I wrote here about how Michael losing his job was the kick in the pants that shoved me into self publishing. I figured Michael would get a job fairly quickly, and I would go back to mothering as my primary job and writing as a hobby, albeit an intense one. Yeah, about that …
The economy sucks and jobs are hard to find. No surprise there. What is surprising is how happy we are in this new life. Michael is enjoying being home and spending more time with the kids. Honestly, he is a better stay at home parent than I ever was. He actually enjoys Legos! He likes outdoor activities with the kids. Me, I panic every time I take Rosy Posy to play in our own fenced-in backyard. We nicknamed her Houdini when she was only six months old. That should tell you something. Dads must lack that panic gene that gets triggered the instant a woman becomes a mother. Michael enjoys playing outside with the kids in a way that I never could. In turn, they enjoy the time far more. He has also become an invaluable asset to the kids’ school, which has no one on staff to handle technology issues, so he’s volunteering to be their one-man geek squad. All the kids high five him in the hallways. He’s something of a superstar to the kindergarten crowd.
And I’m enjoying writing. Actually, I feel a little guilty about how happy I am just now. By all the usual measures, we should be miserable and worried and fearful about tomorrow. But we’re not. Now, I certainly don’t recommend losing one’s income unexpectedly as the path to joy, and I’ll admit to having moments — quite a few of them — when the fear takes hold and I get a little bit crazy, but what we’re doing here– it feels right. It feels right to enjoy today instead of worrying about how to pay for tomorrow. It feels right to focus on story time in the evenings instead of fretting over the fickle nature of the stock market and what that will mean for our kids’ college fund. It feels right for us to put our energy into this day, everyday, instead of working for retirement benefits that neither one of us believes will ever amount to enough to actually retire on. It feels right, this time we have to parent together. And it feels right to have the opportunity to pursue our individual passions.
I learned long ago that for me, the key to living a happy life was to make the most of what I had. The alternative was to wail and gnash my teeth over what I didn’t have or what I had lost. Been there, done that, and am not planning a return visit. That way lies a bitter life of comparing myself to others, finding myself wanting, and feeling maligned and ill treated by the world. That’s a life focused on lack rather than abundance. No thanks. I’ll pass.
Michael and I are viewing our present circumstances as an opportunity to live differently, to embrace a way of thinking that falls outside the stereotypical American dream, which — let’s face it — has become more of a nightmare of debt and soulless work and sacrificing today for a tomorrow that isn’t likely to be as full of rainbows and lollypops as advertised. We’ve traded in the illusion of job security for the reality of an endless string of meaningful days. We’ve given up a full benefits package for the benefit of more time together. We’ve sacrificed steady paychecks for a hodgepodge of tech jobs and writing gigs that will never make us rich but will allow us to be free.
Are we idealistic fools gambling away our future on a hope and a prayer? Maybe. Are we overzealous nonconformists who refuse to go on in lockstep with the status quo? Sounds about right. Are we lone travelers on a path toward a new kind of American dream? Yes and no. We’re definitely on that path, but we’re certainly not alone. More and more people are trading in empty corporate promises for a life of having less stuff and more time. We are measuring our worth by something other than an hourly rate. In addition to my usual writing posts, I’ll be sharing with you some of the steps my family is taking down this path toward the new American dream.
Y’all know how I love book recommendations, so if you’re interested in learning more about what I’m calling the New American Dream, I suggest starting with Tammy Strobel’s You can buy happiness (and it’s cheap): How one woman radically simplified her life and how you can too. The book has a great bibliography at the end for more resources on downsizing your life.