I read an article over at Salon.com about the financial perils of the Mommy-track. (It’s called “Regrets of a Stay-At-Home Mom” , by one Katy Read, and it’s absolutely worth the read. Then, if you happen to be – as I am – a stay-at-home mom, then get down on your knees and pray). Essentially, the author examines her own decision to remain at home with her two sons, now teenagers, and how that decision (in conjunction with her divorce) has landed her in a financial pit of despair. She’s a freelance writer (which means that she makes close to nothing), and was out of the newspaper game for fourteen years, which means that she missed fourteen years worth of promotions, pay increases, seniority, 401k employer matches and what have you.
And her situation is bleak. (And not just for her. This economy really sucks for anyone who’s been out of work. Still. She’s paying for her choices and paying hard, and the comments on her piece have been anything but kind.)
I read that article, and I immediately called my husband.
Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t call him immediately. I cleaned my house and thought about leaps of faith. Because, in the end, that’s what I did. I leaped – into love, into marriage, into motherhood, into stay-at-home parenting, and into the writing life. All of those decisions required tremendous faith in things that are not me. And I believed in them for no reason, except for hoping. I’m very, very good at hoping for the best.
As I got my house in order, I became incredibly appreciative of my husband. Look, I’ll be honest: I’m not an easy person to be married to. I’m sensitive, needy and sometimes irrational. I’m a terrible money-manager. I make horrible financial decisions. I’m a rotten gardener. I’m a miserable housekeeper. And I have temper. And I’m sometimes loud.
And yet. Ted loves me anyway. We were so young when we married our fortunes together, and so young when we married for real, and so young when we brought a new person into the world. We had nothing. Just a little bit of hope that we’d keep eating and building and growing.
It’s a little easier to leap when someone is holding your hand, but it’s a leap all the same. We closed our eyes, bent our knees and jumped skyward.
So, after cleaning the house, I called him at the office. Ted, like me, is a do-it-yourself type when it comes to his job. A few years ago, he took his own kind of leap into business-ownership, starting a small architectural design firm with a partner, called Design 45.
“I just wanted to tell you that I recognize that I’m not an easy person to be married to,” I said to him, “and I appreciate you and I really really really love you and I think you’re marvelous.”
Ted sighed – a slow, long-suffering sigh. “I think I’ve mentioned before that you really need to knock off the mushy phone calls when I’m trying to get work done,” he said. I could hear him shaking his head. I could hear him smiling. “But I love you too. You dork.” And he’s right. I am a dork.
And just like that, I flew.
The thing is, though, when I made the decision to choose stay-at-home parenting instead of returning to the classroom, I was absolutely making a leap of faith in regards to my marriage. I was also making a HUGE leap of faith in regards to my potential as a writer. Because I knew – I knew! – that I wanted to be writing fiction. I knew that I did not want to be in the classroom full time. I knew that I wanted to be with my children every waking moment and writing stories when they were sleeping, and I wanted to be building books.
I never thought to really analyze the tremendous faith I was putting on the stability of my marriage to make that happen. It never even occurred to me. I trusted in my marriage in the same way I trusted that my next breath will have enough oxygen in it and that the ground beneath my feet won’t give way to a sinkhole.
If we have faith without thinking, is it still faith? Or, conversely, if we calculate the risk, if we weigh the possibilities of failure, and then leap – if we leap after first making sure that the other side is stable enough to hold us – is that faith?
In any case, it doesn’t matter. I leaped. I stayed home with my children. I was mostly good at it. And I loved it. I wrote books. Most of them I threw away. Some of them I sold – and by doing so, helped to keep my family financially afloat. My husband leaped too. He left the stability of a firm and struck out on his own. It worked. The one time when his business slowed thanks to the financial melt-down, I had sold the novel, and we were able to live on that exclusively for a while. And my kids – they have two parents who have built a life on their wits – and a combination of duct tape, twine, sticks, tissue paper and chewing gum. It’s not for everyone, but it’ll do for us just fine.
We closed our eyes, held hands, and flew.