When my husband and I first got married, I was the dreamer. I intended to stay home with our children and write. He was the rock. He knew, more or less, how the world operated. He knew how to work for a living. He knew how to provide for a family.
Our roles were very traditional. A throw-back, really, to a different time and place. The man as the breadwinner is a quaint notion. In contemporary times, you either need a breadwinner who is exceptionally good at providing or you need two breadwinners to provide for a family. And that’s just to attain a middle class living.
My husband was never that man. As a provider, he could eke us just over the edge of poverty. As a family, we’ve never been homeless. As a family, we’ve never been anywhere near starvation. But we have had our electricity shut off. We’ve had our phone shut off. We’ve had more cupboards that were bare than were full. We’ve had problems that money could solve that we couldn’t solve because we didn’t have the money. We’ve been on food stamps and we’ve been on heat assistance and we’ve accepted a lot of help from our families.
Over seven years ago, we made a choice. We knew that, working the jobs he could get in the place we wanted to live, Mark wasn’t ever going to be able to lift us as far above poverty as we wanted to be. We were urged to become a two-income household “like everybody else,” but instead we switched.
Mark became the stay at home Dad. I went to college. I graduated. I started a business. I went to grad school. I started my first book (sort of, but that’s a long story). I graduated. I revved up my business. I started another grad school program. I finished my first book.
There’s times when I feel like a failure because I’m still a far cry from getting us to where I want us to be, but Mark is the first to remind me how much progress we’ve made. The last several months—perhaps a year—I’ve managed to keep our cupboards stocked, our lights on, our phone working. We haven’t been on food stamps for years now. We don’t qualify for heat assistance this year either. We still get medical assistance and SSI, but those have a much higher margin (for good reason). The boys receive reduced lunches, but are no longer eligible for free lunches. I was able to pay for the boys’ school supplies this year and even get them much-needed new clothes and shoes.
Now, I’m the rock. I support my family. My earnings make the difference between making ends and being out of everything before the end of the month. The dreamer isn’t dead. I still envision bigger and better things in the months and years to come. But I am the rock even now.
These last few months have taught me how precarious my position is. Everything relies on me. When I’m unwell, when I’m unproductive, there’s too little cushion. I’m the rock, but it’s like I’m one of those bizarre rocks on the precipice with what seems to be pebbles and gravel holding me in place. You know that story earlier this year (I think) of the guy who knocked one of these monumental rocks down because he considered it a hazard and got in trouble for it—I’m one of those rocks. And it’s not nearly as cool as it sounds.