Becoming unintentionally unemployed after working continually for the past 30+ years was a shock to my system. Losing our home at the same time was a double whammy. Oddly the second of those shocks seemed to cushion the first for me. I might not have had an office to go into, or projects to run, and deadlines to meet, but I had problems that needed solving so I had work to do. Belongings needed to be culled, organized and stored. Camping equipment had to be acquired, reservations made at nearby campgrounds and the mini-van carefully loaded (we removed the middle row of seats to make this work) with tents, sleeping bags, coolers, and a camp stove while leaving room for four children and two dogs. And then we had to live in tents, moving periodically as one campsite or another filled up, packing and unpacking the van, setting up and taking down the campsite. Just dealing with cooking and trying to keep clean and safe all summer was enough of a job.
I didn’t have time to miss work; the day-to-day activities and the anxieties about our safety, finances and future gave me plenty to think about. After 2 months in tents, we managed to purchase our ‘boxcar,’ moved in on September 1st and things changed. Life became much easier- we had a snug and secure base, cooking and bathroom facilities, even a radio and CD player. We didn’t have to move every week or 10 days, and the kids went back to school and I had more time on my hands. And I started to notice what I was missing. Some small things, some not so small.
Starting with something minor – I really miss bubble baths! Lengthy soaking in warm scented bubbles, unwinding and relaxing. No more of that. The kids and I bathe (shower) infrequently in the public showers here at the park or at the YMCA. We do have a shower/small tub in the trailer but we also have a 6-gallon water heater and very pathetic water pressure. And the tub acts as storage for laundry bags, and recycling so bathing there just isn’t practical.
Adult conversations would be right up there on my list. With the exception of less than a handful of friends, my conversations with other adults have been severely reduced. I strike up conversations with people in line at the grocery store or changing in the YMCA locker room with great regularity now. And I have to say those conversations are somewhat more superficial than those I used to have with co-workers.
Money. Well that would be a big ‘duh!’ wouldn’t it? Our income has diminished considerably to the point that our monthly expenses of rent, utilities, food, gas and storage fees pretty much equal or exceed it. There’s nothing left over for the book order forms that come home from school, the ice cream truck that patrols the school boundaries, the birthday gifts required to accept the invitations that we receive. The kids begin to ask a question- can we buy something, go somewhere, do something…, and then answer it themselves with ‘no, we don’t have any money.’ I agree with sorrow, guilt and resentment. ‘No, there’s no money for that.’
Insurance. I really miss insurance. We have health needs that can’t be treated as there’s just no money for it- I need new glasses, my blood pressure was 167/96 last time I checked at the drugstore, my daughter has a cavity that needs filling, and two kids need vaccinations updated. Just minor stuff that we can let slip for a bit, but the fear of anything more troublesome arising weighs on me.
A sense of purpose, of identity. Funny how you become defined by what you do. As a child you tend to be characterized by your aptitudes- you might be athletic, artistic, intellectual, or by your personality- funny, competitive, smart- but by the time you’ve been in the workforce for a couple decades you are just what you do. When you no longer hold a job what are you? Rewriting your resumé and trolling job sites for potential leads does not give you that sense of identity.
OK- so this is the part of the post where I write about whatever silver lining I can squeeze out of the dark cloud. That will have to follow in a future post. Some days the dark closes out the light.