The plan was never that I would quit my job.
I feel like that’s important to clarify. I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom; I liked going to work and banking a paycheck. I didn’t love leaving my son in daycare for nine hours a day—few parents do—but the childcare was necessary for me to keep my job and I wanted to keep my job.
That’s wanted, past tense.
The uncertainty first prickled when we found out how much it would cost to add a second tuition. An infant plus a toddler in full time daycare would be $2,200/month, we were matter-of-factly informed. I did the mental math subtracting that amount from my monthly take home pay three times before I realized the decimal point was in fact in the right place. My husband Jon and I looked at the spreadsheet where our monthly budget was haphazardly catalogued. I rubbed my rounded belly as I questioned aloud where we could possibly make cuts to find the room to pay for a bill that would be doubling in three months’ time.
“Try not to worry, Love,” Jon said with a squeeze of my shoulder and a kiss pressed into my hair. “We’ll figure it out.”
And we did. I don’t remember exactly how, but we entered my maternity leave with an adjusted budget and a plan. Then our daughter was born, and she spent the next 12 weeks attached to me in every sense of the word. The week before her first day of daycare, I sat down with the “Your Baby’s Routine” worksheet that her teachers cheerfully promised to adhere to on our tour.
How often does baby feed? On a bad day, every 20 minutes.
How does baby get to sleep? Lying on my chest, exclusively.
What does baby find soothing? Her mother. Also exclusively.
“I don’t know how I’m going to go back to work,” I told Jon that night as I nursed Ellie. I’d gone by for a quick visit to the office and seen my carefully-tabbed “To Do While I’m Out” notebook untouched. Oh, and they’d casually rearranged several of my responsibilities—I didn’t mind, did I? Well, yes, actually. I minded a hell of a lot. My voice rose as I relayed this to Jon, and Ellie squirmed in my arms, reminding me that a job I was no longer excited about was only the half of it. My indignation gave way to sadness as I recounted the stress of trying to write down a routine for an adamantly non-routine baby.
“Daycare is going to be a disaster; she’s going to be miserable,” I said. And so am I—the words hung unsaid between us.
Jon remained quiet and let me talk myself into silence, having learned long ago that I couldn’t be placated otherwise. The tears slipped down my cheeks, and I lifted the corner of Ellie’s blanket to wipe them away. Her fingers splayed across my chest, gripping the strap of my nursing tank, holding on for all she was worth. Jon let his eyes rest on her, then me, and cleared his throat.
“Do you want to quit your job?” he asked. While I talk in circles to the point of exhaustion, Jon is more economical with his words.
“Then quit, Love. We’ll figure it out.”
I wanted to argue. I wanted to pull out the spreadsheet and the calculator. I wanted to spend hours talking about the pros and cons and making sure this was really possible and talking about the contingency plans for what we’d do if we couldn’t pay all of our bills. In fact, looking back I have no idea why I didn’t do any of those things. Because that’s how I make all of my decisions: with precision and forethought and spreadsheets. The only way I can explain it was that I trusted Jon. If he said we’d figure it out, we’d figure it out. And I knew that with a certainty I normally reserve for verifiable facts and figures.
“Okay,” I said. Two days later, I met with my boss and turned in my notice.
Eighteen months ago, I ran up a significant credit card bill. I have an unfortunate habit of online shopping when I’m sad or depressed, and Jon and I were in the throes of our disagreement about having a third child, which meant I was very sad for an extended period of time with the online cart to prove it. The card I used was an old one, only in my name and not connected to our online Mint account.
It took me three weeks to work up the nerve to tell him what I’d done. It wasn’t just that I was embarrassed about how much money I’d spent, although that was certainly part of it. I was deeply ashamed that I’d hidden it from Jon; above all else, we are honest with each other. But most of all, I was afraid of his response. He would be angry, rightfully so, and I was worried he wouldn’t be able to forgive me.
I took the coward’s way out and emailed him about it while he was in LA for work, 3,000 miles away. I told him everything: how much I’d spent, what I’d spent it on, how I’d hidden it. I said I understood that he was angry and hurt and I’d do whatever it took to figure out how to pay it off. But I also told him why I’d spent the money—how scared and lost and overwhelmed I’d become. I begged him to forgive me, but I also pleaded for understanding. I catalogued my shortcomings in black and white, and hit send. Then I sat, stomach churning, waiting for his response. Hours later, his email came through and I scanned it quickly, my eyes so blurred with tears that I only caught phrases.
I’m not mad.
I love you and we'll figure out this problem just like we've figured out all the other ones ... together.
It was an ordinary Tuesday night in early December, and we were climbing into bed. I scrolled through Netflix, asking Jon which episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee he was up for but he didn’t respond. I glanced at him, and he had a hand pressed to his chest, right over his heart.
“Are you okay, Love? What’s wrong?”
“My heartbeat is off. It feels like it’s jumping all over the place.”
He grabbed an old Fitbit and placed it on his pulse point. 150 beats per minute. Then 60. Then 140. Then 70.
He placed it on my wrist, for a control. 90 beats. 85. 92. 87.
I asked him if he felt dizzy or nauseated or if he was having chest pains, and he shook his head. We both Googled irregular heartbeats, and I asked if I needed to take him to the emergency room. He shook his head again.
I fetched him a Gatorade from the kitchen because WebMD said electrolytes would help. An hour later, his heartbeat had settled back into a normal rhythm.
“Has this ever happened before?” I asked.
Every now and then, he said. A flutter or a skipped beat, maybe. But nothing like this. The next morning he called his doctor, and she referred him to a cardiologist who ordered a stress test and echocardiogram.
Normally Jon is the one who holds me as we fall asleep, the Big Spoon. But that night I wrapped my arms around him, my cheek pressed against his back. I thought he’d fallen asleep, until he spoke softly without turning his head.
“You know, my father was in his mid-30s when he died.”
I said nothing. We rarely talk about Jon’s biological father, and it’s even rarer for Jon to be the one who brings him up—he died when Jon was only two and Jon has no memory of him, only a handful of pictures. Pictures that show a tall, lean man with broad shoulders and feet that turn slightly inward, a carbon copy of the man lying next to me. His mother has remarked before that Jon walks just like his father did, and I remember marveling that such a thing could be hereditary. I stopped myself firmly from considering what else he might have inherited, but Jon’s mind was faster.
“I’m worried,” he whispered into the darkness, and I tightened my hold. I wanted to tell him there was nothing to be afraid of, that it’s probably nothing, that if it was anything really worth being scared of, his doctor would’ve had him come in right away. I wanted to remind him that he’s healthy and strong and that it was his biological dad’s lifestyle that led to his early death and not a fluke heart issue. I wanted to pour my words into his fears and fill up the silence, because that’s what I do. I talk wisely and confidently until I am believed.
But, for some reason, I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I offered his words back to him.
“I know. But we’ll figure it out.”
We’ll figure it out. They seem like rote, meaningless words, don’t they? If there’s a continuum from the solid confidence of “A Plan” to the futility of “Grasping at Straws,” “figuring it out” feels like it falls closer to the latter. In the face of fear and uncertainty about things as big and weighty as health and financial stability, it’s a solution so nebulous and ambiguous that it should fall flat upon delivery. Instead it has provided courage, absolution, and comfort by turn.
I can’t be sure, but I think it’s the “we” that makes the difference. My fear and shame is Jon’s. His worry and anxiety is mine. It’s not just my stuff to work through or his to deal with. It’s ours, and I’m learning that it’s just as much an act of love to allow someone else to carry your burdens as it is to be the one who offers to help. We’ll figure it out has become our shorthand for “I’m going to help you carry this and you’re going to let me because of the love between us.”
It took six months of the tightest budget imaginable, but we figured out quitting my job.
It took a few extra writing gigs and moving some money from savings, but we figured out the credit card bill.
And it took two weeks of tests, but I was sitting in the doctor’s office with Jon when we found out that his heart is fine—the irregularities are harmless and nothing to worry about.
After 10 years of marriage, we’ve learned there are times for plans and research and arguments and spreadsheets. And then there are times to close the computer, stop debating, and make the call. There are my battles, his battles, and the ones we fight together, guarding each other’s weak side. There are nights when we stay up for hours, talking through options. And there are nights when the only words we need are I know. I understand. We’ll figure it out.
For better or worse.
For richer or poorer.
In sickness and in health.
We’ll figure it out.
Photo by N’tima Preusser.