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Posts Tagged ‘recession’

M was home yesterday when I got some bad news, and he got the full force of my anger and frustration.  It wasn’t fair to take it out on him — he’s got enough on his mind at the moment — but he was there.

He was there because his company had sent him home with no hours.  Again.  It’s become a regular occurrence these past four months.  Every week like clockwork, when the pay-week comes to a close on Thursday, he gets up and gets ready, gets in his truck and heads out for work, and then they send him home with no hours.   Since the beginning of December, he’s had only three weeks of full-time hours, only three paycheques that really cover the bills.

My birthday is coming up in the next couple of weeks, and it’s a big one.  Apparently, Life Begins at this age.  M may be all manner of wonderful things, but he is not good at remembering me when it comes to  important occasions — I have not had a birthday or Christmas gift from him for three years running — so I have been reminding him of this impending event almost every other day since before the turn of the year, like a count down.  This is a Big Birthday, and I do not want to be forgotten this year.

I had emailed out my birthday wishlist to everyone who would likely find it useful but, knowing that M uses a computer about as often as a camel uses an umbrella, I have been coaching him separately for a long time.  More than anything, I want a Lendrum spinning wheel to replace the ancient, second-hand wheel that I have been using (and which has served me well) for the past 12 years.  But a shiny new Lendrum is nothing to be purchased lightly — it’s $622 — and so I’d hoped that maybe if everyone pitched in together, then what remained would be more within our grasp.

And just the day before, I’d made a furtive phone call to a local yarn shop to see if there were any places left on the knitting class they were offering this month with knitting guru Brandon Mably.  I had already taken this same class  six years ago — it was a treat to cheer myself up after I miscarried our first child — and I had enjoyed it so much out of it that when I saw that he was coming to the area, I immediately began to muse over taking the class again.   It was an expensive class, at least for me…  The amount left each month for spending money for me and the girls rarely tops $50 — and that includes everything: shoes, clothes, magazines, coffee — and this one class would blow that out of the water, but how often does one turn…  erm…  How often does Life Begin?  I felt guilty making the call to the yarn shop and I felt guilty at the thought of booking the class…  But there were spaces left!  And I wanted to take it — I really wanted to!  I decided  I’d wait a couple of days to be sure the idea settled right, and then — damn it! — I’d do it!

Yesterday morning I received a bill from the doctor’s office which treated my sprained ankle.  It wasn’t for much — almost exactly the co-pay amount — and so I assumed it was an error.  Somehow, the insurance company must not have realised I’d paid the co-pay on the day, so I picked up the phone to sort it out.  It was a beautiful day, sunny day and my husband was home — I’d get this out the way, it shouldn’t take long.

The lady on the phone sounded weary.  “That’s your deductible amount,” she explained, and then added, slowly and with a tinge of irritation, “You’re responsible for the deductible.”

“Oh, I know!” I said with deliberate cheerfulness, because the lady sounded like she needed it.  “I understand we pay the deductible but… I’m confused…  Before I went to the doctor’s, I spoke to a lady in your office who explained that my husband’s employer pays the first $1000 of the deductible.  Have we gone through a thousand dollars in two visits…?”

She tapped on her keyboard and then paused.  Then a deep breath.  “No, but I’m afraid whoever spoke to you got it wrong.  You’re responsible for the first thousand; your husband’s employer pays the second thousand.”

Oh.

My stomach dropped instantly, and then my mind began tallying, very quickly: doctor’s visit, three x-rays, the airboot, follow-up visit, three more x-rays, the lace-up brace…   How much had we run up?

The lady was tallying too.  “We’ve negotiated a nice discount for you on that bill…”  I could see that they had indeed — they’d reduced the bill by 75%.  “And I can see that you’ll also be receiving a bill from a rehabilitation equipment company…”  Yes, that’d be the airboot.  She told me the amount, and I winced.  “And… let me see…  another bill from the doctor’s office…”  The follow-up appointment.  “And another… oh, from the equipment company again.”  That’d be the brace.  “Let me add that up for you, ” she offered helpfully, her irritation subsided now that she realised I wasn’t going to put up a fight.  The amount came to around $400.

Four hundred dollars…  for one moment of stupidity.  Four hundred dollars, after months and months of short weeks and short pay.  Four hundred dollars!  If I had known that, I never would have taken off the tape that was holding my ankle still and let them replace it with a brand-spanking new lace-up brace.  If I had known that, I would have paused at the offer of the airboot, and grabbed my mobile to ask my mother if her old airboot would fit my foot.  If I had known how much it would cost us, I honestly think I might not have gone to the doctor at all — certainly not to that follow-up appointment.  M had said it was only a sprain and it would heal on its own, and he was right.  I could have gotten by without the doctor.

The day had seemed to have suddenly lost all its sunniness…  I felt sick to my stomach (again! again!) and deflated.  My hoped-for birthday gift now sounded extortionate, and the thought of booking that Brandon Mably class seemed frivolous, if not downright irresponsible.  Spend money on my birthday like that?  Spend money?!? What fool thinks she’d get to spend money on a milestone birthday?!?

And with that, deflation turned to anger — real, seething, boiling, red-hot rage — and  so I yelled.  I yelled and I yelled and I yelled at this country, at this joke of a “system”, at the waste and the complication and the confusion and the callousness of it all.  I yelled at the lack of transparency, at the miscommunications, at M’s lack of hours, at his too-short paycheques when he works so hard, at the recession, and at the ludicrous idea that somehow this is all ok, that this is the American Way.  I yelled because, apparently, going to the doctor when I sprained my ankle was my birthday gift this year.

M thought I was yelling at him.  And he came up and held my hands and, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Your birthday will be alright.  We’ll make it alright.”  And then I felt terrible for all the yelling, and tears came to my eyes too.  Sod my stinkin’ birthday — what I’m really scared of is losing the house.

The door woke me when M left this morning: 6.11am.  That’s early, I thought, and then drifted heavily back to sleep, hopeful that it meant he had a busy day scheduled.  He was back home again just after 1pm, having worked three hours, and then hung around for another three in the hopes that some more work would come in, before he finally gave up and drove back home to us.

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It feels like I haven’t seen my husband in weeks — it’s not true, but I haven’t seen much of him in a long time.  His work has been… crazy.  He had all of three days off in January, and February has followed course, which is exhausting for him — and, by extension, for me.  And you’d think the upside of that would be that we’d be banking some big paycheques but…  no.

The thing is, at the moment (at the moment? for months!), there’s just no predictability from day to day what his hours are going to be and, thus, no predictability what his weekly paycheque will be.  One day can be a bumpercrop 12 hours and the next day can be a barren two.  It’s literally that up and down, and we have no idea from day to the next how it will go.  Whenever I hear the truck pull into the driveway, I instinctively shoot an anxious glance at the clock — is it late enough?  Did he get enough hours today?  Everything is depending on what time that truck comes home.

And you might think there is some plus-side to those days when he only has to work a couple of hours — I mean, he gets downtime, right?  A day off,  doesn’t he? — but… no.  He stays at the shop waiting to see if a call comes in: there, but not paid.  And the whole time, I think he’s out there working and all is well, until he comes home (what time? Oh it’s 5 — thank goodness! All is well!) and tells me, no, it was only three hours today…  And my heart sinks.

But when he does get the hours — when the weather cooperates and sends frigid temperatures and ice and misery that has people running to the phones — he’s gone all hours, working to the point of utter collapse.  And then getting another call at 11pm, just as we are settling down to our end-of-the-day cuppa  — could he?, they ask — and he looks at me and shrugs.  It’s money…  it’s all money, and we have to take what blessings come however they come, so he sighs and drags himself off the couch and changes into his work clothes and heads out again.  And I go up to bed alone.

So when the hours are light, I am just terrified, but when they are long, we don’t see each other for days on end, and he is exhausted, and I am lonely and taking care of the kids on my own all the day and night.  And even when the hours are bang-smack on normal — when he comes home and answers my perpetual question with a smile and “eight!” — I worry that eight hours today will not be enough if the rest of the week doesn’t match.  Every day, we start each day as a complete unknown and it’s been this way for months.  And it’s incredibly stressful — incredibly stressful.

Just lately, everything’s been swirling about inside me — too much, too much — and I have felt so overwhelmed.  It seems we’ve had one health crisis after another since the new year, and each one knocks us out for nearly a week or more, and pushes the stress levels up higher.  And  E1 has just gone into a new phase of  “No!” that is stretching my patience past its limits.  And though I appreciate my mum’s help enormously  and she appreciates spending time with the girls, we have — just by necessity — ended up seeing each other nearly every day, and that is really too much for either of us.  And then there is the trying to stay in the red.  And those crazy hours.  And it’s time for me to tackle our bloody taxes again, and there’s almost nothing on earth that gets me more panicky and overwrought than trying to work out taxes.  And all this stress rouses my old friend Failure from his slumber — he’s really never far away — and he comes out cackling with fingers pointed and condemnations flying, to taunt me and poke at me and slap me and…  and…  what can I say to deflect it?  It’s all true.

I feel  so strung out, so tired, and this week it’s all just gotten on top of me.  I can’t stop crying.  I miss having friends nearby that I’ve known for years — the people you need round you when you’re feeling overwhelmed.  And though it sounds odd to say, I miss my privacy — just the simple pleasure of going where I go and doing things the way I do them without observation.   And, oh I miss my husband, I really just miss my husband — it feels like I haven’t seen him in weeks.

In the post yesterday, there was a tax bill from the county that I wasn’t expecting — it was startlingly huge and I didn’t know what was, didn’t even know what it was for. Fortunately, it turned out to be an error, but too late — I was over the edge, blindsided by a such a surprise from some entity I didn’t even know existed.  It ripped the last bit of bravado from me, and left me slumped on the floor and crying, hardly able to get control over myself for the rest of the day.

But this week was turning out to be different from the rest.  The hours started rolling in, like we’d never seen before.  M was on call over the weekend and the calls just kept coming — he racked up three days’ worth of normal hours before the week had really even begun.  And every day after followed suit — by Tuesday, he was already well over forty hours, and I was astonished to realise we were on track for a bumper paycheque that would start to make up for the difficulty of late.  And boy, do we need it!  The car insurance is due next month, and there’ll be another one of those panic-inducing gas bills…   Oh, yes, I’ve been watching those hours clock up with a growing feeling of excitement.  And poor M has been looking forward to nothing more than dragging his weary body into bed at the end of each day.

When I spoke to M last night before he headed off to night school — did I mention he fits night school in twice a week as well? — he could hear in my voice all the raw aftermath of that tax bill panic.  “Sounds like it would be a good idea for me to stay home with you tomorrow.” he said gently, “What do you think?”

NO!!!!”  I panicked — had he done something?  Had he taken a day off?!?!?  We need him to keep going  and rack up as much overtime as possible before the end of the week.  We were on a roll and we need that money!

“Oh…”  He had been hoping for a different answer, I could tell, and so I panicked afresh.

“What??? WHAT?!?”

“Well, work’s slowed down, so they had a look at who had the most hours this week,”  Oh, I see. “…and that was me, so they told me they didn’t have anything for me tomorrow, so that the other guys can get their full hours.”  Yes…  yes…  that made sense.  And it was only right — if the situation were reversed, I know I’d be grateful.

And so we had a day together today — and it was really wonderful, it really was.  A quiet day together as a family — nothing particularly to do and no where to go — like we haven’t had in…  well, months really.  It was exactly what I needed, a balm for my anxiety that did no end of good.  A quiet family day, a day with my husband, on a… Thursday.

And it will still be a better-than-normal paycheque, and for that I am very grateful.  But it won’t be that bumpercrop now. 

Damn.

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I don’t want to say any more than this: my lovely husband, who is paid hourly, and normally leaves the house before 7am and often doesn’t get home until 6.30 or 7.30 or 8.30 or even later, has been getting home nearer to 3.30 or 4 for the past week and a half.  Yesterday, he clocked up not even 5 hours.  Work is slow, he tells me.  People aren’t spending money.  All the guys are getting home early.  And then he adds, but this is normally a busy season.  His on-call days are usually as filled up as his normal days, but last weekend he had only two quick calls.

He hasn’t yet got that all-important local license — he has to wait for the next exam date, which won’t be until spring — and, because of that, he is the least qualified of all the guys at work.  And he was the last in.

I am very frightened.

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