Crap! The kids found out I was fired. I guess you could say I had gotten sloppy. My initial story was quite plausible. It was plausible in the beginning. A few days after I was fired, I announced to the kids at dinner that I was cutting my hours at work, so I could be there for them when they came home from school. One of my sons had actually said that if he had one wish, it would be that I was home when he got home from school. A week before that he said if he had one wish it would be to get a dog. He said a dog is man’s best friend. He said he was a man without a friend. He is nine years old. Still, I deemed my explanation plausible. Ah again, that plausible thing. Telling them I was coming home early to be there for them, my little cherubs, had the added benefit of making myself appear selfless. I was like a classified ad for a job as an unemployed person.
Wanted; single mom, willing to make the tough sacrifices necessary to be there for her kids, must love chaperoning class trips to the only museum in town, going on interviews, light housekeeping and some cooking, but otherwise unemployable.
I had been leaving my younger sons alone with their older brother after school after many failed attempts at finding someone suitable to watch them. Their older brother was nearly a rung below suitable and maybe two rungs below acceptable as a babysitter. My plan was the threaten severe punishment to the younger ones if they did not listen to their older brother and bribe their older brother to not so much watch them, but more like not fight with them It wasn’t ideal. I had them lock themselves in the house and not answer the phone or door until I came home. A few nights before I left them on their own after school I read them The Diary of Anne Frank as a bedtime story. I emphasized how Anne obediently stayed in the attic.
“How could she stay inside all the time?” asked one of the younger boys.
"Mieps" I told them. "Mieps brought them food, clothing and news from the outside world."
I was their Mieps.
It seemed like everyone in my neighborhood was conveniently home at 3:00pm when the last bell rang at school. Parents were caked up at the school entrances for up to 30 minutes before school let out. I would wonder how they were home at that hour but the few I asked in fact were adults who moved back home with their elderly parents. The thought of me sleeping with my 4 children in my childhood bedroom was enough the make me shiver. Even if it afforded me the privilege of being home by 3:00pm, I later discovered it meant staying home all day, watching The Dog Whisperer, smoking cigarettes and eating cheese sandwiches with my elderly parents. I would sell my stuff on eBay first.
When I lost my job last spring, I comforted myself with the knowledge that at least my boys didn’t have to hide from the Nazi’s while I was at work.
It wasn’t quite that easy though. My kid’ school, being across the street from my house, meant that they had a full view of my comings and goings through-out the day. Of course there was little of either so I would sometimes move my car to the side of the house, out of view from the school yard. Between 4 kids and recess and gym and extra recess, it was not uncommon to see at least one of the kids with his face pressed against the change link fence, the fence that separated me from them at least 6 hours a day, and hearing them call
“Mom?, Mom come out here.”
Every time I succumbed to one of their pleas I would immediately regret it. Like ants running to a sticky Popsicle stick, their classmates would all cake up on their side of the chain link fence. Most of the time the kids didn’t even say anything, they just stared at me in my paint stained t-shirt and pajama bottoms. I’d stay long enough to acknowledge my kids and try to get them to rejoin the rest of the group before the faculty noticed me hanging around the school yard. Every time I relented to my kids pleas to come over and see them I feared someone from the faculty coming over and accusing me of loitering or worse.
Summer vacation came and despite numerous interviews, I still had no job so I rationalized that staying home with the kids was cheaper them sending them to camp. I was truly wrought with fear as to how I was going to spend the entire summer with people who could raise the specter of violence over who got the better water goggles at the pool. Plausibility was becoming a challenge though as the kids were now home all day. I soon announced selflessly at dinner that I had chosen to work at home for the summer so we could have a special summer together. My expectations of adulation and gratitude were met with,
“Does that mean I can’t go to camp?”
“You want to go where?” I say as if I never heard the word before. “
“Don’t you want to spend the summer with mommy?”
As if no one heard me I am met by a chorus of protests that range from the reasonable,
“I thought I was going to the YMCA next week,"
to the less reasonable, "
I wanted to go to sleep-a-away camp for a whole month,"
to the totally unreasonable,
"We all want to go to sleep-a-way camp for the whole summer.”
I recoil from them in fake horror.
“I planned to spend the whole summer with you” I say as if any sane adult would choose to stay home with four kids under age 12 for the whole summer.
“We are going to go camping, and tubing, and staying at grandpas and swimming in the lake.”
I tell them in a deliberately cheerful voice.
“I hate camping” says one,
“I’m afraid to go tubing,” says another,
“I won’t swim in a lake,” says a third and in unison they proclaim,
“I don’t want to go to grandpas.”
“Well Screw You!” I tell my little cherubs.
“That’s the plan and we’re sticking to it.” Then add.
“I didn’t arrange to work at home all summer to be treated like this!” followed by the chorus of
As we grow accustomed to our summer routine, I typically spend the mornings on-line applying for jobs. I apply for jobs at colleges, hospitals, homeless shelters, government agencies, and mistakenly respond to a posting that elicits an immediate response and request for me to come in for an interview from what turns out to be a job with the PeaceCorp. They are very interested in me. They only want a two year commitment. They are willing to give me a stipend of 900 dollars a month for living expenses. They ask that I do not accept any other employment while serving. I am not fit to serve.
Fall comes. School starts. I have all but forgotten about plausibility, working at home, shortening my hours, and moving my car.
I spend as much as 4 hours a day applying for jobs. I get a lot of phone interviews. John McCain announces the fundamentals of the economy are sound. The folks at Lehman Brothers are exiting the building with their belongings in card board boxes. I throw away the statement from my 401k. My son asks me if I was fired.
“Fired?” I say as if he asked if mommy had a sex change. “What makes you say that?”
“Mama told me. Anyway, you are always home.” He says innocently.
“What does anyone know about my business?” I say defiantly. His older brother enters the room.
Do you think I’m fired?” I ask him emphasizing the word THINK.
“Sure,” he said. Everyone knew. “You’ve been home for months.”
I want to protect them. I want to protect myself. Protect us all from fear, worry, the unknown.
“I wasn’t fired.” I say leaning back and even crossing my legs as if to show this is the most matter of fact thing we are discussing.
“Well why aren’t you going to work anymore?” they ask.
They are really too old to be lied to. They are too smart to be lied to.
I decide instead to act. I am performing the role of the reassuring mother.
“Well, not that it makes any difference, (I lie) but after having such a great summer with you (lie), an opportunity presented itself (I don’t even know what that means) and I made the decision to work at home (lie).
“What do you do?” asks my older son
Think quick, think quick. “I work for a company called (lie) Systems Data.”
I see their shoulders relax. “I input data into systems.” What data? What systems? I have no idea.
“So they don’t have a building?” they ask.
Oh sure they have a building, (lie) a big building, (lie) I’ve been there several times, (lie) but like, everyone who works for them, like works from home (lie) and emails in the reports (lie).
“What are the reports?” they ask.
“Data!” I smile.