Long days short years

Essay, The Charlotte News

On November 2, 2009, two weeks after Noah was born, I was laid off from my job as the creative director of a living-history park in Utah. The day had started off like any other for two new parents- hectic.

Shortly after I arrived at the office that day, I found myself sitting across from my boss as he blew sunshine where it did not belong, telling me how this was an extremely hard decision and he had been up half the night and blah blah blah. They wanted to go in a new direction, get someone with marketing experience. I was completely blindsided.

Not quite two years earlier I had been hired as the graphic designer for the park. I never pretended to be a marketing genius; in fact, I had told them I did not know much about it. I only took the role only because they had fired the marketing person for not doing her job, and with the understanding that I would only do it for a short time until we could find someone else, someone with more training than I had. Nonetheless, I loved my job, and I was excited to go to work. I may have been learning on the fly, but I was giving 200 percent every day.

I left the office mad and scared. The park is over 400 acres with dozens of buildings and I headed for one I was sure would be empty. I sat on the porch exhausted. I looked out over the valley, wondering how I was going to tell Erin. After a short time I got in my car and drove home. Thankfully I’ve never been the breadwinner in the family. Still, the pain of being out of work weighed on me.

By the time I pulled into the driveway my plan was set. I would get a job in a restaurant. Since college it had been my standard fall-back plan when times were lean. That way I could at least contribute to the household income. I was the man of the house after all. I stood outside our front door, staring at the lock, trying to find words. I walked inside and right away Erin knew something was wrong. I told her what had happened and of my plan. She told me there was no way I was going to wait tables, I hated waiting tables, and I could stay home with Noah. The running joke since the beginning of our relationship was that I had found myself a sugar-momma and someday I would be a househusband. We had stayed in Utah because of my job. Me staying home had never really been talked about when we found out we were having a baby.

Now we were at a cross roads and I had a choice to make. Did I really want to be a stay-at-home dad? At first I was on the fence; I figured I could go out on my own. I had a healthy list of contacts and the experience. We figured why not give it a try, and I set to about creating a company. Soon Erin went back to work and I was a full-time dad, trying to juggle starting a business, caring for a baby and doing some consulting work for our church. The day it took me an hour and half to write a ten line email was the day I realized I had a choice to make. I could be a stay-at-home dad or I could be a graphic designer, but I could not be both. It did not take me very long to make my decision.

The last six years have been far from easy. I’ve learned so much about who I really am that at times I sit back in pure amazement at all of the changes that I have gone through. Several times I have told Erin that I could no longer handle staying at home and needed to find a job outside of the house. I’ve made two more attempts to start my own business each resulting in me spiraling into a stressed-out anxiety riddled state that leaves me short fused and unable to deal with the little things that come with raising two very strong willed rambunctious boys and running a house. No amount of money is worth that.

The Fluff Class

Essay

It was the spring semester of my senior year of college, and I was three credits shy of graduation. Being your typical lazy college student with senioritis, I looked for the easiest class I could find. A brand new class called White Mountain History seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

My years in college were not the happy, make-friends-for-life years that many people have. Rather they were filled with a great deal of confusion, anger and sadness—at myself for the choices I had made and at the world for the things that had happened to me. By the time the spring semester came around, I was more than ready to move away from the small campus of eight hundred students, no love lost.

The class was created and taught by Laura Alexander and as the weeks went by I found myself becoming quite interested in the history of the mountains I had only been to a couple of times. A few, rather early, Saturday mornings the class would pile into two fifteen-passenger vans and spend the day visiting places such as the Old Man in the Mountain, the Cannon ski area, Tuckerman’s Ravine, and the AT trail head to name a few. For the final exam we had to create character and use historical facts to talk about a certain area of the White Mountains as that character. I created a writer who came to the Mount Washington Hotel for the summer to write. I remember wishing, as I cobbled the report together, that I was a writer of a different time, that I was a writer in general.

On the last day of class Laura came in with a plastic shopping bag and passed out a small laminated card with a picture on one side and a quote and a note on the other. The quote read:

IMG_4051I said in my heart. I am sick of four walls and a ceiling.I have need of the sky, I have business with the grass.  Eleanor Early, Behold the White Mountains, 1939

After graduation I moved to Boston, with two friends, into an apartment that was out of our price range, especially considering that none of us had jobs. But we were young and cocky and figured we would get jobs in our respective fields right away. As my grandmother wrote once about her twenties, I thought I had reached the zenith and was wiser than all the prophets. In reality I could not find a graphic design job, despite calling every design company in the phone book. I had it in my head that because my degree was in graphic design, that was the kind of job I needed to find. For many years I blamed the quality of my education on my inability to get a job but eventually came to realize I was only an average designer and once again God had a plan that was better than the one I had. Not that I really had a plan anyway. I spent eight months looking for a career while taking temporary low-paying jobs and borrowing money from friends to pay the rent. Finally I gave in and moved back to Vermont. I had tacked the card that Laura had given us to my bedroom door frame in Boston to remind me to get out into the wilderness I so dearly loved. As I was moving out I pulled the card off the wall and read the quote. As I said to Laura in a letter from February of 2001, It made everything seem right and I knew I was on the right path. For years after I carried that small card around in my wallet until it started to delaminate.

When I left Boston things did not immediately become sunshine and roses. However, through all the rotten jobs and the request for interviews at design firms, I carried that card with me. Eventually I got my then dream job at the American Diabetes Association, which in turn led to meeting Erin.

Laura is the only professor I have corresponded with since graduating from college. To this day I am in awe in the way that God works and how He gets you where you need to be, though because of personal choices and bull-headedness, it sometimes takes longer than it should. Who would have guessed that a “fluff” class at the end of my senior year and a little card from a professor I hardly knew would have such a profound impact on my life. The card that she gave me now sits in a box of other random treasures I have kept over the years and now and again I pull it out and look at it. The words and the worn edges remind me of the often-hard journey that brought me to where I am today.