Shortly after I lost my job in June, I ran into a running friend whose frankness I appreciate. Something will come up, he assured me. In the meantime, he advised, just look at it as an extended vacation. I didn’t think I could, not while representing 75 percent of our household income. But over time I realized he was right.
Just like being on an extended retreat, this summer I learned to enjoy the little things in life. A good book you can’t put down. A movie popcorn you can’t remember eating. A quiet moment left undisturbed.
I caught up on letters, e-mails and blogs; I carefully read the fine print on all those bills and pared our budget to mostly basics, grateful we’d never leveraged a lifestyle on future earnings. Our file cabinets and kitchen drawers are actually organized now and the laundry basket no longer overflows. My experiment in energy conservation might have left me still hobbling, but it was fun to walk out the front door when I wanted and not worry about what time I needed to be back.
I returned phone calls from friends and family and we talked, sometimes for hours. Don’t believe me? Let me send you my phone bills. When my Alaskan friend Chris was here, it was easy to find time in my schedule to pick her up at the beach and catch up over Cuban food and cadavers. When my friend Louise asked to switch our lunch date, I said sure, no problem. And last week, when my BU friend Suzanne asked if I was interested in seeing The Saw Doctors at a Solana Beach bar, I was there – early even. I helped introduce Stephanie to one of my favorite trails and kept in touch with my friend Joe in Pittsburgh, the one with inoperable lung cancer. If the experimental treatment keeps the cancer from reaching his brain, I’m going to join him for a run next year.
I tried to start the grill by myself and almost blew up my face. That’s my excuse anyway for still not wanting to cook much. Besides, my friend Cindy introduced me to a terrific raw food restaurant in Hillcrest while I was on ‘vacation,’ so who needs to cook? Speaking of friends, those of you who, upon learning my predicament, immediately offered encouragement or to put in a good word probably aren’t aware of the bright spot you provided during a series of seriously dim days.
I knew, deep down, that being laid off was a blessing. I didn’t realize it was such a gift. This was the last summer with both my daughters home, and I was there when I needed to be. There was nothing I needed to borrow against besides boredom. We went to movies and the gym and the beach. We shopped for college clothes and supplies. We sunbathed in our backyard, never lasting more than 45 minutes. They both had boyfriends, so I wasn’t the top priority in their lives, but they made room in their hectic schedules to just be around, which is as much as any mother can ask for.
There is a guilt that does not go away when you are a working parent. It’s especially acute on Mondays and following family vacations, eventually settling just under the surface of everything you do. I was lucky. For six years, I worked from a home office, which meant I was always there, if not always “there.” Now, for 10 hours of the day, I won’t be. I’ll be a senior writer for an international company’s corporate headquarters in Del Mar. That guilt, though, will soon be a godsend. In a few weeks, we’ll come back from UC-Davis to an empty house, void of the type of traffic that signals a family lives here. I have long dreaded this stage of parenthood. At least now I’ll have a commute to complain about and college football to help ease the agony. If this summer’s any indication, this Hokie won’t stay down for long.