Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Working and Having Kids

I'm very close to being hired at a full time job.  I'm not counting my chickens but I'm trying to mentally prepare for this life change that's coming down the path in front of me.  This past year has been a bit of a failed experiment.  Last December, at the end of my maternity leave from the Ambulance Service, I resigned.  With some fear and some trepidation, we set out to be a single income family.  It just made logistical sense, since we were spending so much time passing each other children and running relays that something fundamental got lost in the shuffle.  You know, one of the things about Brent that fits me so well is how peaceful he is.  Living with him is peaceful.  I know where I fit in the world, and it is right next to him.  What we've built together is a complex piece of music, and it is so beautiful.  What I lost when we both worked and when we had more than two children, was some of that peace.  I don't want to rush through life and at the end think, why didn't I savor it a little more?

But I don't want to live my life and think, Gee, too bad we were homeless, either.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Our plan was for Brent to work overtime to make up my income, and he earned a position that gave him a decent amount of overtime JUST as I resigned so it seemed made in heaven.  The downside to heaven is, sometimes life on earth is not.  Heaven, that is.  Brent's employer has this weird, convoluted, multi faceted process for approving overtime (which has already been worked!!  And submitted).  This means overtime payout is often significantly delayed.  Like from June to October.  And also frequently it will be paid out in large chunks, so half of it disappears in taxes because it looks suddenly like we're super rich.  Which we are compared to much of the world but that doesn't really improve my access to groceries and gas for a family of six people, two cats, and one rabbit.  We get that chunk back at tax return time but THAT DOESN'T HELP ME NOW, DOES IT??!  Anyways, that doesn't really work as a way to replace my income.  We never know when we're getting basic pay (which leaves us $40 for two weeks of groceries and $80 for two weeks of gas, and nothing else), or overtime pay.  BOUNCE payment, BOUNCE payment, BOUNCE.

So after trying this out for about 9 months, I said fuck it.  I'm an adult, I'm smart, I'm capable, I'm experienced, I'm talented, and I'm driven.  I'm getting me a damn job.  We're a team, so let's TEAM IT UP.

We'd love to move out of this area, which was recently rated the most expensive housing costs in the entire world (although we'd miss everything and everybody ASIDE from the expensive houses) but at this point we are locked in to Brent's current geographical job location. So, I must work.

I feel a TON of emotions about this fact.  First, I feel relief.  I will have to scale back and let tons of stuff go. I will have to hunker down and save every spare emotional kilojoule of energy for my family.  This is good.  I feel relief that we won't have to feel so much stress anymore, so much worry, and bounce so many things.  We have no cushion, no emergency fund, no travel allowance, no school photo fund, NOTHING.  That's no way to live because in life you have to expect the unexpected.  Yes?

I've been driving around in a van with a broken heater/air conditioner FOR A YEAR.  We didn't even have money for a replacement heater from the scrapyard.  =(  Well, now we will have a second income to fix van heaters and purchase school photos and maybe even go out on a date every once in awhile.  Not that we will have TIME mind you.

I just hit a wall, with the stress and the effing nonfunctioning budget and the rice and beans.  There were a few times that Brent and I were pretty hungry.  We had to save the food for the kids, you know?  That only happened a few times.  But it still happened (Brent's parents' freezer is full to the brim with frozen food.  They let us raid it a few times last spring, that is how we ate when things got bare around here).  So.  You see where I'm coming from, here?  I'm an adult, smart, capable, talented, driven: = job.
[Another option is to sell the house and downsize.  This is possible but not entirely practical.  Housing market for townhouses is abysmal right now, which makes us vulnerable to getting stuck here for longer.  Many townhouses in the size we need for six people are close to $420,000; add strata fees, etc, and you are close to our house now for monthly payments, etc.  But add in a lack of privacy and autonomy via strata.  Plus, we would lose in interest and realtor's fees, not the wisest financial choice long term].
I've been hunting for something that fits my skill set and personality, yet is less physically demanding than my previous job.  I applied for a few things outside my field; it is very hard to break into something new!  But I knew I'd find something.  I just had to keep trucking.

For the first time since high school, I wasn't looking for a career building job.  I don't mind if it turns INTO a career, but what I mean is I was wide open to any possibility~I applied at the township, rec centre, Big Sisters Vancouver, I considered applying to Amazon and a few others as well.  I wanted a good paycheque and a positively ranked employer.  I'm tired of being mistreated by employers, it is time to work for a company that appreciates its work force and whose employees enjoy working for them.  (rather than enjoy work, despite them).  I stumbled across a job for a nearby city that pays well and is well ranked by employees, is interesting and stimulating, and works well with my previous work experience.  It's a fifty four million step process to get hired but I'm pretty close to the end of that process.  I will see real work pretty soon.  Real pay.  Real skill development.  Real outside of mommy world friends.  Real conversations with real adults.

It is shift work, which makes childcare a freaking nightmare.  So we're looking into hiring an Au Pair.  That's like an exchange student who doesn't go to school, and who babysits your kids for pay.  I looked into being an Au Pair when I was just out of high school, but it just never worked.  It's a way to travel, see the world, immerse yourself in a culture, and deepen your knowledge of another language (if necessary).  Au Pair's commit to 3 to 12 months with a family, live with them, become a part of their family, travel, eat, and hang out with them, earn money looking after their kids, and then use that money to travel around once their commitment is finished (or on shorter trips on weekends or weeks where they aren't needed for babysitting). This way, you have a cultural exchange (which we were totally interested in doing anyways), live in help (which makes both of us doing shift work so much more possible), and cheaper childcare costs.  It's cheaper than a nanny and actually, with four kids?  It's cheaper than daycare.  The kids are in their own home, their own beds, their own routines, and there are three adults living in the house.  Sometimes Brent and I will work the same shifts and sometimes we won't.  Sometimes we will need to both sleep during the day, or be gone all night.  Live in help makes it so much less stressful.

The downside to an Au Pair is that it is temporary.  You can apply for another Au Pair when yours leaves, but your kids have to switch care providers a few times a year.  Also, you have less control over who comes into your home; they are screened and matched with families by an agency that guarantees them, but still it is not the same as a nanny, who you interview and get to know before hiring them.  However there is no bloody way we can afford a nanny, it would make it not worth it for me to go to work at ALL.  I'd take home about $5 an hour and no job makes that worth it.

Aren't they cute?  I can't sell them short.

I'm afraid of the impact of less time with my kids.  I'm afraid it will cost them more than I'm willing to ask.  I'm afraid they will miss me.  I'm afraid Amarys will cry.  I'm afraid my house will be a constant pigsty disaster and lose its peacefulness.  I'm afraid my life will whip by and I won't have time to savor it.  I'm afraid I will damage my kids by working.  I don't know why.  I didn't damage them before when I worked.  In theory I think having mothers who work outside the home can be good for kids, broadening their village and helping them to see their parents in empowered roles, as good role models of balance and as an example of how we are more than simply parents.  We have a life and talent outside our children (this is totally possible without an actual paying job, by the way), which can be demonstrated by working.  It can also be demonstrated by having balance in life an striving to maintain relationships, hobbies, outreach and volunteer work, etc, etc.  But it CAN be demonstrated by working as well.  But I still fear that I'm wrong.  That my theory is wrong and I'm damaging my kids by working again.

Who can resist underwear hats?

Or this?

Brent feels a heavy burden to provide for us financially, and I just want to carry that WITH him rather than watch him slave so hard and work so much overtime and still NEVER get ahead.  Still feel so stressed on payday.  Still have to negotiate what to bounce and what to pay, every month.  Still have to borrow money from our parents, sometimes.  Enough is enough, we are becoming a dual income home, period.  I'm going back to work.  And you guys?  Cheer me on.  Remind me on the hard days that I can do it.  That I'm strong enough.  That God will carry me through, and carry my kids through.  That my kids would be protected from the big, bad world, and all its hurts.  That I can still savor my life. And their kisses.  And homegrown peace.

Remind me.


Tricia Champion said...

I love your realness!! Partnering with you in prayer and if you need anything...even help cleaning the house...let me know!!

Tamie said...

Alright, Mel, I feel in a chatty mood, so prepare yourself! :)

First of all,you're completely amazing. This cannot be said enough. You work SO hard with and for your family, you obviously sacrifice a ton, even going hungry sometimes, but food is probably the least of the sacrifices in many ways; you sacrifice energy, certainty, sleep....heck, you sacrifice sanity!!!

Everything that you describe makes total sense, in terms of your decision-making process, and the reasons behind your choices. You've really tried hard to make it work to be a stay-at-home mom, and for a lot of very legitimate reasons, it doesn't seem to be the option that feels or is best right now. So, you're going to try something else, something that at least right now feels like a really good idea. That's great! And your job sounds like a really good fit for you; I really hope it is.

I have a couple thoughts. You were saying at the end of the post that you are worried that you're doing it wrong. I wonder if it would help you, if you said to yourself that if this *really* doesn't work, you can go back to being a SAHM, or you can find a different job, or you can just take a step back and re-evaluate again. All of which is completely true. Like, if you really feel like this isn't working for your family, if you feel like your kids are suffering, whatever, you can change it up! You know? It's not like you're signing on for life, no turning back. But also, it may work out really really well. You don't know yet. But your'e allowed to change your mind.

Tamie said...

Secondly, a thought about the au pair. You were saying that if you go through an au pair service, you'll have to change nannies a couple times a year, and you don't get as much say about who comes into your home. I HAVE AN IDEA!!!

Lolita, Ariel's daytime caregiver, and I both are live-in caregivers for elderly people. For me, a big part of my "pay" is that I get free room and board, which here is the Bay is worth a TON of money, and that's true in Langley too. Lolita is also a live-in caregiver for an elderly man, and I believe that room & board are a bit part of her pay there too. For both of us, room & board allows us to save up the little bit of income that we do make. In her case, she sends her saved up income to her family back in the Philippines; in my case I'm saving up my income for the time when I need to leave Ariel's and get my own place.

Both of us are in our situations indefinitely, and neither of us works for an agency.

So here's my thought. You and Brent could do something similar with an au pair. You could find someone who already lives in the Van area, who needs a place to live, who is willing to take lower pay but have room & board included, and who can stay indefinitely, because s/he already has an established life there. You have a gigantic immigrant community, and I'm thinking about women who are widows and have a tough time making ends meet, or single women who want to live on their own but can't afford to live in a good place while working a low-income job or all kinds of other scenarios. Also, outside the immigrant community, I think about graduate students (and obviously you can be both an immigrant and a grad student, but I'm just trying to include as many ideas as possible), recently unemployed people, people who have recently moved to the area and are having a hard time finding a job, etc., etc., etc.

Do you see what I am saying? I really think you could find someone who would take an au pair's wages but who would stay with you long-term, even kind of become part of the family. It might take a little doing to find such a person. Do you have craigslist up there, or some equivalent? Do you know folks in the immigrant community, or folks who know folks in the immigrant community? Could you go to a Cantonese church and ask around? Dude! How cool would it be if you hired someone who spoke another language (in addition to English) and your kids learned that language too? How cool would it be if you found someone who is Thai??? Or some single person in your church that needs some help, and also has a huge heart for kids?

I mean, just look at my situation with Ariel. It's fantastic for everyone involved. It's a massive blessing for me, and I think it's a really big deal for her daughters because they save a lot of money this way (it really doesn't cost them much to house & feed me) and they know they have a reliable and good person to be with their mom. Of course my job is way less intense than what you would need, but if you found an older woman who loves to be around kids....

Anyway, just brainstorming. No worries if you don't like my ideas, but I just thought I'd offer them.

Keep on truckin', because you rock.

melissa said...

You're my hero, Melissa. An Au pair would be such a neat addition to your family, and I'm sure the regular adult interaction outside the house will be lovely, too. You, and your family, will rock this!

Arpita And Jonathan said...

First of all you are just SO incredibly AWESOME I can't even contain it! I literally feel blessed just knowing someone like you!! THANK YOU for your honesty. Jon and I just have the two of us to worry about and we stress about cash all.the.time. It's never fun having to borrow from parents, and it's so so depressing looking at bills and having to decide which bills are just not going to get paid this month.

FWIW, My mom was a stay at home mom and me and my sister both took it very differently. I LOOOVED having her home, and really relished in everything mommy-land and it was the perfect thing for me having her home, having that comfort, and I very much took what I wanted out of life from her example. My sister on the other hand, while grateful for the sacrifices my mother made, thought of them as just that - sacrifices - giving up on being a "real person" and just as you said was settling to "simply be a parent". My sister has often said that she would absolutely work whether she had to or not just to show her daughter that women can do both.

In that respect, having my mom home all the time I think did do a small disservice to me. (I feel SO guilty even saying that, because it did bring SO much to my life and I'd never change it even if I could!!) But, even today, I have a very hard time believing that women can "have it all". What's funny though is that I don't really think of staying at home as the sacrifice - to me having to work is the sacrifice I have to make, to really relish being a mom.

For myself personally, I hope I have the clarity to take it in stages and just always do what is best for my kids. If staying home is best for my kids, then I hope to do that. But, if working affords them necessities and luxuries that being home and love alone can't handle then I hope I have the determination that you do to know I'm doing what I have to do for my family.

Your journey, and your honesty are so incredibly inspiring. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers during this transition, and I will DEFINITELY be your biggest cheerleader as you venture through it!