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Being Unemployed Sucks

What could be more nerve-racking and stressful than hiding from the Chicago mafia all summer?

Your husband losing his job.

We were approaching the end of August and things were looking up. The trial was going into final arguments. I started talking to my former employer about working part-time from home. The kids were happy and healthy.  We were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Little did we know that it was actually a freight train headed right in our direction.

I still struggle to accurately describe the raw emotion of what happened. I am not that talented of a writer and honesty, I just don’t want to go to that place.

It is difficult to understand how terrifying it is to lose your family’s only source of income unless you have lived through it. I also can’t share the details of what happened with Tom’s employer except to say that he respectively stood up for his values.

To this day, I am proud of him for doing the right thing.

So on Friday, he lost his job. On Monday, he was dismissed from the trial. On Tuesday, I am pretty sure I was hung over.

At first, we were hopeful that he would land a new job immediately. Tom had three interviews in his life and landed all three jobs. He was respected in his industry and immediately reached out to all of his contacts. It was the fall of 2007, just when the economy started to tank and jobs were drying up in his field.

After being out of the work force for five years, I was extremely fortunate that my former boss hired me a month later as a full-time employee. Although I was earning a lot less than Tom, at least we had insurance and I would be out of the house while he job searched.

When we were together, it wasn’t pretty. We took our frustrations and fears out on each other.

Although I was extremely grateful to be employed, I wasn’t mentally ready to leave my kids and my old life. I still had so much to teach my babies! Closets to organize. Field trips to chaperone. Walls to decorate. Happy hours to cocktail. Crap to craft. Flab to exercise. How could I be replaced overnight?

My God, I never did their baby books!

The workplace had changed drastically since I had retired. Most of the new kids had headphones on and sent instant messages, texts and emails to each other, even when they were sitting three feet apart. Blackberries and laptops ruled and here I was: the old mom — desperately trying to figure out the new email system.

The saving grace is that I had worked at my company for eight years before leaving when Junior was born.  Many of my coworkers were like family, so the transition back was like coming home. Without their support, patience and Kleenex, I really don’t know how I would have made it out of bed in the morning. (Sadly three years later, the company reorganized and they were all laid off while I remained safe. Please contact me if you need a creative designer, writer or marketing guru — these folks are among the best.)

I left for work before my family woke up and returned exhausted and pissed off when the house was trashed. Tom was fed up from being glued to the computer, hitting “refresh” every five minutes waiting for someone to reply to his countless emails and applications.

We quickly learned from our “Trading Places” experience that neither role was easy.  I understood that it sucked to walk in the door to chaos, complaining, half-finished homework and no meal. (Although, thanks to the Food Network Channel, Tom made way better dinners than I ever did.)

He was drained by the unpredictability of being home with the kids. And it was tough for him to enjoy his time with them. He couldn’t relax and felt guilty if he wasn’t job searching during every waking moment.

We had a whole new appreciation for each other. I think Tom’s light-bulb moment was when he had to wipe the ass of Junior’s buddy during a play date.

The kids were troopers during the whole ordeal and their teachers were God sends. Junior worried that he couldn’t go trick or treating because we couldn’t afford a costume and Missy prayed that Tom would get a job at every Religious Ed class.

Weeks of this turned into months.

Tom was always the runner-up for each job opportunity. I stopped telling people about his interviews because it was too painful to follow-up and say that he didn’t get it.  Also some words of advice: Never, ever, ever complain about your job to someone who is unemployed. That is the ultimate dick move. Tom would have done anything to have a job to bitch about.

While there were many tears and shitty days, we were both overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of our family, friends, neighbors, teachers, Chix with Stix (our short-lived softball team aka excuse to drink on Wednesday) and even acquaintances. People were always reaching out with leads, giving Tom contacts, checking in and most importantly: listening and not judging.

When everything hit the fan, two dear (brave) friends watched my kids while Tom and I were out taking care of some business. They cleaned my filthy house, washed and folded our laundry and prepared a delicious meal. I am sobbing just typing this.

We were also humbled to get help from our YMCA where Junior went to preschool and Tom escaped to exercise for his own sanity. The staff made arrangements to keep Junior for a full day by letting him stay for the Kindergarten aftercare, too.

The peace of mind knowing that Junior was safe and active for three days while Tom concentrated on his search was priceless. (Plus he learned how to swim, ice skate and tried new food he would have never touched at home.) If you ever want to donate to an amazing organization with family values, please consider your local Y.

All I can say, is that this bump in the road tested every one of our marriage vows:

For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
And eventually,
In sickness and in health.

I am going to have Tom continue the story in the next installment. I am kinda digging this guest posting break!

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17 comments

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  1. bob

    Why don’t you tell everyone how you were responsible for getting Tom fired.

  2. A Field of Dreams

    WOW! Thank you for the sticky beak in to your life. Thankfully my husband and I have never been in this situation, however when I went on maternity leave which was unpaid, we felt the sting of losing one income. My mat leave only went for 6 months because it was obvious that soon we would be struggling. I’m now back at work part time. I’m looking forward to Tom’s perspective!

  3. Karen

    Thanks for the reminder, Bob. You are such a sweetheart for bringing this up in such a polite manner. Yes, I did encourage and support his decision to speak up.

    Would I do it all over again? No. Screw personal ethics, we had mouths to feed.

    Could he live with himself if he did not? The answer is also No.

  4. Patty

    I am blushing because it was my son’s ass who he had to wipe that gave him the lightbulb moment. Tom didn’t tell me about it until a year later. My only consolation is that it helped give Tom more appreciation for you, Karen.

  5. Kelly

    The support the two of you got is a reflection of what great people you are!

  6. Red

    Such a great post! I felt your pain. My family went through a rough time of unemployment. Here’s how it went down for us, I text my husband that we should increase our giving to our local church, he text back I lost my job (i’m a jerk). A few days later we find out I’m pregnant………Are you kidding me?

  7. M. Wiener

    I’m speechless. What doesn’t kill us…You should be able to lift a crane.

  8. Stacy Krueger

    my blood pressure went up just reading about that time in your lives. SO glad 4 years later, things are looking up and it is behind you. such an ordeal. on the plus side, it was great to have Tom around more that year. He always made me laugh with his take on being home with the kids.

    love you short sistah!

  9. Karen

    Your secret was safe with me! But please thank your child for me — it was a pivotal point in our ordeal when he knew that everyday was not a Saturday around here! (And I have wiped many other kids’ asses, too.)

  10. Karen

    Aw, thanks! It was a huge lesson in humiliation and gratitude. You have no idea how many people care about you until you hit a rough patch. It drastically put things into perspective, too. Now we try to pay it forward…

  11. Karen

    You poor thing!

    First you have Goomba giving you gaga eyes during the mob trial and then the rug is pulled out from under you when it should be the happiest moment of your lives! Egads. You should do a guest post. Hope all is well now~

  12. Karen

    We all have our stuff, right? We have been blessed with pretty easy lives, so this was a wake-up call as to what we took for granted. (Like premium cable stations and restaurant dinners.) You know that you are going to get through it, but you just want to know when!

  13. Karen

    The story that Tom wrote is more entertaining as he did the Mr. Mom thing. I couldn’t ignore the awfulness of it all. Felt I would be doing an injustice to those who are facing the same struggles.

  14. Karen

    We couldn’t have gotten thru it without amazing friends like you! I’ll never forget the day we found out that he lost his job. It was right after those horrible storms that tore up our neighborhood. We were all without power for days. You didn’t even blink and took my kids for the day even though you were dealing with a flooded basement. Tom and I were the luckiest unlucky people in the world!

  15. Ronnie Ashline

    Ugh Karen! I held off on reading this because I knew that I would have a rush of memories of unexpectedly having to leaving my 8 week old baby at home in order to go to work. It’s an awful feeling, and it’s so difficult to explain.

  16. Karen

    Had to share a reader’s take when she and her husband were out of work with two small children. Frustrating and eye-opening:
    http://rockrocksilly.blogspot.com/2008/12/main-st-update-4-illinois-tax-payers.html

  17. Karen

    I tried to go back to work at 8 weeks after Missy but ended up taking the whole 12 weeks because it was too hard. But I was fortunate to have the choice back then. I don’t know how you were able to function after 8 weeks. Ugh. Being grown-up bites!

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