I stop at a gas station to inflate my car's left rear tire. I've stopped at this same gas station to inflate my tire every morning for more than a month. My tire has a slow leak, and it's not repairable. It needs to be replaced, which means that all of the tires on my car need to be replaced, because even though I have access to all of human history in my pocket, we apparently can't design a tire for an all-wheel drive vehicle that allows us to replace one tire at a time.
I haven't replaced my tires because they cost money.
For the past six years, my wife - an elementary school teacher - has been at home taking care of our two children. Clara is six and entering first grade, and Charlie is three. Our plan was for my wife to return to work this year when Charlie entered preschool, but less than 24 hours before she was to interview for a teaching job in the school where we met and I still work, I suggested that she spend one more year at home with our little boy.
"Can we afford it?" she asked.
"Not really," I said. "But we'll never get this year back."
Since making that decision a month ago, people have told me how lucky Elysha is to be able to spend this time at home with our children. At least two parents of small children have told me how much they wish they could be at home doing the same.
I hear this a lot, and I agree. We are lucky. I've been a teacher for 17 years. I'm fortunate to be doing something I love and earning a regular paycheck for it.
But we never could've afforded to keep Elysha at home for what will now be seven years had we not made enormous sacrifices in order to do so. Sacrifices that I suspect many people don't see when they peer into our lives.
In addition to teaching, I've taken on many other jobs in order to make ends meet. I publish novels. I write a humor column. I write comic books. I own and operate a mobile DJ company. I'm paid to officiate weddings. I'm paid to speak and tell stories. I tutor high school students. I coach storytellers. Elysha and I operate a writing camp in the summer.
Three years ago, we launched Speak Up, a storytelling organization that produces shows and teaches workshops throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. It doesn't generate a great deal of income but is sometimes the difference between paying our bills in a given month or not.
I work a lot. My friends say that I collect jobs. It's not entirely untrue. I'd love to work less, but I know how close we have come to going broke over the past six years, so I don't. Not yet, at least.
This means that when we're not enjoying our children or each other, we are working. Elysha and I recently went 11 consecutive days without turning on the television, not because we didn't want to, but because we had no time to watch. Between storytelling shows and writing deadlines, we were working from the moment we put our kids to bed to the moment we put ourselves to bed.
Working many jobs for many hours is just one of many sacrifices that we have made.
Elysha and I haven't gone on vacation since our honeymoon in 2006.
We almost never buy clothes for ourselves. Take a close look at us, and you'll see actual holes in our clothing. No joke. Almost all of our clothing is older than our children.
We are both driving "new" used cars, but this is only because our previous cars - each more than a decade old - were driven into the ground. We'd still be driving them if we could've kept them on the road.
The payments on these two "new" cars might break us this year.
We rarely buy anything nonessential. Our home is comprised almost entirely of hand-me-down furniture. Our couch is the same couch that Elysha sat upon as a child. The blue chair in my son's bedroom was purchased off Craigslist. Both of the televisions that we don't have time to watch are hand-me-downs from friends who upgraded to better technology. I'm writing these words on a dining room table once owned by a friend, using a laptop with malfunctioning USB ports and a missing shift key.
This spot at the end of the table is the closest thing I have to an office. As I write these words, my children sit opposite me, eating Cheerios and watching a video on an iPad that my mother-in-law passed down to us. I'm an internationally bestselling author with books translated into more than 25 languages, and yet my laptop is constantly blue-screening me.
And before you think that my writing career is keeping us flush with cash, think again. Mid-list authors like me don't make a living off our work. Most have second and third jobs. Even my status as "internationally bestselling novelist" isn't as impressive when you realize that I was at the bottom of the bestseller list for a few weeks in Italy, a country with a population one-seventh the size of the United States.
Elysha tries to save us money anyway possible. She trades her writing and publicity skills for dance lessons. She sells our infant paraphernalia at consignment shops. She refuses to pay ATM fees.
Two winters ago, we hit a wall. We ran out of money with an oil bill due. I borrowed money from a friend - the first time in my life I've ever had to borrow money like this - and paid it back within a month or two, but it was a hard time for me. Tough on the family and tough on my ego.
These are just a few of the sacrifices that we make to keep Elysha at home with our children. Old clothing and used furniture and no vacations. Lots and lots of work.
I know this isn't possible for everyone. Not everyone has the capacity to build secondary careers like I have. Not everyone can find a job in today's world. I'm not saying that every parent should be making these sacrifices. I'm not saying that staying home with your small children should be a priority.
What I'm saying is this:
Before you assume it's luck or a successful writing career or anything else that has allowed my wife to stay at home with our children, take a closer look. See the holes in the clothes and the mismatched furniture in the living room and the number of times our family visits the library or a museum instead of Disney World.
See the deflated tire on my car and know that it represents a sacrifice we are making.
So tomorrow morning, on my way to work, I will stop again to inflate my left rear tire. I don't know how long I'll be doing this. Probably longer than I would like. But it doesn't matter.
I will leave a home where my wife is packing a lunch for my daughter and two happy kids are eating Cheerios and tickling each other. They are happy because their mother has taught them to love music and books and museums and libraries and each other. They are happy because she is happy. They are happy because I am happy.
Deflated tire and all.