Regulation Z

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is making a new rule for mortgages, based on the ability to repay them (and not solely on the ability to make their monthly payments–a very different thing, as the financial crisis of 2008 illustrated). As Matthew Yglesias notes, it will now be harder for people to get home loans.

Good. And when I say “good,” I mean, “Thank God.” Sometimes things need to be harder to get, so that when you do ultimately get them, you are more appreciative, knowledgeable, and careful.

I’m not sure when I became such a hard-ass. On certain topics, anyway. Money, especially.

Wait, I know exactly when: it was after my husband asked me to start managing the household finances, and in the third year of my management I over-spent by $5,000. We weren’t in debt, it wasn’t racked up on a credit card. But I didn’t save it. We had agreed to set aside a certain amount of money, and I had not paid attention. To $5,000. Or about $14 a day.

My husband said, “We agreed to save. We agreed to.” He could have used the word “you” in those sentences. But he didn’t. I was beside myself, and harder on myself than was likely warranted. But I let us down. I broke the agreement.

It was the saddest I’ve ever felt in my marriage, because I felt I had broken my husband’s trust in me.

Let me be clear: I felt that, not him. What I’ve learned about my husband is that he sees money as nothing more than what it is: a tool to get you what you want, in the manner in which you want. For him, money reflects choices, not character. He will adjust his wants according to the money available. And given a choice between spend and save, he tends to choose “save.” (I think that’s because guns don’t make him feel safer. A six-month cash reserve makes him feel safer.)

It was I who had a less utilitarian view of money–who just wanted to get things sometimes, without thinking first: “Can I afford this? Do I need this? If not, why do I want this? Is it really worth it?” Four little questions–they can be answered in under a minute, if you’re honest with yourself and if you pay attention to your money.

My husband always knew–he trusted–that I had it in me to be honest and pay attention. I just had to make the effort.

So yeah, I’m glad that there will be more effort–more honesty, more attention–required in making home loans, in getting mortgages. Who knows, it might ultimately help lower the divorce rate.

trust, fear, and being right

I learned today that somebody I know contracted pertussis, or whooping cough, from a coworker, and then passed it on to her unvaccinated children. She and her children have been ill for weeks, and the bacterial infection was diagnosed and treatment was begun three days ago. Her children will return to school and daycare on Monday. She, however, is not well enough to return to work. (Pertussis, if not treated early, will hit an adult hard.)

I could go on for days about my feelings about the choice not to vaccinate oneself or one’s children. (Weeks, even.) It’s perhaps enough to say that I find that choice to be one that is not the most informed, and one that is based on a highly questionable risk assessment. But that’s just my opinion. As my husband said, “I can understand why somebody would come to the decision to vaccinate. I can understand why somebody would decide against it.”

I guess I can, too. It all depends on who and what you trust. One might not take much stock in what the medical community does, or recommends. One might not hold much faith in the pharmaceutical industry, or, especially now, the compounding pharmacy industry.

There are risks we face, every day. We weigh odds, we make decisions, and we have to deal with whatever that yields.

Six years ago, for example, I ignored a 5cm tumor in my neck–visible to anybody even five feet away. Inexplicably, I simply couldn’t see it. My husband could see it. My mother-in-law, who visited at the time, could see it. My former boss could see it. They told me what they saw. I thought, “Nah, I’m fine.” I weighed some sort of risk in my mind. I decided, for some reason, that they were incorrect to have concern. They tend to worry about a lot of things, anyway, I thought.

Why did I dismiss them? Looking back, I think I was scared. I did not want to have a problem. I do not like problems, as I rarely can control them. So, I convinced myself there was no problem, and if there was, it wasn’t the same one they were concerned about; my big old neck would return to its normal size at some point. Plus, how could they know more than me?

Over a year later, soon after the birth of our son, the obstetrician who ended up delivering him, who had never seen me during prenatal visits, examined my neck at my follow-up appointment post-delivery, and told me to get an ultrasound. I listened to the doctor. I didn’t listen to my husband, mother-in-law, or former boss. But I listened to the doctor. I had delivered a baby before (our daughter), and the obstetrician then did not examine my neck (no need to). This one, though, did. He broke a pattern in my mind. It woke me up.

I had an ultrasound. I remember reading the imaging report and the word “neoplasm” jumped out at me. I think it even had its own shocking “dunh dunh DUNH” sound–in my mind, at least (by the way, it’s a horrible word to google at any point, but especially after giving birth to a child). Due to its size and location (within the right half of my thyroid gland) a biopsy was done. The biopsy results were “benign.” Really? I thought. I had done a lot of reading on the subject. It didn’t seem possible.

I got a second opinion, from my former boss’ colleague (an endocrinologist): “I don’t care what the results say. That growth is too big and they only took three samples of tissue. They should have taken seven. If you were my daughter I’d recommend surgery.” He confirmed what I had read (quite literally, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Medical Guidelines for Clinical Practice).

So I did, now having fully converted from an “I’m fine” nonchalance to an “I’m going to die” doom spiral.

Still unconscious on the table, they conducted a freeze pathology of the half-thyroid they removed, and found cancer. They removed the other half of my thyroid. I was home the next day, nursing our six-month-old son, feeling irresponsible and stupid for not having had my neck checked out sooner.

There was a bright side during my season of denial. We brought our son into the world. Had I weighed risks differently, he would have never been born. (Surgery and subsequent radio-iodine treatment would have precluded pregnancy for six to 12 months. Perhaps another child would have been born at a later time, but not him.) It’s a very glorious, blindingly bright side.

Back to my friend and her children with whooping cough. A few weeks before that surgery I had, she had told me of a friend of hers who had a growth on his neck, but he simply changed his diet and engaged in some meditation and the growth went away. At the time–in my “I’m going to die” doom spiral–I had taken great offense, as if she were a) suggesting I brought the treatment on myself by eating something untoward,  and/or b) questioning my decision to seek surgical intervention.

But now, I wonder if perhaps she was just scared, on my behalf. And I wonder now, if after enduring a severe illness and unwittingly passing it on to her children, she will enjoy some kind of bright side. Not necessarily the kind where you end up with a new baby, but another kind that I have also enjoyed.

The kind where you are more discriminating in whom you trust, where you fear things in order of their priority, and where you are less sure of being right.

I hope she does.

“I moved to 3.”

This afternoon, as the children ate their afternoon snacks and went on to play, I read two articles, so that you don’t have to. (No, I’m kidding, you should read both of these articles. But read this post, too.)

The first: “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.” The article is remarkable for several reasons, but this quote struck me:

…Romney takes such a curiously unapologetic approach to his own flip-flopping. His infamous changes of stance are not little wispy ideological alterations of a few degrees here or there – they are perfect and absolute mathematical reversals, as in “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country” and “I am firmly pro-life.” Yet unlike other politicians, who at least recognize that saying completely contradictory things presents a political problem, Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public’s insistence that he be consistent. “I’m not going to apologize for having changed my mind,” he likes to say.

He believes his inconsistency, his wobbly moral compass which points not to what he believes but to what the voter in front of him believes, is everybody else’s problem. He’s entitled to that belief, I guess.

As for the second article: Look At Yourself Objectively. I liked this quote, which simply points out the value of humility and in turn, self-awareness:

We hate hearing bad news about ourselves so much that we’d rather change our behavior than just admit we screwed up.

Messing up and owning up… it’s the only way anything gets better. As I took the children home today from school, our daughter said, “I had a horrible day. A bee chased me. And… Mommy? I moved to 3.”

“Moving to 3” in the second grade’s behavior rubric indicates that the student “had a good day, but needed a little help from others to remember to listen, follow directions, and stay on task.”

Our daughter, since the first day of school last Monday, has never moved down from 4, which indicates that she had “an excellent day staying on task and remembered to listen and follow directions.”

Truth be told (and bragging be done), our daughter has never, ever, moved down from 4, through Kindergarten and First Grade (in those grades, 4 = Green).

She hates making mistakes, disappointing another, “screwing up.”

I asked her in the car, “Oh. That’s okay. Did you get a chance to move back up to 4?”

“Yes. A bunch of us moved down because we were distracted while we wrote our weekly words. But then by the time I was done I was back on 4.”

“So, you were on 3 for a few minutes.”

“Yes. I was really sad.”

I told her that she was a good girl, and that I was proud of her for telling me that she moved down, and even more proud that she moved right back up again.

“Now you understand even better how hard it is to always be good for your teacher, like you always are. You have a new teacher, and now you understand even better what she needs. This is a good thing.”

I didn’t ask her about her behavior today (I never do, I just check her classroom agenda as the teacher instructs).

She didn’t have to tell me what happened. She just owned up, because it troubled her, and she holds herself accountable.

She’s a role model.