Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Want Happiness Insurance

Since we are now expectant parents, MDH and I decided recently it was time to grow up and get life insurance. I have to say, there's something a little morbid and scary about the concept of life insurance, and it's not easy to talk about the life of yourself, and especially the one you love most, in terms of dollars and cents. Still, it's good to know that if anything happens to me, our offspring at least won't be saddled with my ridiculous student loan debts.

I think most people would agree that life insurance is generally sensible. Homeowner's, health insurance... I can get on board with those. But I've noticed lately that there are more and more opportunities to "insure" yourself against life's ups and downs, and some of them are pushing the boundaries of reasonable behavior.

When we took a childbirth class recently, we spent the lunch hour listening to a representative from a company that "banks" infant cord blood, on the off chance that your child comes down with a serious disease that might be helped with stem cells harvested from his or her umbilical cord. Now I don't think there's anything wrong with these advances in technology, nor do I judge anyone who decides that banking cord blood is the best thing for his/her family. And frankly, if banking cord blood were more affordable (considering the likelihood that you'll actually use it), we would definitely consider it. As it is, we are planning to donate ours for free -- to be used for research or by others in need.

What bothered me about the guy's speech wasn't the concept of banking cord blood, or even the price that the other expectant parents in the room seemed happy to pay. It was the scary approach the representative took -- claiming that "most people who declare bankruptcy do so because of health care costs" (what? where did this statistic come from?), and implying that those who did not bank their child's cord blood would regret it when someone in the family develops leukemia... etc., etc. It just seemed like the industry is trying to profit from the fears of new parents in a way that seems, well, a little disgusting.

On the other hand, I think that the cord blood industry is just taking advantage of a general trend in our culture towards wanting (and expecting) lives that are completely sanitized from dangers, dirt and risk. With all our wonderful technological advances and modern conveniences, it seems that many of us have developed the idea that we shouldn't have to deal with anything unpleasant or unexpected at all. We want someone to fix things for us when they go wrong, and we go to great lengths to attempt to control our lives -- bringing out the worst of our anxieties and, frankly, hubris.

I have a theory that we live our lives at such a hectic pace that there is no room for uncertainty, so when the unexpected happens, there is no energy left to take things in stride. I was at the car dealership a few weeks ago getting my windows tinted (which, btw, I didn't want - but the dealer talked me into it, glancing at my pregnant belly and telling me that my new baby would be uncomfortably hot in the Georgia weather without the tinting.... sigh). Looking around the waiting room, I noticed that there were a number of signs offering various types of "insurance" available for car owners.

You can buy wheel and tire insurance to avoid the "unexpected expense" of a flat tire. So I guess that means I would prefer the expected expense of the wheel and tire insurance? Just think, while you're standing on the side of the road in the rain, canceling appointments via cell phone, you could be comforted knowing that you have already paid for that new tire three or four times over via tire insurance -- and thank goodness you won't have to pull out the plastic today.

But if that's not reassuring enough for you, you can also purchase the "appearance protection" plan for your new car. With this plan, you'll also pay some monthly fee for a while, and then when you accidentally stain or burn your car's upholstery, the dealer will repair or replace it for you. It will be like new again -- just as though human beings never sang songs or spilled soda or made memories in your vehicle at all. Whew.

Now part of this is just car dealers being car dealers; but they wouldn't offer these programs if someone weren't buying them. Dealers (and insurance companies, and retailers...) know how much we hate ugly surprises and imperfections. We hate them so much, we will sacrifice the joy and money and optimism we have in the moment in order to assure ourselves that some pain might be spared us in the future. We love extended warranties, hand sanitizer, and money-back guarantees.

But how reality-proof do we need our worlds to be? What is this pressing need we have to prevent "tragedies" that are really just the normal ebbs and flows of life? I would argue that the emotion and money we spend on the front end trying to avoid everything uncomfortable is not only fruitless (life will always find a way to surprise us); but the pain and effort of avoidance outweighs whatever expense or discomfort we would naturally incur later.

We are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to enjoy what we have when we have it, because we are so focused on what could happen to take it away. And when something unpleasant does happen (like the burning smell emanating from our dishwasher last night, indicating that we will soon be shopping for a new one), we have a hard time accepting the reality because of our frustration.... "I put all this work into making sure things would go smoothly and now this??"

It just seems to me that with the economy at a shaky point and many of us struggling with both our finances and fears, one thing we can definitely afford to give up is the expensive and unending search for perfection. It's easier said than done, so I'm reminding myself as much as anyone else: Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the ride.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Nest and Beyond

For the second time in 3 years, we have wrens nesting in the planter just outside our front door. This means that I had to scrap my early spring plans of putting ivy in the shady planter, but it's totally worth it.

Two years ago, we called our feathered visitor "Gertie the Birdie," (we're sort of into names that rhyme with what they are -- hence our unborn child's unfortunate moniker "Cletus the Fetus.") Gertie laid 5 eggs during her time in residence on our front porch, and we watched them hatch and grow with unbridled fascination. Sadly, only four of them survived to leave the nest, and MDH had the unpleasant job of removing the poor little straggler after his family had moved on.

The planter is just below eye level - it hangs on the wall outside our door - so having a bird's nest there gives us a little taste of the discovery channel every day. MDH has affectionately named this year's mamma bird "Wrenita," and ever since she took up residence I've felt a kind of kinship with her... one expectant mom to another sort of thing. Of course, I'm a touch jealous of how quick the gestation period is for birds - they went from an empty nest, to tiny brown eggs, to babies with huge closed eyes in just a matter of weeks.

We've had fun in the past week or so, stopping by the nest and making kissy noises at them to see their hungry little mouths reach out in instinct, waiting for us to barf up something delicious (I know it's a little cruel, but it's irresistible). And now when we peer into the nest, the little birds peering out are slightly smaller replicas of Wrenita herself, already looking wise and grown.

Add to this progression of life the soap opera-like element of our cat -- who watches the birds with intensity through the front window. And this morning she was particularly frantic, running from window to window, chirping (like a cat, not like a bird) insistently to let me know there was something hunt-able and tasty-looking just outside.

When I went out myself, I found Wrenita and another bird making an incredible racket -- they were both flitting from bush to tree to stairway railing, chirping loudly and nonstop. Even though Wrenita typically makes a hasty and quiet exit whenever we enter or leave the condo, this morning she made little effort to hide from me, and the constant chirping didn't stop despite several repeated trips in and out the door.

Both adult birds kept up their noisy dance for some time, and I finally decided that they were trying to coax the little ones to leave the nest and attempt flying for the first time. I don't know if that's really what was happening -- bird expert, I am not. But I thought it was pretty cool anyway. Mamma bird (and her friend? Daddy bird? Auntie bird?) didn't climb into the nest and push the babies out. They don't carry the babies out and fly for them. But they also don't abandon them to their fates... they consistently, patiently encourage them with lots of verbal reassurance and wait for the little guys to figure it out for themselves.

It's a great reminder of what good parenting should be... and perfect timing since I am entering that neurotic phase of pregnancy that has me worrying about every little thing, doubting my parental abilities, and fighting off the urge to buy the little guy everything in the store. Which store? Doesn't matter. Every store.

Somehow watching Wrenita encourage her little ones this morning gave me a little (maybe temporary) feeling of confidence and relief. Nature has away of working it out, and I know that somehow even my imperfect instincts will help this little one find his way in the world.