There is a little house in a small village on a skinny island past fields and fields of cotton and tobacco on the other side of the country from where I now sit. The small village is called Duck. And we lovingly call the little house the Ducky Dolph Inn. We spent our tenth wedding anniversary looking at houses on the Outer Banks. This was the smallest and maybe even the most dated but it had our heart and fit our family just right.
In Duck, we spend our days on the beach, eating donuts, and playing video games. The activities don’t vary much between summer and winter, just the proportion of hours spent on the beach and in the water. With no city lights nearby, the sky is filled with stars, and somehow, the moon almost seems bigger. Phone calls and emails can always wait when we are in Duck.
One very early morning and a few plane rides later and we are back home – in our “other” home on the opposite side of the country. Sans Daddy, as he hopped on another plane to California for work. And a rushed #1, as she had play rehearsal followed by volleyball practice. As I unpacked and vacuumed the sand out of the suitcases, I looked out my bedroom at the city lights and the hills of Portland, and thought how this house fits too. We love the endless hikes and the nearby snow and wide beaches (cold though they may be).
The girls and I all woke up before 5 am as we try to adjust our inner clocks back to West Coast time, but we all agree our time in our beloved Duck was worth it. For me, I am feeling a whole lot more relaxed as we face down another week of back to back practices, permission slips, volunteer signups and sleepovers.
I love to travel. But I hate to spend the majority of my travel budget on airfare. We try to use points and miles as much as we can, but sticking with just one airline has not worked for us since we left California. Before #3 was born, and especially before #2, we spent most, if not all, of our travel time visiting family. After #3, we decided to buy a second home on the North Carolina coast, and, in turn, stop traveling elsewhere as much. Indeed, until we moved to Portland, we spent pretty much every holiday, three day weekend, and every spare moment of our summers at the beach.
But now we are back on the move. During our first year in Oregon, we took the kids to Disneyland and the big island of Hawaii. We have gone to North Carolina several times. I am always trying to maximize our stays and of course pay as little for airfare as possible.
So, when I came across fares for $270 around Thanksgiving, I jumped on them. Yes, the kids would miss a little school. But it is No School November anyway (a ridiculous Oregon phenomenon during which children have only one full week of school during the whole month). And it was in the sweet spot for our family calendar – after gymnastics competition season and before club volleyball season. The catch – no carry-on bags and families are not guaranteed to sit together. That last made me extremely hesitant but husband said go for it. **We may be desensitized, or maybe just presumptuous, but our ticketed seats have been apart before. Last winter, when we went to Hawaii, we were all in middle seats in different rows. My youngest was only 5?! But other passengers were understanding and gladly accommodated.
Flash forward three months. Our time to check in for the basic economy flights fell during #2’s state gymnastics meet. The day before, I received an email from United reminding me of all of the restrictions on my fare. I grew more nervous and contemplated upgrading two tickets to ensure my 6 year old was next to one of us. We prepared the children that we may not sit next to each other. By the time my calendar reminder dinged to check in, she had finished her session with an all-around PR and first place! As we ordered brunch at a nearby vegan diner, I checked in . . . And . . . Jackpot! We were all in the same row on the first flight and close to each other on the second. I was overjoyed! (Did I mention I also scored Hamilton tickets at FACE VALUE for #1 and I earlier in the week?!!!) I was winning at this parenting gig. If I had a home T-shirt press and I would have printed a shirt that said #bestmomeva! But much to my children’s relief, I do not have said T-shirt press. Thank god. The onesies I would have printed for my kids when they were babies!?
And you know what? Everything with the BASIC ECONOMY FARE . . . was FINE. Sure, we got on the plane last. But, we didn’t have anything to put in the overhead compartment (per our restrictions and printed in bold and highlighted in orange on our boarding passes). We were in the last row, but how many jerks are reclining in coach these days anyway? There was a lovely mom with a sweet lap baby sitting on the aisle in between our 3 and 2. The flights went fine. We would have checked baggage anyway. It gave me an excuse to make each kid carry their own snack bag. AND, on the second flight, there was one seat nowhere near the others. That was MINE. And I ordered wine:)
I have had a job since I was ten. No joke. Before I was old enough to babysit, my mom’s boss at the decorating center* where she worked paid me to black out codes in the wallpaper books** with a china marker.
I was still a pretty green lawyer when I started having kids, and we needed the money, so I never even contemplated not working when my kids were babies. Until I had my third child. Our kids are well -spaced so that may have contributed to the shift in the power dynamic, but things definitely got a lot tougher when we had 3 kiddos to contend with. I decided to shift from my full-time nonprofit job to contracting. I kept my employer as a client and intended to limit how much I worked. But then I took on another client, and another, and another. (I have a very hard time saying no to work that I am passionate about.) Still, I did not seriously contemplate stepping out of the workforce altogether.
Then we decided to move our 3 kids and dog across the country over Winter Break in 2015. After briefly considering that the children and I stay in North Carolina through the remainder of the school year, we decided it would be best if we all moved together over break. I would then take the first several months off from work to get everyone settled in. But then, before my husband had even accepted his offer, a job in Portland for me came up, and then another. How could I say no to paid work? And I needed to make connections in this new state where I have never lived or practiced law before. So, we bagged the idea of me taking time off, and I took one of those jobs.
But something happened to me during that year – maybe it was the travel required by both mine and my husband’s jobs; maybe it was the nature of the work; or maybe it was just September. For the first time, I really wanted to just not work. We were in a place financially that we could make it work (more on the logistics of this later) and I didn’t have a great way to transition to more flexible work, so I QUIT. Straight up quit. I gave plenty of notice. I was very nice about it. I may have even helped the organization out because they were making cutbacks anyway and decided not to fill my position. For the first time, I walked away from a job with no other employment prospects.
And I haven’t done anything work-wise for the past year. No contract work. No projects. No little legal favors for friends or family. When people ask what I do, I have no earthly clue what to say. I am on a career break? I am taking a sabbatical? It was during my annual girls trip with my two best friends from high school that I came up with Mommy’s Gap Year. Have you heard of a gap year? It’s an amazing concept – kids who are not ready to go to college get their parents to pay tens of thousands of dollars for them to travel the world while their parents keep working back at home, lamenting how much more money they should be saving for retirement. I think these kids are supposed to be finding themselves, or maturing, blah, blah, blah (I literally cannot hear young adults when they whine). There is actually an American Gap Association!
Much to my disappointment, my gap year has not included world travel. I have spent my time doing three things: 1) Taking care of my kids, mostly chauffeuring and watching their various activities and volunteering at school; 2) Home maintenance; and 3) Running. In so many ways, it has been great. However, I did not anticipate how much I would second guess my decision. It has also led me to call my entire career path into question. I can’t help but often think, “What’s next?”
More to come on what I have been up to and how to figure out what’s next. For now – next is some more volunteer time at the school library before shuttling four kiddos to gymnastics, hopefully squeezing in a quick run before gymnastics pickup for #3, home with #3 to finish homework until #1 needs to be picked up from play rehearsal, dinner, and then back to the gym to pick up #2.
*”Decorating center” was an 80s term for Interior Design firm.
**Before the internet, these things were necessary – oh, forget it, if you don’t know what I am talking about, this probably isn’t the blog for you.
Last September broke me. It wasn’t just September’s fault. I was complicit.
We made it through a summer of juggling work, summer camps, family visits and travel. Perhaps that led to me being over-confident. Maybe I just wasn’t sleeping enough and was not connecting the dots on what September would bring. Or maybe I just said yes to too many things. Whatever the cause, our usual carefully crafted work life family balance went off the rails.
I went out of town every week from Boston to San Francisco to DC. I walked 50 miles to raise money for the MS Society. Our little guy started kindergarten. Our oldest played volleyball and did the dance team. Our middle stepped it up at the gym in the hopes of making the gymnastics team. She also got braces, which of course involves multiple trips to the orthodontist. My husband climbed Mt. St. Helens, unfortunately without me as I bailed after some really bad toenail and foot damage at the 50 mile walk. There were kindergarten adjustment issues. And our middle has still not forgiven me for missing picture day. By the end of September, The Dolph family was limping along.
Flash forward to September 2017. September, I see you. I got you. I am ready. I am 8 months into this not working gig. I have accepted that I cannot run, go to the gym, volunteer at school, and make healthy, delicious homemade meals every day. There will be no unnecessary travel. There will be no races, no fun trips with friends.
I know the month is not yet over, but I am feeling pretty good about my relationship with September this year. Not only was I here for picture day, I made sure everyone had an acceptable outfit more than 24 hours before the big day. I have not missed a major sporting event, and at least one of us attended both back to school nights. I even bought school supplies in advance (not too far in advance, but it was not the night before school started!). I still have a to-do list a mile long. I do not have six pack abs. And we still eat too many frozen meals. But, I am still marking September 2017 as a win.
We’ll see how I feel when we get to what Oregonians call No School November.
August 21, 2017
My husband has a conference for work in Las Vegas every year the week before school starts. Every year, I am taken aback at how shitty my kids behave while he is gone. They bicker constantly, nag, wrestle. They are sick of each other and I am sick of them.
And, of course, I still have those super fun back to school tasks left to tackle during this week – buying school supplies, new shoes, clothes. This year, I thought things might be different. Why, you ask, would anything be different? Well, dear friend, I very naively thought that because this year I am a “Stay at Home Mom” everything would magically be better. Not necessarily “magically,” I don’t necessarily believe in magic, but I really did fanatasize about all of the things I would get done, how much I would cook, how much we would travel . . . Not to mention my fantasy workout schedule! It was quite the life I pictured. But, the truth is, my house is still a mess, all of our meals are not made from scratch and perfectly healthy, and I still haven’t framed the pictures I was supposed to frame a year ago, or renewed everyone’s passport, or even culled through all of the old files in the room formally known as my office.
So, as we approach the new school year, and I am still without a job, I need to re-do my to-do list and find something adult to do with myself that contributes to society in some way (and does not involve any direct contact with my children). Hence, the launch of this blog (and maybe even a podcast someday) to explore Mommy’s Gap Year, what women do when they step out of the workforce to focus on their family; how and when they re-enter the workforce, and associated difficulties and perhaps, lessons learned. I plan to share my own experiences, hopefully with a fair amount of humor, and also talk to women with diverse backgrounds about their own “gap year.”