Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Worry Abhors A Vacuum

I used to spend my summers at my family's country house in the Catskills, and one of my summer rituals there was to worry about money. How much did I have. How much was I likely to make. How soon would what I have run out and what would I do when it did.

I worried on the front porch. I worried in the front yard. I worried in the forest overlooking the stream. I probably worried other places and other seasons, and undoubtedly every time I worried, I had cause to be concerned.

My guess is all freelancers worry at some point about money, unless they make their fortune very early on and invest it wisely and don't overspend (and what fun is that). Even rich successful freelancers can hand their money over to Bernie Madoff and end up worrying. There's no security in self-employment (or any other kind of employment, I'm told, but self-employment has been my job history).

Right now, I'm going through one of those spells where I'm not worried about money. I have money in the bank, money due me, and an upcoming royalty check which should arrive later than I'd like but earlier than I'll need it. For many years, I tried to determine how soon I could start collecting Social Security. Now I think about how long I can hold off before collecting it.

I like having money. Although it's been my life experience that I actually do better when I earn less, I figure at this point I can handle what I get and keep my fantasies of what I might get under control. It also helps that I rent an apartment rather own a house, since I had a terrible habit of redoing kitchens and building additions whenever I felt I could afford it.

Now I let Scooter destroy the walls and carpet, with the cheerful shrug of a tenant.

So you'd think I'd be living a cheerful worryfree life, wouldn't you. Well, you'd be wrong. I don't worry about my next month's rent. I don't even worry about how I'll manage when my royalty checks peter out (which I probably should worry about, but prefer to be pathologically optimistic intead). Nor do I worry about the state of the world, which, in case you hadn't noticed, isn't so great. I'd say not so hot, except for that nasty global warming business, which is demolishing glaciers and coral.

What I worry about these days is my mother. My brother and I have both been concerned about her health all summer long. She's taken longer to bounce back from the pneumonia she suffered in July than we anticipated. There have been a number of visits to the doctor's office, a couple of trips for x-rays, and a quicky visit to the emergency room.

My mother has consistently said she feels fine, and she isn't nearly as worried as my brother and me. I don't think she'd be worried at all, if we weren't.

This afternoon was a perfect example of what's been going on. I called to confess to my mother I'd forgotten to order lunch for her from the dining room (she hasn't gone to lunch by herself since she got sick in the beginning of July). She didn't answer the phone. I tried again a few minutes later. Still no answer. I tried a third and possibly a fourth time to no avail.

There are reasons why my mother doesn't answer the phone, the simplest being she just didn't hear it. I don't think she's ever not answered the phone because she's been too sick or has fallen or any such crisis. I reminded myself of this as my stomach turned to knots. I made myself do a couple of jobs around the apartment, knowing that if there were something wrong with my mother, those kinds of jobs might not get done for a while. I decided if my mother didn't answer the phone the next time, I'd drive over to her apartment to see what was happening.

Of course she answered the phone. The reason she hadn't before was she'd gone to lunch in the dining room. Something she hasn't done in six weeks, but felt so natural doing, it didn't occur to her to call and tell me she was going.

It took an hour for my stomach to unclench.

I take after my father's side of the family and Pfeffers are natural born worriers. My brother is much more like my mother, and very easy going. I remember as a kid convincing myself that my father had been in a terrible accident, when he got home from work later than I expected (and given that he commuted on the Long Island Railroad, the amazing thing is he wasn't always later than I expected).

But coping with a 98 year old mother, even one who is basically strong and healthy and independent, makes me nostalgic for the time when all I worried about was having enough money to make it through the winter!


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. And all I have to worry about is two teenage daughters, one driving.


I think we go through seasons of worry. What's tough is when those seasons overlap.

Hang in there, dear author.


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi WandaV and thank you-

Teenage daughters, including one who drives. Now I'll worry about them.

It's nice to be distracted!

Paige Y. said...

My brother-in-law once called me a pathological worrier, and my doctor said I was "a worry waiting to happen." I find that I can worry about anything.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello Paige Y.-

It occurred to me yesterday that I need to find some stress reducers.

If I come up with anything good, I'll let you know!

Georgia said...

I find myself worrying quite a bit. If my son is 5 minutes late coming home from school I find myself having to suppress a panic attack.

I have found that chocolate helps... or at least it pretends to.