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The Dreamer and the Rock

  • Posted on December 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM

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.

A Family Reset

  • Posted on July 2, 2014 at 10:00 AM

A little a while ago Ben brought home a piece of school work that Mark put up on the wall. They’d written statements for him and marked where he should complete them with a long line. “My name is _______,” “I am _____ years old” (which he got wrong), and other things Ben is expected to know. One of the statements was “My mother’s name is ______” and Ben answered “dad.”

Mark is a stay-at-home father. I am a work-at-home mother. While I may share more of the domestic responsibilities than the typical working spouse, Mark has a heavy load to carry to fulfill his daily role (especially during the summers) and he has access to far less support than traditional stay-at-home mothers do. Mark and I both appreciated that Ben recognized that Mark’s role was a bit untraditional.

Now, with me partly out-of-commission, we’re undergoing some changes. I can’t lift more than 15 lbs. without endangering my abdomen. Since I don’t know 15 lbs. versus 10 lbs. or 20 lbs. when I’m lifting it, I may not be the strictest adherent to this rule; however, as a family we try our best to accommodate my recovery needs. But this simple restriction changes a lot.

Since my sleep cycle is so screwed up, I have to make most of the days when I’m awake during the day. I usually do my shopping at night, late at night, when everyone else is asleep. I would go to the grocery store, load up my cart, go through the self-check lane, bag my groceries, load them into the cart, load them into my van, and unload them into the house all by myself. Then, I’d put them away. The boys would wake up to a house full of surprises.

Laundry is a bit different. Sometimes I would do it all myself, but sometimes Mark would lug the heavy hampers downstairs for me. Now, I can’t even carry the baskets of clean clothes upstairs unless I separate a load into smaller baskets and make several trips. Daily chores have become especially exhausting. So, now Mark’s doing all the heavy lifting for this family, both literally and less literally.

I may be the one bringing home the bacon, both literally and figuratively, but his job is harder. I know, because I’ve done it. It’s easier when I can help more, but getting me healthy is a priority, too. Resetting expectations and obligations isn’t easy and the timing isn’t good. Summer is not the time to mix things up. But we’re trying, as a family, to make it work. You can’t reset Mama without it spilling over to the entire family, even if she’s a work-at-home Mama.

The Thing About Mondays

  • Posted on January 16, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Mondays are unusual days for me now.  At least, the post-school afternoons are unusual.  I couldn’t guarantee that I would be to bowling by its start time, so now Mark is going with Willy to his bowling league.  I’m staying home with the boys—except “the boys” quickly becomes “the boy.”  I get Alex and Ben off the bus, and then Alex’s respite therapist comes and takes him off to play.  Well, it’s more like play-that-is-work, because his therapist exposes Alex to all sorts of opportunities to exercise his skills.

Last week, not realizing this new pattern, I let Alex play with the Kindle right away.  He had about five or ten minutes on it and then he had to be done.  Oops!  Alex took it remarkably well, at least as far as giving up the Kindle and getting ready to go goes.  He was mad at me, though, and he made sure I knew it.  Oops!  I hope to do better today.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t empathize with Mark or his role at stay-at-home dad and primary caregiver.  I do.  I was the boys’ primary caregiver for years.  Some of that time Mark was home, but a significant portion of that time Mark was off at work.  So, resuming a small portion of that role on Monday afternoons is no big thing.

But, we’ve all changed in that time.  And if I don’t work, I can’t help meet our financial obligations.  It’s strange.  We’ve slipped into our role reversals quite well; we’ve become used to it.  But every once in a while there’s that twinge—wanting to go back to the way things were.  I get over it, of course.  I have too much invested in my writing career to stop now.  But, I suspect it’s a good thing that I get that twinge.  And I doubt it’s going away any time soon.