getting a redo. I truly loathe pea gravel – it gets in everything and everywhere, when we shovel snow we inadvertently throw it onto the grass, and the guy who plows sometimes gets too close in and tosses it everywhere. So we’re done, and budgeting for a brick walkway, which is really a weekend’s worth of effort, plus the cost of bricks, edging and sand. We also need to replace the two cracked storm windows on the porch, and the pull-down attic staircase, which broke right around Christmas because why not. I’d really love to replace the light on the stairway landing, but we’ll see. I hate it, it collects bugs (who in their right minds puts a light up that high – really too high to clean very often – that doesn’t have an open base?) but it’s not super critical.

Last year we got hit very hard in the financials – we had a thing, and it took out just about all of our hard-won savings, accrued some debt, and left me feeling pretty deflated, after the intense ups and downs of the last 7 years. We had finally been in a place where savings was up, expenses were down and the future felt bright. Enter a heart-stopping, mind-rending tax bill from closing down my consulting company, and literally the day after we paid it, our furnace guy telling us ‘your old oil tank is leaking, I have to pull it out and replace it, that will be $5500.00, no it can’t wait also here’s a $1700 bill for your heating oil‘.

There’s not a lot of things that put me in a mood to lie down in a fetal position, but those couple days did. So we did what we had to do, and have been working through bringing ourselves back to level ground since, somewhat more challenging with inflation being what it is. We still have to do much-needed repair work – and the bottom of the driveway will have to be repaved soon, but we can leave it for a while.

The good news is that we had some additional income that came in shortly thereafter, the bad news is that we also have some fairly major and expensive dental work for Eli this year, and renovation probably can’t wait much longer. So we’re in this interesting place where we’re fine, really, but not at all where we want to be, and it’s been a little exhausting. The upside is that I have hotel and airline points for travel, so we’re able to do some things this year despite the unexpected convergence of us needing to pay for everything, everywhere, all at once.

So we did what anyone would to plan for it. We broke our multi-month stretch of only buying what we needed for the week, went to Costco and stocked up on literally everything, then bought all the Easter candy and basket stuffs, and now our grocery shops are small and focused again. We have plenty of food, we have warmth and safety and a roof over our heads, we have friends and family who we love and are loved by us, and we’ll rebuild to where we were, it’s just going to take a while. It’s hard to have to do that yet again, and I won’t lie and say it isn’t demoralizing at times.

But my gratitude for our life is immense. What hit us in the last year could have been a tidal wave that took us out. Instead, because we’re generally good savers it was a hole in the boat, granted a huge one, but our ship was far from sinking, and we chugged in to shore for repairs under our own sail, a bit battered and tired, but still upright.

We’ve not eliminated all the luxuries of our life – the kids activities, occasional fun outings or short trips, but we’ve pared back significantly, eliminating lots of recurring charges, finding frugal or free ways to solve problems, and still tried to be there for family and friends. We budget for the stuff we really enjoy and have jettisoned a lot of extraneous spending.

For a long time, I was mad and upset – we had worked so hard to be where we were, and it was so not fair to have instability tear through our lives again. But after a while I realized that it was my mindset that had to change, not so much our circumstances.

Shit happens, and that’s why you structure your life so you can handle it when it does. We have a home full of love, our kids are safe and well, and money is – well, it’s just money. It’s great and all, but it’s a vehicle, not the end game. It took a while for me to remember that. And so this afternoon as Eli and I started on the monthlong venture that is spring yard cleanup, I turned my thoughts to where we have both been. It is a thousand miles from where we are now and while there has been grief and challenges, our joy is only limited by our perception of how things are.

And when I really take stock, they are pretty damn good. That’s not a Pollyanna-ish happy ending, there’s still stress, too much laundry, and we’re often so busy and tired we can’t see straight.

But it is important perspective – joy is not a thing that is bought.

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