Situation Normal

It’s amazing how quickly we’ve fallen back into the old routine around here.

You know the one I mean.

The one where the male goes out to hunt and gather and the woman stays behind to keep the home fires burning.

Now I don’t want to sound sexist, but these roles feel awfully comfortable. Of course, considering that we wore them for about 33 years, it’s not surprising that the resumption of this routine has all the comfort of those old leather Keds I wear to weed the garden.  A little battered and worse for wear, maybe, but fully functional all the same.

Back in 2009, that horrible, awful, no-good, very bad year when my husband joined the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed, our lives did a complete flip-flop. About that time, I had an opportunity (more like a mandate, really) to work full time ay my office. This came with a wage increase too, so I would have been a fool not to accept. Thing was, I’d never worked full time outside the home before. You noticed I qualified that with “outside the home” because if anyone doesn’t think that raising children and running a household from top to bottom isn’t working full time, than I dare them to spend 24 hours with a couple of toddlers, a dog, and a 30 year old house on a half-acre lot.

Truthfully, I’d been out of the child rearing business for a while, but I’d tacked a couple of part time jobs onto the homemaking thing which all kept me pretty busy.  But I still had two days off most weeks, in addition to my weekends, so I didn’t feel too overloaded.

But working 9-5 was nothing like that.  Just adding on those two extra hours during the work day was bad enough, then adding on two more full days – call me a weakling, but within a couple of weeks I was ready to sign myself into the nearest sanitarium. All I wanted at the end of the day was to be able to come home, settle into my favorite easy chair, turn on the wall mounted fireplace, and hunker down with a good book and a glass of wine.

That’s when it dawned on me – there was another person in this equation who wasn’t really doing anything. That’s right – my now jobless husband, although depressed and listless,  was available for active duty.  Before long, he was enlisted to do my bidding.  Grocery shopping, playing chauffeur for my mom, housecleaning, dog tending, bill paying – he was doing the gamut of things I simply had no time or energy to do.  And he did an admirable job of it too.

It was weird, and not a little unnerving for me to go out into the cold winter mornings while he was still curled in the chair, sipping coffee and reading the internet, the ventless fireplace blazing away. Of course, I had waved him off to work like that every day for most all of our married life. I suddenly felt terribly guilty – how inconsiderate of me to flaunt my freedom in his face like that all those years.  Because let me tell you, it made me green with envy to see him sitting happily at home while I went off to shuffle papers.

I have to confess, I could not hold up under that pressure. About six months into that arrangement, when it became apparent that Jim would be getting enough contract work to at least keep us out of the homeless shelter, I went back to part time. We had the best of both worlds, really, with equally flexible schedules.

But then came the offer for him to return to work, and with it a sense of great relief on his part. He had been campaigning for his job back ever since he lost it, although the company has not had enough faith in the economic recovery to start rehiring until now. He wanted to go back to work all along, I think, and although part of me hated to see him give up the freedom and flexibility he had as a self-employed contractor, he needed the validation that has come from being rehired.

I think we also needed to return to our familiar roles within the family. Although we both were able to function in each other’s element, it wasn’t a good fit on a permanent basis. Something continually felt awry, and it was tiring emotionally and physically.

So the situation around here is back to normal. I’m the one getting up and making the coffee again, getting breakfast for him as he prepares to head out to one of the interminable meetings he’s been attending all over town. I’m back to waiting dinner every night, not knowing for sure when he’ll be home.  And I’m back to having the house all to myself again, not having to plan my practice schedule or my housecleaning activities around the Expert Engineer who was at work in the home office dining room.

And he’s back to feeling useful, and important, and part of the “pack” of guys who go out to work every day, hunting and gathering for the family back home.  It’s feels like this is the way it was meant to be, at least in our neck of the woods.

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12 thoughts on “Situation Normal

  1. It was good for me to read this. 🙂 Thanks for sharing it. I can relate to this in some ways. My wife and I have been married for 21 years now. For the most part, I have been the major bread winner while the wife stayed at home and home schooled our younger children. That ended about 10 years ago when we lost one of our daughters to cancer. My wife went back to school and the teenagers went to public school and seemed to adjust quite well. My wife was sub teaching and in the PACE program for two years. That did not work out for several reasons and she lost her position in the school she was at. We were just starting to dig ourselves out of a financial hell hole when she was let go. We had to give two new cars back to their respective banks and several other things caved in on us financially. I guess that was five years ago now. We are still struggling but my wife has her first Masters completed and is working on her second Masters. She missed her state board by 2 points but will retake it again in July. If she passes it, which I am confident she will, she will be looking for a special ed teaching job in the low country. If she can get employed full time we will once again start to look for light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope the train does not run over us first. LOL

    • James, your struggles humble me and my small problems. Thank YOU for your honesty, and helping me put my life in perspective. I have been blessed, and, like all mortals, am prone to take that for granted.

      My husband’s job loss in 2009 was just one of several events that year which made it seem as if we’d been struck by a plague of locusts. We were about as low as we’d ever been in the 33 years of our married life. But things have turned around completely here…we’ve got a grandchild on the way (an amazing miracle!), Jim is back to work, I’ve cut back to very, very part time, and things are definitely looking up. The wheel of life continues to turn, and once in a while, you come out on top.

      I honor you and your wife for continuing to strive and work to make life better. It takes a lot of gumption, as my grandmother would say, and you’ve obviously got that and more. I will keep your family in my prayers, and hope you get to the top of that wheel of fortune very soon!

  2. Thank you so much. We have learned a lot during the trials. We learned that part of our trial was learning to live with the consequences of stupid decisions. In other words, when times were good we did not think about the fact that things could get incredibly hard. We should have saved for the thunderstorm but instead we indulged ourselves more than we should have. We learned what it was like to embrace frugal living because we had to. It also seemed like no matter how bad things go other things seemed to pile right on top. LOL. Well, anyway, things are a bit better and we have a tiny bit of breathing room. We can pay our living expenses from one month to the next which is more than we could do 6 months ago. We have a game plan and we are praying that we can see some success with it. No matter what, God is in control and we want His will for our lives and not our own. He knows best.

  3. I think a lot of us learned some hard lessons in the past few years – I know we did! I’m glad things are starting to look up for you all 🙂

  4. “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career. ”
    — C.S. Lewis
    Good post, Becca. 🙂

  5. At least you get to divvy up roles. I get to be you and your husband! Having Mom to take care of, too, has given me just a taste of what it’s like to be a single parent and have a child or three thrown into the mix. No matter how you divide it up, having someone to share responsibilities is a great blessing – there’s a reason businesses with names like “Rent-a-Wife” or “Handyman-On-Call” make a killing!

    I still think “Rent-a-Sibling” would be a great business opportunity. Those of us caring for parents would dial that number NOW! 😉

    • You can bet I would be dialing it too! I know there are business services that propose to do that kind of thing for elderly people – not health care, but companion care. I just don’t know how trustworthy they are. You have to be very careful, and find just the right person.

      When I was a little girl, my great grandmother (who was into her early 80’s at the time) had a “job” as a companion for another even more elderly woman who was nearly 100. My grandma would go sit with her during the day while the woman’s daughter was working, and make her a little lunch, and just keep an eye on her. It was a great arrangement for both of them.

  6. I’m glad that both of you are happier with your roles these days. After the past couple of years, I’m sure a lot of people can identify with your situation.

    We are retired, but we’ve watched our son, the sole breadwinner of his family, search for another job when his company was bought by another company. Finding another job in this economy was a little daunting at first. He was very fortunate.

    So many families have been affected.

    • There for a while, there were lots of men in the grocery store doing the shopping. Now, not so many. I think things are picking up here in the Motor City, so hopefully elsewhere as well.

      I hope your son is liking his new job 🙂

  7. First, nothing wrong with normal! We all have our own normal and sometimes our new normal — takes awhile to find out what’s right and when it’s disrupted, doesn’t it feel good to slip back into it?

    About rent-a-sibling? Maybe yes, maybe no. As the “only” I had to deal with all you did and Linda, too. But recently I’ve seen some bad sibling things going on with elder care and push to shove, I’d rather go it alone if you couldn’t guarantee the sibling you’d get. And, to speak literally (which I’m sure this wasn’t!) if you can pay to rent a sibling, you can pay for the help you really want from the sibling!

  8. The sibling thing doesn’t always work out, I know. I’ve seen some of those situations gone sour too. But when it does work, it must be awfully nice.

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