The Diamond Age

I had a very interesting exchange with a friend on Facebook this week, who was – rightfully – bemoaning the high cost of good daycare, and irritated that more than half of her paycheck was gone just to take care of her child while she was at work. She made a comment regarding the fact that this seems to be just another cultural universal in the modern day, something everyone contends with, and as a long stream of her friends and acquaintances chimed in with their agreement, I felt like I owed a voice to the conversation.

“Not everyone,” I said, “uses daycare.”

The immediate response was a mass eyerolling – silence your mind, and you can practically hear the sclera rolling slickly in a million sockets with an unpopular post – and some rock-throwing, including questioning whether we had a nanny, or parental help, or simply had children old enough to be at home on their own.

“None of the above,” I replied. “We watch our own kids. Simple as that.”

When we fired our nanny for good in 2007, having experienced a string of nanny experiences that would turn your hair white, we decided – at that moment – that we were done with the concept of outsourcing our children’s care. From that point on, it would be us, with the attendant challenges that created. So we threw everything we had on the table, Apollo 13-style, and attempted to build a new life going forward.

First to go was the idea of two full-time careers outside the home. Home was to be the primary venue for raising our kids, so we weren’t interested in having our children grow up in full-day Accenture summer daycare, for example, or coloring listlessly in an office all summer, shushed at every ring of the desk phone.  So part-time and home-based work became the planks for this new life; I cut back my consulting practice to focus on distance work and local client on-site projects only, while Kath cut back her patient hours and switched to a flexible position. Together, we could just do it – with some expense-cutting and heightened fiscal scrutiny.

It started, though, with a very specific perspective: building from the family up to our careers, rather than building down from our careers to our family. It wasn’t a case of ‘this is what we do for a living; how can we accommodate three gifted and intense children within that framework?’ It was ‘these are our family realities; how can we make a living while respecting our kids’ needs?’

Something in our life, we decided, needed to be a diamond; it should cut all other things. And not everyone has options in choosing their diamond surface; for some of us, a Diamond Age is thrust upon us – we’ve got a serious illness of our own (or that of a parent) to contend with in our lives, or perhaps our kids have special needs (2E or not 2E, that would be the question). But for those of us lucky and blessed enough to have broad familial health intact, the next step is deciding what the diamond surface is in your life. For us, the growing level of intensities in our house, and the specific needs that each of our children was beginning to show us, made the choice an obvious one.

When we positioned our family as the diamond surface in our life, other things got cut – literally and metaphorically. Vacations have a lot more laughing in the tent, and a lot less beachhouse rent – and the TV we bought five years ago seems to be holding up fine. Monopoly, it turns out, has an ageless quality of fun, and stroking your daughter’s hair while she reads pegs the happiness needle; no objects or debit cards required. What’s interesting is that the cuts are visible ones; I can see, in our bank account, every place that earning less and spending more time with my family impacts us. They’re easy cuts to see, and maybe that’s a dangerous thing. The fact that they are so obvious, so quantitative, makes me doubly sure that those cuts would be happening somewhere else if we’d made something else – career, self, hobbies or collections – our diamond surfaces. But those cuts, I fear, wouldn’t be nearly as easy to spot. Some of them, I’m confident, would have been made on my childrens’ hearts.

As the Diamond Age unfolds in our household, I find that I don’t have the life that society tells me I should have or want, and that feels strange sometimes. Things are just different for us, and I have to shrug that off occasionally. Our decision has been our own, and it doesn’t always lead to the easy, tangible reward or the societally-blessed lifestyle. I’ll probably post more about those feelings as they come up.

But right now, I’ve got to go. E’s got a hotel on Boardwalk that she just can’t wait for me to land on.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Juley Allee on July 18, 2012 at 10:49 am

    You and K have a wholesome, heartfelt, wondrous view of life and its importance.


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