As the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours.” That’s certainly true about stress in my life, and these past two weeks have been no exception.
Things started off calmly enough after the holidays. I spent the first weekend of the month cleaning out two of my most cluttered closets and got a head start on next year’s charitable contribution tax deductions in the process. I’d finally gotten around to computerizing our finances over the winter break, too, which means I’m done spending the days before payday wondering whether we’re going to bounce checks or not.
While I was at it, I reviewed our investments (they all suck), found a new auto insurance policy that will save us $325 per year, talked our homeowner’s insurance company into lowering our premium based on the drastic decline in our home’s value this past year, and set up a college fund for my son and scheduled a monthly deposit that will hopefully amount to something 10 years from now when he’s ready to use it.
After checking last year’s wall calendar, I shopped for, signed, addressed and stamped birthday cards for every member of our extended family, then filed them in a brand-new month-by-month accordion folder. Into that, I also tucked reminders for certain annual events: when to pay our homeowner’s association fees, when to sign our son up for Cub Scout camp and summer Day camp, when to schedule my husband’s next physical and the like. (Yes, I could do that on my computer but since I plan to spend less time at mine this year, I’m trying to come up with alternate systems.)
I came up with a weekly meal plan that satisfies all of the picky eaters in our household while letting me get dinner on the table quickly, and with a minimum of effort. I turned that into a weekly grocery list that I can post on our fridge and simply check off what we need to purchase. There’s a space to indicate if we have a coupon for the item, too, so I also stuck an envelope on the fridge where I can stash the appropriate coupons after clipping them.
In short, I was off to a good start until the stress started, first as a mist that began tinting my days with minor irritations, and eventually drenching my every waking hour until I wasn’t sure which would pop first: my jaws, which I’d taken to clenching to hold back the screams, or the vein in my temple that throbbed so violently I could see it in my peripheral vision.
When it comes to the sources of stress, there’s another saying — this one from Sartre — that’s been on my mind quite a lot these days: “Hell is other people.” I could not possibly agree more.
It started when one of my best female friends began having problems with her new business partner, a woman whom we’d all advised her not to go into business with. Naturally, she didn’t listen. Not surprisingly, the problems started almost immediately. Ever since, my friend’s been calling three, four, five times a day to vent and ask advice… none of which she’s followed. And because she won’t follow my advice (most of which begins with “Well, you two need to sit down and talk about fill-in-the-blank…”), the problem only keeps getting worse. So, I’d started to screen my calls.
Then one of my best guy friends began having custody problems with his Baby Mama. Or, more accurately, he began to anticipate custody problems based on some off-handed comment she’d made, but no problems have manifested yet. Naturally, he wants to be proactive, he says. Not surprisingly, he can’t afford a lawyer. And since I happened to have been one (though the fact of my permanent retirement seems to have been lost on him), he keeps calling me — usually after he’s had three, four or five beers — to vent and ask legal advice, which I’m not about to give. Since he won’t follow my friend-to-friend advice (most of which begins with “Well, you two need to sit down and talk about fill-in-the-blank…”), his paranoia is only increasing. So, I turned the damn ringer off on my phone.
To top it off, my darling husband — he who shall forever be known as VH1 now — said his office was looking for volunteers for a one-month trip to Korea. I reminded him that three years ago he’d volunteered for a 3 1/2-week trip which he said would get him out of having to travel for quite some time, which turned out to mean 8 months. After that he volunteered for a 6-week trip which he said would get him out of traveling for at least five years. That was two years ago. Early last year he volunteered for a 16-day trip, but at least by then he knew better than to promise he wouldn’t need to travel again for a while.
(Incidentally, I did not remind him that he’d been gone every other weekend through the months of June and July, and for the entire month of September, when his father was dying. Hey, even I know better than to hold him accountable for that.)
He does not make more money when he travels. Volunteering for travel does not increase his job security. His trips do not contribute to his job skills, either, since he’s doing the same job at other locations (to which he’s already been, I might add). In short, volunteering for these trips only gets him, well, free trips.
As someone who loves to travel, I ordinarily wouldn’t begrudge his ability to indulge his interest at his employer’s expense. But his trips also mean that I’m here parenting solo 24/7 which leaves me fewer hours per day to do my job, hence we actually make less money while he travels. And as for traveling parity, well, let’s just say that getting 3 days away to go visit my mother requires 2 months advance planning and a whole lot of sexual bribery.
So I had no qualms telling him that I didn’t want him to go. I laid out my reasons: that I am just now getting back into my work routine after my son was home for 18 straight days over the holidays, that we ultimately lose money when he travels, that he’ll miss 3 Cub Scout meetings (which he’d signed our son up for so they’d have male-bonding time, and — most importantly — that he’ll also miss our son’s 9th birthday. After listening to my reasons, he agreed he wouldn’t go.
Or so I thought.
Last week, he came home from work and said, “Oh, you know that trip overseas that I told you I probably wouldn’t be picked for when I volunteered?” (Never mind that he’d told me he would not volunteer.) “Well, they actually picked me.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
No, strike that. You could’ve heard my vein throbbing.
I’d love to tell you that the whole thing ended there, that my husband realized that I’ve reached the point where I’m feeling taken for granted, and that he wisely contacted his employer and explained that he couldn’t go overseas after all. But he did not. Oh, no. He did something far worse.
Monday, he announced that his mother is closing on her new townhouse this weekend, so he would also be driving up to Minnesota for the weekend to help her move in, because she doesn’t want to pay for movers to do it for her.
So, in keeping with my earlier efforts of organizing our lives and getting a handle on our finances, I made an appointment for us to update our wills yesterday. No, I’m not thinking wishfully, but with the way the stress in my life has gone from a mildly irritating trickle to a full-fledged downpour, I figure it might not be a bad idea to be prepared.
Still, I think VH1 might have been a bit suspicious over the timing of that appointment. On his way out the door this morning, suitcase in hand, he announced he was stopping by the auto shop for a quick once-over on the van before hitting the road. “Just to be safe,” he said. Must’ve picked that up at Cub Scouts.