A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you.
-fortune cookie wisdom
Last week was difficult for me in a way that is hard to describe. I initially felt like my thoughts on the matter were either a result of being weak minded or unrealistic, or perhaps both. Yet the more I think about the situation the more I become convinced that I am neither weak nor irrational. I’m quite the opposite.
Let me start at the beginning…
For the past 18 months, my husband has been working full time as a 7th grade math teacher. He has also worked a part time job. Additionally, he has been working through an accelerated Master’s program to become a principal. He has been busy, and our family has spent a great deal of time apart.
The decision to take on all these additional responsibilities was not entered lightly. We discussed, we debated, and we ultimately decided we could make it work in light of there being a very clear and definite expiration to all the madness. Mike would work long hours to accomplish our financial goals, and I would stay home with the boys and accomplish our family-related goals.
As a result, the past 18 months have been difficult, but bearable. Mike and I have both worked harder then we’ve ever worked before but we did it to accomplish the same goals. We may not have seen a lot of each other, but we were traveling on the same path. And this path had a very clear end.
Then last week, a few weeks shy of our original plan’s end date, Mike quit his part time job to start a new one. The old job wasn’t a lot of hours or a lot of pay. The new job was a lot of hours and a lot of pay.
Suddenly, Mike was gone, working 12 hour days each day – every day – during a time that originally was supposed to be slowing down. This was supposed to be our final, and much easier, part of our journey. After 18 months of sprinting, this was supposed to be our final stroll, not 100 yard dash. Instead, I found myself back to waking up, alone, with both kids. I put one or both boys to bed before he returned at night. Some nights Mike would come home so tired that all he could do was eat dinner before falling asleep on the couch.
Suddenly, our path with it’s clearly marked “your ride ends here” sign took a nasty sharp turn.
Here’s the thing. I don’t like being home all day with the kids by myself without any relief or help. I don’t like being the only person getting Oliver up in the morning and putting him to bed at night, all while trying to keep Theo out of trouble and generally keeping us all alive, all by myself. My kids are a handful, as I would imagine is the case with most kids. But I don’t get any break. I don’t get to go to work and leave them with a sitter for a few hours. My day and their day are one in the same. Every. Day. I could do it when that was part of the short term plan to help accomplish long term goals. This past week was different, though.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I couldn’t handle this schedule. Why I was bothered by this lifestyle so much. There are plenty of couples that operate with one of the spouses being gone for long stretches of time. Lots of moms work long hours. Lots of dads travel and are gone for long periods of time. So why couldn’t I handle this? Why was I so upset? Why did I feel so completely depressed?
During the conversation (ok, fight) that Mike and I had about this new job and schedule, it become clear what bothered me. Sure, lots of couples do this sort of thing all the time. I’m not sure how, I’m not sure why, but they do. And I will never be one of them. I don’t know why I’m not ok with being home, holding down the homestead all day while Mike is out working, but I’m not. Period. I didn’t get married to become financially stable. I got married because I fell in love with someone. I got married because I wanted to build a life with Mike. I got married because I wanted to see him every dang day. I got married young, knowing we didn’t have a lot of money, because I also knew I didn’t care about a lifestyle. I cared about a life.
I’m not naive. I know you need money to live in this ridiculous world. But I’ve also been married for almost 10 years now and I’ve come to the astonishing discovery that – hold on to your hats – life is just expensive. In reality, we will always owe more than we make. I’m not just talking about a debt-income ratio. I mean there will always be that next thing we need, that next unexpected expense, or that surprise raise in rates. That’s just life. But making that the focus of my life is just as stupid as making any of the other necessities of life (eating, sleeping, breathing) my number one focus.
Mike took this new job because he is a responsible, hard working husband and father. He cares about our financial stability and, God love him, he knows we need things. We need a new vehicle. His student loans are going to come out of deferment soon. And yes, us crazy kids are having another baby. But even if you took all those things off the table, life would still be expensive. Life would still have crazy, stupid costs that would keep us up at night and make us wonder if we are going to have enough.
Last week taught me that I can do without a lot of things, but I can’t do without Mike. I need his physical presence in my life on a daily basis. I need to talk to him. I need to see him. I need his help and support with our boys. And yes, I need him home before 8 PM at night so that occasionally I can blow the lid off this popsicle stand and get the heck out of Dodge…without my children. Money is money. It’s a necessity, but let’s be honest. It’s not a need.
How often do we pursue things, for the sake of financial need when in reality all we are pursuing is a certain lifestyle? How many people and things of substance are we willing to sacrifice just so we can spend time making more money? I don’t get it, and I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t think at the end of our lives we will lay on our death bed and say, “I wish I had made more money.”
No, I think the things we might grow to regret are the lives we left un-lived. The people we left un-loved. And the time we spent earning money just to spend money just to earn more money.
I know we all have to be responsible. Some jobs we really do just have to do. But then there are plenty of other times, like last week, where if reflected upon honestly, we would realize that our sacrifice-gain ratio is severely out of wack. For us, we came to the conclusion that we needed Mike to continue with this part time job, but on a seriously reduced schedule. He cut back his weekly hours, and even dropped Friday all together. Sure, we won’t be making as much, but I DON’T CARE! I don’t care about a budget. I care about my family getting to be together. I care about seeing the love of my life on a daily basis. I care about eating meals together. I care bout my boys having plenty of time to wrestle and act silly with their hero. I care about our life together. That, is what matters.
All I really need are my people. My people are what make a life. And sure, that might cramp my budget, which might affect my lifestyle. But if your lifestyle is your number one concern, all I can say to you is, get a life.