post-graduation dreams: to never leave home?

Used to be when kids went off to college they never returned home again because waiting for them on the other side of the commencement dais was a good-paying job,  one that would sustain them until they got married (soon after graduating), had a family, and raised their own kids until they too went off to college, got married, etc., etc.boomerang-kids

But with 55 percent of college students now living at home as opposed to 43 percent in 2010, a lot of those kids don’t leave home to attend school in the first place and then they stay on at home even after getting their diploma. Jobs for college grads are not nearly as plentiful these days, and getting on in the world is too expensive. These kids are no dummies. Why live on a shoestring when you can live in the lap of luxury for little to nothing?

And so it is in our house. My third born, a son, graduated in May but has yet to move out. He’s still working the same hourly job he had throughout college, and even though I send him job postings from the websites I see online (is that the  whirring of helicopter blades I hear?), he’s still not applying in earnest for work in his major. Why? I think he’s got it too good. And I’m partially to blame.

Kids have it harder today in a lot of ways. For one, competition for jobs is fierce. The kid with the decent grade point average who worked throughout school to make some money is going up against the kid who excelled in college, took internships, and went into debt to get a leg up on the competition. Those kids are the ones getting hired after graduating while Mediocre Manny is struggling to keep his head above water in the vast resume pools forming in employers’ inboxes.

Also, kids have it harder today because they have had it easier their whole lives. How so? Their parents, we, did much more for these kids than our parents ever did for us. Their whole lives they heard such things as, “You want to play a sport? Sure, I’ll put my career on hold and drive you to games and pay for all the accoutrements that go with that sport even though I haven’t had a pair of new shoes in six years. Hungry? Here’s a burger and a Coke coming to you through this magical drive-through window. Or better yet, sit down and I’ll whip up your favorite dinner, leaving out the greens that you don’t like. Have nothing to wear? No problem, I’ll throw a load of wash in for you right now and not only that, I’ll fold it and put it in your room. Or if those clothes won’t do because they’re not the latest trend, I’ll run to the Macy’s and get something that will. Oh, Macy’s is not cool enough? Just name the store. You want your license? Well, sure. You don’t have as much as a part-time job flipping burgers to pay for gas, but I’ll not only pay for that gas, I’ll throw in the car and the insurance too.” And so it went. No wonder kids can’t get on on their own.

Now our kids are coming out of college and not knowing where to start to get their lives going because Mom isn’t doing all the stuff she used to do to make it all happen. Call ours the enabling generation. According to a recent Forbes report, close to 60 percent of parents provide financial support of some kind to their adult children. That’s six out of ten of us. What’s wrong with us and, more importantly, what do we do now that Jay and Robin won’t leave the nest?

Parents’ motives are noble: they just want to help out their kids. The same motives people have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their babies and young children are in play when they allow adult children to live at home. It’s a loving gesture, not maliciousness,  but it can go too far and the new graduate can turn into the adult kid who keeps hanging on and never grows up. I mean, who wouldn’t want a life that’s easy as opposed to one that’s not?

But experts say people need to set boundaries and make those boundaries clear as day, especially if the adult child isn’t contributing enough and the parents prolong retirement or put aside their own needs and wants because they are helping out the kids (and helping out can include paying all the utilities, providing an automobile, buying all the groceries, cooking them, and cleaning up afterward).

I plan to set out a manifesto of sorts and make it not so easy for my son to rely on his parents for help. Hopefully, that will motivate him to move on in life the way his two sisters did. Sure it’s been just a month and a half since college graduation, but I want to set the tone now before I’m driving him around to geriatric appointments and senior day care.

 

 

 

 

 

missing my friend on her fiftieth birthday

I should be out to lunch, raising a glass, giving a toast, and celebrating one of my dearest friends’ fiftieth birthdays today, but she is no longer here. She passed away one year and nine months ago, leaving behind a husband and two darling teenaged daughters.

I miss Anna so much at times that my heart hurts. I’ve lost parents (both of them) and parents-in-law (both of them too), but nothing has wrenched my heart as much as losing my dear, dear friend. Not only do I lament the days I personally didn’t get to spend with her (and her fiftieth birthday would have been a big one, at that), I am saddened for the stuff she is missing, like seeing her daughters ace the SATs or watching them drive off for the first time on their own, brand-new driver’s licenses in their wallets. She’ll never get to see them collect their diplomas or their degrees, or walk them down the aisle for the last time as single ladies. She’ll never meet her grandchildren, call them by name, or see what color their eyes are or who they favor in appearance, their beautiful daughter or the putz she married. She’ll never get to spend her husband’s retirement traveling or doing the things one just can’t do when there’s a full-time worker in the household and he has a schedule to keep to. She’ll never get to age gracefully or die naturally.

I, of course, am especially sad for the girls. They’ll never get to do spa days with their mom or listen to lectures about boys and fast cars and what to not do on grad night. From October 2014 on they’ve been without the one woman they should have been able to rely on for advice, support, and love for the rest of their lives.

And I’m sad for her husband, my friend, who wakes up to an empty bed in the morning and sees the same image when laying down his head every night. He turns fifty tomorrow too, but since that fateful day in 2014, there has not been any celebrating on these two days in June that used to be so joyous.

I know if there is a heaven and if God lets in those good folks who are not card-carrying members, which I hope is the case, Anna’s up there watching her family and friends carrying on. She’s whipping up her magnificent eggrolls for the lord above and planning the day when we can all again sit around the table as she blows out candles.

I miss you and I love you, Anna.

 

with one more birdy in the driver’s seat, this mom’s feeling empty-nest doom

birdyIt’s 2:00 p.m. Usually at this time on a weekday in the spring, no matter what I’d be in the middle of, I’d be lacing up my tennies, gathering up my purse, my phone, and a good book and rushing out to my car to drive to my kids’ school. There I’d park for the twenty minutes or half hour or so before one or more child climbed into the backseat or the passenger seat and we’d either head off to another school or straight home.

I did that for 25 years in a row. Until today.

Today, my youngest took the keys to our 20-year-old secondhand car with him–along with the car, of course–and drove himself to school. This is the first time in a quarter century that I haven’t had to ferry one or more child to school or pick him up. That’s a long, long time, people. And with that one demotion, I feel my life as a full-on parent slipping away.

Some moms and dads would be delighting in the fact that they didn’t have to retrieve their kids from school ever again. They’d be thrilled to be able to stay at work or continue that book or not have a project interrupted. I, on the other hand, am feeling saddened. Twenty-five years feels like a long time, for certain, and I’ll admit that at times running out of the house at 2 on the dot was a pain in the backside, but a part of me enjoyed it. I liked seeing my kids for the first time in hours and going over their days.  Those close quarters inside the vehicle would be where I learned about so-and-so’s getting called into the principal’s office or a friend’s not making the soccer team because of grades. I got to hear about the accomplishments of a good mark on an exam or an impending award or the heartaches of someone’s name-calling or someone else’s mean-girl moment. Sure, there were times I wanted nothing more than to continue what I had been doing uninterrupted at 2 p.m., but for the most part, I enjoyed the routine. I enjoyed, I suppose, being needed.

This having all four kids as drivers is a plus, for sure, but allow me to wallow for a while more, won’t you, in the fact that this job I’ve been doing for just under half my lifetime is coming to an end. Yes, I know one day all little chicks must fly from the nest, but this mama bird will not be giving them a big push.

 

“split mom” trend . . . is that what this is?

OK, so I was feeling a little mom fatigue today. It’s happening more frequently as I age and as I still do the same stuff I have been doing since first becoming a parent 29.5 years ago. I have that incredible urge sometimes to move on, but I still have a child in high school who doesn’t drive and still needs me in many ways, so I continue to parent in pretty much the same way I always have–by being there for my kid. He didn’t ask to be born thirteen years after his big sister or even eleven or six years after the next two so I am not going to give up on this child the way some parents do when they become burnt out on parenting. I made sure he went through all the same milestones as his older siblings: swim lessons, sacraments, orthodontics, band, sports. I’m in the last couple rounds of the fight and I refuse to throw in the towel.

Still, there are those days when it gets to me, when parenting wears me down. Doing the same things for nearly thirty years in a row really takes a toll, especially when you perceive yourself–and pretty much are–a selfless person.

I was feeling that way today, so I thought I’d try to reach out to similar parents in the world because I would like to know how other moms my age who have been parenting this many years do it. I’m a fan of reality TV programs that focus on families (or at least those that aren’t trashy or live in cults and have raised criminals) and am always keen to see how other people live. I figured there had to be a blog or two out in cyberspace on this stuff.

So I Googled “longtime moms” and “moms with children more than twelve years apart” and the like and what I came up with was this one article rehashed in several publications. It was an interview of a medical doctor named Rallie McAllister who had a child at age twenty-one and then two more sons in her mid-thirties. In the article, she talks about having kids that far apart in age as being a “trend,” so I Googled and Googled to find concrete facts but just found that one article. I think one mother in basically a single article rehashed in several different online publications does not a trend make nor an authority make, M.D. or not. In fact, in the articles there are no other similar women mentioned (except, in one blog, the actress Kelly Preston is name dropped, and we all know celebrities, because they do not even remotely live an ordinary lifestyle or raise their own kids, don’t count. Ever.).

If having just one mother represent all of us moms with great spans of children isn’t insulting enough, one of the writers in one of the three articles, who chose to make it sound as if it was her original piece, added a little “background” by mentioning there were just two ways to become a so-called “split mom,” by 1) being married and having kids in that marriage, divorcing, and then remarrying later in life and having a second family or 2) having a child without ever having been married and then marrying for the first time and having a second family. Either way, in both scenarios, there are two men involved.

No mention of moms like me who are still married to husband number one and whose kids are just spread out in age. There was no mention either of moms who have a half dozen or more kids (at least five families come to mind from my childhood, when it was commonplace), making the spread even greater than mine. And no mention was made of moms who adopted or had foster kids later in life or moms who are raising their grandchildren, some of whom do end up adopting those kids. No matter how many scenarios you want to add to the equation, it definitely comes out to more than two.

I am bound and determined to seek out other “split moms” out there–but I may call the “trend” something that doesn’t signify disunity or fractionalization, no matter how many times splitting crosses our minds.

have a little faith

Faith. It’s when we believe and trust that positive outcomes will happen. If we don’t have faith, we don’t have hope.

Sometimes I need to have a little faith.

My son was in an auto accident. No one was hurt. It wasn’t my son’s fault. But it was my vehicle and it’s never a pleasant thing to hear that your car, which you weren’t even driving, was in an accident. And no matter who caused the accident, it’s still an inconvenience to have to take the vehicle, assuming it’s even drivable, to a body shop for an estimate, deal with the insurance agency, file a claim, hope that the other party’s story corroborates with yours or the claim may not be paid at all, and if you get the repairs done, be without that vehicle for up to a week or more, or if you don’t, live with an ugly gash in the side of your car forever.

This time we were lucky. This time the person whose huge, new Dodge Ram pickup hit our not-such-a-slouch-either SUV was woman enough to admit fault and deal with the consequences in the proper manner. Why is that surprising? Well, we’ve had several occurrences where the other party didn’t have insurance, wasn’t even a legal driver, and/or caused a hit-and-run accident, without leaving as much as a note on our damaged vehicle. Those times, you’re stuck. There’s nothing you can do unless you want to pay out of pocket for the repairs or file a claim against your own policy. Usually, it’s not even worth the trouble because the costs are exorbitant even going through the insurance, since your rates will increase or you have a deductible that still means a good chunk of money will come from you before the balance of the costs are covered by the agency.

So if you’re going to be in an accident, you hope it’s the other person’s fault and he or she admits to it and that person has an up-to-date policy with a reliable insurance company that pays for the repairs. I should have been happy that this accident ticked off all those boxes, but, being me, I wasn’t. When my son told me what happened, I wasn’t level-headed, calm, and adult about it. I got angry, I became accusatory, and I was upset because this vehicle is supposed to be mine to drive and not my son’s (he lost his own car in an accident a year ago and never replaced it), and I knew that I would be the one who would have to deal with the repercussions, not my son, not my husband, but I. And I was right.

But I was also wrong, because I thought it would be a horrible ordeal that would be time consuming, emotional, and dreadful, and it really wasn’t. Yes, I had to make the appointment for the estimate and take the vehicle in on a Saturday morning while my son lollygagged in bed, and, yes, I had to make the call to the insurance agency and file the claim. And yes, I will have to field the calls from the body shop (who just now rang, by the way) and listen to service reps who try to convince me to get the repairs done and not pocket the check, but it’s nearly over. (It will be when the check in my name arrives in the mail–and the phone calls stop.)

So all in all, as far as auto accidents go, this one was fairly simple. I’ve got to remember all things do not have to be incidences of Sturm und Drang. Yeah, I’ve got to have a little faith.

playing hookie at the movies

I love movies, especially good ones. I’m not the type to rush out to see the latest blockbuster that everyone is talking about.  I rather prefer films with thought, depth, and beauty, qualities oftentimes hard to find in American films, I’m sorry to say. And what I love more than seeing a good movie is seeing a good movie with my kids.

I basically have just one of those left  now, kids that is. The other three are over 18 and manufacturing their own lives. But my 12-year-old is still my captive audience. And I appreciate the fact that he enjoys going to the movies as much as I do, especially good movies with thought, depth, and beauty.

And so today I rushed through a work assignment so that my boy and I could take in a movie that we’d been wanting to see for some time. The movie, Hugo, just received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, so I was even more intrigued.

We rushed to the theater, about a 6-mile drive from home, arriving slightly after the previews had begun, which was good timing because it prevented us from having to sit through all those commercials, which is exactly what a movie preview is. In fact, when we saw our picture had not yet begun, we slipped into the very short concession stand line to grab a bag of popcorn, our favorite snack, to make our movie-watching experience picture perfect. We were still in time for the opening scene.

The film was everything we’d hoped it would be and filled with all those things a good movie should be. Ilove the fact that it delves into the imagination and confirms the viewers appreciation of books and movies. I moreso love that my son was able to take it in with me and enjoy it as much as I did.

I hope one day my boy will look back fondly on these little movie excursions of ours. I hope, or rather I know, that he will in the the same way that I know he appreciates a good film and a good book. And a good bag of popcorn.

not goodbye, but so long

Most years end with a great majority of us compiling lists of personal resolutions that we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Whether we make lists or not, to the man, we give some thought to the upcoming year and what it may hold for us: a new love, maybe; a new job; the hope of an illness being successfully treated or one we fear may be there never appearing. Or maybe it will be a grand vacation, a milestone birthday to celebrate, or a new material good that we’ve desired for some time.

Whatever it is, these thoughts tend toward the positive, as well they should, because each year presents the hope of something not only different, but better. I am anticipating some big changes in 2012 myself, some, I’m sorry to say, that I’m not welcoming. For one, my younger daughter will be moving out of the house on the first of the year. Even though she’s 23, to me she is still my baby girl, and I will miss her companionship, a companionship I’ve had on a daily basis for the past 23 years. Her sister moved out 14 months ago, and she still comes over at least once a week for dinner, so it’s, to quote “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” not goodbye, but so long. Still, my older daughter’s schedule is more 9 to 5 than my younger girl’s, and I fear I’ll see even less of her than I have this past year, which brought her her first full-time job and a steady boyfriend.

Also new in 2012 is raising this little bundle of energy we call Woody, a golden retriever we brought into the family almost a month ago. At 12 weeks, he’s quite a handful, but I’m seeing signs of maturity as we work with him on a daily basis to get him to learn what he should know to be a good ol’ dog one day. Even though his presence is more positive than negative, I still have been confronted with myriad responsibilities since he arrived on the scene. I’ve had to rearrange my life to fit into his, for one, although it should be the other way around. But here I am, daily getting out of bed when he wakes, whether I’m tired or sick (or sick and tired), because he needs to be fed and brought outside. And here I’ll be, working in an area of the house where I don’t typically work in order to be in the same room with him in case he gets into something he shouldn’t. And there I go, taking him for a walk or outside to play or “use the facilities,” because he needs to get his exercise or relief so he doesn’t drive me crazy when I need quiet time.

I wonder what I’ll do in the upcoming weeks when my workload gets extremely busy (think straight eight- or ten-hour days with not even a lunchbreak away from my desk) and I’m the only one here to take him outside or on those necessary walks. How I’ll manage is beyond my imagination at the moment. By then, I’m hoping he’ll have adjusted to being out in the yard by himself for significant periods of time without his getting into every bush, putting every rock into his mouth, or digging to China, although I doubt that will be the case. He’ll also likely want that necessary companionship that his breed tends to desire to be happy dogs. So, I’m anticipating some stress-filled days.

Other changes? With one child out of the house, we will have a vacant room, and I look forward to setting that up as an office and guestroom, which, with four kids, we’ve never, ever had. Assuming I’ll get a break from the puppy and be able to get to that quiet place to work, I look forward to having a room of my own in which to not only work but to get away.

I also have a mini trip planned with my best friend of 37 years. We just hit a milestone birthday in December and we are going to get together to celebrate in a city midway between our homes. This is a big deal to me, because I don’t get away very often (as in never). I look at this trip also as one in a series of pleasurable things I plan to do for myself. As a mom for nearly 26 years straight, with one minor child still to raise, I have never put myself before my family. So, I hope to try to enjoy myself more in 2012.

Whatever the year brings, I wish for no heartache and no stress and a year of positive thinking and a sense of humor. Even if circumstances don’t change and I muddle through 2012 much the same way I did ’11 and ’10, at least I’ll view what life churns out with a good attitude and a great laugh, which can make all the difference in the world. So long, 2011.

i don’t know how she does it

I had to get the oil changed today, so after dropping off the car at the Sears Auto shop, I parked myself in the food court with my cup of McDonald’s coffee and got some work done. As a freelance editor, I sometimes have the ability to take my work with me and so my errand was partially paid for by my flexible career (although the fee for just that one oil change surpassed the amount of money earned from my hour or so of work).

I’m fortunate to have the option to be able to do not only this (working just about anywhere), but also to work my schedule around my kids’ school drop-offs, pickups, and other events in their lives. I’m also occasionally able to enjoy some spare time. In fact, while at the mall and after finishing with the work I had brought with me, I took in a movie, or most of a movie anyway, before rushing out the theater door and down the mall corridor to pay for the oil change and retrieve my car before rushing to school to pick up my son. If only the pay I receive for the work I do were as desirable as the flexibility, but this is the dilemma a lot of working parents face.sjp

The movie I saw, I Don’t Know How She Does It, hits upon this dilemma of balance. The movie stars Sarah Jessica Parker as the harried working mom, Greg Kinnear as her usually understanding husband, and Pierce Brosnan as a business cohort whom Kate (SJP’s character) works with and nearly falls for.  The topic drew me in–in fact, I remember having checked this book out of the library some time ago, although I couldn’t find the time to finish reading it–so I thought I’d check out the movie.

On some levels I could relate to Kate in that there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. I also could relate to the lists she draws up in her mind. What mom/working woman/wife doesn’t lie awake at night ruminating on, hyperventilating over, and dreading the events of the upcoming days and the shortcomings of her life?

On other levels, however, I couldn’t relate . . . at all. I’m referring to things like having a nanny, living in a Pottery Barn-styled home, having a career that is so satisfying and fulfilling that you just can’t imagine ever giving it up to be a full-time mother. I think every woman would love that dilemma–being a loving mom and wife and having a fulfilling career that allows for all the good things in life–but nothing is perfect. Something’s gotta give. Either you are present for your kids’ first haircuts, first steps and first smiles, and are actually able to bake a pie from scratch for the school bake sale, or you’re out cornering a lucrative deal while making incredible pay, wearing sharp clothes, meeting interesting people, and padding your 401(k) for what will obviously be an amazing retirement. Either way, there are trade-offs.

In the grand scheme of things, I guess we should all be thankful for the little things that do go right–the work that comes in, the home that is comfortable enough, and the family that is usually happy to see you. Oh yeah, and being able to occasionally sit through most of a show or finish a book.

hard not to hate kate plus 8

Would someone please get this woman some help? And no, I’m not talking about nannies and bodyguards here. Kate Gosselin, that mother who started out on TV as someone to admire as she juggled raising two sets of multiples, the younger ones being just infants, but who on the path to stardom transformed into a bleached blonde, fake-tanned version of Mommy Dearest, definitely could use some help–the psychotherapeutic variety. And I don’t say that to put the woman down.  There are plenty of people who do things impusively and compulsively who aren’t bad people. There are even entire TV shows devoted to them (Hoarding: Buried Alive comes to mind, as does Celebrity Rehab).

But when someone is loathed even by the people who once loved her, there’s something wrong here. On the last couple episodes of Kate Plus 8, the TV series on TLC that morphed from the original Jon & Kate Plus 8 featuring Kate when she was still married to the docile husband who eventually escaped servitude, Kate “takes her family camping” in two RVs to the West and southwestern United States. Along for the ride are Ashley, the babysitter/nanny;  Jamie, Kate’s best (and, I assume, only) friend; and Jamie’s three normal kids. Oh, and there’s also Steve, the bodyguard, an entire film crew, and two drivers for the RVs. See? Just a normal family vacation.

The concept is fun, but the smiles soon melt like butter on hot pavement because . . . did I mention Kate Gosselin is along on the trip? Needless to say, the number of cringe-worthy moments in these episodes is enough to make your face stay that way. The final episodes were titled “RV Breakdown,” and even though three RVs need replacing or repairing along the way, I think the producers were going for the double-entendre with that one, for here are some of Kate’s breakdowns:

 1) Kate throws a foot-stomping, whiny fit when her bodyguard is handed a slice of pizza barehanded (OMG!) by one of Kate’s own daughters (the one who usually throws the foot-stomping, whiny fits. Hmmm, wonder where she gets that from.).

2) Kate throws a second foot-stomping, whiny fit just seconds later when Jamie suggests that the bodyguard eat mac and cheese or salad instead of the pizza. “He DOESN’T EAT macaroni and cheese or salad. That’s for the kids.” (Seriously, Ashley and Jamie, do you expect a grown man to eat adult food?)

3) She throws a fit when bodyguard Steve agrees with the nanny, Kate’s friend, and eleven of the eleven children present that pizza is a fantastic idea for dinner after pulling into a campground late in the evening and having no grills to cook the “hundred dollars’ worth of chicken” (her words) Kate had planned for dinner. (One of the production assistants eventually assembles two small grills to no avail.)

4) Kate throws a fit when she finds out that the best friend and the nanny hadn’t followed her exact orders by putting the kids’ swimsuits in two mesh bags instead of in their duffle bags, because damp, brightly colored, patterned clothing is so difficult to find when mixed in with the other stuff.

5) Kate throws a hissy fit when she enters a raft and refuses to sit on the hot seat in her hotpants/denim shorts, even though all the kids are already seated on those same hot seats while wearing thin trunks or swimsuits. She then throws a second fit when the raft guide douses the seat Kate will be sitting on with river water to cool it. She ends up not sitting down until the seat is dry. She also refuses to get wet on the raft. (Apparently bright-yellow river rafts and camouflaged submarines look too much alike to assume both are not watertight.)

6) Before the RVs even hit the road and while Kate is trying to load the duffle bags and suitcases in the luggage compartment, she says to the cameramen/producers/assistants something to the effect of, “OK, there comes a time when we have to stop playing filming a TV show and help.” (Huh? Since when is it their jobs to do anything other than film a TV show?)

7) Kate throws a fit when she goes over to the “party bus,” which is what Ashley and Jamie have labeled the RV they are riding in with the older kids, and chastises the women for not doing whatever it was she had asked them to do this time.

8 ) Ashley, the nanny (although Kate never uses that word; she prefers “babysitter,” because it sounds like mommy’s helper and not actually the woman responsible for raising the kids), walks off the show and flies home, but instead of taking the blame for causing Ashley’s uncharacteristic reaction, Kate instead turns it inward in a typical poor-me moment: “Eventually, everyone leaves me.” (Geez, I wonder why.)

9) Kate complains that she is the one “masterminding” (aka “controlling) the entire trip while Ashley and Jamie sit back and watch a movie with the children in their air-conditioned RV.  I’m sorry, but I thought part of the job of a “babysitter,” was tending to the children, but I may be wrong.

OK, enough examples. I could go on and on, but the point has been made. If those eight children turn out without therapy bills up the wazoo or without having robbed a convenience store by age 14, I’ll be surprised, because it’s become evident that Kate isn’t the only one who needs help.

the perfect life

One of my favorite films of all time–holiday or otherwise–is The Family Man, starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni. In it, Cage plays a Wall Street businessman who seemingly has the perfect life as a wealthy bachelor. One Christmas Eve he stumbles into a world that is a glimpse of what life would have been like for him had he taken an alternate course, that of a common family man living in a chronically untidy house in the suburbs with two adorable children and a wife whose career has been less than stellar.

I love this film for a number of reasons, but specifically because it questions what most people would consider the perfect life–fancy cars, a driver, a penthouse suite, the attention of beautiful members of the opposite sex. It begs the question, what would life have been like had we steered onto a different path? How different would our lives have been and would it have made us happier than we are now? And the film makes you question what is perfection. Is it the Ferrari and the penthouse suite, or is it a comfortable home with a loving spouse and children? Leoni’s character, Kate, is a lawyer–typically a well-paying career–but Kate is content helping the disadvantaged, taking on pro bono cases instead of the ones that could make her much more money. To her, the house in the suburbs and the minivan and the child in a decent public school is the perfect existence.

For sure, the movie poses an interesting scenario to ponder. What if you had married someone else? What if you had chosen a different career? What if you had more children–or none at all? What if you had never moved from that city or ended up in this one? What if you had never left the farm?

One of my favorite scenes in The Family Man is when suburban Jack gets a break at cracking into the lucrative career he had lworked at in his former/real life. On their anniversary, he takes Kate to a magnificent Manhattan apartment that he has been offered as a perk for accepting a high-paying, high-powered job on Wall Street. When Kate wants none of it, Jack pleads that this new business opportunity and living in the city would provide them with “a perfect life, a great life. Everything that we pictured when we were young; the whole package.” When Kate continues to protest, Jack says, “I’m talking about us having a life that other people envy.” To which Kate replies, “Oh, Jack. They already do envy us.”

This movie hits a nerve because my husband chose a career that makes many people quite wealthy. There are millionaires in his field. They live in mansions or at the very least McMansions. They drive foreign cars (and by “foreign” I do not mean Toyota). They have country club memberships and second homes in the country. They travel to expensive places on extensive vacations. In other words, they live the high life, what many would label the perfect life.

But even before my husband had started his career, the two of us had started a family. By the time he graduated from school, he was the father of two children and the husband of a wife with no job. We lived off of student loans the first three years of our elder daughter’s life and the first year of our younger’s. We worked part time at whatever we could manage. The loans totaled $15,000 for the first year, and $12,000 for each of the following two years, maximum. Try buying groceries and diapers, paying for health insurance, car insurance, paying the utilities and rent in the Bay Area for four people on that income, and without taking any kind of a handout. We had one car–a two-door Nissan Sentra, which posed a problem when getting the babies in and out of the back seat–and little more to our names. We ate a lot of spaghetti, lasagna that lasted an entire week, chicken, and macaroni and cheese (the boxed kind, not the luscious stuff featured on the Food Network). A treat would be a very occasional bucket of fried chicken or lunch at McDonald’s. We shopped on an extremely tight budget and somehow made it work. By the time my husband got his first job, I’m sure our elder daughter thought “generic” was a brand name.

We started out behind the 8 ball, and it’s been a struggle ever since to roll it out of our way let alone push it completely aside. To this day–more than 20 years after my husband first started his career–we’re still living a modest life in a modest house with many flaws. No, we don’t have hardwood floors, marble or granite countertops (or even Corian, for that matter). Our carpet is old and grungy, but I keep shampooing it, and when we need new flooring, we tend to pull up the carpets and lay down peel-and-stick vinyl. I shop at Target, not Nordstrom. Eating out is reserved for special occasions–birthdays, our anniversary, and the occasional holiday. Needless to say, most of my husband’s peers would not be able to even stomach our lifestyle. I’m sure they’d hardly consider this a perfect life. But it’s what we’ve made and it’s all we have. And it’s really not so bad. We pay our bills on time, have four terrific kids, two of whom have reached adulthood and one who’s less than a year away, and we have friends and family who love and care about us.

Now that my husband is struggling to find a job to replace the one he has been downsized from, I have once again begun pondering the what ifs. What would our life have been like had he taken a different road on his career path? What if he had gone for the high-paying, high-powered career? If it would have meant being without our cluttered, funky home, having three kids instead of four, or two instead of four, or none at all, I’d have taken the very road we’re on. It may not be the perfect life, but it’s an enviable one just the same.