All I wanted was to raise children with a decent person. A person that, even if I couldn’t stay in love with him, or him in love with me, that I would still be able to say I respected as a father. I’d still be able to send my kids to stay with him and know they were safe, and being fulfilled and adored. I didn’t have children with him because I thought he was my soulmate and I knew we’d last forever, because I don’t know that that exists. At the very least, I know that that is unbearably rare. I loved him, and I wanted children, and I felt he was a good person. I had children with him because although I didn’t know that he’d always be with me, and I didn’t know I’d grow old with him, I thought those things might happen, I hoped for them, but most of all I just knew he’d always be a good dad.
Nothing will jade you faster than really feeling like you know something, or someone, and then having the rug pulled out from under you. Good luck trusting anything ever again once that happens. “Never say never” is a terrible motto to have when it comes to love.
It’s been almost 2 years since I thought my ex-husband was a decent person, or a decent father. I can’t describe to you how sad that makes me. Even after the divorce I remember telling people what a great dad he was… then one day it just changed. He just stopped putting them first. Then they weren’t even second, or third. I’m not sure where they lie for him anymore. It brings tears to my eyes to see the man he’s become.
I wish I could tell him all this, but it’s been venom between us for so long now that I don’t think he’d even listen. I don’t think he’d believe it. I don’t think he’d stop to recognize that it’s not venom, its the last tiny drops of the caring and respect that I have for him leeching themselves from me. It’s my last hopeless grasps at a ghost of the man my children used to know.
“For the first eight years of our marriage, [Michelle and I] were paying more in student loans than what we were paying for our mortgage. So we know what this is about.
And we were lucky to land good jobs with a steady income. But we only finished paying off our student loans—check this out, all right, I’m the President of the United States—we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.”—
My new assistant at work is a singer. And not like, “I sang at my aunt’s wedding when I was 14”. Like classically trained opera singer. She’s good. She’s could probably go on American Idol and destroy everyone if she had any ambitions for being a soulless pop princess. She has this whole weird dignity thing, I don’t know.
Anyway, she’s pushing paper for me now. She’s only 23 and tinkering with the idea of going to school for law or something and basically she’s making that transition from dream to reality that we all make at some point (some sooner than others – I think I made mine at 14). It’s a sad transition, really, and I think it’s not always necessary. I think some people give up too easily. This girl is young, talented, and motivated. If she was a little more driven, she wouldn’t be working in an insurance agency slinging my stapler. She’s going to look back on this point in her life someday, while she’s changing diapers and fighting with her husband and watching someone sling her stapler, and she’s going to realize that if she had pushed herself a little harder she would have a different life. Not because she wouldn’t get married or have kids or get a normal job, but because experiencing for even a short while a life in which you are doing what you LOVE changes you for the better, and for good. I’m watching her and I’m thinking these things about her, and then I had this weird revelation:
Why don’t I ever have those thoughts about myself? She’s talented. So am I. She could be living a different life, something more rewarding where she’s not under some boss’ thumb. But so could I. The leap is no greater for her, the divide no more narrow. I just don’t encourage myself to follow what I want to be doing anymore.
I like my boss, he’s pretty great. He’s a nice guy and he’s pretty laid back and fun. But he checked out a long time ago. He comes in 90 minutes late every day (in case you’re not doing the math, that’s the equivalent of him not coming in on Fridays, or the equivalent of 6 weeks of vacation a year). He leaves early most days as well, sometimes just 30 minutes, sometimes a full hour or longer. In the midst of his 6 hour day, he takes an hour long lunch and can be often found doing his personal things – calling his friends, checking his Facebook, reading the news on MSN, checking on sporting bets he’s made, etc. I think he’s pretty disconnected from our client base at this point and leaves most of it up to me. I don’t mind doing most of it, but 1) It’s quickly turning into ALL of it – he doesn’t do anything that I don’t do anymore, and 2) He doesn’t pay me what someone whose running a business should be paid. My responsibilities are incredibly high and he gives the impression that if I miss a day or two because I’m sick that the office falls apart.
He comes and goes as he pleases and I have a strict schedule and have to ask permission to take time off. When I’m late an eyebrow is raised and when I’m ill I’m still expected to check in on my emails or even work remotely. These are a part of being an employee, surely, but I feel like I’m running this business with all of the pressures and none of the perks. My pay is only $2000 above poverty level – again, a decent salary for someone who is just handling client issues and keeping the printer stocked, but my duties are a lot more involved than that. The median income from someone in my state who is considered an Executive Assistant or a High Level client manager BEGINS at $10,000 more than I make a year. And that’s all they do. They don’t do bookkeeping, banking, taxes and licensing. They aren’t in charge of office procedures and training. He’d be paying a bookkeeper roughly 3x what he pays me to do just that aspect of my job.
Money aside, I don’t get the perks of a managerial position either. I get 3 weeks of vacation a year, and I’m salaried, but any time I leave the office I’m expected to take that out of my vacation time. Illnesses, leaving early for a parent/teacher conference, coming in late for a doctor’s appointment – those all come out of my vacation time. This has resulted in me not using my vacation time for a single vacation day in 2 years. All of my time goes toward living a normal life. I’m about to deliver a baby. I will more than likely have less than a week of vacation time set aside for a maternity leave by the time that happens.
Again, I get all the pressures of owning this business – it’s success and failure are on my back. If we’re spending too much money, it’s my job to track and correct that. If we need more money, it’s my job to figure out how to fix that. But when it comes time to reap the rewards, to sow the fruits of those labors… let’s just say I’m getting the leftovers at the bottom of the basket.
I can complain about it all I want. I can tell myself it’s what I get for not being awarded a place in life that would allow me the opportunities needed to be on the other side of that desk. I could even talk to my boss and tell him how I’m feeling and see if he feels like it’s warranted to even up the score. I could do all of those things, and those are generally the paths I would take. In the end, though, I’m creating a life for myself where I’m just setting myself up for an infinite loop of this. If it’s not this boss, it will be the next. I’m “the help”. Our country is built on corporations that grow on the backs of “the help”, who work too hard for too long to make a business succeed while CEOs take massive salaries and bonuses and even more massive tax cuts. The only way to break the cycle is to get on the other side of the desk.
It’s not easy for a single mom to make the leap to writer. Writers don’t get paid well, and we’re obviously not all J.K. Rowling. The writer moms I know making any headway at all are on welfare, so a decision has to be made: do I let my kids live a childhood of poverty in the hopes my career will ramp up to “livable” sometime before they leave home? Or do I suck it up, accept my place as “the help”, and do my best for them now. Most of us choose the latter, and by the time the kids leave the nest we’ve already accepted our place in the world and don’t want to rock the boat to follow what could be a pipe dream. We’ve begun to make a comfortable living by then, do we really want to work backwards so late in our lives? Our retirement is on the line by then, we need that that health insurance a little more.
Most of us, by that time, make retirement the new dream. A comfortable existence where we don’t have to live on social security. Where we can sip wine in a porch swing with our sweetheart in a home we own.
It reminds me of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. My new assistant is young, and she has dreams to spare. No song unsung, no wine untasted. But the tigers come at night… and slowly life, or reality, or our own fear of failure or risk or whatever it may be, kill the dreams we once dreamed. I want to tell her to cut bait and run from this place. To run toward her dreams like her head is on fire and they are a pail full of water. I want to tell her what I never tell myself: You can DO this, and if you don’t try, you’ll wake up one day haunted by the regrets that your fears have built.