I came across a draft of a blog post today, from about a year ago. I never did post it, but it reflects so strongly the undaunted optimism that I had—the certainty that we would get through this challenge as a family, that we’d suck it up and be there for each other and be all the better for it.
The Mr’s job loss was not so fresh as to be shocking and devastating anymore, but fresh enough that we could still imagine him landing in the next job before the severance money ran out. Fresh enough that we saw it as something we would ride out, make the best of, build character on. I threw myself into a job search of my own, looking for full time work for the first time in years, suppressing any twinges about not being home with the kids as I had been. Thanks, COBRA, but no thanks. You can keep your bureaucracy and your $1300 monthly premiums, because I would provide health insurance for my family myself, doggone it.
I reread How to Cook a Wolf, and my old friend, MFK Fisher inspired me to follow that impulse to keep our collective chin up and conserve, while still living well. I whistled past the graveyard by joking about us being nouveau poor, making it almost fun to rise to the frugalista challenge. A moratorium on book-buying, and a rediscovering of the library. Clipping coupons, skipping the movie theater and waiting for the dvd. A quest for cheap entertainment. We would overcome this challenge, with family and important things intact. We would doggedly find ways to make sure that the kids had those things that we had decided were really important. We would reassure each other, remind the kids what needy really was, and that we were not even close. Remind them what first world problems ours are, even in these difficult times. And have fun with food—always, always eat well.
One year later, and the hits keep coming.
It has been a roller coaster of faraway opportunities, wondering what it would be like to live in Cincinnati, Sioux Falls, Atlanta, Chicago, and finding with both disappointment and relief, that really, there’s nothing to wonder about, because that opportunity is dead. It is being squeezed as if by a snake, tightening its grip around your neck with your every exhale. It is losing sleep, facing dwindling savings, doing without and then doing without even more. It’s falling asleep at the wheel in the middle of the day, and still looking for that second job to fill in the gaps, to provide the kids with the things that you still so value. The unemployment of our family’s primary earner has long outstayed its welcome.
It’s very wearying, hearing a whisper in the background behind the clamor of the day: Make no mistake about it—when push comes to shove, you’re alone in this world, you betcha. It is being struck by who has (and who has not) been so supportive and present for us, and how it has been so often folks who would appear to have the most limited resources themselves. It is testing our ability to support and provide for our children our ability to handle this as a family, to not be broken by it.
Most of all, it’s a cold feeling—no, not a feeling, really, for it’s not a mere perception. It’s an awareness that you and your children are falling through the cracks, one after another, some of those cracks serving as surprising and disappointing blows to any notion you had of a safety net. It’s the doing away with the illusion of being part of a school community—a family, it’s sometimes called—when in reality, your family, your child, is pretty disposable. And the ease with which the refusal is as chirpily delivered (if it is bothered to be delivered at all), as if you were discussing the weather, is as painful as the lack of assistance itself.
The past year has challenged (called out and literally challenged) what I thought I wanted to teach our children about what is important: gratitude for what we have; doing what you love in life and not being overly focused on money; doing your best, because things work out when you try your hardest. Really, how does one teach by example, and not have their children laugh out loud at what are proving to be empty platitudes? How does one, with a straight face, continue to misrepresent to them what matters in this life? Because it is about money, isn’t it. And striving to be your best often doesn’t protect you, does it.. You can still fall through some very surprising cracks.
Our Pastor recently retired. There is a lot of Church Buzz about who the new Pastor is, what people have heard about him, what he might be like, and last Sunday, we got to experience him for the first time. My first impressions are that he is a seriously smart man, and an excellent speaker. And after spending a few minutes talking about what he hoped to accomplish in our parish, he emphasized, repeating very bluntly, that if you don’t hope, you die.
If you don’t hope, you die. This statement has been rocking around in my head since Sunday, joining the usual head-squirrels and competing with the smug, whispered reminder of how alone in this world I am.
Also this week, I opened the door to the attic and set out to navigate the cluttered stairs to bring down a fan for Stretch’s room—and I tripped over How to Cook a Wolf. I wish I could say that it was whatever Serendipity or Good Mojo that factors heavily in so many stories was behind it—but really, it was my efforts not to break my neck on the stairs, navigating the duffel bags, wrapping paper, donation-bound bags of clothing, that caused me to…nearly break my neck on the stairs, tripping over this little book.
I reread it (again) in one day, and it slowly made me Rise Up Like New Bread. Almost seventy years later, Fisher does “inspire courage and hope in difficult times,” by the grace of her prose and the street cred that comes with having lived through war rationing and the Great Depression (that would be the real Great Depression, not the one that we fear we are currently in).
And I do feel more hopeful, or at least more determined to take some of Fisher’s grace and spirit, and make something delicious with it. I think that what New Pastor was saying last Sunday was that the wolf will cook you, if you let it. And that it’s our duty and responsibility not to let it.