Last spring, I was sitting a lunch with my co-workers, several of whom are young mothers, and they were discussing the woes associated with finding (and keeping) good daycare/preschool situations. “This is the third preschool we’ve gone to this year,” Anna moaned. “Josh had just gotten to know the teacher and made a few friends, and now they’re closing!” Not surprising, of course, but the stagnant economy here in Michigan affects daycare and preschools too, and they find themselves unable to stay in business.
As this discussion swirled around me, I reminded myself to give my husband a hug, kiss, and a big thank you when I got home. For what? you’re asking. Well (and I apologize if this offends anyone’s feminist sympathies), for working so successfully and so hard all those years ago when I was a young mother, so that I could stay home with our son and not have to worry about daycare and preschool. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, of course, and especially not when he was away from home long hours, or traveling for weeks on end. Looking back, however, life was quite a lark for me in those days. I was able to set my own schedule, play with my child as much as I liked, dabble in music and writing as much or as little as I wished. I had family and friends nearby for support. Life was good.
I didn’t remember to thank Jim that night, and although it occurred to me to do so quite a few times over the ensuing few weeks, the timing wasn’t right for some reason, or our conversation got sidetracked before I found the words to mention it.
And then came July 1, and my husband lost his job.
About a month later, I’m offered the opportunity to increase my own part time work into a full time position, with a nice raise in pay.
So now I’m the one away from home, working long hours. I’m the one who feels pressured to meet deadlines, to skirt around the boss’ moods and temperaments, to work according to someone else’s schedule.
I’m the one…and I’m not liking it so much. Here’s what’s bothering me – I really, really miss the freedom and flexibility to live life on my own terms. Dwelling deep within my outwardly placid and agreeable nature, there is a small rebellious streak that despises being accountable to another person for my time. It’s this demon that ties my stomach into knots when my boss gripes that I haven’t properly cleared my schedule with her. It’s this demon that brings a string of stifled curses to my lips when a huge assignment is passed onto me because someone else dropped the ball. It’s this demon that brings tears to my eyes on occasion as I’m driving into the office and thinking about how much I’d rather be home drinking coffee in my favorite chair, or walking in the park with my dogs.
But now I’m the one who goes bustling out the door every morning while my husband stays home drinking coffee and reading e-mail. It’s actually a common phenomenon, I understand, especially here in Big 3 territory, where so many wives of unemployed automotive company workers are now the breadwinners of the family. It seems that women’s jobs, so often centered in service type industry and professions, have been spared more often than those of their husbands. The husbands – mine included – are now picking up the slack at home, learning to handle all manner of domestic duties.
I’ve always considered myself a “working woman.” Even in the days when I wasn’t bringing home a regular paycheck, I was involved in numerous activities inside and outside of my home. When I first began working for pay about 15 years ago, I was able to retain a good balance between the work I was doing and the demands of my family and personal life. Now, for the first time, the balance is skewed in favor of work, and this is where the difficulty lies. But this is the lifestyle my husband lived for the better part of our marriage. He spent years of his life eking out small bits of personal time from his hectic and demanding schedule. I don’t for one minute begrudge him some time now to rest and regroup, for even though it was forced upon him against his will, it is well deserved after 30 years of relentlessly hard work.
The other day I stumbled in the door, exhausted and grumpy, and tossed a satchel of reports I’d carted home onto the couch. “I’ve never thanked you properly before,” I said to him, “but I’m doing so now. I don’t know how you did it all those years.”
“Did what?” he asked, genuinely confused.
“Worked every darn day!” I said. “I could never have done that. And I really appreciate it.”
He shrugged. “You don’t think it about it really,” he answered. “You just do it.”
Ah, so that’s the secret.
You just do it.