Friday, March 13, 2009

Laurie's story: "Their father will be employed again"

Last November, Laurie Reid's husband came home from work without a job for the next day.

How do they shield their children from the stress of losing their household's only income?

The Reids, parents of two, have lived a comfortable but not extravagant life in Charlotte for 20 years. Now, with thoughtful candor, Laurie faces the strain and challenges her family is confronting.

We've been bringing you Laurie's story weekly - along with others from around Charlotte. They are voices that speak to the different challenges that you'll find throughout our city. We want to hear your stories of struggles and successes, too.

Writes Laurie:

We have settled into a new norm at our house since my husband was laid off. When the alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., he heads for the shower, the kids wake up and ready themselves for school and I pack lunches and shout orders. When all of our chores are done, we assemble into the kitchen for a quick breakfast before my husband whisks the kids off to the bus, just as he has done every day for the past 7 years.

The difference is that now instead of going to work directly from the bus stop, he comes home. And instead of wearing a pair of pressed khakis and a starched button down shirt, he sports a pair of worn jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt. We've settled into this new routine rather nicely. And nobody, except for my dry cleaner, seems to miss the old gig. It's the new norm at our house and the dry cleaner will just have to get used to it.

One morning shortly after he was laid off, my husband had an early meeting with outplacement services. Instead of dressing in his new uniform of jeans and a t-shirt, he dressed in the uniform of not-so-long-ago: a pair of pressed brown slacks and a light blue button-down. I knew about his appointment, in fact, I put my stamp of approval on the outfit (another of my morning duties). But my daughter didn't know about my husband’s plan and as she got dressed and made her bed, she must have sensed that something was different.

I was in the hallway when she approached me. She had a worried look on her face and her enormous brown eyes were as big as I had ever seen them. They get that way when she sees or hears something that she shouldn't see or hear. She came very close, leaned up against me with her back towards my bedroom door where her father was putting the finishing touches on his outfit and whispered, "Um, Mom, why is Dad getting dressed for work?"

I glanced over at my husband and then back to my daughter and knew immediately what she was trying to say, "Dad is losing his mind and has forgotten that he is unemployed. Do something. Quick." She's seen this type of bizarre behavior in movies and read about it in books, and now she thought she was living it first hand.

To be honest, she might have expected this type of outlandish behavior from me, but certainly not from her father who has always been of sound mind and body. I realize that my first reaction should have been to reassure her that her father was not losing his mind, but instead, I collapsed into a fit of laughter at which time her eyes grew even larger. I quickly regained my composure and convinced her that he was not going crazy, he simply had an early morning meeting and was dressing the part. She let out a sigh of relief.

People keep asking me how our children are dealing with the fact that their father is unemployed. I am happy to report that they are doing just fine. It's not as if we've stopped feeding them 3 meals a day or moved them up to the attic so that we can take in borders.

Kidding aside, I realize that this is a tremendous change in our lives and a crisis like this can be very stressful. So far, my husband and I are keeping the stress to ourselves and not sharing it with the kids. I know that the experts would tell me that I can’t possibly hide stress from my kids; children are perceptive. And yes, we’ve had several frank and open discussions with the both of them.

They know that we are cutting back (read: no spring break trip, no week at the beach this summer) but it didn’t come as a shock because we taught them at an early age that money doesn’t grow on trees. They don’t need to know what’s happened to our 401(k). They do need to know that their father will be employed again. They know this and they know that there is no room for doom and gloom at our house.

Hopefully, those pressed khakis and button-down oxford shirts will be making their way out of the closet more and more often over the next couple of months. If that’s the case, we'll have yet another new norm to contend with at our house. I anxiously await that day, as does my dry cleaner.


Anonymous said...

While I want to say I can empathize - mine has only been three weeks long (forced hiatus). I am using this pause in my 25 year working history to do some soul searching - last time I went through is in 2001 - things turned out nicely in the end - hoping this will also. So Keep the Chin Up - and use this god given opportunity to bond with the Kids and the wife also

Anonymous said...

The dry cleaner bit. So, you've learned nothing from this. I do see anything where you've offer to pitch in - why don't YOU wash and iron the man's shirts and save some cash when he does go back to work? Typical spoiled rich girl attitude. Still not at all impressed with your "story".

Anonymous said...

You're boring me...stop boring me!

Anonymous said...

Laurie, I love how you throw on the humor onto this humorless subject. You are a breath of fresh air and I keep tuning in to see how you and your family are doing. I am cheering for you and wishing you all the best.

Anonymous said...

Great story, it's so important to make sure your kids understand the situation, but also assure them that everything will be OK in the end.

I hope your husband lands a great career soon, and good luck with your writing career.

Also, I think your sense of humor and writing style are both great. Keep it up, looking forward to your next article

Vincent said...

"Only boring people get bored",
that's a quote from my book.

Peter I do believe you need to inform your boss you need a raise based on duality of effort when you start another blog "rise from the bottom, wadding your way through acclivity - 2009". Putting emphasis on the return from a stumble.

Laurie more power to ya. The ability/willingness to adjust can be at times, an acquired yet necessary taste.

Keep at the postings, let us know the good news.

Anonymous said...

I think the writing thing is good for you Laurie. I have been thru this before also. I was laidoff, fired or let go from 3 jobs from July 2004 to May 2006. It seemed a bit odd to me. I'm an educated (Engineering Degree, MBA and six sigma greenbelt) but was found to be "extra" when workforce reductions came along. You and your husband will recover "with God's help" even better than before, but believe me he wants you to get some lesson from this. Listen carefully to him and yes appreciate each other more during this time. It will get you thru. "This to shall pass"

Anonymous said...

Is this where I get free pet food?

Anonymous said...

Vincent - you're boring everyone...stop boring everyone!

Anonymous said...

Laurie, thanks for sharing your reflections & experiences. Each of your entries seems to get more elegantly written than the previous: humorous without stretching into silliness; balanced, calm, and thoughtful.

Back in the "good old days" (like, a couple of years ago, or especially before 9/11, when the biggest concern seemed to be Y2K computer glitches), I clearly remember thinking somewhat wistfully that our generation did not have the "gift" of a real character-building trial like the Depression provided. We could preach gratitude & prudence to our kids, but it was really more of an academic exercise; let's face it, if we adult consumers wanted something, we just went out & bought it. (No, of course I don't mean everyone; the poor have always been 'in recession'; but I'm referring to America's vast middle class.) Well, I guess the lesson is: be careful what you wish for! But I truly think there's a positive side to these bad times; "that which does not kill us makes us stronger". Our kids & our families will be better in the end, if we make it so. Even if the worst-case scenarios happen --- the kind of grinding widespread poverty that some sensationalist blog posters (all over the internet, not just here) love to describe, I doubt we will ever be on any level that millions around the world routinely live with. So let's all keep things in perspective and use these trying times as a force for personal growth.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate Lauries' situation and attitude, it is obvious from her blogs that her current situation is not what it is for most people. One can surmise from this and previous blogs that she is fairly well off, and I don't mean to downplay her problems, however it is a lot easier to go through this with "grace and humour" when there is a minimal chance of being put in the street. I don't get the impression she is worried about the next mortgage payment as I and millions of others are. That being said, I wish Laurie and her family nothing but the best.