Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Things turned out to be different on a Tuesday

Thanks for all the kind words and advice when I was feeling down. Making decisions when we are sick is a bad idea but conversely, I think illness can strip away the veneer of coping and allows us, in our vulnerability, to be more truthful about what we want and what we can have - essentially, it lets us re-think what matters. So there are changes in this household and they were put in place last Tuesday; hey, it'll all be different on Tuesday!

When Al and I had our kids we made a commitment to not having them in child care. This wasn't - and isn't - a reflection on other people's choices; it comes from our own experiences as kids, from our desire to parent our own kids intensively, and it is facilitated by living in a place where it's possible (in theory) to live on one income. But it hasn't quite worked out like that. Some of the unraveling has been easy: Lucy wanted to start going to kinder and we found a really good one, quiet and relaxed, with sofas and yoga, and Lu loves it all. Some changes have been harder: it's clear that living on one income is not possible for us. We have an average size mortgage, no significant petrol or transport costs, a modest lifestyle but still our carefully stored buffer has dwindled to nothing - financially, we can't do what we set out to do. Lots of people do - this is obvious reading all those lovely blogs about parenting and living frugally - but we can't. In the end, we need money in the bank (this is a product of my own childhood experiences) and we like to spend money on some fun things occasionally. Sometimes I am disappointed by this but like most people I'm a product of my culture, and while I can wriggle about in it, it settles on my shoulders and it's hard to shake.

So, we are about to become a two income family, kind of. Al has found The Job, the job he has been looking for since he was seventeen, the job that might finally fit him and make him feel happy to go to work in the morning, and he'll be doing that four days a week. And as for me, well it turns out all those years of working like a man have paid off in some serious long service leave, which my dear and lovely bosses will allow me to take as 2.5 days a week over the course of the next six months, while staying on full pay (don't hate me, please - I am fully aware of just how good my work conditions are). So I get to come back into the realm of the domestic, to regain some knowledge of the routines of our home and the nuances of my kids. Nell doesn't have a lot of words and the words she has aren't clear - Al can understand her and I can't; I want to learn to understand my little one. The girls love to bake and read and play; I want to give them my time to do that. I'll get to pick Lu up from kinder, I'll get to ride the bus with them to the museum with the trains, I'll get to swear under my breath as I push the overladen, hummer-size pram up the hill to our house. And I get to go to work and do the thinking and writing that sustains me in a different way.

This is our way of getting some balance back. More paid work in the household but for me at least, and somewhat counter-intuitively, more space in my days. Al gets a chance to re-engage with an adult world. The girls get happier parents (I never really understood the importance of this until the last few months) and lots more of their mother with very little disruption to their lives. This is not a happy ending because this parenting gig is never going to end. But a hopeful beginning of the next little time in our lives.

These are our choices but they are choices that are bound up in a set of structures: social networks, educational opportunities, class, ethnicity, gender, workplace agreements, local housing markets, government spending priorities. But our particular path is also shaped by luck: I have good, good managers who personally understand the importance of work-life balance; Al happened to meet a person who opened the door to his new employment. It's a reminder that sitting in judgment on other people's choices is an act of ignorance, if for no other reason than we can never be properly aware of the luck and structure that open and close what's available to us.


Rach said...

It sounds like you have found a really good 'solution.' It goes without saying that having happier parents is incredibly important for the whole family.
I started sewing because I was quickly becoming the unhappy parent at home with no other focus. I live in a place with no family and only a small network of friends and being isolated from my professional life took its toll. I needed another way to connect with people and to give me something to focus my energies on. Sewing and Etsy (and blogging) have given me a bit of a connection with the world out there.
I used to work for an employer that has very good conditions like yours - when I resigned, most of the sadness and regret was about leaving those conditions.
I envy you and your 2 hours at the Mission shop. My (former) sister- in-law works there - what a dream job...

Kez said...

That sounds like a great balance. Good luck in putting it all into place, and good luck to Al in his new job. I hope he's happy!

Em said...

Jung's quote "there is no coming to consciousness without pain" is stuck to our pantry door... pain is a horrible place to stay for too long, but it seems to be the catalyst for change in my life too.

Lots of good luck to you and Al and the girls with your new plans.

Jenny said...

Oh Kris that all sounds wonderful. How lucky for Al to have found just what he wants in a job.I hope you enjoy not having to bear the sole responsibility for earning the money.And I'm so happy that you are going to have time to really get to know your littlest one and your bigger one.
Well done.

innercitygarden said...

I think (as someone who doesn't have those sort of working conditions) that people who have good working conditions are not just entitled, but obliged to take advantage of them. And to demonstrate that the sky does not fall in when people work part-time, or take maternity leave, or have a year of unpaid leave to travel with a circus. In fact, those conditions contribute to a better working environment for everyone.

Oh, and Yay Al!

If our house is any guide, Nell is probably trying to say important words like "tractor" and "ee-ei-ee-ei-oo". Apparently the lad spent all of Monday at childcare telling them about the tractors he'd seen on the weekend.

J said...

This gives me warm and fuzzy tingles - I'm so, so pleased this is working out for you.

The second half of 2008 will be a better year for you all, yes?

Bird Bath said...

I'm glad things have sorted out this way....sometimes you just can't see the things coming up!

tamara said...

Oh yay! That sounds like the ideal compromise. It's great how things work out in ways you couldn't have even thought of.

And I second innercitygarden in the opinion that taking full advantage of your working conditions is the whole POINT, which will lead to the most positive change to society. Enjoy yourself!

radical mama said...

You sound really happy. Happy parents make happy kids! And yes, I am totally jealous of your work flexibility!

Belinda said...

Hi Kris,

What a wonderful way to find some breathing room without compromising what you feel is important for you kids.

Good Luck

traceyleigh said...

That sounds like a fantastic arrangement Kris. So glad that things seem to be on the improve for ALL of you. I'm lucky to have a wonderful employer too, who does not hesitate in letting me put my children first. I like to optimistically think that employers are starting to realise the worth in a person and what they can contribute to the organisation for the time that they are there rather than focussing solely on the 'amount' of time that they are there and thinking this equates to productivity.

ps..I thought I saw you in town the other week but am too insanely shy to go up and say hello ;-P Ohhh and it would have been quite hilarious had it not been you!

Kris said...

Thanks all. Yes, I am happy and we think this is going to be good.

TraceyLeigh, always feel free to say hi, if you're willing to take the risk. Trouble is, I'm not distinctive - I look like everyone's second cousin's wife, so there is always the risk that it is the second cousin's wife you're about to say hi to.

traceyleigh said...

ha..the funny thing is in our state it's very easy to be someone's second cousin's wife. :-D

I'm very distinctive. Short short short :-D

Susan said...

You're right about illness, or some other crisis, stripping away the veneer of coping (Jees, you write well).
Often this is what it takes to make changes for the better. Once changes are made opportunities have a way of arriving.
Glad you'll be able enjoy a more balanced life now.xx

Victoria said...

That's great news. I hope you're all adjusting well to the changes and having fun!

Adrian Cooke said...

sitting in judgment on other people's choices is an act of ignorance, if for no other reason than we can never be properly aware of the luck and structure that open and close what's available to us

That's pure gold, that one.

Sorry that things have been so tough, and happy to hear that they're turning a corner.