Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Updates From The Heartland: The Move, Pt. 3

The reason why was because Randi had to alert her school, PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn as to whether or not she would return. Even though the school year was to start in September they would need to know by March. A few weeks in advance of this we went back and forth still more, and started to see a marriage counselor to help us deal with the stress this had put on us as individuals and as a married couple.

I personally felt the strain. No matter how I tried to slice it I couldn't come up with one answer that would satisfy everyone. If we stayed Randi wouldn't be happy, and would feel that we had ignored something very important to her, which was that she desperately wanted to try and help poor rural children get better educations. This was, and is, a noble goal that I supported. Or at least I supported it in theory before it meant that I would have to move to Kentucky.

If we moved I might be able to find a decent life in Kentucky, but I wasn't confident. As mentioned my entire world had become centered around New York, and I had a wonderful group of friends, and a great family, whom I loved. It would be especially hard trying to replicate the network of friends, family and close contacts that had made up a fairly complex web for me. On any given night, if I decided to go out, I could go downtown and see people I know perform, meet a good, good friend for a drink, or even catch a movie with a chum. I knew I would desperately miss these people.

The problem, of course, is that we, as a couple, could rarely indulge in these sorts of fun activities because it cost so much. We lucked out, and found a babysitter that would watch Stella for $15 an hour, but since I was jobless and Randi only worked part time at the school (she had decided to go back to work last school year, but too late to get full time work) even at this discounted rate our little nights out, which we used to take for granted, became back-breakingly expensive. If we merely went to see a movie we would have to add up the cost of the movie, $23 or so, and the cost of the babysitter, at least $45. Heaven forbid we should want to get dinner or buy popcorn at the theater, then our night could easily top $100. Just to get dinner and see a movie.

Sometimes we could get babysitting help through a collective Randi was in, but this could not be counted on on a regular basis.

So basically our lives had become very small, with us in most nights, praying for the return of shows like "Mad Men" to make yet another night inside seem worth it.

As mentioned, the clocked ticked away while we tried to find, somewhere, the wisdom of Solomon. How to balance the happiness of one versus the other? Not to mention that if Randi was unhappy it would have a big impact on my happiness.

Also there was the Stella factor. What would be best for her? In Brooklyn we lived right next door to a library with excellent programs for kids and down the block from a great playground with a tots section. Better still we had become part of a large, lively and close-knit group of parents in our area, as Brooklyn has become such a Mecca for young couples. We all knew one another's kids, and Stella had started to develop friendships with some of the local kids her age.

Yet, again, though, the question loomed: could she be happy if her parents were constantly stressed? If we stayed would we be able to settle into a routine that would mitigate the isolation we frequently felt? Would having more family nearby help us, and by extension help her? I tried to figure all this out, as did Randi.

What about me? My career had seemingly hit a wall. I enjoyed writing investigative pieces into Wall Street, which I already had done at prior jobs, but even when I was hired at Forbes I was told that they didn't need me for that. I could do it in my spare time, of course, and see if a job opened up. But for now they wanted me to continue to crank out the financial advice, and do whatever else it was they wanted me to do at.

Not to say that I didn't work hard, I did. And I was grateful for the chance. But my job was a full-time job, and I took it seriously. Unfortunately at the end of the day there was little time for me to get cranking on the next great Wall Street expose. That is also a full time job. The problem is that being a dad and a husband is also yet another full time job, and one I also took seriously. So something had to give and what gave was my ability to do extracurricular reporting. This is how journalism is a young person's game. If you are single, and childless, you can spend the extra hours on the phone, going to conferences, calling people earlier in the day or late at night. You can write things up over the weekends. You can have, in essence, two jobs. The one they pay you for, which you may not love, and the one you want to grow into.

I know, boo-hoo. I realize that it was my decision to not burn the extra midnight oil. I made a choice, and have accepted it. But I was sad to see this horrific financial meltdown take place right before my eyes, and only be able to delve into it peripherally.

Then there was the apartment situation. If we left, but decided we would want to come back how could we? We would lose our apartment, and as anyone who has ever moved to New York can attest, finding a nice, affordable apartment can be a process akin to finding hen's teeth. Especially when you don't already have a place. How would it work? Would I ask my parents if we could stay with them while Randi took the bus into work, I looked for apartments, and Stella ... just what would Stella do anyway?

Some of these questions have no answers, of course. After months of banging our heads against various walls we decided, with the deadline landing on our backs, to simply roll the dice and go for it. I realized something important: I would never be able to divine the future, so I would have to stop trying. No matter how much I figured, reasoned and played out various scenarios I could not account for them all, especially with things that are as unpredictable as happiness and satisfaction.

It was decided that we would move, try Louisville, and see if anyone would want to sublet our apartment while we were away.

Could the sublet work? Would our landlord agree to it? We didn't know, but we would ask.

Anyway, if you can imagine it, these were only some of the questions we tried to answer before the move. (Others: What about my sister Barbara? She has Down's Syndrome and I am her legal guardian. She's in New Jersey, could I see her? What about moving from a place with tons of Jews, New York, to a place where there aren't very many at all? How would I handle that? Would Stella assimilate into a culture I wouldn't want her to assimilate into?)

So, as mentioned, all this put an enormous strain on us personally and together. The back-and-forthing of it all, the idea that we would have to change lives ... it was all too much. Sometimes I was on board, and sometimes I would draw way back, terrified and angry that I would have to go. Randi wanted to go, yes, but then she would pull back too. We would have a great day, a day that could only be had in New York, and she would start to question whether we should move as well. We might be at a public pool, amidst dozens of kids from every race and background, all playing together. Only in New York, I would think, and the thought made me happy.

Then something would happen that would make me very unhappy, and it would also only be in New York. I would have to move my car twice a week, every week. Heaven forbid I should forget, then I would be slapped with crazy expensive tickets, and the threat of having my car towed. Laundry was blocks away, which can be a big burden when your laundry bags weigh 50 pounds. To get food we have to carry groceries up three flights of narrow stairs. And everything costs way more than it should. These are the compromises of city life.

So there were so many unanswerable issues at play. Yet at the same time I also knew that no matter where we went we would still, ultimately, bring ourselves along. Could a move even make us happier if we weren't happy now? Maybe, but maybe not. Again, these are questions that have no answers, almost like Zen Koans, but far less philosophical and fun.

To complicate matters still more we also understood that if some crazy great job opening came my way we would have to reconsider moving. I for one was not worried that this would happen. It hadn't happened yet, and I'd been on the lookout for months.

Yet this unlikely scenario is exactly what happened.

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