August 12, 2009

Supporting a family: health insurance, retirement, etc.

If Sarah were going to buy health insurance for our whole family through the University of Michigan -- and she's not going to -- but if she were -- a comprehensive insurance plan for the 3 of us would cost nearly $1500 per month, out of her pocket.

That is the number UM would withhold from her paycheck. It's not a particularly fantastic health plan either; it's simply fine, and would cover Sarah, her spouse, and her 1 child.

Post-docs are somewhat modestly compensated affairs. But this is still a full-time job at a premier institution -- the 18th best university in the world, according to the U.S. News list. So the sort of funny thing about this is that, depending on the level of Sarah's retirement savings withdrawals, tax withholdings, life insurance, disability insurance, etc., if she DID get the health insurance for her family, I think it would be possible for her to achieve a take-home pay of zero from this university.

Again, we're not going to do this. Fortunately I have health insurance for us already.

But it really might be a nice absurdist exercise to get that paycheck with all zeroes printed on it. You could frame the paycheck in a nice gilt frame and save it for when the toddler grows up. Print a caption that says, "Full-time tier-1 university job with benefits, America, 2009." Put it in his hope chest!


August 08, 2009

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Well, yesterday was quite a day, if you're us. Sarah turned in her dissertation to the Northwestern English Department. Her dissertation defense happens in one week. She could soon be Dr. Mesle.

Short paragraph! Long summer.

Sarah's been working toward this day, with afterburners, for probably 12 to 14 hours a day, since June, with literally one or two days slacking off for vacation in Utah. Weekends mean nothing around here! Work in the morning, work in the afternoon, dinner hour, and work into the evening until 11 or 12 or 1. I don't know when the last time was the girl got 8 hours sleep. We had to buy her a brace for her right hand, because of the cumulative effect on her wrist & tendons of all that typing & mousing.

The final document weighs in at about 200 pages, but I don't know how many pages she had to write to get to that 200 -- maybe 500, maybe more, who knows. And it's entirely composed of dense, scholastic argument, threading its way through some fairly uncharted and neglected literary-historical terrain. The last chapter came particularly hard, and took months longer than expected.

For you birth-nerds out there (and you know who you are, and I hope you count me as at least an honorary member), our standing house joke this summer was that Sarah was delivering this dissertation after a big shot of pitocin and no pain meds of any kind. For you Bill Cosby fans out there, you're supposed to imagine grabbing your bottom lip and pulling it over the top of your head . . .

So we printed out two copies, last night, and hand-delivered them to doorsteps well after dark. With a blazing-fast new laser printer which can spit out 32 pages per minute, the print job took almost 15 minutes and nearly a ream of paper. Elliot came along for the delivery ride, in his pajamas, because his father had the bright idea that the child might fall asleep in the car. But of course not; he naturally found our behavior incredibly stimulating, not to mention confusing, and wasn't going to miss a trick. He ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and asked a lot of questions. Sarah gripped a single, gigantic sunflower (from me) between her knees and stared around like Robert de Niro in Awakenings. We were in the suburbs, so it was unusually (to us) dark. A night of low clouds over the city; Elliot kept remarking that the sky was orange.

The real meaning of this writing, this laboring, this delivering, is that (barring any unexpected turbulence, touch wood) Sarah will be able to begin a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan in one month's time. The meaning of THAT is that we'll be moving to Ann Arbor at the end of this month. So yes, in case you hadn't already heard, we're taking our exit from The City of Big Shoulders.

The excellent preschool which Elliot landed a spot in -- last month -- after a year or two on the waiting list -- has now handed over his spot to someone else. He'll be starting over at a preschool associated with the U of M. (Fortunately, we think that the new preschool will be excellent also.)

We've rented out our condo out to a Northwestern professor. They'll take it over on September first.

And we've rented a little house for ourselves in Ann Arbor. It has 3 bedrooms, a garage, and basement, a white . . . picket . . . fence (!) (WTF, who am I?) and probably some other things we're entirely unused to.