This time is bittersweet. I know that sounds like a crazy thing to say in the middle of a global pandemic where Covid-19 has claimed over 80K lives. I also know my struggle is not unique; more than 30 million American’s are currently unemployed in some fashion. I am one of those thirty million right now, but I was furloughed. I had very little warning, but I don’t want to get into that or the issues that a sudden loss of income brings.
I have always thought of myself as a “doer.” I am one of those people in life that you meet that leaps, does the hard things, and takes on challenges. It is who I am and who I hope to always be. Right now, I, like many American’s, find myself lost. Furloughed for what I consider an extended period to time, I am a strange place. When my husband and I first met, my dream was to be a stay at home, mom, and I was for several years. I loved staying home until I didn’t. I graduated from college at the beginning of the Great Recession. I sat in job interviews, where the next candidate had thirty years’ experience on me. As a result, I delayed my career and started a family.
When I entered the workforce, I started my own small business, and I found moderate success at it. I put in the hard work and balanced family life and work-life for the first time. Two years later, an amazing opportunity came along, and I jumped at the chance. I loved my time in that position and grew it from a part-time role to a full-time role. I once again found myself stretched as a working mother but loved every minute of it. It was during that time that I decided to go back to school and earn my Master’s degree in Public Relations. I found myself working full time, being a mother & wife, plus a graduate student. Life was crazy!
Over time I moved on in my career, advancing with each step. This past March, I took a new job and a new step in my career. I felt like I had finally made it to a goal that I had set for myself years ago. It felt good, no, it felt amazing. My family and friends were so proud of me. Then a global pandemic happened, and it feels like it all came crashing down. As if each career step was building block or foundation for a building, in one swoop, the building was razed to the ground.
At the same time, my Master’s program came to an end, and I graduated. Like millions of other Americans, going through similar life passages, there won’t be a ceremony to mark the occasion, or a party, the moment will slip by. The routine of school, weekly assignments, prepping for the midterm, and final papers are also done now. No matter the job, or my location in the world over the past two years, my schedule has revolved around school. Even though serious health issues late last summer, school still got done.
As I write this essay, my son is mowing the lawn, and I am sitting on the back porch watching him. This is a big day for him, he’s dreamt of buying his own lawnmower to mow to earn money for a computer of his own. I spent much of the day cleaning my house, the way I used to before I worked. Cleaning the nooks and crannies that I only notice, but I noticed when our cleaning lady didn’t. As I went through my house, so thankful that my husband is gainfully employed, and our home is safe for now, I kept reminding myself that this time is a gift. It is bittersweet to be here to see my son mow the lawn for the first time. Yet, at the same time, I am filled with sadness.
A few years back, I decided I wanted to learn how to sail. I signed myself up and set out on Lake Michigan (with my class) in a dingy, trying to will the elements to move the boat where I wanted. Sailing was a good life lesson. I am not stronger than the wind, and certainly not stronger than Lake Michigan, but that wasn’t really the lesson. I learned that there are forces in life you cannot control, bend, or solve; you just have to learn how to work with the elements to get to where you want to go.
I recognize that I write this post from a place of privilege; my husband is still gainfully employed with a fantastic company that treats him really well. There is food in my cupboards, and my lights are on. My children love having me home, to be “mom,” playing games, making sure they brush their teeth, and cleaning their rooms. My family has also been blessed thus far that Covd-19 had not claimed anyone dear to us. I do recognize that I do have it better than most, but that still doesn’t make it easy.
My furlough is several months long and comes without an income. I would love to be able to wait to return to my job, but I am not sure if I can economically, as the furlough came without a paycheck. I’ve filed for unemployment for the first time in my life, and I’m grateful it’s there. I grew up exceptionally poor, and food stamps and government aid were commonplace in my house. Nights when the lights got turned off for lack of payment, were “campfire,” nights as my mom would call them, where we’d eat by candlelight in our kitchen. When I was very young, this was fun, but as I got older, I saw the situation for what it was. To file for benefits as a healthy, able adult came with its own set of demons, as I am one of a million claims. I look at the life my husband and I have worked for, scrimped, struggled towards, and recognize how fragile it is.
So, I throw myself into writing, but I am finding that difficult right now. I am currently seeking other employment because as much as I would love to wait, I can’t be without an income for months. I keep trying to remind myself to make the most of this time; it is bittersweet. I have time with my kids; they’ll only be this little for such a short time. I have also tried to throw myself into crafting, by sewing masks for those in need. I’ve picked knitting back up, something I excel at, and am trying my best to read as much as I can. Last weekend I allowed myself to sit in front of the television all day in my pajamas, something I don’t normally do unless I’m ill. This time feels like being in that dingy again out on Lake Michigan, watching the waves and the tails on the sail, searching for the breeze to propel me forward, while slowly drifting off course.
I know the world will recover from this, physically, but I think the emotional recovery will take much, much longer. I share my story to say that it is okay to not be okay right now. It is okay, and it is “normal” that everything should feel a bit odd. I want my productive life back, my career back, as so many Americans do. In the meantime, I just try to remind myself that this time is a gift, play with my kids, stay up late reading that last chapter in the book, or take a bubble bath in the middle of the day. It is okay to do that and not be okay; it is okay to not be okay. I keep telling myself. Be kind to yourself, and each other right now,