I mentioned in an earlier post that we are Officially Broke. This is both accurate and hyperbolic. We are broke in the sense that we live paycheck to paycheck, and often dip into our overdraft (thank GOD for overdrafts!!!!). We do not eat out/frequent vending machines at work/buy ourselves much. Our kids wear clothes from Savers, where you can get six pairs of jeans and six shirts and a winter coat and a crock pot for $38. (The catch is, it’s all been worn or cooked in by someone else.) Lars and I do not buy our clothes at Savers, but then again we don’t buy clothes at all, unless something is too holey or stained to be justified. Then we wait until that and the next three stained and holey items are repurposed as “gardening clothes,” and with a sigh we make a trip to Target.
Things we do spend money on: violin lessons (Benjy), voice lessons (Saskia), limited (and cheap) summer camp doings (Saskia – Ben cannot manage summer camp). I spend more than I should on printer paper and ink cartridges. This is what I meant when I accused myself of hyperbole. We are broke but not, strictly speaking, poor. We do usually end up staring at each other in dismay as the month draws to a close, and I do frequently weigh the pros and cons of a week of Food Club mac and cheese for dinner (that’s the $.89 brand). But we own a decent if tiny house, and two functional if ratty cars, and we are neither cold nor hungry. I am so grateful for that.
No one signs up for being broke, just like no one signs up for a disabled child. But I bet if you surveyed families with disabled children you would learn that a large number of them have one parent who cannot work (unless there is only one parent, in which case it’s either work – somehow -- or welfare), a large measure of debt, and not much left over at the end of the month.
We are one of those families that has two parents but only one who is able to bring in much of a salary. Last spring I made the painful decision that work would have to be significantly curtailed. But work, for me, has been no more than simply a way to help keep our family afloat for a while now. Whatever aspirations I had – and I did have some – faded when Benjy’s autism took over; there was neither time nor energy for anything beyond meeting his needs.
I probably could have had a pretty good career. I’m an English professor, but I will never be tenured, or even tenure track. Benjy came along just when I was poised to snag a good job (book from Cambridge, one of the two or three top university presses in the world; articles in top-tiered journals. Lots of teaching experience, and students who loved me). So I gave it up. Soothed tantrums, oversaw therapies (30 hours per week). Emulated occupational and physical therapists. Tried to get him to talk. To crawl. Tried to help him. Mine has been a life of trying to help my son, to alleviate his stress, his anguish. Trying, now that he’s grown capable of all sorts of things, to keep him safe.
I cannot describe the feeling of having a child you’re not sure you can keep safe.
So work, and the perks of having expendable income, have once again almost entirely disappeared from my life. Thank goodness for Lars and his relatively stable job. Thank goodness Saskia babysits, pays for lots of her own stuff (and does not mind it). Thank goodness I have Lars and Saskia to help me through this complicated life. And most of all, thank goodness that we have Benjy still, and that there are still times when he can smile.
And yes, we are Officially Broke for the foreseeable future.