A (Possibly Permanent) Break

I thought I could keep it up – the kids, the two jobs, the family, the friends, the personal blog. But there aren’t enough hours in the day and the personal blog, though I loved having it, has to be set aside for a while. Maybe forever. I’d imagined I would write about the things I’ve figured out as a parent (which turns out to be not much) and photograph the new recipes I make (which is not as often as I’d like) and the household projects I’d complete (which won’t happen now that I no longer live in that house).

I won’t abandon it entirely just yet, but for now this is a little goodbye. Thanks to those I’ve met through this blog. I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping up with your writing as much lately, either. I hope now that the self-imposed pressure is off me to write and create here, I will have more time to leisurely read and comment again.

Happy almost-summer!

I’m Still Here – Kinda, Sorta

Well, hello there, blog readers. I did not fall off the face of the internet entirely. I’ve started typing a few new posts, thought about even more in my head and have been reading along with some of you even though I’m not commenting like normal.

Last month the kids and I moved into a new townhouse about 25 miles away from the house I shared with Zachary. They still split their time 50/50 between the two of us, and I’m driving them to and from school in the “old” town each day they are with me.

The new place is quite a bit smaller than the house the kids still share with Zachary. No basement, either. As I think about the boxes still left at Zachary’s (how weird to call it his house instead of our house) that I need to bring here I freak out a bit wondering where those holiday decorations and old family memorabilia will go. I look forward to summer but question how the kids will fare without a huge yard to run in when they are with me.

The thing about a divorce is that nothing else in life slows down so that you can deal with it. It just runs right alongside you, laughing the whole time, “You thought you were busy before? Let’s throw some legal hassles at ya now and see how ya do!” I may need to pack and move and unpack and research new insurance policies and help my lawyer draft responses and figure out how to get the kids enrolled in a new school district and and and and and… but my kids still need their mother, my business still needs to run, I have the part time job I still work. I’m also interviewing for a new part time job at another restaurant since I don’t get enough hours at the first one.

Here are a few random facts I’ve learned this past month:

1. I have a ton of books. Like, a billion. Or maybe just hundreds. But it’s a lot and about half of them were in boxes in my basement I hadn’t touched in more than six years. College textbooks on literary theory, short story anthologies, poetry books written by my professors. And I can’t bear to part with any of them. Except The Help, Under the Dome and the Sookie Stackhouse series, among a few others. Those are definitely going.

2. I love 30 Rock. How have I lived my life without seeing this show? I’ve been watching it while I exercise or when I work at home and it’s awesome. In fact, after I hit publish on this I think I’ll help myself to a glass of wine and watch another episode. Long live Netflix!

3. I am still not good at dancing or Zumba. Still putting in the effort, though! You’d think after all this time tagging along with friends to the gym or to go out salsa dancing I’d have the moves down, but I may have to accept that I have no grace or rhythm. At all.

4. Budgeting when you don’t know what your expenses will be is hard. I don’t know how much to budget for gas because my driving patterns have totally changed. I don’t know how much to budget for groceries because I’ve never had my kids just 50% of the time before. I don’t know how much my utilities will be each month. I’m going to make sure I don’t gain a single pound because I don’t want to have to buy any new clothes unless necessary. I went thrifting and bought a bag full of (necessary) clothes for me and the kids for less than, I admit, I have spent on just one new shirt at the mall.  It’s going to take a few months in this new place with the new job to figure out my financial groove.

5. This winter is endless and that makes even die-hard winter fans grouchy. I do not love snow or cold, so you can imagine how absolutely blah this dreary weather makes me feel. Seriously, we just had record snowfall last Friday that canceled my kids’ field trips. It’s madness, and it needs to stop because I’m in need of some sunshine and the option to wear footwear that does not require socks.

6. Cooking for one is kind of a waste of time. When I don’t have the kids I usually eat oatmeal, eggs or a sandwich for dinner. Actually, I eat one of those for almost every meal when I’m alone. Anything that takes more than five minutes to prepare seems like overkill.

7. I have an odd compulsion to sign up for 5Ks. I think I’m up to four or five for this year. Never mind that I’ve never participated in an actual 5K before. As far as mid-life crises go, jogging slowly with throngs of others seems pretty tame.

So, there you have it.

It Takes a Village to Survive Divorce

The kids and I moved last weekend. Halfway, anyway. Our mattresses are here, the couch, the dining table, 99% of the kitchen items. The bunk bed in Miles and Grant’s bedroom has not been put together and won’t be assembled until I can sweet talk a girlfriend or brother into coming over to help me. Isla’s bed frame turned out to be broken (bed jumping injury from the old house) so I’m going to have to beg a brother to come over and fix it for me.

There’s nothing pleasant about a divorce, but in my case I’m putting up with the trauma, delays, financial pitfalls and hassles knowing that having it finalized will mean much less stress and anxiety and negativity in my life than during my marriage. But without my friends and family, I’m not sure I’d be doing as well as I (think I) am.

My friends, my sister, my aunt, my uncle and his wife – they’ve all listened to me as I struggled with the decision, made the decision and moved on with the decision to file for divorce from my husband of 10 years. When Zachary called the police on me because he believed I was in violation of our custody agreement by moving back into our house temporarily after I realized the roommate I was renting space from was crazy (I was not arrested; I had a letter from my lawyer ready to show the police officer stating I had a legal right to be in the house), a friend and her husband offered their home to me so I could have a safe place to stay when I was not with the kids. Even though they have two children of their own and busy lives, they were generous enough to let me have a room to myself for six weeks (two more than we’d initially agreed upon) and didn’t charge me a cent in rent. Another friend with an unfinished basement let me store some of the belongings I’d had in my car the night of the police debacle in her home. In addition to the sympathetic ears of married or single friends or family members, I have friends who’ve gone through divorces of their own who give me advice and show me that life will go on after this is all over.

There have been too many acts of kindness to list here, and if I try I will forget someone and feel bad. Like Hilary Swank or Sandra Bullock at the Oscars.

My dad and brothers helped me move heavy furniture up two flights of stairs into the new townhouse I rented. I should add that my dad, who is about to be 64, has moved me about 1,342 times in my life. To college 300 miles away and back home, to apartments, to and from another state, and now this. As he finished putting the dining table together in my new place, the dining table that once belonged to him and my mom, I thanked him for helping me and said that if I ever had to move again I’d hire movers. “Yeah,” he said, his eyebrows raised. But even though he was exasperated, he still helped me. That’s a good dad.

There’s nothing pleasant about a divorce, but the support I’ve received has made it more bearable. My new home is much, much smaller than the old one and we have no yard. I’m worried about how I will afford everything I need to afford. I don’t know for sure when the rest of my furniture and boxes will make it here. I don’t know who I’ll get to help me assemble and fix the beds because even though I know my friends will help me I’m afraid to keep asking, to keep needing their assistance and so I hesitate when a need arises and first try to figure out if I can do it on my own. Maybe Miles is big enough to hold the pieces of the bunk bed. If I buy a drill, maybe I can figure out how to fix Isla’s bed.

I don’t wish a divorce on anyone, so I can’t say that I hope I can return the favor one day. But I can find ways to pay the kindness forward until the days my friends may need me for something. I offer profuse thanks and am trying to be more gracious in accepting help. Like compliments, I’m sometimes too quick to brush off offers because my independent streak wishes I didn’t need help.

Thank you, dear friends and dear family – the listeners and the entertainers and the supporters and the reality-checkers and all.

Sanity-Saving Responsibility Chart for Kids

If you have children over the age of two, this might sound familiar. If you have younger kids, just you wait.

Mom: Okay, guys, it’s 7:30, you’ve got 30 minutes before the bus comes!

Kids: Ok! We’re ready!

Mom: Grant! You’re still wearing your pajamas, go get dressed!

Grant: Fine!

Mom: Isla, your lunch box is still on the counter, put it in your backpack.

Isla: I will!

Mom: Grant, it’s 7:43, go get dressed!

Grant: FINE!

Mom: Miles, why is your homework still on the table? Put it in the folder.

Miles: Got it.

Mom: Grant, it’s winter, you need socks. Go get socks!

Grant: But WHY?

Mom: Grant, seriously, you’ve got five minutes to get ready, go find some socks.

Grant: Geez, okay, I will.

Mom: Why are there still lunch boxes on the floor? Put them in your backpacks! Isla, you didn’t brush your hair. Miles, did you brush your teeth? Let me smell your breath. You didn’t brush them. Go swish some toothpaste around in your mouth and get back down here and put on your coat. Grant, you need TWO socks. One for each foot. Isla, the brush is right here. Okay, it’s 8:01, go go go! I love you guys! See you after school!

And… cue dramatic flop on the couch.

Every time we needed to leave the house at a specific time, I found myself stressing over remembering which kid still needed to do what, the kids were flustered because I was barking orders and we continually felt rushed no matter how far in advance we started to get ready.

So I made this chart. It’s not a chore chart and it’s not linked to money at all – it’s a responsibility chart with sticks for each kid describing one thing they need to do in the morning, after school and by bed time.

responsibility chore chart for kids children morning library cards popsicle sticks

I bought a large cork board and used up some of the scrapbook paper that’s been sitting unused in my office for years because I won’t have time to scrapbook until I’m 70 years old. Googled “library pocket template” and found one I liked, then Isla and I set about tracing, cutting and folding.

I made six pockets for each kid – Morning Done, Day Done, Night Done, Morning T0-Do, Day To-Do and Night To-Do. Super fancy. In each “To-Do” pocket are hand-written sticks with one task each, tailored for the particular child. For example, Isla and Miles have just “Get dressed,” as part of their morning reminders, but Grant always forgets socks so he has an additional “Put on socks” one. Jonah can’t read so only has one stick right now so he feels included.

Not enough time has passed yet to say whether this is a smashing success or not, but I can tell you this – it is a huge relief for me AND the kids if I simply refer to the chart when they look like they’re dawdling at any point. Miles turns on the TV? I ask him if he’s done everything on his list. This has helped Grant, in particular, because he seems to do well with routines and having clear expectations laid out for him.

I am planning to add a few more soon (we ran out of sticks, oops) but so far I can say this has made for much more relaxing mornings and outings.

What do you do to keep your kids on task? Or are they just naturally good at remembering what needs to be done?

News Flash – Divorce is Expensive

Blog image for use on the www.everyday-commotion.com blog.

Two months past Christmas and the tree is still up and fully decorated. I’ve said to the kids, twice now, “Okay, tonight we’re going to listen to music and take down the tree!” but Jonah cries and protests – “No, don’t! Leave the tree!” and I’m a sucker for his sweet baby face and so the tree stays.

This weekend, though, the task will be done. I’ll bring the ornament boxes up from the basement and wrap the fragile ones in tissue paper and match the Hallmark ones to their original boxes for safekeeping.

The ornaments will be divided by which house they’ll go to next year – mine or Zachary’s. Last Christmas was the last time all the decorations would live on the same tree.

_______________________________________________________

Divorce sucks. I know that word isn’t the most descriptive or kind and, as a woman who holds a BA in English, I should reach further to write better, but really the word sucks just fits here. I first filed for divorce in September of 2011. Zachary and I reconciled from that December until August 2012 when I set the divorce proceedings in motion once again, and now, six months later, we’re still not quite done. The mental toll of the waiting is heavy and harsh. I had no access to Zachary’s paychecks starting in November, and with no temporary support in place or even any idea what that support would eventually look like, I could not move out into my own place. Everything was up in the air, from where we might live to where I’d possibly work to when the divorce would finally be, well, final.

After being rescheduled, our financial mediation was held this month. My lawyer slid me a letter halfway into it saying we should just leave as it appeared Zachary and his lawyer had little interest in settling anything and I slunk into my chair, trying not to cry. Without a successful mediation, we faced at least four more months of uncertainty and an expensive and possibly contentious court battle.

Thankfully we seem to have avoided the court battle, as our two sides eventually came to an agreement on child support and spousal maintenance (if you’re wondering what that term means, it’s what used to be known as alimony). But the agreement is really not good for either of us. Divorce not only saps you of your emotional strength, but the financial aspect can feel devastating. Both Zachary and I, and therefore the kids, will have to change our lifestyles drastically. As our mediator said once we’d settled on figures, I have a rocky road ahead of me. Zachary, the family’s breadwinner for the last ten years, will live an altered life, as well, but with his income and earning potential, he will be fine. His proposed budget included money to put away for retirement, something I may not be able to achieve for years and years.

The kids are doing okay. I’m going to work as hard as possible to make sure they don’t feel the impact of our steps down the rungs of the financial ladder, but it won’t be possible to keep everything the same. Eating out will be a thing of the past. I am not sure if we’ll be able to keep our zoo or museum memberships. Swimming lessons may have to be group instead of private or cut altogether. Family vacations will not include airplanes or resorts or expensive activities, that is for certain. We are focusing on the positives.  I think Zachary and I both have done a fairly good job keeping our kids from being materialistic, which is helping now that finances will be tighter for us both. I let the kids know that even if we have to live in a smaller house, at least we will be able to spend time together. Isla is excited about sharing a room for the first time in her life – she’s chosen to let Jonah share with her, though in a few years, as a pre-teen girl, I’m sure she will opt to have her own room, which will mean all three boys might have to bunk in one room together. That’s fine, they can have the master bedroom – I don’t need much space for myself.

Now that I have a budget I am looking at places for the kids and I to live in – they half the time and me full time. Four bedrooms will be impossible. Separate home office? No way. Big basement for storage? Nope. Enormous yard for the kids to race around in while I watch from the kitchen? Not going to happen. I’ll be able to afford a town home 1000 square feet smaller than our current home (not even taking into consideration the basement) with no private yard. I’ve wanted to move on for so long and have a space the kids and I could call our own, but now that the reality of moving is imminent, I’m scared about making it work.

My business is picking up and I have my meager part time job. I have hard decisions to make about whether to maintain and grow the business or just let it go in favor of an entry-level job that may pay me less than $30,000 a year and offer no benefits.

But through it all I have a sense that everything will be okay. I’m not sure how I’ll get to the okay part just yet, but I think that’s where we’re headed. The divorce will be final eventually (hopefully within a matter of weeks). I will hit my groove with a job eventually. The kids will adjust to living in two households. We’ll learn to be more creative with our money.

Life will be good. Life IS good.

New Olympic Sport Suggestions

The news that wrestling will be cut from the summer 2020 Olympics has people reeling across the globe. I’m not one of those people, as I know nothing about wrestling (except that wrestlers wear outfits that look like they were vaguely modeled after old fashioned male bathing suits), but I imagine that for those who’ve made wrestling at the Olympics a life-long goal, this can be upsetting.

With this gaping hole left in the Olympic line-up, I’d like to add some options for the Olympic committee to consider when thinking about which new sport should be represented.

1. Cart Pushing. This would be more dramatic in the winter games, because if pushing a cart full of warehouse store goodies with four kids in tow is a workout, doing the same thing through six inches of salty slush surely requires near-Herculean strength and stamina. I envision this event will be as suspenseful as my old favorite TV show, Supermarket Sweep.

2. Seat Belt Buckling, Toddler Style. Have you ever had to buckle a 30 pound, screaming, bucking child into a convertible booster? It requires agility and poise, and being heavier than the child only gives a slight advantage to the buckler. Competition will be more authentic if held in a public place, like a Target parking lot, so passerby can cast judgmental glances at the athletes.

3. All Day Laundry Marathons. Anyone can run 26 miles with empty arms. Come on. But try going up and down the stairs with baskets full of smelly clothes, dodging Legos that might cripple you, 1,567 times in one day as you locate, sort, wash, fold, and put away clothes and linens for a house full of people.

4. Seal Liner Removal. You know those discs of thick paper that cover, say, a jar of peanut butter or a new bottle of ketchup? They have either microscopic tabs along the edges or a pull-up half-circle that lead a person to believe access to the food within will be simple. I’d like this sport to be added just so I can see if other people really can remove those seals without harming themselves or without the seals ending up in 203 small pieces. Because I can’t.

What would you like to see at the 2020 Summer Olympics?

Good Question, Child

A few days before New Year’s Eve I thought to myself maybe the kids and I could toast to the new year at midnight. I’d get some bubbly Prosecco and they’d have their sparkling grape juice.  In the end I never opened my bottle at all; it’s still in the fridge, waiting for some time in the future when I might share it with friends. The kids sipped their juice and did a better job at staying awake than I.

Aside from entertaining, I don’t usually have alcohol in the house. I will drink wine when I go to dinner with other adults sometimes, but it’s not something I think about at home for some reason. The kids are aware of alcohol, in that if they know they aren’t supposed to taste it, and have been around my family when beer and wine have been served, but until recently our conversations about alcohol mainly revolved around making sure they understood they weren’t to touch or drink any until they were grown ups.

As we headed into the liquor section at Costco to find the Prosecco before New Year’s Isla asked me, “Remind me again why kids can’t have alcohol?”

So I went into what alcohol does to a person – explained it can make people feel very sick if they drink too much, make them walk and talk funny, cause them to have trouble making the right choices. I told them that only adults were able to understand when they’d had too much to drink, and it was important for grown ups to be aware of that because it was dangerous and illegal to drive a car if they became intoxicated. I said that in extreme cases people died because too much alcohol in their systems was like poison and could kill.

“Wow,” Isla said, her eyes wide. “I wonder why they even make products like that?

What’s In a Name? Changing Your Name Back (or Not) After a Divorce

When I filed for divorce in 2011, I had to answer a question about whether I’d want to change my name after the divorce. I hesitated but wrote, “Yes,” and then didn’t think about it again for months. Zachary and I reconciled, living together and going to counseling but the efforts couldn’t surmount the challenges and almost a year after I first told Zachary I wanted a divorce, I told him again that I didn’t want to be married.

The original divorce proceedings had never been canceled, merely put on hold. So I did not have to reply about my name change again, but this time I leaned toward keeping Zachary’s last name. I’d have the same last name as the kids, I wouldn’t have to go to the hassle of changing my name on every single document that exists with my identity. Bank accounts, social security card, driver’s license, emails, business forms, emergency contact information for the kids, credit cards. Admittedly, I like the way his last name sounds with my first better than the pairing with my maiden name. I’d envision going back to my maiden name and it made me feel childish, young in a not-so-positive way. Like I’d be erasing the last ten years of my life. I went back and forth. Some days I was sure I’d keep his name, others I was ready to change.

After the decision had been made to move forward with the divorce, the therapist Zachary and I had been going to for couples counseling recommended a book called The Good Divorce by Constance Ahrons, Ph.D. Her book is based on twenty years of research on divorced couples and is full of facts and data, interspersed between vignettes about the couples she profiles. I highly recommend it for any parent facing a divorce. One fact really struck me – she said that 50% of divorced men are remarried within one year of the legal divorce. Not just dating or engaged, but actually married again. Within one year.

And I knew that I did not want to be the old Mrs. Marceaux if and when Zachary remarries. That is what tipped the scale. His family has stopped speaking to me so I don’t feel a connection to “their” last name. I won’t feel like any less of a mother to my children if our names don’t match. I have friends who are married but kept their maiden names – they are fantastic mothers and the name issue has nothing to do with that.

I did worry about how the kids would take it, but I recalled a conversation we had last summer, before the divorce decision was renewed. My daughter asked me why Grandpa, my dad, haa a different last name than us. Because their other grandparents, Zachary’s parents, had the same last name. I explained how often women change their names when they get married.

So when it came time to tell the kids that I’d be changing my name back to Pearson, I stuck to that reasoning. There was no need to get into my emotions behind it or sound sad about it – I didn’t want the kids to think this was a bad thing. Just a fact.

One night as we sat down for dinner I said to the kids, “Do you remember when we were talking about last names, and how women will sometimes change their last names when they get married?” The kids’ heads bobbed yes as they ate.

“Well, since Daddy and I won’t be married anymore, my name is going to change again. It will be the same last name as when I was born, the same last name Grandpa has.”

“So you won’t have the same last name as us?” Miles asked. He wasn’t upset, just quizzical.

“That’s right. But of course I will always be your mommy.”

“Okay,” the kids said. They had all the answers they needed. I sighed with relief and started to eat.

Then Grant looked at me. “So… you and Daddy won’t be married again?”

“Yes, honey, that’s right. Daddy I will never be married to each other,” I explained. I looked closely at Grant to see if this troubled him but his face was clear.

“That means you’re going to be a señorita!” he said, a big grin on his face, proud he could use a little bit of the Spanish he’s been learning at school.

Kids – they really do know sometimes what’s important and what’s not. My name is just a name, and whatever the reasons for dropping my married name, my kids know my love for them will never change based on the letters that follow “Heather” in my signature. To them I’ll always be Mom.

Stay at Home Moms – Is it Too Risky to Leave the Workforce?

I just got a job. I think. I filled out official tax paperwork and had orientation but I haven’t heard about my training schedule and so I keep fearing that they’re going to rescind the offer and I’ll have just my self-employed job again. I didn’t even know how to fill out my tax forms – the withholdings confounded me and I had to text Zachary, my almost ex-husband, for clarification. Was I supposed to check married? How many dependents did I need to claim?

Thirteen. That’s the number of applications and resumes I submitted to various employers before I had an offer. The position is very part time and pays $10 an hour. The guy who had orientation at the same time is fifteen years younger than me.

My college degree from my expensive private university doesn’t seem terribly relevant or useful right now, and I wonder what the job market is like for those who haven’t graduated from college or even high school.

You see, ten years ago, I exited the official realm of paychecks and bosses to await the arrival of my first child. Then three more came. In between the parenting I volunteered and started my own business which has doubled its sales every year, but that experience was hardly enough to even get me a second look from employers. In their minds, they must think I’m as inexperienced as a recent graduate, yet not quite as fresh or eager.

When you marry, you don’t expect to get divorced. Women don’t exit the workforce to stay home with their children thinking their marriages will fail. It’s a leap of faith, my sister explained to me one day as I was on the verge of regretting ever thinking it was wise to halt my professional life entirely. Before we even married, I followed Zachary to two states as he pursued his career, stunting my own in the process. But I did it for us and I stayed home with the kids because I felt it was right for our family. I just didn’t know that Zachary and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on the length of that agreement. I assumed it was something we’d revisit, that someday he’d support my goals for a career the way I’d supported his, but it turned out he thought a mother’s place was in the home and no where else.

So now I am free to work on a career, yet that freedom comes at a very high price. I’m entering the workforce as a recently retired stay at home mom (my self-employment not withstanding), yes, but most other women in my position do so with their husbands’ support, both emotional and financial, as they ease back into earning a life-sustaining income.

I spoke with a very good friend on the phone yesterday who has been a stay at home mom for a short while, due mostly to a relocation. She has two adorable boys and did enjoy some nice time off before going back to work after their births, but otherwise has been earning her own paychecks pretty much from college to this point, almost fourteen years (I really cannot believe it’s been that long since we graduated from college, pardon me while I take a brief moment to cry). And even she said she’s worried about the effect staying home with her children for a while will have on her career when it comes time to go back to the working world.

Ten years away. Ten years since I had a boss, since I had a paycheck that arrived with regularity and not written from my own bank account. As I told my friend, I know that I was so fortunate to stay home with my children, and it was the right choice for our family at the time, emotionally speaking, but I hate feeling now that it was the wrong choice for me, professionally. Zachary benefited from me staying home because I could do more laundry, do all the grocery shopping, buy all the kids’ clothes and take them to play dates and preschool and plan parties, make most of the meals. My role was House Manager, and because I kept the mental list going every day of what needed to be done, Zachary could go to work and focus on that and not worry about the long list of tasks relating to the running of our home.

The kids benefited because they had a consistent caretaker who loved them more than the Earth itself and I could hug them when they cried and take them to the doctor and the zoo and to visit friends and they could be home in their pajamas all day if they wanted. We made cookies and watched movies and went to parks and they got to go to half day preschool programs. I benefited because I got to spend time with the four most important people in my life and watch them grow and not have to miss then when I was away at an office. But now I’m suffering the consequences of departing the workforce before I had a chance to build up an actual career.

So who is safe to stay home? No one is safe from divorce, I’ve learned – you can enter your marriage thinking nothing will break those bonds but then they break and you’re left staring at the pieces, wondering when the first crack occurred.

In this economy, I think I can say that as an English major who took ten years off to be with my children, things don’t look so hot for my prospects. Thirteen applications to get one part time job that I don’t even need a high school diploma to work. Would finding a job be easier for me if I’d worked in the same industry for three years before becoming a stay at home mom? Five years? Ten years? If I had a degree in marketing or an MBA? Who can afford the sacrifice to stay home with the kids, when there’s this unexpected chance the family breadwinner will one day not be in the picture?

I look at young, new moms now and hear they stay home and instead of being happy for them I worry for them. They will love the time they spend with their children but what if their husbands die or leave them or they simply want to go back to work because, yes, some mothers want to work even if they don’t need the money. I was one of them. I wanted a career I could take pride in and work hard at, I wanted a career to set an example for my children, to make sure my daughter would know that if she has children someday, she doesn’t have to stay home with her kids if that’s not the right choice for her. That she’d have options. Now I wonder if I should ever encourage her to stay home with her kids. I’ll support any choice she eventually makes, but I think I’d have to caution her about the risks associated with being unemployed, by choice, for so long.

Though I think most of us can agree that it’s wonderful women have the choice to stay home with their kids or go back to work, I don’t know that it always really works out to be a choice. After a certain number of kids, I almost had to stay home because of daycare costs. Some women feel their careers would suffer too much and don’t feel secure enough to leave for more than their 6 weeks of maternity leave. It’s sad that something that should be so positive and rewarding for a family – having a mother who is happy to stay home with her children – can result in a feeling of regret when that mother realizes she’s nearly unemployable years later.

My options are limited in the immediate future. I will work my $10 an hour job and also work harder and longer to build my business because a low-paying job is better than no job at all. At some point I may have to give up that dream but I’m not ready yet. I’d be trading the uncertainty of self-employment for an entry level position that will likely pay less than $30,000 a year. One statistic from the US Census Bureau puts the poverty threshold for a family of five in the US at $27,251. Rent for a three bedroom home will be at least $1500 a month. That’s if I squeeze all three boys in one room. Four bedrooms, I’m finding, are going to be almost impossible for me to afford. This doesn’t even begin to get into the expenses related to raising four kids, albeit 50% of the time. I can’t live in a smaller house half the time. I can’t drive a smaller car half the time. Children don’t wear less clothing because they have two homes. I won’t be buying any fewer birthday presents or holiday gifts.  My first job started at $30,000 a year and had benefits. I paid $400 a month for a studio apartment, gas was sometimes still under $1 a gallon and I lived about six blocks from where I worked. I had to feed only myself.

Where would I be now if I’d never left that job? I’d never in six million years choose to change my past if it meant I wouldn’t have my children, but what if I’d worked outside of the home all those years instead of devoting all my time to the family? By what amount would my earning potential be greater?

A Gift from One Late Person to Another

I hate being late. HATE it. I don’t mind when others are late but I enter a mild rage when the minutes are ticking away and I know I’m not going to get somewhere I need to be on time. This is a problem with four kids, because if there’s anything I can count on, it’s that we will be at least five minutes late anywhere we need to go. This is due in part to a preschooler who’s newest favorite game is to remove his coat and socks and boots after I’ve wrangled him into them because he believes winter is only at night. “I don’t need boots! It’s not winter! It’s daytime!” We live in Minnesota. It’s January. It’s winter 24 hours a day, dude.

Yesterday I was late meeting someone because, as I powered down my laptop off, it started to install 15 updates and warned me not to shut off or unplug my machine. Of course. So I loaded the car, made sure I had the papers I needed, grabbed a necklace just to kill some time. The clock went on until it was five minutes past when I should have left. Still on 13 of 15 updates. My pulse quickened with anger at my laptop and I decided, no, Computer, you won’t make me any later than I already am. So I put it in my car, open, and let it do it’s thing and prayed I wouldn’t have to brake hard. Because a smashed laptop probably would have made me a little more upset. I arrived with five minutes to spare, only because I hit every stop light as it turned green, as if by some miracle.

This morning, my lovely laptop blessed me again, now configuring or installing or whatevering those damn 15 updates, so it took about an hour to load up. Okay, not quite an hour, but longer than needed, just as I was gearing up to print something I needed to run out the door for yet another meeting. In case you were wondering, yelling at your laptop does absolutely nothing to get it to move faster. I think it actually senses the shouting and moves slower to be a jerk.

As I was shaking my fist at the computer, the phone rang. Oh, wonderful, it was the person I was meeting. I double checked my clock – what I already late? Panicked.

“Hi, Heather, just checking to see if we are still on for this morning?” he asked.

“Yes, yes, definitely, still on,” I said, casting an evil eye at the laptop.

“Great. Say, I was just wondering – I got caught up in a client call and it’s going to be really tight for me to make it there on time. Can we push it back half an hour?”

“Not a problem at all, that sounds great.”

Thank you, other late person, for being later than me.

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