That Spouse in the House would be me. It's now been a couple of weeks since I was notified of my layoff, and I've recently been getting some vibes from my wife indicating that she doesn't exactly share all the positive feelings about my newfound freedom and creative ambitions. The reasons for this will eventually become clear, but first, it's important for me to offer a little background.
Liz, who was a top-branch manager in a bank before becoming a stay-at-home mom, is a remarkable person. She not only keeps complete tabs on the kids (and me), but she is known throughout the community as a volunteer and committee leader par excellence. She's someone who gets things done; she could set Congress straight in a day. Liz is always planning and pulling people together, constantly thinking of ways to make things better for the community and for our family. She's someone who really cares.
These last couple of years, in addition to the volunteering, she's worked part-time as a nursery school teacher and in other roles. When those opportunities dried up and our kids became more independent, she began looking for a full-time position; unfortunately, despite some close calls, nothing has firmed up yet.
You see where I'm going with this: Liz and I are both at home. At the same time. A lot. Sounds like fun for a couple married of 15 years, right? Well...
Let's backtrack a bit to the day after I was told of my layoff and had entered Walter Mitty Dream Mode regarding my screenwriting career. What did Liz do? She had a very different reaction than I did: she sprang into action and made her "Cancellation List." HBO, the lawn service, the cleaning service, the subscriptions on my Kindle, to name a few... all cancelled.
OK, I could deal with the cancellations. Many people who are out of work have it far worse than we do, and those items were luxuries for us. In fact, I admired her pragmatism. Someone has to have both feet on the ground, right?
Next came her "Cut Back List." Now we're getting to the brass tacks: no holiday presents for each other, no lunches out while I'm home, no more iTunes. Wait a second... no iTunes?! Dear God, I'm really unemployed!
I took a deep breath, smiled, and tightened the belt. She was 100-percent right about all of it, of course. (I've cut back on something not on her list -- shaving -- but she's not too thrilled about this particular contribution.) Like everyone else who is out of work, we have significant bills and expenses: a mortgage and two car loans, plus half a dozen other mouths to feed -- two kids, two cats, and two hamsters. Oh, yes, and my daughter's Bat Mitzvah looms right around the corner next April. Even the most modest party is the price of a year of college.
Somehow, though, I don't think it was only the financial concerns that were troubling my wife. One day I heard her shouting out loud for 10 minutes about how the size of our laundry had doubled since I'd been home. Well, that would make sense: I'd stopped wearing suits, sport coats, ties, slacks, and dress shirts in favor of jeans, polo shirts, and sweaters. Moreover, I had begun exercising nearly every day, so now the laundry basket is teeming with my sweatpants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. We'd traded in dry cleaning items for more to load into the washing machine.
"Honey!" I exclaimed, "That's great, that means more savings!" You can imagine how she responded to that.
I was getting the strangest feeling that she didn't feel that I quite belonged in the house during the day. It wasn't merely the more-than-usual bickering; it was the looks and the general vibe of discomfort I was receiving due to my mere presence. I just don't belong in the house during daylight hours. I'm "working," yes, but a) not yet making any money (remember from grade-school math: work = force x paycheck), and b) I was at home, not sitting in a business professional's office. My suddenly being the Spouse in the House after all these years has forever altered the household dynamic and, although I'm helping out more with chores and such, my cheerful attitude about my livelihood stings my wife at a time when she is fraught with intense worry about our financial future.
This is all-new territory for the both of us as we find our way into this new phase of life and our relationship. We're learning to respect each other's space and priorities and -- cue up the music from TV's The Odd Couple -- trying hard not to drive each other crazy.
My wife has stepped up efforts to find a full-time position suited to her myriad talents, while I am continuing to balance writing time with job-searching time. Yes, I reserve some time for dreaming, as well, but I've smartened up a bit and have learned to keep the "pocketa-pocketa-pocketa" noises to myself from now on.