Changing to the same

I woke up this morning, my eyes swolen from a night of hard, sometimes restless sleep. The phone had stabbed through my occiptal bun and sliced a dream about something good and kind. The call was for my wife, a neighbor passing along a sad story. I watched as tears welled in my wife’s eyes. She wasn’t sad for herself, but for her friend. Mrs. Otis is like that.

While she took the call, my wife had laid L’il Otis on the pillow beside my head. He didn’t know his mom was sad or give any indication he recognized how ugly I really am in the morning. He gurgled a little and shifted around in his new pajammas. I marveled at how quickly the kid is growing. A picture from his first day on earth sits on our coffee table. Somehow, in three months he’s gone from looking like a albino raisin to a little man in unfortunately feminine jammies. Fortunately, he has no idea that he’s dressed like a wuss. And he’s cute as hell, so whatta I care, right?

With the phone back on its cradle, my wife relayed the story to me. Our neighbors’ dog (the one that protects my wife and puppy during long, dark walks through the neighborhood) was found to have a rapidly advancing cancer and had to be put down.

The kid gurgled again.

It’s real life before 9am. Before I’m out of bed.

Real life is about to change. Again.

The past few months have been a strange trip. For those who haven’t yet had children, it’s like you’re in the middle of a giant earth-changing calamity. A good one, though. That is, you’re only struggling to keep your head above water and paying little attention to everything else you once thought was important.

After about 12 weeks, though, you find yourself in a groove. Things have certainly changed, but those important things you’ve been ignoring for three months start to seem important again. You’re just looking at them differently.

With that in mind, the folks at Mt. Willis were forced to confront real life. For the past six months or so, I’ve been struggling with my work situation. I wasn’t very happy, I wasn’t very well compensated, and…well, yada, etc, mama mia I’m a whiner.

Still, we didn’t feel like we wanted to put L’il Otis in daycare. To make that work, I needed a new job.

Let me summarize: In April, I made the cut for interviews for the Executive Director of my city’s festival organization. I think I only got the interview because of who I knew and my name. Not surprisingly, they hired somebody who actually had event planning experience. After that, I used my name and contacts to nose my way into conversations with people looking to hire public relations directors. Again, that experience thing got in the way. I learned a great deal during those months about who one knows is not always good enough to get one a job.

After a few dismal failures in arenas outside my profession, in June I decided to start looking for better work in my field. Finding a new job in my field would require moving from this little burg. It wasn’t something I was all that hot on, but I was dedicated to finding a job that could support my family.

Three jobs presented themselves fairly quickly. Ft. Meyers, Kansas City, and Phoenix. Each job had its pros and cons. Despite being very far away, I was keenest on the Phoenix job. Again, not surprisingly, the only job that was actually offered to me was the one in Florida. In the end, it just didn’t work. The money wasn’t what I wanted (or needed, for that matter) and I didn’t see any sense in making a lateral move just to be moving.

Again, I’d like you to meet my friends Dispair and Self-Loathing.

By late July, I’d fallen into quite a funk and decided that I wasn’t nearly as cool as I thought I was. A couple of neat freelance writing gigs lifted my spirits somewhat, but not enough to convince me that I had the stones to actually be a bring-home-the-bacon sort of husband and father.

By August, when L’il Otis arrived, I’d resigned myself to hating myself and hoping that something good would happen. Thankfully, I was so deluded with fear of being a father that I forgot about my self-loathing for a couple of weeks and stopped paying attention to the fact that I was making no progress professionally.

Then, October came and with it the best possibility I had yet seen. The local newspaper reporter who specializes in my specialty left his job, leaving open a spot into which I was perfect for the walking.

I got in touch with the editor who seemed genuinely happy that I was interested. He brought me in and we talked for a solid hour. We talked about the job, the money, the life. I walked out of his office feeling like I already had the job.

Rumors circulated around town. I found it hard to do my job without someone asking me when I’d be making the move. I’d always respond the same way: “Nothing is for sure yet, but I’m hoping for something to happen soon.”

A week passed. I went camping. Another week passed. I played some cards. Another week passed and I got busy with my current job.

It was during this time Mrs. Otis was confronted with an inevitability: Come back to work. Now.

Everything we’d been hoping to happen before the eventuality arrived had not happened. We were stuck. No daycare. No plan. Nothing.

We didn’t know what to do. We explored every possibility. We considered fulltime daycare, but counted it out almost immediately. We considered me staying home, playing Mr. Mom and working on my writing until the newspaper was ready to hire me.

In the end though, there was only one decision we felt we could make. We had enough savings to live for a year on my salary alone.

Mrs. Otis tendered her resignation and we sat back and hoped the newspaper job would materialize.

Last Friday I was on my way home, driving down a hooker-infested street and looking forward to a good night of not hating myself.

The editor called.

Again, let me summarize: “We’re filling the job internally. Sorry. You were perfect, but it’s not going to work.”

I wanted to stop and buy some crack, but the dealers were conspicuously absent. Instead, I called home and delivered the news.

Mrs. Otis met me at the front door with a beer. It was perhaps the kindest thing she’s ever done. I sat down and started getting drunk.

Mrs. Otis left the house, ostensibly to have a drink with our boss and say goodbye.

An hour later she returned and threw an envelope at me. I read it through a rapidly advancing buzz.

“Fuck,” I said. Actually it came out more like, “Fuhhhhhhhhhck.”

Apparently our employer didn’t want to lose Mrs. Otis. The envelope contained an offer of a major promotion that was, in its essence, everything she’d ever wanted and worked for her entire life.

“Fuhhhhhhhhhhck,” I said. Then I said it again.

After recovering from my hangover, the wife and I talked a great deal. The offer would allow us to again live comfortably on a financial basis. It would only require L’il Otis to be in daycare for three hours a day. It would elevate my wife to the level that she has deserved for a long time.

While a hard decision for her (she is still really torn up about the daycare stuff), it was a no-brainer for me.

She signed the contract last night and submitted it today. On Monday Mrs. Otis will become a working mom.

This afternoon, I was standing in front of a television camera, bright lights in my face, and some work to do in about three minutes. Marty called, we chatted for a moment, then he asked what the big announcement was going to be.

I told him, to which he replied, “I was hoping it was that you’d quit your job to be a fulltime writer.”

Well, no. Not for now anyway (that’s another post for another day).

For now, I’m back to being me and doing my best to keep my wife and kid happy. I’ve tried the “threatening to quit” thing and the bosses usually respond with, “Have you seen the front door? It’s very nice. Here, let me show it to you.”

I’m okay with that (sort of). I’m embracing the concept of my wife not only making more money than me (she always has), but making A LOT more than me. Now, I just have to find a way to get rid of the self-loathing and focus on the stuff I’m starting to believe I’m good at.

Tonight is dinner and DVD night at Mt. Willis. The kid will go to sleep about 8:30 and we parents will sit up and spend a nice night together, embracing real life, and setting out on a journey that will be very different, but very much the same.

Something I’ve come to realize is that we’re still young. At this point in my dad’s life, he hadn’t yet even started doing what eventually made him successful and gave me a perfect little life.

So, I guess L’il Otis is going to be okay.

And since I spend so much time communicating with my wife through e-mails and blogs these days, let me offer this:

I love you, baby.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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