Now, I know that most of you are here to see what I dug out of the trash this week. But today I’m telling a different kind of story – about an amazing person who was dumped in the trash heap of unemployment, how we dug ourselves out, and what we learned along the way.
All summer Scott and I have been trying to buy a house in our neighborhood, which was recently designated as a playground for people with disposable income who like to drink alcohol. Consequently, this has made the homes in our beloved neighborhood of 14 years suddenly “desirable.”
After months of bidding wars, we FINALLY found a house in our price range. It was exactly what we wanted – three bedrooms, a big yard, and totally haunted. The place needed work, but it had been lovingly maintained by an Old Polish Lady, not unlike Scott’s own Babushkas. On August 26, we signed the contract to buy the Babushka house.*
Then on August 27 – with no notice – Scott lost his job of ten years. Poof! His entire department had been eliminated.
When suddenly-unemployed-Scott walked back in the door that morning, we both cried. Not so much for the job, but for the house we would not be able to buy, and for our bad luck, and for the stinging unfairness of it all.
Then we caught our breath, wiped the snot from our upper lips, and both burst out laughing. How could anyone on earth have such bad luck?
In the background of our new sadness, the radio described the unspeakable misery of people who could only dream of having our problems. Live reports from the front line of another war, from refugee camps, from makeshift hospitals in West Africa. Here we were: Americans with college degrees, two-page resumes, and a savings account. Not to mention a happy marriage, three healthy children, and a gaggle of supportive friends. We would be fine; we would get through this. We just didn’t know when.
I’m happy to report that the when is now. After only six weeks out of work, Scott is at a shiny new job in a very tall building. The Babushka’s children were kind enough to extend our contract while he looked for work, so we’re on track to buy that house next month.
Experts say that job loss is one of the most traumatic life events, right behind the discovery that your mother used to be a nun. Six weeks is a short time to be unemployed, but it was one of the most stressful six weeks of our marriage. Since I work from home, I had to suddenly share my space and routine (and bathroom) with another person who only used to visit on evenings and weekends. I learned a few lessons along the way that hopefully you will never have to use. But just in case….
HOW TO LIVE HAPPILY WITH AN UNEMPLOYED LOVED ONE (ULO):
Immediately Unpack your “Box of Shame”: The day after Scott was laid off, the office shipped home two boxes of his stuff: 10 years of pay stubs and insurance forms, dozens of tchotchkes embossed with the company’s name. We left this stuff where it landed – stacked in our living room for a couple of weeks, and it gradually became furniture.
Give your Unemployed Loved One a Daily Assignment: Nobody can spend nine hours a day spit-shining their LinkedIn profile. Provide your ULO with a little job each day, just something to make him trade his slippers for shoes, leave the house, and feel a sense of accomplishment. Here’s some ideas for your ULO Daily Assignment:
- Shop for shoe laces (harder than you think)
- Mail odd-shaped packages (preferably containing liquids or live animals) to other states or countries
- Deposit months-old birthday checks in the kids’ bank account
- Dispose of hazardous household materials responsibly
- Quiz your local pharmacist on the best pinworm treatments for children
- Go to Target on a Saturday morning
- Visit elderly relatives without telling them why you have so much free time on Wednesday afternoon
- Make copies of all your keys
- Buy more toilet paper and coffee (see below)
Stock Your Home with Extra Coffee and Toilet Paper: You may not realize how much of your ULO’s coffee consumption happens at the office. That 6-cup-a-day habit doesn’t disappear just because he’s at home. To ease the transition to unemployment, try substituting your regular brand of hand-roasted, shade-grown and fairly-traded beans with something more like the office brew – I recommend off-brand Folgers’ Crystals. With extra water. And slightly burned. Served room temperature with powdered creamer.
Next, do the math: Each cup of coffee represents 1.5 trips to the bathroom, so factor that into your toilet paper budget. And air freshener, if that’s what you’re into.
You should also stock up on your unemployed person’s favorite comfort food. Perhaps he loves to stand in the kitchen, mindlessly smearing peanut butter across his tongue? Or eating spoonfuls of strawberry jam right out of the jar when nobody’s looking?** Be prepared for a lot of that.
Buy a Printer/ Scanner Combo: I think this is half the reason Scott got an office job in the first place. You are REALLY going to miss all that free printing.
Involve Your Kids in the Job Search: Our oldest boy didn’t seem concerned about the layoff – he still bubbles with that early-adolescent brew of optimism, invincibility and total ignorance about boring grown up stuff like unemployment and real estate. Our 3-year-old boy just discovered that dogs have penises, so he’s been pretty busy telling everyone about that.
But our 5-year-old discovered her talent as a (really lousy) career counselor. When we told her Daddy needed to find a new job, she suggested Scott work at the coffee shop, then the book store, and then a store she calls “Buckets of Blood” which actually sells paint, not buckets of blood, but you can see why she thinks that:
Finally, Estelle suggested that Daddy get a job at the “Thinking Store,” a magical place where workers stand behind a counter and give customers their good ideas. About anything. “And they get paid lots of money so we can get ice cream and Mexican food every day.”
Take Everyone To The Doctor Immediately: If you’re like us, you have a few weeks before the health insurance runs out for good. Ladies, get your pap smears. Order new glasses. Take the kids for their annual checkups, with all the shots. If you haven’t already, teach your kids to wash their hands.
PRO-TIP!! Even if your insurance ran out, you can still call the kids’ doctor’s after-hours “on-call” hotline. So, if your precious angel is sick and you’re really not sure if it’s worth taking him in, just wait until midnight and have the doctor paged. She will be groggy and a little pissed-off, but it won’t be charged to your non-existent health insurance.
Alternately, live in a country with universal health insurance. Which is most countries.
Give Your ULO some Mini-Indulgences: Unemployment is a combustible mix of boredom and poverty. You’ve got plenty of time to browse EBay and the latest movie and restaurant reviews, but no money for any of it.
But don’t let your ULO feel like a total pauper! Eating dinner out is a budget-buster, but what about breakfast? For less than $20, you can enjoy a meal for two with bottomless coffee. For a couple of hours, you can feel like royalty, watching other people cook and serve your meals, wash your dishes and wipe your crumbs. However, when the server asks “Is everything OK?” – try not to burst into tears and scream about how you gave them the ten best years of your life for nothing. She was just asking about the food.
I do recommend splurging on new career-wear. Scott’s old “Job Interview Suit” was also his “Funeral Suit” and his “Wedding Suit” with all the stains to prove it. It sported an outdated wide-cut and shoulder pads. Throw in some weight loss, and Scott now looked like a child playing dress up, or a teenager borrowing his dad’s suit for the prom, rather than a serious Job Seeker. Here’s the old suit, circa 2008, 2009 and 2013.
Say YES to all Offers of Help, no Matter how Weird or Irrelevant. So many friends offered to pass Scott’s resume on to someone they knew in his industry. Though none of this materialized into job interviews, it certainly made us, and our friends, feel like we were doing something. And don’t just say yes to the networking opportunities. Another friend gave us his old Blu-Ray player and a box set of “Blade Runner.” It didn’t help land a new job, but it gave Scott something to do, and the feeling that someone was looking out for us.
Think About your Future Memory Box: There are big moments in a marriage that you will never forget: The moment you met, your wedding day, your spouse’s reaction to an unplanned pregnancy. The memories of thousands of regular weekdays will eventually fade into a sepia-toned blur. But your Loved One will always remember how you treated him when he lost his job. You may be scared, you may be angry, you will most certainly be whirling in a cesspool of stress.
If you need to freak out, do it with your mother or your friends. But when your Loved One looks back at this time, make sure all he remembers is your gentle encouragement, your confidence in his abilities, and your excitement at seeing his rear end in a new, tight-fitting suit.
* In a Babushka haunting, the ghosts will force you to eat rye bread and pierogi in your sleep, groaning, “You’re wasting away, my dziecko…”
** No, wait, that’s me eating all the strawberry jelly.