We have a good life.
I have a great job where I've worked for 12 years, 10 minutes from my house by car, bus, or bike. Erin has a great job with a flexible part-time schedule that allows her to manage our home life. Our three year old, Oliver, is in a fantastic preschool, building his first real friendships. Our one year old, Vera is in daycare and growing fast. Our dog, Renzo, is neurotic but lovable. Our cat, Buster, is in early retirement at his beloved grandparents' house.
We have a single family home in Boston that we love and have put a lot of work into. We have two nice reliable cars.
We have family and good friends nearby. My sister lives an hour away. My parents have a beach house in Maine 90 minutes away. Erin's parents and sister are six hours away in New Jersey, a manageable trip for a long weekend. My brother lives in Australia, not so close, but we're identical twins so we often communicate telepathically.
We make good salaries. We have a financial planner, and we are saving for retirement, college, our next house, and some travel each year.
That's about it. It's a good life. Hell, it's a great life.
But it's a narrow life.
In order to make this life possible, we have confined ourselves to a narrow path we must follow.
We eventually want to retire, so that we can travel the world, pursue our passions, and spend more time with our family and friends. We need to save money to retire. We need to earn money to save money. We need to work to earn money. To save more than we spend, we need to work a lot.
We need to spend a lot on our house to live near where we work. We need to spend a lot on childcare to get the time we need to work. We need to spend a lot on our cars to get the kids to childcare and get ourselves to work.
In case something goes wrong with our good life, we need to spend a lot on insurance - home, auto, health, disability, liability, life.
As our family grows, we need to save money to spend on our next house, bigger and in a better school district.
We need to save money to spend on college for our kids, so that they too can get great jobs to earn money to spend on all of their needs, so that we don't need to keep spending money on them, so that we can retire, so that we can travel the world, pursue our passions, and spend more time with our family and friends.
Despite all of these needs to earn, save, and spend money, the underlying cost of this narrow life is not money, it's time.
Erin and I are awake for 120 hours in any given week. Oliver and Vera are awake for 90 hours in a week.
I work 45 hours, leaving me 45 hours with the kids. If I work a 60 hour week, this drops to 30 hours with the kids.
Not all hours are created equal. Five days a week, I get four hours with the kids. Two of these hours occur in the evening, when the kids are at their grumpiest and our only activities our feeding them dinner and getting them to bed. The other two hours occur in the morning, when I'm at my grumpiest and our only activities are feeding them breakfast, getting them to childcare, and getting ourselves to work. If I go to work early or stay at work late, I miss these precious hours, however compromised they may be.
Erin works 21 hours. This is the maximum time she can work during the three days Vera is in day care. When I can't help her with drop-offs and pick-ups, it takes her two hours to drop the kids off and get to work and two more hours to pick them up. This is all within a three mile radius of our house.
On days when she's home with Vera, her time is not spent doing things with Vera. She spends Vera's five hours of awake time doing laundry, getting groceries, doing laundry, cleaning the house, doing laundry, making meals, doing laundry, taking the kids to the doctor, pets to the vet, and doing laundry. She spends Vera's 3 hours of nap time doing work, dealing with bills and finances, making plans, and doing laundry. She does a lot of laundry.
This leaves two hours a night of mommy daddy time. This is spent cleaning the kitchen, picking up toys, taking out garbage, feeding pets, making lunches, and yes, doing laundry. I once made a checklist of all of the little things we do every night. It had no less than 40 items.
On a good night we crash on the couch around 9 PM. One of us starts doing something on the computer, whether it's bills, budgets, planning events, or work. By 9:30 Erin announces she's going to bed.
I then choose whether to go to bed or stay up working. I usually work. Since I've decided to stay up, I work late so that I won't need to stay up working the following night. Since I'm up so late, I don't get enough sleep, so I drag around the next day at work, so I don't get enough done, so I need to stay up working the following night.
Of course, these weekday routines are broken by the weekends. Not all of them, there's still the morning prep, bedtime prep, and evening chores, as well as grocery shopping, errands, laundry, and house projects. But between these there are a handful of hours when we can actually do something.
The thing we do during those hours has been predetermined months in advance. We have scheduled events with family and friends. Our friends are just as busy as we are, so the only way we get to see them is by exchanging meeting requests several weeks ahead of time.
This turns our friendships into a kind of obligation, albeit a welcome one. Of course we want to spend time with our family and friends, but gone are the serendipitous days of just calling someone up to do something. A friend from high school once remarked at one of these get-togethers,"When did we start bringing food every time we hang out?"
The commitment to our families is even stronger. We'll spend entire summer weekends with my family in Maine. We'll take long weekends throughout the year to drive to New Jersey to see Erin's family.
Family time has also come to consume the vacation time we have. We'll spend two weeks in New Jersey at Christmas, another week skiing with Erin's family, a week in the spring with my parents in Florida, two weeks anytime my brother is willing to fly his family over from Australia (cause we're sure as hell not flying there). An exotic vacation for us is flying to England to spend two weeks with Erin's parents in the second home they own there.
These vacations are great, and we're grateful to be able to spend so much time with both of our families (unlike my brother who moved to the farthest place on the planet from all of us). But we used to take vacations to Costa Rica, Barcelona, Prague, Budapest, Japan, and yes, even Australia. A co-worker used to tease me that each of these was our last pre-baby vacation. He got the timing wrong but the concept right. Since having kids, such worldly adventures seem inconceivable.
Oliver has a map of the world on the wall in our kitchen. We've put stickers on it where his grandparents and cousins live. In our world, those may as well be the only places on the map.
This good life of ours is confined within a narrow set of routines and locations. It's a well-woven thread that unwinds itself in one direction. There are few frayed edges to follow toward new adventures, deferred passions, or unexpected opportunities.
Of course there are moments of pure joy in all of this tedium. The 10 minutes I play baseball with Oliver before dinner. Playing a song or two on guitar while Vera strums the strings. Vera splashing in the tub. Tickle time and books before bedtime. My esoteric conversations with Oliver while he goes potty.
But these moments are the exception rather than the rule.
What's missing in this narrow life is unplanned time together as a family. We rarely wake up and ask, "What are we going to do today?" Instead we ask, "How soon can we get back to bed?" Time becomes a burden rather than a blessing.
Well, so what. Tough luck, that's life, it sucks, suck it up. This is the way it is, everyone does this, there's no avoiding it. We just need to find a "balance" between our work life and our family life, right?
Date: May 1, 2015 at 10:02:49 am
Subject: World's Craziest Idea
Let's go somewhere, sell our house, rent our house. Before our kids are in school. Can you take a year sabbatical? Let's get basic jobs. Lets buy a one way ticket to somewhere warm and have an adventure. I'm serious. Maybe I'm just exhausted but it would be amazing.
I think we should find the cheapest Caribbean island we can move to and have an adventure. Maybe I'm just inspired by an article I read, but we only live once!
I love you.
For one year, we're not going to live a narrow life.
We're going to travel the world, pursue our passions, and spend more time with our family and friends.
For one year, we're going to live abroad.
We're going to live a broad life.