Last summer, I quit my job as an adjunct college instructor. My enthusiasm for teaching had waned and I wanted to focus time on finishing a novel. Adjuncts are infamous for drawing paltry salaries, and I reasoned with myself that we wouldn’t be out all that much money anyway. Such was the economic privilege we enjoyed last summer, thinking that our family could rely on my husband’s steady income.
He and thousands of furloughed employees like him have been guaranteed back pay once the shutdown ends. If we were more financially solvent, this moment could be a jackpot scenario. We could take a spontaneous trip with our forced vacation. Drive out to the beach! Book a cheap flight to Belize!
Alas, we are among the 78 per cent of working Americans living paycheck to paycheck. Despite the belt cinching, though, there’s been a surprising upside to these weeks.
At first, because we thought the shutdown would be short lived and the furlough piggybacked onto the holidays, we relished sleeping in. We wore our pajamas until noon and baked tea cakes and frittatas. We visited family. We binged on movies with our kids.
Then our kids went back to school. Most of them, anyway.
To save money, we dropped down the days our toddler attends preschool. Despite having my husband around, her presence has certainly diminished my writing time. But we have all been cozying up to read board books, pressing out playdough, hitting up the park.
Thankfully, all of our indulgent holiday TV time included the timely Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Like thousands of other inspired Americans, we piled all of our clothes onto the bed, shredded old documents, pulled our sheets out of the linen closet, and offloaded ten garbage bags full to Goodwill.
In the afternoons, armed with binoculars, my husband and I walk along the path behind our house to look for birds. Even in our very suburban southeastern Arizona neighborhood, our hawk sightings are up 800 per cent. Coming around a corner in a wash near our home recently, we came face to face with a low-perched Cooper’s Hawk. We’ve added a few new species to our list. We’ve learned to recognize the call of a Gila Woodpecker.
It’s not Belize, but the time home together has been surprisingly lovely.
This time last year, my husband—an Army reservist—was preparing to mobilize to Kuwait, where he spent most of 2017. And so I find myself grateful for the extra time together now, no matter how ill conceived.
This isn’t to say I’m not desperately worried about missing yet another paycheck. Or making next month’s rent. Or the fact that we’ve got $24 in our bank account right now. Like most people, I’m anxious for the powers that be to hurry up and end it already.
But I’m one of those perhaps-obnoxious people who believe that the universe is always conspiring for our benefit, whatever that might look like. Even if, as in our case, it looks like a financial slap to the face.
Still, I am grateful for a tidier closet. For lunch at the table with my husband and toddler. For all those startling Vermillion Flycatchers we might have otherwise missed.