It was a Sunday afternoon in January of 2011, and I was in my bedroom to have privacy while I complained about my life to my best friend. I was stuck in a big city 1000 miles away from her, and I was certain that she had no idea how bad it could be to spend 45 minutes trapped in a car with a toddler while commuting 12 miles to work each day.
We had moved to the city about a year earlier. I’d found a job I loved, teaching at a private school, and my husband was thrilled with his job. We had friends. We went out, and we loved exploring the city. We also felt the need to kept our curtains permanently closed. We lived in a town house, and the sidewalk was so close to the front of the house that passing school children would frequently brush against our front window. These closed curtains, combined with only having front and back windows, made our home feel like a cave.
We had a yard (that was a requirement for us), but it was small. We made the most of it. We had a half dozen plants crammed together to make a garden and an inflatable pool gives us a place to relax in the summer. Of course, if our neighbors were in their rear upstairs room, they would stare at us out their windows. I can remember laying on a lounge chair surrounded by our wooden privacy fence and thinking, “This must be what it feels like to live in a zoo – always on display.”
Between the awful traffic of our commutes and the long hours of our jobs, we usually arrived home exhausted. Most evenings, we had dinner and retreated to our separate chairs where we imitated zombies staring blankly at a TV and mindlessly clicking around the internet. I don’t remember talking to my husband much during this period of our lives. Looking back on it, I would not say that we were miserable, or even unhappy. We were just tired…and hiding.
While I was complaining to my bestie, as I did every weekend, she finally stopped me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way. You know I’m always happy to listen, but if you’re not happy why are you living there?”
Once I quit sputtering long enough to coherently ask what she could possibly mean by that, she pointed out that no one told us we had to live there. She also reminded me that being poor is sometimes better than being unhappy. Eventually, I cried. At some point, she informed me that if my family decided to make a change, and found ourselves hungry, she would make and/or send us dinner.
I remember hanging up the phone and nervously approaching my husband. I also remember being shocked to hear him agree with everything I said – including the part about him quitting his job. He’d always talked about going back to school, but there was never time. He loved the idea of being able to go to school full time. He was surprisingly onboard with us being poor and trying to live off my teacher salary. It felt like the whole house lightened up with just the prospect of something better. More importantly, we started talking more.
We crunched some numbers, debated approaches, prioritized needs and wants, and came up with a plan. I would return to school first and get my master’s degree. This would make it easier for me to get hired in a public school and bump me up the pay scale. We would use that time to bulk up our savings. I started classes just 5 months later.
Those next 2 years were tough, but the challenges forced us to talk to each other and work together to solve problems. We had a clear goal that both of us wanted. It still amazes me how much that united drive improved our lives and our relationship.
When it came time for me to job hunt, we disagreed about where to look. He wanted to live as close to our parents as possible. I wanted some space. There were many advantageous to being near family – not the least of which was their dinner provisions should we find ourselves unable to afford groceries. (Since we were losing more than 60% of our income, this was a very real concern.) Eventually, I agreed to try applying near family.
Now, you must understand that teachers are really only hired from mid-May to the start of September. Yes, an occasional position can be found mid-year, but that is always serendipitous, and cannot be counted on when the teacher will then be the sole bread-winner for the family. With that in mind, I had more than 20 applications out by Memorial Day of 2013.
On the 4th of July, my husband agreed we needed to expand our search. I hadn’t received a single call! July 4th is late in the year to be putting out applications, and I was panicking over my lack of success that far. I decided that a personal approach was needed, so I piled myself, my son, and my unemployed sister into my old VW and visited school administration offices in person to drop off my application. Over a few days we covered about 18 school districts spread across a good chunk of the state. My sister would watch my son while I put on my suit jacket over my dress and went in to meet people, shake hands, smile, and offer to interview anytime they wanted. It was hot. My car was a stick shift. I was miserable in heels, hose, and a dress, but it worked. By August first, I was signing a contract.
While getting fingerprinted and filling out paperwork, the superintendent asked if I’d like help finding housing. Assuming that she’d put me in touch with a good realtor, I said yes. A few days later, my husband and I found ourselves touring homes with the school principal. The principal said that we were really lucky – she’d never been able to give people FOUR homes to choose from before.
We found a farm house that we loved, but Hubby wouldn’t be joining us right away. Since it was so late in the calendar year, we had agreed that he should finish out the year with his company and join us at the end of January.
I must say that August of 2013 to February 2014 was one of the most difficult parts of our marriage. We were communicating more than we ever had before, but we were also trying to maintain 2 households. On top of this, our son was struggling with the separation (even though Hubby joined us almost every weekend). As much as it was stressful and trying, I think it really helped us remember to appreciate each other. Parenting, housekeeping, scheduling, and life is not only easier, but so much more fun when we’re together.
It’s now been 18 months that we’ve been settled together as a family. There is no pizza delivery here. The nearest restaurant is 45 minutes away (though there’s a diner that’s just 10 miles up the road). We have 1 gas station, and it does not offer pay-at-the-pump as an option. There is no cable here. Cell service is spotty in the area and doesn’t exist at all near our house. We have to plan meals carefully, both because we’re on a VERY tight budget and because I only go to the store once every 2 weeks – since it’s more than 40 miles away.
Of course, when supplies get low, we have eggs from our chicken, fish from the creek, and veggies from our ½ acre garden. We have yet to find ourselves without anything we truly need, and we have a lot of fun. My husband and I enjoy archery, gardening, and kayaking together. Our son loves when we take him fishing, and he enjoys playing on the rope swing my husband hung from a tree in our front yard. Hubby is starting his third semester of college, now. Life is slower. We are all home by 4 most afternoons, and we often cook dinner together while chatting about our days. We still have stressful times, and zombie-like moments, but they are rare. It is much more common to find us happily pursuing hobbies (I’ve crocheted 5 afghans in the last 18 months, and my husband had set up all of the housing and fences for our animals).
Because we’re living more, we have quite a few more stories to tell. At their heart, these stories are the memories that will be passed around dinner tables for generations to come. Most are amusing, some are baffling, a few are nerve-wracking, but they’ve all happened in just the last 18 months. After almost 3 years in the city, I didn’t have a fraction as many adventures. It is my quest for more of these adventures, to make more memories, and have more stories to share that has led me to change my eating habits and take up running. Maybe I’ll share some of these stories on here occasionally. For now, I’ll leave you with a brief paraphrasing of some advice found in our local paper about 2 weeks ago:
“Should you ever find a bear inside your house, be sure to open all outside doors and avoid standing between the bear and the door. You must then wave your arms a bit and “shoo” the bear out.”