This is a personal update, and has a major trigger warning: a lot of heavy shit, massive complaining, and hard knocks situations. But, it’s time to stop being stoic, and start being honest. Maybe that’ll come up with some solutions – flushing them out here, in a blog; because right now I’m out of them.
I’ve mentioned a few times that we recently moved. It feels like a lifetime ago, but the reality is that it’s only been about two and half months since we got the keys to the place. I guess, when you’re miserable, time slogs along at a snail’s pace. I’ve tried to gaslight myself, as have others: chalk it up to depression, chalk it up to turning 40 this year, chalk it up to the fact that I did not get into a doctoral program I worked three years to get into at the same time as we moved. I tried rationalizing it as something millions of other Californians are going through.
While all of these may be a little piece of the truth pie sitting at our table beginning to rot, the reality of the situation is that we – my family unit – is in a pretty bad place, and it’s only getting worse.
(And when I say “sitting at our table,” this is of course a mischaracterization of our home… there isn’t even room for a table in our home that we can all fit at anymore.)
We Were In The Worst Position To Move
When we received our notice that our landlord had decided to terminate our lease, we were probably in the worst position imaginable to move. I wrote a letter to them, begging to let us stay just a couple of extra months until the end of the school year – the beginning of summer. I outlined the reasons with total honesty.
The first was that our now-18 year old daughter was scheduled to have excision surgery for endometriosis with a specialist in San Francisco in the spring, something we had been waiting over a year to get the a-okay on. Requiring us to move at that same time would make both the logistical and financial aspects of that a complete impossibility, after seeing a considerable loss of our income through the first year of the pandemic.
The second was that our kids and their friends were in years foundational to a kid’s childhood, especially our 8th grader. To rip them out of their communities in that time would, in our view, be absolutely devastating to their mental health.
The third was that the housing market for rentals was going to be difficult to navigate. We had cared for the home as if it were out own for over five years, and paid our rent in full and and on time without question. Even when we had a 30% reduction in pay for the bulk of 2020. It seemed fair to ask for a couple extra months to find a place so our kids could stay in their community. This isn’t like we are a military family, where moves are expected and this was our choice. It was sudden, it was unexpected, and we were given very little warning.
In that letter, we also made a number of offers. We offered to pay considerably more in rent to allow us to stay until June. We offered, if they were planning to sell the home, to make it readily available for work, and showings.
Their response was callous and cruel: to reject our request, with absolutely no reason why. A lot of friends and family surmised that this was because they had planned to quickly get the house on the market for sale. In reality – we learned from several friends we left behind that lived on the same street – it was so one of the landlord’s family members could take the home.
You all can imagine the result: my daughter’s endometriosis surgery has now been indefinitely postponed. The kids missed out on much of the year’s things with friends, even though I have tried as hard as I could to drive them back for all of them. We were forced to take whatever was available, even though it was far away and a significant increase in our monthly cost of living, our rent alone now constituting 46% of our monthly income, with a host of other additional costs of living where we now live.
And as it turned out, this was only just the beginning.
I Had a Premonition
Originally I thought that the worst of the stress was going to be finding a place, and moving to it. Moving is the absolute worst, and we were doing it under forced circumstances.
Now I’m not saying that I’m psychic or that I actually believe I had a premonition. But I do often have hunches that turn out right, typically my anxiety piques for a reason, and more than anything I listen to my dreams, because they’re telling me what I already know and don’t want to believe or admit.
About a week after we moved to our new place – a whopping 45 minutes in the best of circumstances from our old home and our entire lives – I had a bizarre dream about moving, and woke up thinking and the move was just the beginning, the worst is yet to come. In an instant, the reality that I had not been focusing on (just trying to get myself, my husband, my three kids, and my 79 year old dad moved, and the house looking as nice as I could make it) came crashing down on me, and it was true.
The move was just the beginning, the worst was yet to come.
For the Kids
So I’ve mentioned the situation with our 18 year old, but more than that this has put her entire life’s plans into peril. At the time that we were notified of our move, she was being scouted by several colleges to play tennis. But the thought of being that far away from home, and making that kind of a commitment, was too much for her if she had not yet had her surgery.
The problem now? Several-fold.
First, and foremost, the surgery requires a significant amount of financial commitment – travel, hotel, the costs of the surgery, and so on. We also will have to go back on a waiting list, which at the moment is over a year long. That, probably, is a blessing in disguise because – as I said – we were totally unprepared financially to move; now financially unprepared for anything medical, dental, or otherwise, to be honest. To be frank: with the exponentially higher cost of living here, and the amount of money it took for us above and beyond our savings to move here, I find it hard to imagine how we will even recover financially from this move, let alone be able to save up for more things years down the road anyway (something I try not to think about too much just yet, because right now it’s about surviving each day). But for now, we’ll stick with… four year college is on hold.
Nevertheless, she has considered two paths until we figure out the surgery: community college, with playing tennis there; and/or coaching for tennis. But still, we come up against more walls, as the community college with the tennis team closest to us is an hour and a half one way, in good traffic; giving lessons would also have to be done around 45 minutes away, as the only courts near us are already reserved by other coaches.
People have suggested we just get her a car – a fair proposition, if we are comfortable with increasing our cost of living even further beyond the bounds of what we can afford; except when beginning to explore this, our HOA notified us that we had already reached the maximum number of cars allowed in the community, and any additional vehicles on the premises beyond 48 hours will be towed (see what I mean when I say they hate renters?). And remember that condition she has that requires surgery? She takes medicine for part of each month that makes driving a bit dicey anyway. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, we need to bank on that she’ll need a ride.
So she is in something of a holding pattern, trying to figure out what to do while feeling entirely helpless to even make that decision. And the clock is ticking – you can’t wait forever to begin the rest of your life, or even your next year. There’s really no winning for her at this time, in this situation, and that we have done this to her at this point of her life is absolutely devastating to me, something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for.
Our middle child, the 14 year old, seems to be relatively okay. Because of the move, she decided that she was definitely going to public high school back home. And while this seems like a positive thing: she’ll be with her friends, her community she’s spent her entire life with, the school is good, and relatively safe compared to other area schools; for myself I’m trying to wrap my head around how exactly I can manage to commute her older sister to school or work or whatever, plus her to school and high school sports…
… and also raise my 5 year old. He will homeschool for primary grades, as his sisters did; but that doesn’t mean he should be forced to just be carted around to chauffeur other people all the time. And then, of course, since he’s reaching the age of starting to get into activities himself… where exactly am I to put him in those? Back home, where we hope to eventually return to and where his sisters have lives? Or here, where we really don’t know anyone and it’s not exactly… safe? And the schedules for everything, should I just expect the schools and the coaches and the activity directors and the other families to work around us and our ridiculous situation? How, doing this all – for the most part – alone, am I to do that?
We’ve explored several options. My husband looked at a few office spaces to use as hubs back home, but none were within our budget, and moreover, most had restrictions about times and who could be there (no little kiddos, which seemed odd). Someone suggested using a family members house as a to-and-from hub. Well first, what family? We have a lot of family, but we may as well live on Mars to them. When we said we were moving, we got little, to no, offers of help. It’s been years since many of them came to a birthday party, a graduation event, invited us to either, or even said “Hello” to us when we’ve seen them at the tennis courts and said “Hi” (and don’t get me started on seeing family members pay little kids we know on Venmo for tennis lessons, when they know our daughter is trying to get her own coaching business going… hurtful does not even describe that one) – again this is one of those topics we can save for another day, and another post. Even so, we are still trying to be COVID conscious, and so I just would love to know how… that would even work when most everyone else has moved on? Because of my dad, we still have to be careful…
Whatever the case may be, it all comes with a price tag – either a physical one, or an emotional one; and frankly, the piggy bank on both is empty.
But Wait, There’s More
But it isn’t just the logistics of my children and their future that make this situation untenable to all of us.
Because of how few housing units were available, and the competition in the rental market that we were just unable to compete with at the time, we had to take the first place that came available that would approve us and that we could make work, even under dire straights.
Putting it bluntly: this home is way too small. It has the same number of rooms as our old home, but they are infinitely smaller than the other house, which makes things incredibly difficult; and some are open concept or an area of courtyard with no roof, so cannot be actually used as bedrooms or office/study rooms.
My dad’s room is on the second floor and has no closet. That’s right: it has no closet, making me think it was an office that the landlords decided to market as a room. He’s getting older, though (he’s 79 and his mobility is starting to strain), so if he’s having a bad arthritis day, I see him literally dragging himself up the stairs, I’m assuming due to knee and hip pain. Also upstairs is where my husband has set up our bed, all of our storage (forgot to mention there is no attic in this home); and his work space. The walkway between the wall and all of that is so tight that you have to walk sideways at some points just to get an Easter decoration out of the closet, shoved between his jackets and t-shirts.
My son has completely sacrificed a bedroom, and now sleeps downstairs in the largest bedroom with my two teenage daughters. His toys are stored in the garage. Because the room is the largest room in the house (so the natural room to put three people), but only a little larger than the other two rooms upstairs, we had to get rid of his bed. So he sleeps in one bed, and my two teenage daughters sleep in the other. In there, they have their own bathroom, which is good – kids bathroom downstairs, adults bathroom upstairs; except that the lights malfunction, and the landlord refuses to do anything about it, so they have to shower and get ready for the day and in the evening, with the lights off. The flickering is just that bad.
You all may be remembering that my husband works at nights. Yes, the thing they never tell you about the film industry is that hours are shit. His job in post production marketing is from just before 6 pm every evening, until whenever he’s done working in the morning. He doesn’t like to be bothered by our 5 year old during the day, when he sleeps though; so he locks the door to the room. This, coupled with the fact that all of our stuff had to be stored in that bedroom closet (old DVD cases, papers, holidays decorations), being the only storage to speak of in the entire house besides the area by the laundry in the garage, I have to keep my clothes in bins in the kids’ closet downstairs, and use a rolling garment rack that sort of just roams around the house, to store my clothes. And to sleep?
That’s right, I sleep on the couch. For the first year of the pandemic, I slept on the floor in my kids room along with my son. That was better than this, and more comfortable; but not possible, as you can see the floor through out the house is tile. As the pandemic wore on after that first year, we were able to really adapt our house for the long haul, as it became evident that the government wasn’t going to do anything to return actual pre-pandemic normalcy. But now? Now there is just no option but the couch for me. Every night. And because our house is so small, I can hear my husband working all night, I can hear my dad going to the bathroom at 4 in the morning, and when the kids get up… well then I’m up too. No locking bedroom doors and getting a solid 8, or even 4, hours for this lady.
We no longer have a laundry room, those hook ups being in the garage. I know that’s fairly common, though it does make it difficult to do laundry for six people when you live in a desert that gets really hot and dry during the day, and where you can regularly look over while sorting your whites from colors to see whatever the fuck this is:
Even the dogs lose in this situation: whereas at our old home they had a nice, grassy yard they could play in; now they have some concrete and a dirt hill in the back. It doesn’t matter that we have that back area, though: the first couple weeks we were here, our duplex neighbor complained to the landlord that our son was giggling in the back yard and playing with the dogs. So, frankly, we don’t go back there much.
And That’s The Rub
For the short term until we could find a new home, this seemed do-able. But as the days wore into weeks, it became less and less likely that getting out within months was a possibility. And so, hopelessness and depression has become pervasive to our household unit.
I haven’t even gotten into the crime in this community, which is something to write a series of blog posts about. We’ve had white collar crime, squatters, drunken people passed out outside the neighborhood gates, a throuple living next door in their mid-60s (not exactly crime, but also not something I want to have to explain to my 5 year old), someone try to break into our home, and, as mentioned before, our crazy duplex neighbor has it out for us something bad. Beyond the complaints about the mere existence of my son and dogs in her general vicinity, just today, we saw her taking photos of our garage when it was open, and later saw in her garage she has a pinboard with photographs of us and our house pinned up on it. This all, in just over two months.
But again, what even can we do? Can we get out of the lease here? Sure. In fact, we’ve consulted with a lawyer, and it should be easy and cheap to do so. But then what? Having spent our savings, plus recognizing the rental market everywhere right now, it’s hard to see an easy solution. We are not competitive, and have no way to pony up another security deposit, after our old landlord illegally stole ours for nefarious repairs that had nothing to do with our tenancy. There’s no way we can, or are even willing, to purchase a home at this time – it is way beyond our means, and more responsibility than any of us can fathom after everything that’s happened these last few months. Then again, it’s hard to make any decisions when my kids have medical needs I don’t know how to meet, they have educational and social needs that are becoming more difficult by the day; and everyone is literally on top of each other, while I basically do not sleep anymore.
It’s ultimately a dire situation, and hopeless to boot. And while I don’t have answers, and don’t expect any from you, what I do know is that we can all demand more housing and for our elected representatives to solve this crisis the entire country, and especially California, is experiencing right now. That’s about all I have left to hang on at this point.