I just returned from my first tutoring session of the new school year with the boy I’ve been working with for a year and a half. He’s a student at a boarding school, parents living in Europe. The differences between his life experience and that of the students I used to teach at the public high school nearby are staggering, to say the least. I imagine I’ll eventually do some writing on the social justice quandary at some point.
For now, I’m just glad to be earning money.
JL and I are taking a new (yet much overdue), hard look at our finances. We’re also completely clearing out our house, purging all the stuff we don’t need or want and really storing the stuff we can’t part with (like all my grad school notes, research, and reading packets). Both processes are going to take while, lots of concentration and some more childcare, but we can tell it’s just time to get cleared out.
We don’t yet have all the numbers in front of us, but tonight I offered some thoughts on quantifying a life. It is so valuable to me to be able to stay home with my son. There’s no way to equal out what it means to operate from our home as a base, to get up when we want (though more routine might not hurt), to be able to take small classes here and there if we think they’re valuable, to be able to go to the zoo if it’s a nice day and we don’t have anything planned, to go to the farmer’s market early if nap is short or doesn’t happen. Since we can afford not to have an additional salary right now, it’s worth a lot to have the flexibility we do.
And yet I seem to have a higher need for alone time and creative output time than some of my other SAHM friends. Or maybe I’m just more directed to get that time because of my history of depression and other health issues: I know what I can’t let go of without compromising my emotional health, and, by extension, my son’s and family’s health.
Tutoring is great money, but if you don’t do a lot of it, it’s not the same kind of money a regular paying job would be. I explained to my husband tonight that in my head I have done a few things with the idea of what I earn.
- I equate what I earn to a service I get — acupuncture, massage, craniosacral therapy, visit to funky chiropractor who clears stuff with adjustment and homeopathy. So if I tutor for five hours in a few weeks and get only two or three appointments that month, I feel like I’m canceling my costs out. I’m earning my keep — as long as I don’t go too far over in the other direction in childcare costs (currently 8 hours per week).
- I feel like when I go to tutor, my husband thinks of it as though he’s doing me a favor. It’s like I’m going out to my writing group, or ICAN, or yoga — something ostensibly just for me. On weeks I tutor several times, I feel bad for keeping him from being able to work out or to stay at work late if needs to (unless I arrange some kind of childcare). This comes in part from my own baggage about having spent so much time on my teaching in the past, in a way that he often didn’t understand. But it also comes from the fact that we just don’t factor in the tutoring to our finances.
So now that we are going to try to cut our monthly spending probably by one-third, it’s time to seriously start to think of myself as a WAHM and set a goal for how much money I am going to earn per month. Otherwise, I will continue to look at the tutoring as just more “me” time with the perk of $ but without as much future or immediate payback as I’d get from working on a piece of writing or even catching up on email with friends and family.
It is great for me to feel useful and needed by the person I’m helping, but I need to also feel like I’m making a serious contribution to the family income. And for that, I need to move tutoring out of the “it makes me feel good” category and into the “this is what my family needs me to do” category.
So if I have a slow month or there’s a vacation, I’ll see if I can get some copyediting work. If, after months of working on a piece of writing, I get something published in a paying market, the $ need to go in that column instead of just my ego-boost box.
I certainly realize that I am privileged to be even having this conversation. We have been fortunate, especially in the past few years. It may not last much longer in this economy, so it’s high time we took stock of the organic produce bills.
I’m also hoping that, even if I earn only a fraction of what my husband does, putting this kind of info on paper will help us in our ongoing quest to define our roles in ways that are satisfying for both of us. It’s been a challenge to feel so skewed with such different lives & daily responsibilities. I’m not going to put my son in daycare unnecessarily in the hopes of creating a more balanced parenting gig, but I do hope that some harder looks at the numbers of what I bring in and what we spend for childcare will keep me from feeling so much like me just spinning my wheels in my private, decked-out hamster cage. My working will just part of the way our household runs.