Day 24 – We All Need to Be Needed

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Sunday – September 21, 2014

This dog gets it.
This dog gets it.

Sunday is church day and on a busy church day that means meetings. I serve as the secretary of our ward’s Elders’ Quorum (read: men’s group) which means, working with the Assistant Secretary (yes, I have an assistant–I’m big time), I keep track of everything going on and get all the computer work done. Basically, I take notes and push buttons.

An hour before church started, I met with the rest of the Quorum leadership. We went over things that need doing and people who need attention. Every time I sit down with these guys I have the same thought: I’m the only one without a job. I don’t mean to go there, but I can’t be the only one who plays One-of-These-Things-is-Not-Like-the-Others every time they’re in a group of people. Right? None of the guys did anything to suggest they look down on me, but still my mind went there. I do my best to not associate my unemployment with shame, but that feeling of difference leads to the feeling that I’ve done something wrong and that leads to feeling bad. It shouldn’t be there, logically, but it is always there at the edges of my mind. Thankfully, these moments are fleeting.

After the meeting, I did the pushing buttons thing. Any time I get to serve in this way I get reminded of what it feels like to have a job, lo, those three weeks ago. The entire morning–on the Day of Rest–felt like having a job. It wasn’t so long ago I was calling for meetings and giving instructions to my team and handing out assignments. That was all a big part of what I did. The other part was at the computer executing my own assignments. It just felt felt good to do a little of that again, even if it was all terribly non-creative.

On the heels of that I got an email today from a former colleague who was also laid off this year. He’d heard I’d just been let go and wrote an incredibly gracious note that spoke fondly of our time together and expressed his utter faith that I will find something suitable for and worthy of my talents. Even offered to be a reference for me. He reminded me of my value, which can be so easy to forget.

I’ve always thought of a job as just a job, the thing I do to put food on the table and take care of what really matters to me–my family. But in the last few years the job really became something more as I stepped up to assume the role of Art Director. The job became much more than a job. It was a source of real accomplishment and friendships and fulfillment. I was excited about what I was doing and felt like I was making a difference, not only for my co-workers and the people who had entrusted me to lead, but also for kids and teachers and everyone in education whose lives we were trying to make easier.

Now, I get that feeling of being valued when I’m at church, which is no small place to feel such a thing. I’m immensely grateful for church and my church family. Not only is everyone there a constant source of strength for us, but they need me there (or they’re at least great at making me feel that way). They look at me as someone who has something to offer and that’s something everyone needs. We need to be needed. To be not needed is to be lost. To have nowhere to go and nowhere to be is a nightmare.

This is what can sometimes make being in need such a difficult thing. I know we’re in a spot right now where we have to accept help, but I don’t want to just spend my days receiving. I want to give as well. If I can’t do that in a job, then, for now, I suppose it’s enough that I can at least do that in other ways.

Day 22 – This Whole Life is a Storm

A brief note: Apologies to those of you who subscribe to this blog for the shenanigans of the past few days. I’ve gotten a few enties mixed up and posted some early by mistake. If you got an email for a blog that is not longer there, don’t worry, it will be back. Again, very sorry. If you’re reading this and want to receive notices in your email every time there’s a new post, please click on the “Follow” button on the right. Thanks!

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Friday – September 19, 2014

Elora and Cami
Elora and Cami

I had the privilege of accompanying Erin to EPU (a non-profit helping families through the first few, rough years of having children with special needs) today to hear our oldest, Elora, speak to a group of adults about her experiences as Cami’s sister. I was the only male there. EPU stands for Exceptional Parents Unlimited, but if the place was honest it would be called Exceptional Mothers Unlimited, or EMU. But then it would be named after a flightless bird native to Australia and I don’t think they want that. So they pretend guys come there, too.

This was actually the second time Elora went to EPU to speak about Cami. The first time was a year earlier, when she was 10-years-old. Elora is a pretty composed kid. She was introduced as “11 going on 30” and that’s about right. I’d have been scared to death at her age to speak in a room full of intimidating adults, but for her it’s nothing. My theory: her glasses are X-ray specs and her high level of comfort and security with herself comes from seeing everyone in their underwear, like, all the time.

It was sobering to hear the past 9 years of our lives from Elora’s perspective. I didn’t know this, but it took her a long time to process that Cami has a disability. We never hid the fact from her, but it’s hard to know what your kid understands and doesn’t understand. She said she didn’t fully get it until just a few years ago. I’m actually kind of grateful for that.

The love Elora has for Cami runs quite deep. We find that people form a bond with Cami pretty easily. She has a quality about her that invites you in. Her spirit is deeply felt, even if you don’t always understand her.

Cami’s body holds her back for, I assume, a wise purpose. My beliefs encompass that idea that Cami’s spirit is too pure to be tainted by the world, and that she is here less for her experiences on this Earth and more for the benefit of the rest of us. She is innocence, pure and unaffected by her circumstances, just as so many of her peers are. Cami and others like her aren’t just special people, they’re essential people. I truly believe the world would be quite a bit darker without them.

I thought a lot about the next life as I listened to Elora speak. I believe that it’s then that we’ll finally get to know Cami fully. She’ll talk with us, person-to-person, and tell us all about her unique perspective on things and her memories. This both excites me and freaks me out. I want to hear from Cami, but will she remember things like the time I looked away for a second and she rolled off our high bed and landed on her head?* Will she judge me harshly for those times at dinner when I am weak and yell at her, after thousands of meals, for not being able to eat properly and making a mess? Or will she focus instead on the times we went to the grocery store together or played on the living room floor or the kiss I give her each night before tucking her int?  From what I know of her (and I like to think I know her very well), no, she won’t judge me too harshly. Her spirit is loud and it is pure and I don’t think she possesses any sort of guile that could possibly manifest itself in the next life or any other.

*Cami had an MRI already scheduled for the very next day. I’ve never been so nervous. Thankfully, everything checked out.

So, when I look at Cami, I see a temporary situation. Our lack of communication is a blip compared to the eternity of continual fellowship in front of us.

How much more a blip, then, is this current trial of unemployment? There’s no unemployment in the next life. I’m sure we’ll have our worries and concerns, but that won’t be one of them. I know this is a far away idea, but sometimes when you’re in the midst of something it can seem like it will never end and it helps to remind yourself that that’s simply not true.

Unemployment does not compare to the struggle we had coming to terms with who Cami is and it isn’t cancer and it’s not living under a military dictatorship or having each day’s primary goal being the fetching of water, but it’s just as temporary. It’s good to remember that just about everything ends, all the trials and tribulations of this life–even your first and second worst nightmares. I talked about storms the other day, and how they pass. The truth is this whole life is a storm. And it will pass. And then we’ll see and understand.

Day 21 – Rewards for a (No) Job Well Done

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday – September 18, 2014

What is this an award for? What is this guy even doing?
What is this an award for? What is this guy even doing?

Since I was feeling pretty good about my job search efforts of late, I took a day to reward myself and mostly do cool stuff. Stuff I might feel guilty doing otherwise since it would be time away from finding a job. So, in the interest of balance, my rewards to myself:

1. I did a fair amount of writing in the morning on my second book. As of recently, it is no longer called Untitled Romance Memoir and is instead titled Worlds Apart. None of you should have been waiting for that news as I’ve never discussed this book publicly. Been working on it for a while though. Allllmost done. I can actually see the finish line at the end of the first draft and it is glorious.*

2. Went out to lunch with my visiting-from-out-of-town brother Tyler and his wife, Karen. We used a Groupon, of course. If you’re looking for the very best sandwich in Clovis, Ca and you don’t get a Hot Pastrami from the Corner Cafe then you’ve wasted your time and your money. Don’t be stupid like that.

3. One thing I always regretted I didn’t get to do more of when I had a job was go to Elora’s sporting events. Today, I got to go to her Cross Country Meet AND be the hero who brought all the drinks. All I had were cheap, tiny water bottles, so I made a quick stop at Walgreens to pick up a trio of Mio Fits, which add flavor and electrolytes to water. The kids went nuts for ’em, pouring as much of the stuff in as needed to make the water taste like Kool-Aid. Huge smiles on everyone’s faces. They probably threw up later.

My favorite part of being at the Meet was driving Elora home afterward. Seems like she’s always gone these days, tied up in school commitments. We got a chance to really talk and I’m so impressed by the fascinating, dedicated and exceptionally, intelligently verbose young woman she’s becoming. She is such her own person at this point that Erin and I can take very little credit for her. (However, if you know us in real life, you may continue to call Elora awesome and heap praise on us because, let’s face it, that never gets old.)

4. Played Mario Kart 8. Because I’m not gonna not do that on a ‘me’ day.

Erin told me I’m lucky to have this time, to be able to do these things, despite whatever else is going on. She’s right. Life was easy today, and perfect–it was exactly the way I wish it could always be. It’s logical that it’s not this way, but at the same time it seems a great injustice that no one will pay for me to be a dad engaged with his daughter and work on cool projects and have good, cheap lunches. I admit, even with this unemployment monkey ripping up my back, I enjoy defining my days as I see fit–not in a slothful way, but in a way that allows me to use my day up on the things that matter the most to me personally.

* * *

*I’ve done my research and there aren’t a whole lot of memoirs largely about romance. Either that means there’s some untapped potential there or it’s just a terrible idea to write one in the first place. I don’t actually care at this point. Writing, when done correctly, is done because it has to be done. I’d rather write for an audience of no one than write something crafted cynically for the millions of people waiting for the next vampire romance book.

Since you didn’t ask, the basic pitch of Worlds Apart is this: a modern day Romeo and Juliet story between a Mormon and a Protestant in which they don’t die at the end but get married instead. Scariest thing I’ve ever written. I hope you all get to read it one day. It is utterly lacking in vampires.

Day 20 – This is How We Know God is Mindful of Us

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Wednesday – September 17, 2014

044-044-TheGoodSamaritan-full
The Good Samaritan. One of my very favorite parables.

Erin’s body does not deal with stress well. When she was a kid, she was ill a lot, earning her the nickname Illy McIllerson (as of this very moment). Now that she’s an adult it’s not as bad, but her body is prone to waving the white flag now and again, and forcing her into bed. This is what happened this morning. So, once again, I had to take the single dad role. And, this time, the nurse role.

I’m not completely terrible at this. If there was money in being a substitute mom, I wouldn’t feel bad taking it. I managed to get the kids to all the places they needed to go, do some job applying, write, and even pick up a friend’s kid from school and set him up with some video games at our place (after he’d completed his homework, of course). That was the easy stuff. The hard stuff was helping Erin get better.

We’ve decided to elect COBRA to extend our health insurance coverage, but we haven’t actually paid the premiums yet (my foreign friends, you are so very lucky). Neither Erin nor I wanted to deal with doctors and try to explain our situation, but something had to be done because Erin only got worse as the day went on. Thankfully, the doctor was just fine with calling in a prescription without actually seeing Erin (this is how often she gets sinus infections–the drill is known).

I went to Target to pick up the medicine while Erin slept. Without COBRA, we’d have to pay full price for the prescription. Okay, whatever. Erin was tired of feeling crummy and I didn’t care how much it cost. I hate seeing her suffer. I looked it up and the most we’d pay would be $50 for her particular antibiotic. Not great, but doable.

The incredibly nice young woman at the pharmacy counter (I’ll call her Shirley because I know no one by that name–I’m not even sure it’s a real name, quite frankly) looked up our name and found another prescription for me to pick up–Cami’s anti-seizure meds. She helpfully rang it all up for me.

I didn’t say a word. Secretly, I was hoping our insurance had screwed up and we were still on the plan. It was a remote, illogical possibility, but it only took Shirley a moment to explore so I let it happen.

Shirley scanned Cami’s meds. $216. “Oh no,” she said. “That’s not right!”

“No, no,” I said. “That’s right. That’s what I expected.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, we lost our jobs a couple of weeks ago and COBRA hasn’t kicked in, so–”

“I HAVE A COUPON!”

Shirley ran away from me, over to some drawer I couldn’t see, and rifled through it. When she came back, she punched some numbers into the computer and announced that she’d gotten Cami’s meds down to $30 and Erin’s antibiotic down to $16. I barely knew how to react. The guy behind me in line said “That was awesome.” I nodded towards him as if to say “Yes, guy in line, that was awesome.”

“Thank you,” I said to Shirley. Over and over again.

“It’s my pleasure,” she said. “We get these coupons from the pharmaceutical companies to use when there’s a need. You’re one of our regulars, we gotta take care of you.”

This is going to sound weird, but if you’ve read this far I think you’re with me on this: I’m really grateful Erin is sick a lot.

* * *

We keep getting little (and big) blessings like this. A friend and former co-worker stopped by today with a gift card. He didn’t have to do that, but he did and it’s just more evidence to us that God is mindful of us. This is usually how God is mindful of all of us: through other people. I have to think, because of that, we’re not being set up for a fall here. He’s propping us up right now as signs that He is there and is guiding us towards what we need to overcome this particular trial.

Now, the reverse could be true. He could be showing up because He knows it’s only going to get worse from here on out and He doesn’t want us to be alone, but that’s a super depressing thought so I’m going with the other thing.

Day 19 – The Work/Life Balance of the Unemployed

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I’m a complete jerk when I don’t get sleep. Erin likes to tell the story of the morning soon after we returned from our honeymoon. After a week of sleeping in for as long as we wanted and eating breakfast for lunch, we both had to get up early to go to work. She set the alarm for 6am and we needed to be up at 7am. When it went off, she hit snooze. When the alarm went off again 7 minutes later, she hit snooze again. When the alarm went off again 7 minutes later, she hit snooze again. And so on. After five or six times of this, I got up on all fours and started pounding on the bed like a gorilla, screaming “STOP HITTING THE SNOOZE! STOP HITTING THE SNOOZE! STOP IT!!!”

file0001558998064Erin started crying. Who was this beast she’d married? After calling her a crazy person for hitting snooze so many times, I calmed down and apologized. I explained that what she thought of as little reminders that she was still sleeping were devastating wake up calls for me. It takes me a full half hour to fall back asleep, if I get to at all. I’m an insomniac, what should be and what I’d rather doesn’t always matter.

So, when I say that today I woke up after only four hours of sleep for the second time in 48 hours, you can understand how potentially horrifying that could be to those I love. I’m not rational when I lack sleep. I’m not kind. I’m a gorilla.

Why so little sleep right now, when I have no job? I’m just so dang busy. I can’t sit around and wait and look for the right job. That would be have me busy in and of itself, but it’s not enough. I have to work. Whether on my own stuff or someone else’s, I’ve got to work. The freelance projects are coming in and last night I was up way past midnight working. This new self-determined schedule and extra time I have during the day, it’s so tempting. I can use it all working on things I enjoy! As someone who struggled every night after everyone else went to bed to get all my side projects done with whatever energy I had left over from my 9-to-5, I love being able to do things during the day.

However, there’s a cost.

My lack of sleep is wholly indicative of my struggle to achieve balance in my life right now. My schedule is so thrown out of whack and there are so many things to do. This blog, which I regard as important and accidentally great for networking, is one of those things that I must get to, every day. I have commitments to my online comic, The SuperFogeys. I have my kids. I have my wife. I have a book I’m writing. I have a job I’m looking for. I have a church calling. I have friends and extended family. Books I’ve read halfway. A grandmother I don’t ring up on the phone enough. Freelance.

None of these things are in the right order. Getting them in the right order is a minute-by-minute exercise I seem to always be failing.

Erin noticed this today. She confronted me directly and woke me up to the fact that I can’t do it. I can’t satiate my frenetic need to be constantly working. There’s always going to be more to do and more efforts we could make, but a break is sometimes necessary. Interacting with and taking care of the kids and cleaning the house is sometimes necessary because, newsflash, I’m not the only one with the no job problem. She needs to work on stuff, too. It’s an aspect of us both being out of work I’m ashamed to say I just didn’t consider seriously until now.

Of all the advice we get from those who have been through unemployment (for which I am grateful), no one has much to say about what to do when both spouses lose their jobs right on top of each other. There’s a different emotional component that comes into play, and further considerations that have to be made. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand that.

Day 17 – Riders on the Storm

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 14, 2014

At church today I found out more about a potential job in Fresno Unified that would have me making more of a contribution to the world than my wallet. I like feeling that my work has value beyond just putting food on the table and increasing a company’s profits. It’s not that feeding my family isn’t enough or that profits are bad, it’s just that if I’m going to be dedicating a big portion of my day to something, I like the idea that that something makes some kind of societal difference. It’s a very millenial way of thinking (Look! I can read magazine articles!), but it’s something I can’t help but think about at a time when every possibility is open and I get to dream.

* * *

Had this blog fully justified today. A brother at church came up, slapped me on the back, and told me to “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Said he’s reading this series every day and following along and it helps him to know he’s not the only one who struggles with some of my same issues.

Gotta admit, that was pretty cool. There’s great power in simply sharing. What you find out is you’re not as unique and alone as you think you are and other people have lots of insight to share. They might even have help to offer if you’d just let them in.

Man, I wish I could go back in time and tell my high school self that. He really thought he was alone in the universe.

* * *

This afternoon I visited some families as part of my home teaching route with my partner and friend, Cody (home teaching is a way we look out for each other and meet needs in the Church–it’s a monthly visit from two members of the priesthood who share a quick lesson and chew the fat with you a bit). As part of the lesson, I shared this quote on the unique financial challenges of our time from our President and Prophet, Thomas S. Monson:

Thomas S. Monson
Thomas S. Monson

We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt. Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had a supply of food and clothing and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have a supply of debt and are food-free.

I repeat what the First Presidency declared a few years ago:

‘Latter-day Saints have been counseled for many years to prepare for adversity by having a little money set aside. Doing so adds immeasurably to security and well-being. Every family has a responsibility to provide for its own needs to the extent possible.’

I’ve heard this counsel in one form or another all my life. Living debt free can be incredibly difficult in the 21st Century, but holy crud am I grateful we can actually ride this storm (What did I say about storms just a few days ago?). I mean, we have a mortgage and a car payment, but those are acceptable, necessary debts. (I’d put student loans in that category as well, but neither of us ever had one.) What we are free of is any credit card or excessive debt that can be so crippling. I can’t imagine having that additional weight on us now, when there’s only money going out, not in.

* * *

Had dinner tonight with our friends the Daveys. They’ve been through the unemployment wringer in an extended way I hope we won’t have to. Every time we see them, they make a game out of giving us another piece of advice. Here’s their latest:

Finding a job is a full-time job. Take breaks accordingly or you’ll burn out.

Basically, we really need to go see a movie. Or something.