As I drove down the Palatine road, through the forest preserve alive with the colors of fall, I would fantasize about a giant deer prancing out of the woods, running into my car and causing a serious accident. I didn’t fear it, I hoped for it. I always imagined I would break both femurs, but be unscathed otherwise. The injury would leave my brain completely intact, but prevent me from returning to the office for 6 months in order to recuperate.
For months I hoped to face a serious, life altering injury so as to get a free pass to stop working for a while, spend time with my children, and rest. I was working for the worst boss I had ever had, at a job that hated me (not my work, just me as a person) with health insurance so terrible that we spent over 60% of our income on health services. I went so deep into this fantasy that I calculated how much disability pay I would receive, how much we could receive in benefits because Dave wasn’t working, and how much we would get in food stamps. I wanted to cry whenever I made it to work safely, knowing I had another day to spend at an organization that did not find anything redeeming in my presence. Well, they loved the millions of dollars of new cash I brought to the organization, but other than that I was not what they wanted in an employee.
It took me far too long to realize that the funk I was in wasn’t normal. Normal people do not secretly wish they could be severely incapacitated just to escape their job. Normal people do not do the math on imaginary injuries to prove to themselves they would be better off permanently injured. I told my husband my thoughts, and we started making our plans for leaving Chicago-land and landing by family. We reasoned that my sanity was just as valuable as his, and that we needed to make a change.
When we escaped to Michigan I took a lower paying job. When my position was eliminated a few months later I took an even lower paying job. I am now making less money than I did when I was 2 years out of college. But I go home every night on time, make dinner for my family and talk about our days while sitting around the table. I wake everyone up with a happy good morning song, fix breakfast for the family and make sure backpacks are ready to go. My job is intellectually stimulating and rewarding, but in the end I chose to work a low-level position again to regain the freedom to arrive at 8:30 on the dot and never stay past 5:01 without overtime being involved.
Our family has many people who worry for us, worry about our finances and tell us all the ways we should change to make things easier. Today, when we were hit with an unexpected $500 car repair while still paying off a $900 car repair from a few months ago, I almost believe them. But is it really easier to work 70 hours a week and dream of broken femurs than it is to buckle down and live without frivolity? Should I spend my life pining for my children while making enough money to give them everything they ask for, or should I be there after school to help with homework and sing songs of encouragement? I decided to try to secure some short-term contract work, following up with someone who had previously sought my assistance, to hopefully help me cover this new debt.
I speak in loose terms about finances on this blog frequently. But if I can be honest about my fears, honest about mental illness and honest about my children then I should be honest about money. Our family income is exactly 200% of the federal poverty rate for a family of four, and at one time we had over $50,000 in medical-related debt to pay off. We followed Dave Ramsey’s guidance and are on a path to financial freedom that will leave us debt free in 37 months. When unexpected financial stressors arise we have a church that steps up to help, family that cooks for us without asking questions and friends who understand when we can’t do anything that requires money. Its embarrassing, yes, but we usually find our feet again within a few weeks.
But I never dream of broken legs as a solution to life’s problems any more. Dave has his own company, I have a respectable job, and we both are honest, hardworking individuals. Some day I will sell my book(s), some day he will sell out the entire run of a play, and those will be the days we will know that our struggles were part of a bigger masterpiece. I feel as though if you were to make a movie of our life act one would be the health and mental health struggles trying to capsize us in 2005-2008. Act two would show the climax of the movie, us both so ready to give up our dreams in favor of stability but edging out those desires by the skin of our teeth. Act three will be when we reap the rewards of remembering that we only have one life, and it is pointless to live for security when the only secure fact we know is that our only guarantee is today.
As Twinkle likes to put it, this is the only time in her life she will be a six-year-old in October, so we might as well go outside and play in the leaves barefoot while singing at the top of our lungs.