No, I should really know better.
When Cheryl and I moved here from Orlando we lived with her parents until we could find a place for ourselves. For almost as long as we’ve had a place of our own, Cheryl has been keeping an eye out for a place we could share with her parents.
Every time she’s proposed a place my answer was very simple.
I’ve never wavered. Every time I’ve lived with someone besides my immediate family, I’ve never quite felt comfortable. Even when I’ve paid a share of the rent, part of me felt like an intruder. Roommates in college was one thing. I knew it would end some day. It was temporary housing.
Multigenerational housing – with the in-laws – is an entirely different proposition. There’s no end. I could feel like a guest in my own home for the foreseeable future. Just the thought depresses me, and there are no immediate plans to do so.
Well, there are now. Nothing’s set in stone, but it’s more than a one way conversation now.
Financial circumstances have slowly deteriorated. (And yet we still talk about buying computers.) There have been no pay raises in five or more years. This year we’re looking at furloughs, a 3 percent pay cut, or both. My department is talking about the possibility of layoffs for the first time in forty years. In the past they’ve been good at reading the tea leaves, holding back on hiring so position cuts could be absorbed by vacancies. Not this year. Ever since JEB! was first elected ten years ago (more or less), we’ve been asked to find 10 percent of our budget to cut every year. This year they’ve asked us to find 15. We haven’t always seen the full extent of those cuts, once the dust has settled after legislative sessions, but it hasn’t been pleasant. It seems they’ve finally caught up. Mind you, even when I have seen a raise (I can’t remember when), it’s been the 1.5 percent variety. There were a couple exceptions: promotions, and that one year I was lucky enough to get one of a handful of performance raises (they’ve offered them twice in my almost fifteen years – to about 2 percent of our agency).
Don’t get me wrong. I know I shouldn’t complain about my job, especially not in this economy, but for other reasons as well. As it happens, I love my job. I knew exactly what I was getting when I took a government job. It has it’s benefits, both financial (health insurance), and social (relatively liberal leave policies). Plus, I work with great people… my second family.
It’s just that in the mean time expenses have exploded – especially the medical variety.
To top it off, Cheryl worries there will be a day I won’t be able to work anymore. I don’t share her worry, but I sympathize with it. We’re better off than many, with money in savings, the beginnings of a retirement account, and money put away for at least one of the kids to go to college (thanks to the Florida Pre-Paid Program). Yet it feels like we’re living life without a net, like we’re one setback from financial catastrophe.
In other words, we’re living the new American dream: stagnant or decreasing wages, ballooning expenses, and the constant threat of job loss always hanging over our heads.
You know what they say about never. This is why I’m starting to think multi-generational housing isn’t such a bad idea, consolidating and reducing our expenses to give my family more financial security – both for my immediate family and my in-laws. But it’s not any less depressing.
I’ve lived in our house, this house, as long as I’ve lived anywhere. It’s been a true home, in every sense of the word. It’s the only home my kids have known. It’s where I learned I could be handy if I really needed to be. It’s where I’ve spent days like today: a cool, quiet, cloudless day on the front porch listening to breezes blow through our giant oak, sipping at a cup of green tea as I write.
Now I wonder if we should give it up… if we have to give it up.
Then there are my dark thoughts, when I wonder if we would be here if I was more ambitious.
When Cheryl and I first started dating in college, there was often wonder in her eyes. There were times I’d help her with homework, even though I’d never taken the class, or a class like it, and she’d look at me as if I’d just made her textbook disappear. Though it was nothing more than an ability to read (her books), she thought I could do anything. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me at the time. It was a lifeline for the kid who thought he was capable of nothing. And yet, it still made me feel a bit uncomfortable, the weight of expectations feeling heavy on my shoulders.
My aim in life has always been simple: to be happy. I eschew the spotlight. I set a course for a relatively simple life a long time ago – a life not without hard work, just one not consumed by it. Now I wonder if this place we find ourselves in, thinking of leaving our home, the tears in my daughter’s eyes when the subject comes up, the image in my head of that last day when the house is empty and we look around as we close the door on a chapter in our lives… if it’s my fault.