A story about everyday life

I want to relate a little story. In a regional city in Ontario, Canada, there lives a family. The grandparents are in their late 40s to early 50s. They live in a small house, the same one they’ve lived in for the past 27 years. It’s across the road from the school where their children went. Those children, a boy and girl, are now 28 and 26. The younger daughter is a single mother of a two-year-old and lives with her parents in their basement. She works long hours for minimum wage in retail and her mother looks after her daughter. The older son got married a week ago. He lives with his new wife and their two children aged four and a half and two in a tiny house about ten houses up the street. He works doing shift work labouring and his wife works at Tim Horton’s for minimum wage. They don’t have much money. In fact they had to sell their car to pay medical bills and for their small wedding they held in the parents’ back yard.
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Every morning, six days a week, grandmother walks down to her son’s house at 5:30am and waits for her grandchildren to wake up. She then takes them down to her place for breakfast. Their mother leaves at 6am for work and their father got home around an hour and a half earlier after his 4pm to 4am shift in the factory. The grandmother feeds and dresses the boys and brings her other grandchild up for breakfast while her daughter gets ready for her shift at the store. Grandmother takes care of the three, brings the older one across to school. When her son wakes around 10:30am he takes over for a little while. Nobody ever earns enough to buy a bigger house, a newer car or to go on vacation. They don’t entertain their dreams. But they live and work and enjoy each other’s company on the rare days they’re together as a family.

This is a story of working class Canada.

We are not working class although we feel like we are! I am about to begin a postgraduate degree at a top university. We have no income. One child is starting school, five full days per week, right from the beginning, in a public school. The little one will be in daycare (if I manage to find something suitable). This is going to be an enormous achievement if we pull this off. I actually don’t know how we’ll do it. There is no support here, government or family, and things are expensive and foreign.
It seems that classes don’t matter so much. It’s not about social standing, who is doing some fancy degree and who is working for minimum wage with nothing to show for it. Ultimately it’s about finding what makes you happy. It’s a cliché but it’s true. We wanted cold and snow and seasons and we are willing to sacrifice a lot to get that. The only way we’ll know is to do it, that’s what we’ve said from the beginning.
This post is going nowhere but I was just struck by the comparison between this family and ours. The antithesis of each other in a lot of ways. But striving to be happy in common.

How the tables have turned

So things have really been up and down since settling in Canberra. The main issue we’ve been facing is that we have no income, yet we’re trying to renovate a house for sale.  We were both applying for jobs, but it was hellishly frustrating as we’re both somewhat unemployable: Mr Chewbacca as he’s not yet a citizen, and citizenship is required for a security clearance needed for the majority of government jobs, which make up most jobs in Canberra; and me, as I’ve not worked in nearly two and a half years.

I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t applying for absolutely everything. The main reason for this was that I felt completely drained of the confidence I left the workforce with back in April 2011. Yes, I’ve done a few bits and pieces of work here and there, but none of it full time or in an office, and certainly not challenging or suitable for adding to my CV. I wondered whether I really could do what I’d done before, and my hellish experience in 2010 working for a large charity organisation and being treated like total crap and victimised all came flooding back. I didn’t want project management roles, not that that’s my forte anyway, but with the right amount of confidence and commitment I know I could get anything.

I’d been quite surprised at being offered an interview for a role about three weeks before we left Sydney, and I ended up doing the interview over the phone. I think I stuffed it up a bit, partly because phone interviews are hard, but also because I rabbited on a bit and it was obvious I was elaborating too much and talking a bit off topic. I also asked a really dumb question at the end of the interview. So no surprises that I didn’t get any further contact. So I had a tiny bit of confidence due to being offered that interview, but soon it dissipated when I applied for quite a few government jobs, working really hard on the selection criteria response, and had absolutely no requests for interview.  I also applied for quite a few roles through recruitment agents and had zero response there too. They’re looking at my CV thinking, what the hell, this woman has no recent experience!

Mr C spoke to literally every recruitment agent in Canberra and they all came back with the same thing: you pretty much need to be a citizen to get anything in Canberra. Demoralising. He was encouraging me to apply as much as possible, given he thought there was no possibility of him getting something, although we did prepare a couple of applications for jobs that came up in ACT Government, which doesn’t require citizenship. I must say I was surprised not to hear anything back, as I used to work there and I know the application process so well. Anyway.

I saw a role advertised on Seek that was with a recruitment agent I hadn’t applied to yet, so I applied. And, miraculously, the next day I got a call back from the agent wanting further information! I had a quick chat with him about my relevant experience for the role, a temporary communications job at the right level, and he said he’d put my CV forward. He didn’t even end up speaking to my referees, as he said he got a ‘good feeling’ about me. And the following day, I was invited for an interview! The organisation, a federal government statutory authority, sounded fairly boring, but the agent assured me that the role was suited to me and the people were lovely and fun and interesting. He gave me a fantastic package of information to help me prepare for the interview, which was at 9am on a Wednesday. I was nervous, but I immediately felt at ease with the people who interviewed me, and I just spoke freely about what I’d done which seemed to gel so easily with what they asked. It was entirely informal and I knew I’d done well. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but as I drove away I thought to myself, “we do really need the money, but I actually genuinely want to work in that office!”

And the following morning, I got a call from the agent. Good news! I got it! I spoke calmly to the agent, trying to take in the info he was giving me about going in on the Friday for a handover and starting on Monday, but as soon as I got off the phone I ran and jumped on Mr C, screaming!  I’ve never felt so relieved! The pay would be decent, enough to pay our mortgage and bills and finance the renovation, and the work would be varied and enjoyable. Mr C would be a stay at home dad, which would work out so well as Dude is daddy-obsessed at the moment. The only negative is that Dude would have to cope without me all day, or more importantly, without boobie all day! But strangely enough, he just coped. He got a bit upset when I had to leave on the second and third day, saying ‘mah mah mah work!’ and shaking his head, which means, ‘no, I don’t want you to go to work!’ but he soon said goodbye and was quite happy with daddy all day, just having boobie in the evening.

I’ve just completed my first week at my new job and I have to say it’s fantastic. My boss is amazing, so lovely and chilled and fun, and the people in my team are just lovely, easy going and friendly, helpful and kind, interesting and funny. It’s been tough getting up so early as I’ve been catching the bus which makes a 20 minute drive into an hour, but providing I don’t miss it, it’s quite relaxing to sit and read or whatever and listen to music. I’m considering other commuting options, other than the car, but that’s for another post.

So far, it’s great. Only one hitch: just yesterday, the end of my first week, I finished up feeling absolutely exhausted but pretty happy as I’d written my first media release and had it signed off by the Chief Executive with no changes. Mr C checked his email after Dude went to bed and found an email asking him to come for an interview for one of the ACT Gov jobs he’d applied for. it’s higher pay than mine and, looking back to see which role it was as we couldn’t remember, having submitted the application so long ago, we noticed it was one that we’d actually submitted late! We sent it through a few hours late with an apologetic note saying it was an honest timing mistake. Obviously they were cool to accept the application. So… how we’re going to tackle this, I don’t know. If he doesn’t get it, well, he doesn’t, and we continue on as we are. But if he does, which would be amazing financially and in terms of career for Mr C, it totally screws us in terms of the Dude. He has never been in care, and I don’t think I could do it to him, even now that he’s two and fairly tough and self-sufficient. I don’t think I can handle the thought of him being with strangers all day. Just this last week I’ve really not seen him that much, only an hour at best in the morning, and an hour or so at night, not including overnight of course where he’s still right next to me. We could consider the option of a nanny or perhaps family day care might suit, but yeah, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of leaving him. This is all probably crazy, as Mr C hasn’t even had the interview yet, but I know how impressive he is and how dodgy the ACT Gov is and I think he’ll blow their socks off.  We’ll just have to wait and see…