the choice

lifestyle November 10, 2013

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Here goes. A little over a year ago, I was a young attorney with a budding career and a plan. My husband was a graduate student in a Landscape Architecture program. We had a house, we had a trajectory, and then we had a baby. When our son came along, things started to change, predictably, priorities began to shift. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were in the middle of a massive change. I cried every time I thought about going back to work after three months of maternity leave. My husband was gone for long hours, stretched too thin, and we fought. We fought a lot.

Gradually, some ideas crept into our heads. I could NOT go back to work. But I had been working towards that job for years. But where would we get money, insurance? How would we pay my loans? Jim could drop out of school. But he had been working so hard to get there. What else would he do? What about our plan? Our vision, as a professional couple, me a fast paced trial attorney and him a landscape architect changing the landscape of our city, began to crumble. We realized that the vision left very little room for what we really were: a family.

Some time during that fitful period of fear and uncertainty, I read an article from the New York Times about longevity in Greece. It wasn’t the longevity that I was interested in, it was the lives in the article that were so captivating…these particular islanders described a life of waking naturally, gardening, cooking, drinking wine with friends and early nights to bed. Sigh, if only. We started to think, why not? Why if that was the life we really wanted, why couldn’t we have it? Money. Insurance. The idea would not leave our heads. The alternative, our alternative, our reality was so different. Early waking for a bustle of activity, preparing ourselves and our child for the day out of the house, away from each other. Dressing, brushing teeth, diapers, breakfast, then out the door, our son off to be raised by strangers, my husband and I off to our grueling days. Exciting, stimulating, even rewarding, but grueling. Then a return home to repeat the process in reverse in preparation for sleep. A life to be lived on weekends, where we would squeeze family time in with chores and the occasional recreational activity. Friends? They had already begun slipping away in the sleepless frenzy of very early parenthood and graduate school. There had to be another way. Was there another way? Here is a spoiler: at this very juncture, we haven’t found the other way, but we are still trying.

These crazy ideas, quitting school and jobs, leaving our newly remodeled home, began to form into plans. Finally, the decision was made. The notices sent. We moved from the relief of release of anticipation into the frightening clutches of uncertainty. We turned our lives in the city upside down and move to the small town I grew up in. Mountains, fresh air, my family and lifelong friends close by, a step towards Ikaria. The all important question remained, what were we going to do about Money and Insurance? insurance was obtained with the help of the federal government. My husband got a job in the local ski area while we waited for my recently departed step mother’s house to be vacated so we could move in, next door to my father and on the very same road I grew up on. I stayed in the city with the baby, two and a half hours away, while my husband worked long hours on the mountain for $8 an hour. He missed our son’s first christmas. Finally in the middle of February, we made the haul north to the mountains.

So here we are, a year after our son’s birth. I became ‘just’ a stay at home mom. My husband went from graduate student, to a landscaper. We struggle with money. I struggle almost daily with the loss of our vision, our plan, and am constantly tempted back into it. If I took a job as an attorney, we could be financially secure again, I would no longer be ‘just’ a stay at home mom. My husband wouldn’t have to work in retail over the winter. We would be step closer to the old reality and a step farther from our Ikaria. I would miss the sometimes very long days I spend with my son, the breakfasts we enjoy as a family before Jim goes to work, and the energy I currently devote towards motherhood would be spent on trials, police officers, judges, and other attorneys.

I sometimes feel crazy, I spent all of this time and money to become an attorney, and the law degree sits in the closet with my other degrees, collecting dust and interest. Other days I feel completely confident that what I am doing is right. I am spending my considerable energy on the dearest things in my life, my son, my family, my home. In discussing this struggle the other day with another stay at home mom, we came to the conclusion that in this day and age, we are the radicals. We are forgoing all the fruits of a rewarding, and hard won career, fought for by generations of women before us, for the pleasures and struggles of a life at home with a child. Vacuuming, diapers, and cooking have replaced suits, deadlines, and constant interaction. Sometimes I feel isolated. Sometimes, I feel bored. I do tear up, however, when considering leaving my son in the undoubtedly capable hands of a local day care for 40+ hours a week.

So here we are, I recently turned down what was previously my dream job. My husband makes a whopping $14 an hour. We are trying to figure out how to bring our grocery bill down without compromising the quality of food we eat. The dream of our grecian island life hasn’t left us, but logistics remain an issue. One thing I have to confess is that we are blessed with some capital. I inherited money from my step mother, had some money invested that was gifted to me by my grandparents, and my family continues to help out. They have been extremely supportive of our probably irresponsible decision to cast ourselves into financial uncertainty to allow me to be home with our son. For these reasons, though we struggle, our standard of living is way above what would otherwise be possible, and really we are quite comfortable. I am afraid that we wouldn’t have had the courage to make the changes we did without this considerable safety net. The problem remains, we obviously don’t want to live off more than we can bring in and are trying to save the money we have for our son’s college etc.

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