Feed on

Normally, October is my favorite month. The cluster of budget work, editorial meetings, and conferences that make August and September so hectic at work have wound down, the air takes on a refreshing crispness, the leaves turn glorious colors, and I get to indulge in steamed cider and caramel apples. Now that Simon has come along, I also get to plan his birthday party, have fun with Halloween, and sometimes even plan a family vacation to the Smokies.

Everything was on track this year, until the final days of September arrived and we learned that Matt’s organization was going to have layoffs. This was no random or vague rumor; those with his exact job title were on the chopping block. He was invited to fill out a form for HR, we call it the “justify your existence form”, check it twice, and wait to see if HR was going to be naughty or nice. The verdict was due to arrive at the end of this month.

That rather put a damper on things. I’d say we talked about the layoffs two or three times a day on a good day. More on a bad day. I thought about the layoffs much more often. My contingency plans had contingency plans. Still, doubts lingered: What if Matt could not find another job? How long before we should try to sell the house? What if we couldn’t sell the house? How long could we live on savings after severance ran out? Would we get foreclosed on? Move in with family? Live in our cars? Find a spot under a highway bridge? What if I then lost my job, too? What would we do about health care?

In an economy like this, how little or how much stands between you, former occupant of the stressed and dwindling middle-class, and destitution? Reading, I tell you, did nothing for the anxiety. Every single day headlines blared things like “Layoffs increasingly lead to foreclosures” and articles stated with devastating directness that “unemployment offices are seeing people like they never have before” or, my favorite, that “today, the average laid off worker has been out of work for over six months. Many will never recover financially.” The words “jobless recovery” loomed large.

We, of course, worried about Simon. Were Matt to be laid off, should some of the severance go to Simon’s college savings account? Could we keep him in preschool, which has been so very good for him? And that’s when I realized two very interesting things: (1) I was much more worried about not being able to sell the house than I was about having to move into an apartment or smaller house. Being stuck with something we couldn’t afford and then foreclosed on was the real worry. (2) I was much more worried about Simon’s future education and current routine than anything I might have to sacrifice. Cable? Gone. Cell phones? Gone. Eating out? Whatever. New duds? Who cares? Various stuff for the house? It can wait. It could all wait. Forever.

So many things that I thought I valued I turned out to not much care about. I also realized that Simon adds two interesting dimensions to any impending crisis. On the one hand, he eliminates the possibility of just slumming it. Realistically, Matt and I can’t go back to the undergraduate lifestyle with him around without making our lives (and his) much, much harder. So he’s a stressor.

On the other hand, he’s here, he’s lovely, and he makes me smile and laugh every single day. It was so hard to stay totally caught up in catastrophic thinking when Matt and I would tuck him into bed, or watch him blow out birthday candles, or show him how to jump into a big pile of leaves. I mean, how bad can it really be when we are all here, and all together, and all in love with each other? So he is a stress reliever, too.

That the word “here” has popped up twice in the previous paragraph is not coincidental. In case worrying about Matt’s job wasn’t enough, I also felt enormous guilt for being so worried. I have friends who have lost their jobs. I have other friends who work hard and struggle to support their families at even a basic level of comfort. And I have another friend who works hard to support his family thousands of miles away and whose child was recently quite seriously ill. So how entitled and princess-y is it to worry about losing stuff when others struggle so and often alone?

Tuesday, the stress finally got to the point that I ate Simon’s potty-training M&Ms. Then, later in the afternoon, we learned that Matt is OK. Matt and I joked for ages that if he didn’t get laid off, come October 31 we were going to go on the shopping bender to end them all. Now that relief is at hand, I find I have little stomach for it. I mean, I’m (maybe) getting a little table set for Simon, and I’m replacing my winter boots that fell apart at the end of last winter. But that’s about it. The rest, I dare say, is going to savings or charity, and more to the latter than the former. After all, now we’ve got survivor guilt to deal with….

One Response to “The Elephant in the Middle of the Blog”

  1. Amanda says:

    Oh Jess: it’s hard, but don’t have “survivor’s guilt.” Guilt sucks the purpose out of everything. Be thankful, be thoughtful about your choices, and help out where you can (which I know you do anyway). Appreciate that you are lucky (which you do as well) and move on. Guilt isn’t productive.

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