Alan graduated in 1984 and all our problems went away! Yeah, right. They just changed. I closed my day care home and had a tearful good-bye leaving the children I’d spent almost as much time with as their families. We packed up our things and moved out of married student housing back in with Alan’s parents while he looked for work.
That was a stressful time. It was the status symbol among college graduates to move out with a company paid-for moving van. That meant you had a job already. If you packed up your stuff yourself, you were unemployed, and therefore, not as lucky/smart/talented, whatever. Alan’s grades weren’t as high as they could have been, but then, he’d had to work off-campus, and he had two small children and a wife. So it took him a little longer to land that first job. He worked for his dad again that summer. Then in August he got his first professional job. He was the only Electrical Engineer at a small motor manufacturing plant in Elk River, Minnesota.
We moved into a rental home, cut the grass, and a month later it sold. We moved into a two-bedroom apartment next, knowing that we would have to move out in the spring after our third child arrived. So we began to dream bigger than our pocketbook, and qualified for an FSA first-time homebuyers loan, and built a split-level place on five acres just north of Anoka. Then I opened my next day care home, TeddyBears.
This time I was licensed for ten, but I could only have two infants – my own, and the baby boy next door. The rest were preschool age, or school-agers I had before and after, and on school holidays or snow days.
I had more space to spread out! I collected more toys. I had trikes and bikes, and a splash pool in the back yard. As it was a new construction, I had a five-acre sandbox. I let the kids get really dirty – I love to see them playing in dirt. I made sure the moms I worked for knew that, and dressed their kids appropriately. I cannot understand these young moms who dress their four year olds in designer clothes, send them to day care, and tell them not to get dirty! Oh yeah, have you tried to fingerpaint in a frilly pink blouse with long sleeves? And how are you supposed to crawl on your hands and knees like a doggy without damaging your designer jeans? Poor kids.
Our dream home bubble didn’t last long. We were young, and too trusting. Just because we qualified for a home loan didn’t mean we should actually take it. Just because a man owned a construction company did not mean he knew anything about building houses. Our new home started falling apart and we had no money in savings to fix it. The construction company slapped together twenty homes that summer, then disbanded and moved out of state. There was no one to go after if we had even thought about going after them.
The house might have been built too air-tight. If you took a shower, every window in the house steamed up and when you opened the bathroom door to let out the hot, moist air, the smoke detector went off. Every morning at six o’clock, my husband took a shower and ten minutes later the smoke detector woke up everyone else until I yanked the battery. All that moisture on the light wood window frames turned into black mold. I wiped the woodwork frequently, but I soon learned that I was allergic to black mold.
The deck off the kitchen slider must not have been set on solid footers, as the deck and the house shifted separately with the spring thaw. A long crack appeared in the basement wall and foundation, clear across the basement floor, with a difference of about three inches in height. The kitchen floor severely warped there as well, and the new vinyl flooring began to crack over the hump. A few shingles blew off the roof in a storm. I can’t remember all the other signs of shoddy workmanship, but there were many. Then my husband had a fantastic job offer, but it would require moving. We hadn’t been in our new home for a year before we put it up for sale. And once again I had to close my day care home. We moved into a rental in Montevideo for six months until we unloaded the house, then into a big, Victorian farm home on seven acres.
For a brief while I felt as though we had “made it”. We had survived college, the honeymoon, the arrival of one, two, three children on a budget so tight it screamed for help in six languages. We had moved, and moved, and moved again. Finally, we were in a fantastic, one-hundred-year-old farm house that needed work, but nothing pressing. After the modern nightmare we had left behind, this house was next to heaven. Alan completed the heavenly theme by bringing me home a dog. God bless him!
I do have many happy memories in that home. It will always hold a special place in my heart. Soon, when we sell yet another house, I hope to build something very similar to that place on the twenty acres we expect to retire on. That house, like many farm homes, had the kitchen as the central hub. There were six doors and two windows (no counter space, no wall space). There was a formal dining room with a Franklin fireplace, a downstairs bedroom that we used as a playroom at first, and later for a schoolroom (more on that in the next article), and a parlor with sliding cherry wood pocket doors, a front entry, and a large stairway with a cool banister in the front hall, and a small, twisting stairwell off the kitchen with pie-shaped steps. There was a wide, wrap-around porch, and a huge garden, and later, a jumbo swing set and climber set in 15 cubic yards of sand. (I always did like sandboxes.) There were five bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, a full basement, and a full, unfinished attic, and a widow’s walk on the peak of the roof. Just perfect!
One day I remember crying as I ironed shirts. I had so much to be thankful for, but money was still tight. I couldn’t afford to buy any Christmas gifts that year. (If only I had realized that the real gift at Christmas was love.) Every month I had to make a choice on which bills to pay and which to let slide. So I prayed as I ironed, “God help me! I need a job!”
Remember that saying “ be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it”? Well, within ten minutes, the phone rang and I was offered a job. I became a long-term substitute teacher for the five-year-old group at the day care center in town, and my shift would pretty much coincide with my husband’s work hours, an important consideration as we only had one vehicle. I thanked God, and recalled how I was always provided for, so why did I always worry? I still haven’t learned that lesson, but I’m trying.
The job was great. I loved the kids, and I worked hard. Most of the teachers were great, too. But working was so much harder now that I had a family. I did have enough money to buy Christmas gifts. I got some of the bills caught up. I bought a few new clothes, and I paid a babysitter to watch Annika, who wasn’t old enough to go to the day care yet. But in the long, dark days of winter, the depressing time after Christmas and long before the first spring breeze, when everything outside seems dead and dirty, I was depressed. I was tired, frustrated, overwhelmed. I needed a maid. I needed a day off!
I remember crying on the phone to my sister as I complained. “My husband goes to work and comes home and he’s done working! He doesn’t do dishes, or wash clothes, or help the kids practice their music lessons – he just sits on the couch and has the nerve to ask when supper’s going to be ready!”
My sister’s reply bugged me. I didn’t really want advice, I wanted to be consoled. She answered, “You’re right. But do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?”
I don’t remember now how the rest of our conversation went, but she certainly gave me something to think about. I couldn’t change my husband. He is an old-fashioned boy, raised by Old World parents just one generation removed form their Polish roots. He wasn’t going to wash dishes or change a diaper, no matter how many chick flicks I made him watch. I had a choice. I could either exchange him for a different model, hoping the new one would wash dishes, or I could figure out another solution to my problem. Since I deeply loved my husband, there really wasn’t a choice. I quit my job.
We learned to budget on one income. Maybe some women can do it all – have fulfilling careers, happy kids, clean houses, satisfied husbands, and still have time to attend PTA meetings and do volunteer work for the homeless. Not me. I need to sleep at night. I need to eat at regular intervals, and I need a little bit of time to myself, or I come unglued. I remember reading a book once by a super-organized woman about getting more hours in your day. Her solution was to get up early and stay up late. Yeah, right. Not happening.
Once I made that decision, though, good things started to happen in our family. I became calmer, happier, perhaps less insane. I knew I was a smart person, and the only thing I needed to do to fix a problem was realize there was a problem. Then I could look for ways to solve it. If the kids were whiney, then they needed more sleep and less television time. If they weren’t eating their supper, they obviously didn’t need afterschool snacks. If Alan complained when he didn’t have clean socks or underwear, then I needed to buy him more pairs of each, since I probably couldn’t get the laundry done any faster. I went to the library more often, and read books on home management, teaching kids to help around the house, how to plant a garden (for that tight budget), how to knit, how to crochet, how to cut your son’s hair, I read so many how to books I started thinking I could be writing them.
And that may have paved the way towards establishing this blog. Here is my how-to book. I will teach how-to survive your role as home-maker mother and wife.