What Did I Give It All Up For?

Yesterday I turned on the television hoping for a Hurricane Gustav update. While waiting I was completely focused on reviewing my sister’s resume and didn’t notice that “The View” had come on.

They are apparently shooting from Las Vegas this week, and the hosts started discussing getting “guilt gifts” for the children they left home. Guilt gifts because they feel guilty for leaving their children to work, and having a good time while doing it. Then followed several moments discussion on the guilt working women feel because they have to leave their children to earn a living.

Finally Barbara Walters summed it up by saying how being a working mom and a stay-at-home moms both have negatives. She said that either you feel guilty for leaving your kids “…or you stay home and then the kids go off to college and you say to yourself, ‘What did I give it all up for?'”

Well, that comment certainly gave me pause (true, this is Barbara Walters, who said a woman breastfeeding on an airplane “made me very nervous, she didn’t cover the baby with a blanket. It made us uncomfortable.”).

But then I realized she was right, at least technically. I might actually say those words, “What did I give it all up for?” I’d like to answer it now:

Staying in bed and cuddling until mid-morning.

Taking a detour to the train station to watch trains go by.

Being there to see all his firsts.

Playing with Lincoln Logs in the middle of the day.

Watching him eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Taking the long way everywhere so we can stop at the stop signs.

Visiting every bathroom in South Florida.

Watching his eyes droop as his naptime nears.

Waking him from a nap with a kiss and a cuddle.

Taking a spontaneous walk on the beach and watching him chase birds, giggling with glee.

Watching him take a cupful of milk and make it stick to his face.

I could go on and on. And it’s not that working Moms can’t do these things, they can just do it less frequently than I can.  But I’m greedy.  I can’t get enough of it.

Perhaps there are women who regret giving up their careers to raise their children themselves, though I don’t know any.

Yes, I gave it up. And I gave it up gladly. I definitely got the better end of this bargain, and sometimes I giggle with glee and awe that I get to do this. I try not to think about the day that Son leaves for college (or the military, or the Peace Corps) and I have to think about how my days won’t be filled with the wonder of him.

When I ask myself “What did I give it all up for?” it won’t be with tears of regret for opportunities missed. It will be with tears of joy as I remember all of the wonderful things I got to experience because I was lucky enough to have a front row seat for this wonderful child’s life.

I did give it up for him, and the reasons why will give me comfort as I take a back seat and watch him make a life.

So, Barbara, do me a favor. You go back to your important work of making celebrities cry, and I’ll go back to my work of shaping a human. K? K.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

I’m not a minute-detail-oriented person. I’d love to knit and have tried to do so many times, but that type of close work drives me insane. Following in my father’s footsteps and becoming an accountant? The stuff of nightmares. I’m not the type that is a secretary. I’m the type that needs a secretary.

As an example: I can’t type. Well, I can a little. I actually took a typing class in ninth grade, but moved to a school district offering fewer class periods per day so abandoned typing after learning only asdfghjkl;. My own weird hunt and peck method results in some occasionally hilarious and all-too-frequent typos, as my online friends can certainly attest.

Why, then, did I take a job that involved minute attention to detail, almost exclusively?

It was a great opportunity, working with a someone I really like and admire. Then there’s the money, which isn’t too bad. Also, I thought I’d pick it up fairly easily; after all, I’m a quick study. Then there’s the money.

It’s perfect! The only problem is I absolutely hate it.

I’m no good at it. I admit it.

I knew I’d need a working knowledge of Word, which I thought I had. And I do, as long as I don’t have to take into account that I must edit very complicated embedded tables set to other computers’ specifications, and try one of three thousand eight-hundred and sixty seven possible fixes, none of which work.

But even more telling, I must first see the error I’d never ever, ever EVER notice on my own. See, this line should span three spaces and not four, and that line should be underlined twice, not once. Or something equally trivial but of utmost importance to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This is important work. A mistake on my part could be big trouble for the client, and many mistakes put the account in jeopardy, as it should.

I don’t want that kind of pressure in a part-time gig. I don’t want to have to sit around, like I am today, waiting for others to look at a file and make sure they don’t want to make any changes. I don’t want the pressure that comes with filing deadlines and client peccadilloes.

I just don’t want it.

Why haven’t I quit?

Well, there are parts I’m good at. There was no learning curve for me with dealing with the clients and coordinating jobs with sub-contractors. I’m pretty darn good at it. Most of them have no idea how brand-spanking- new this is for me. I have a great ability to sound like I know exactly what I’m talking about when I do not, and I’m savvy enough to know exactly how far out on a limb I can safely go.

And yeah, I’m pretty smart. I learn quickly, but I wasn’t learning this quickly. So out of my frustration and pride grew an intense desire to tame the beast. To be good at it just because I wanted to be good at it. To conquer it.

Now, after two months of struggling and working around things and arranging to take a Word class (which won’t teach me these complicated fixes anyway) and trying to find a way to make it work I had the same epiphany I had after the last time I tried to learn knitting:

It’s okay not to be good at everything. There’s some things that while valuable, and easy for others, are just not worth the effort it would take me.

I’m wonderful with people, a superb marketer, a great project coordinator, a terrific delegator. I’m creative and innovative and dependable and trustworthy.

No matter how hard we try we just can’t make me fit into this work. I’m okay with that, and truth be told I think she’ll be a little bit relieved. She trusts me, and in this unique circumstance she has to have someone she trusts. But she also needs someone who can see all of the grooves in these very complex holes.

And that ain’t me. Thank you, G-d.

Take The Park the Car Challenge

The price of gas has all of us, especially those of us with SUVs, crying into our cereal. I’m following lots of tips to save money on gas, but have come to the realization that the best way to save on gas is to simply drive less.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ve started the Park the Car Challenge, and I’m the first to sign up. It’s very simple but not so easy.

What’s the Park the Car Challenge?

Well, you simply park it. The car, that is.

One day per week we’re not going to use the car for anything. No trips to the mall or the grocery store. No Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. And, bless us all, no gas stations.

No driving to the park or the library, but feel free to walk or bike. No driving to a friend’s, but go ahead and invite them over. Heck, you can invite your friends to take The Challenge too, and do things together.

Carpool with other participants to work, to the movies, or out for ice cream. We can really affect the price of gas, try to put the kabash on all that oil speculation, if we reduce our oil consumption. Supply and demand, my friends!

So what did we do on our first week of The Challenge?

We spent the morning making Play-doh poops and potties (at Son’s insistence), and then we went to the pool. While he napped I called my cable company and saved $52 a month, and then I called my cell phone company and saved another $20 a month (I reduced the number of minutes in our plan).

I also straightened up a few things and did some work relaying projects for my job.

So, on the one hand we have no money spent on gas. No money spent on lunch. No money spent at the store. No money spent, period. $70 per month saved on cable and phone bills.

On the other hand we have lots of togetherness. Lots of productivity. Lots of fun.

It was a smashing success!

This won’t work as easily when school starts, but it’s perfect for the dog days of summer. Unless – gasp!- we move our No Drive Day to the weekend.

Hmmm, that could get very interesting…

Do you have what it takes? I know you do! Want to join me?

At What Price?

So, this working thing.

It was nice to get a check.

It felt good to get my first report filed.

It’s frustrating to try to learn something new and complicated.

I haven’t done much away from home this week, as I’m feeling like I must remain available. We never know when a new job will come in.

Even though technically I could do it from anywhere there’s an internet connection.

At this point, because it’s still so new, it takes too much concentration for me to be able to work and keep an eye on Dan away from home.

So poor Son has been spending too much time here at home. Too much time playing by himself. Too much time watching television.

I don’t like that at all.

So, we’ll see how it goes.

I’d like to make it work.

But not at Son’s expense.

I Don’t Wanna Work

I got a job, even though I wasn’t looking for one.

A friend called to ask if I would help her in her business. The girl who had been helping her decided to get a full-time position, so she offered me the opportunity.

There’s a lot of great news about this job:

I can work from home, or anywhere there’s an internet connection. That gives me fairly good flexibility. If a job comes in and I’m not at home I can just skedaddle over to the nearest place with wifi and get to work, or I can tell my friend that I can’t take that particular assignment.

The money is good. I’ll get paid either per page or per report, and it’s much more than I’d make working retail.

We don’t need the income for our day to day expenses. That means that we’ll be able to accumulate more money for our next house, our next car and our retirement.

It’s something new. Having been home with Son for nearly four years there’s not been much to challenge me. I’ll have to learn something new, which is always a good thing.

It’s deadline oriented. The work is time-sensitive. I’ve not been too disciplined lately, and this will force me to stay on task.

Really, it’s very nearly a dream position.

Then why am I so NOT excited?

I just don’t wanna.

I love my lifestyle.

I love that I don’t have to answer to anyone.

I love that I can leave the house without a plan and let the day unfold.

I love that I can pull into the train station on a whim and sit with Son watching trains go by.

I love that I can go see Husband’s grandmother and play cards with her all afternoon.

I love that I can go to three grocery stores and not have to rush.

I love that I can nap when Son does.

But I am a part of the team that is this family. And given that this is a near-perfect opportunity, I feel that it’s my responsibility to take the job.

It’s going to be an adjustment, but I’ll adjust.

I just don’t wanna.

I am a Stay at Home Mom. Here’s How I Finagled My Finances to Make It Happen.

The biggest decision Husband and I have made regarding our lifestyle and finances was for me to stay home with Son. That meant a 50 percent cut in our income, but we thought about it quite a bit before Son was even a twinkle in Husband’s eye, and we planned ahead.

Here’s how we made it happen:

1. We did the math. We thought out what expenses we’d be able to cut/save if I stayed home and which would go up. Daycare was easily the biggest expense we’d be able to forgo. We’d also save on gas to and from work, eating out (lunches and dinner) dry cleaning and income taxes (hello lower tax bracket!). We’d see an increase in electricity, water and groceries (now that I’d be cooking more), not to mention all of the new expenses for the baby (healthcare, food, diapers, etc.). Having more than one child can have a huge impact, too. My income was such that we’d still be losing a huge chunk of income, but for some people I know staying home made very little difference in their bottom line. Check out this great second income calculator to help you figure out how much your second salary really brings.

2. Cut unnecessary expenses. I stopped getting my nails done and cut out my daily Dunkin’ Donuts coffee stop. We both started bringing our lunch to work more, and we looked to cut our cable bill and other bills to get what we wanted, but not more than we needed.

3. Started to live just on Husband’s income. Since we knew we wanted to start trying for kids right away we began doing this a few months after we were married (I wish I’d started sooner). We did (do) dip into it occasionally, but we wanted to get used to the idea of living just on his income.

4. Changed our insurances. Instead of the better PPO health plan we went with the HMO, saving us several hundred dollars per month. And we pray for no serious health issues.

5. Paid off or set aside money for big recurring expenses. While I was still working we paid off some life insurance we had so we wouldn’t get that bill when I wasn’t working, and we got a discount on the premiums by doing so (and an extra tax bill, but still worth it). We set aside three years’ property tax payments and a few other once-a-year payments (just in case).

6. Made sure cars and appliances were in good condition. We didn’t want to be saddled with a car payment or large appliance replacement at least for the first three years. We had our mechanic check our cars (which were paid off), bought a new dishwasher and set aside money to replace our AC unit (we did have to replace it) and our dryer (still kicking).

7. Decided to stop adding money to retirement plans. Except for Husband’s 401k (he gets matching funds, and we never throw away free money), we stopped contributing to our IRAs. We decided we’d likely need the money to live on, and when son went to school and I started working again during school hours we’d be able to make up for the lost time.

8. Get more freelance work. Husband is a graphic designer, an occupation very conducive to freelancing. This extra income would (has) allow us to make up for any shortfalls, and give us treats such as vacations and iPods and flat screen monitors.

9. Found alternative sources of income. When opportunity knocks we invite it in. I find bargains and re-sell them, take surveys, participate in market research, and took a temporary job working for Husband’s Uncle (very lucrative, but only lasted a few months, dadgummit!). A friend of mine makes extra money providing after school care for neighborhood kids. We also speculated that Husband would be getting a raise or two, but we didn’t count on it. He has gotten several raises and bonuses (though his Christmas bonus this year was a bit unsatisfying), and they’ve certainly helped!

Thanks to this plan we were able to put much of my salary into savings, creating a nice cushion for what we knew would be “the lean years”. Now, nearly four years later, it’s been a rousing success.

If becoming a Stay at Home Mom or Dad is what you want to do, take a look at your own life and see what’s possible.

I highly recommend it.

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