Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Six Years Ago I Lost My Job

Six years ago on May 8th, my world turned upside down.

I was let go from my corporate job.

There was a sense of triumph and a sense of relief along with the dread of losing all that money. I had seen the handwriting on the wall about a year earlier when I had returned to work from maternity leave in March 2002. The atmosphere seemed tense, people were nervous, I was somewhat oblivious, still in the euphoria over the birth of my daughter. I took on my next assignment as part of the career development program I was in when I left for maternity leave six months prior. It was actually the maternity leave that made it possible for me to return because a couple of people in the same rotational program had been let go before they even completed the twelve-to-eighteen-month internal consulting gigs. The promise was that we were being groomed for management and would have a job in the end.

Perhaps I ignored the sense of dread upon taking the "only position available" within the company. There was something sinister about that short little woman that I told myself was nothing, the opportunity would be good for my career in a "growing" area of the company. Never should've believed the lie.

Fast forward about a year into the position with new management, new people "leaving" or "retiring" and more and more tense air.

I prayed in January to go home but something inside wouldn't just let me quit. I guess it is because I had been working full-time since I was nineteen (except for the brief two-year-stint to work on my M.B.A.)

The day, two days after my birthday, came with me having already cleared out my office. I knew it was coming, I didn't want to be shamed into having someone stand over me while I packed my office. My purse and coffee mug was all I carried out on that last day. I closed the door on that chapter and opened another.

Little did I know that my husband, also with graduate degrees (he has a Ph.D.), would lose his job two months later.

Our world turned upside down.

We went from a high six-figure-income to zero before the summer was in full swing. We had three sons and a daughter at home. And I was pregnant.

The financial, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual toll losing our income took on us still has remnants today, even as I stay home raising our children and he works another high six-figure-income job. Even as we look around us at more and more professional friends losing jobs, or spouses losing jobs, or friends' homes in jeopardy.

To those experiencing this blow that hits to the pit-of-the-stomach, I can say, this too shall pass.

I realized we have been tested, some we passed, others we failed, but tested all the same.

Our family, our children, are relatively unscathed. We never gave them everything they wanted when we had all the money so they weren't wondering what happened to their golden piggy bank. In the first year, we still went on our planned vacation, it wasn't until after we returned that he lost his job. Even when he lost his, we were sure something would surface soon.

My husband, the highly educated man, humbled himself and stacked boxes, worked in an archive cave, and wrote articles to bring in money. My field, marketing, was essentially dried up in 2003, especially in our city, so I settled into the pregnancy and being an at-home mom.

I clipped coupons, met my son's school bus, prepared meals, did laundry, everything I thought I was supposed to do.

Savings helped us make it through the rest of 2003 as well as generous gifts from some of my husband's former students who we count as close friends, through loans from family, through stretching final paychecks, and through humility. We signed up for COBRA through his job, more than twice as much as it would've been through my job, and we counted everything. We prayed and went to church and were sure this was a short season.

The end of 2003 brought us the birth of our last child and second daughter. So sure we were of God's restoration that even her name symbolizes that. Together, we felt we were embarking on something momentous.

2003 turned into 2004 and he was still doing the archivist job that was about one-third of our former salary. He also went down to the social services office and applied for food stamps and medicare. I was still getting unemployment. By the time spring came and maternity leave ended, I was knocking on doors that didn't want to open. I got my insurance license and kept looking for something.

He finally landed at another full-time, with benefits position, that would be a stepping stone to where he is now. It was less than half our former salary but we were sure it would pay off. We had learned to live on less and juggled our bills, the mortgage was still paid, and the odd articles or occasional insurance check held us over.

I look back now and wonder about it all. In the midst of that, our beautiful baby girl almost died from undiagnosed intestinal malrotation. It started presenting in December 2004, when she turned a year old. She was a nursed baby and breast milk digests easily. By Spring 2005 with her skinny frame and non-stop throwing up, I finally had an emergency room doctor listen to me that it was more than just the flu.

She was rushed to surgery in March 2005. By this time, my husband and I were a little irritated with each other. I still couldn't find anything full-time, had joined Mocha Moms,and had started my own business. My focus was elsewhere, the bills were still being paid but now we had the medical bills mounting up.

My daughter lived most of 2005 in the hospital with lengthy hospital stays, stress at home from my husband juggling his job and the toddler big sister. One of my older sons was hands-on all that summer and I will forever be grateful to the Mocha Moms for the care they gave during my daughter's illness.

By summer 2006, we thought at least financially we would be on the road to recovery. He was busy at his job, he was still writing, we were both looking at other avenues of economic empowerment, our eldest son was mending from a near-fatal-gunshot, son #2 was set to start his senior year, son #3 was all boy and set to start middle school, girl #1 and girl #2 were so accustomed to mommy at home that it was normal, girl #2 was settling into her diagnosis of eosinophilic gastroenteritis and all the medicine, we thought the summer would be fine and the fall even better.

Then my husband came home and told me they were doing cutbacks at the university and his position was eliminated.

I sat down on the bed and felt as if someone had hit me in my gut. I didn't think we could handle another job loss, the toll had been too much to pay at times. I had started teaching an evening M.B.A, class but it wasn't the same as my previous position. I had been out-of-fulltime-work for three years at that time.

All I know is that God heard the desperate cried and prayers of the two of us and my husband went on several interviews across the country. At the eleventh hour, when the end date of his job was approaching and severance was already spent, he was offered the job he has now.

He was there for an interview a couple weeks prior, they called him and made the offer on Friday, he told them he would start Monday, he packed and moved across state on Saturday. We all breathed a sigh of relief, it was late July 2006.

Now we sit back and wonder how we made it over. We know God was definitely guiding us. We are not special, we are still recovering. It took its toll.

Things we learned are that people are important, even though we held people in our lives in high regard, it takes crisis to find out who your real friends are. We were blessed by the generosity of others, and strive to keep our doors open to do the same. Before we lost our jobs, we gave of our abundance and always had extra seats at the table. In our adopted city, holidays and overflowing meals were held in our open dining room. Everyone from our friends to my sons' friends knew that 6:30pm was time to eat. No one was ever turned away.

We also learned that we could live through the impossible, forgive the unimaginable, and survive the improbable.

Our children have also understood some things. They know that stuff is just that, stuff that clutters up bedrooms, overflows closets, and ends up in the landfill. They have embraced recycling along with me, finding new ways to wear a familiar shirt, and finding the joy in bargain hunting. They understand why when we do eat out, mom and dad share a meal, or we order appetizers, or when we go out for a Saturday drive, pack a lunch first. We set a new ground rule those six years ago that are enabling us to survive now.

I can say this too will pass. I can also say it has allowed me to reinvent. I have been writing, tutoring, mentoring, and facilitating. I have taken on a new program director position focusing on educational enrichment. I am busier than I ever was in corporate life and am happier. There is life at the end of the job loss.

We hear the news and the national unemployment rate at over 8%. We watch the corporate big wigs and their million dollar bonuses. We hear bailout and bankruptcy. We hear about the anger spilling over to fist fights outside car dealerships. No one has been untouched by this deepening recession.

Yet, somehow, I know that it will be ok. My immediate family has not been touched recently except for that house we still pay mortgage for in that other city, but I know people who have. My table is set, my door is open, I still look for ways to help. I know this recovery will take a long time and will take people seeing the humanity in people and not in granite counter tops, Prada shoes, and Apple Bottom jeans. We may get back to our true selves, living within our national means, eating locally, supporting local businesses, being creative, studying for something other than how to make a dollar.

Six years ago I lost my job and found myself.

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