Saturday, May 7, 2011

Deciding to Stay Home, Part Two

... So, there we were, newly married & living large in the center of the free world. I had a job I could not have even dreamed up, full of variety and opportunities for learning & growth in the area I was passionate about: politics. Doug got a not-so-very-exciting job checking coats in the cloakrooms of the National Gallery of Art, but it was still very exciting, because -- for crying out loud!-- he was working at the National Gallery of Art, surrounded by Rembrandt, Calder, Monet, Rothko, van Gogh, and whenever we wanted we could just browse through and go see my favorite painting in the world... "Repose" by John Singer Sargent.

Did you click on that link? Isn't it lovely? So relaxing...

Anyway, it was a great time in our lives. We shopped at Trader Joes in Old Town Alexandria, walked two miles a day getting to and from the metro, and generally had a blast together. What a great place to be when you're a carefree, happily-in-love couple on a relatively tight budget (yes, I made good money for a recent college grad, but it's still DC, and things were tight). We took in the sights, enjoyed the cherry blossoms, and life was a joyful blur lived alongside one another.

We still look back to that time together as a time that strengthened our relationship. When we wanted entertainment (mind you, this was before the 2-laptop, each with their own ipad & iphone, texting and typing in the same room, family model), we pulled out a deck of cards and played canasta whilst downing Tostitos and absurd amounts of guacamole. When we needed to talk, we turned to each other. When we wanted a laugh, we laughed together. When we had a problem, we worked through it together. That time of togetherness taught us to turn to one another, rather than outside of our relationship, when we had a need, or wanted to share something important.

One day, roughly six months after we'd moved to DC, we'd each gone to work and I was taking in the morning's news before beginning my day. Sitting at my desk, I heard the news that shook all of America -- that a plane had hit a building in NYC. I immediately called Doug and told him the news, and maybe instinctively, we reminded each other of the place where we'd said we'd meet in case anything ever went bad in DC.

I was watching the TV as the 2nd plane hit, and I just knew. We all did. When I tried to call Doug again, the lines were jammed. There was no getting through at that point, and I was so glad we had talked just minutes before. After the initial shock wore off, we realized that there was no way we would be working through that day. At some point, everyone in the office started gathering belongings and saying gentle, heartfelt goodbyes... we all felt so tender toward, and protective of, one another on that day.

A couple of the men who lived out near where we did, in Alexandria, decided to drive home with our boss (not the woman I told you about last time; she had moved over to the Dept. of Education at this point, and so this was her replacement-- a really nice man), who had driven in that morning. Knowing that we'd ridden the metro that morning (one of the stops on our line was the Pentagon, so we knew we'd not be getting home the same way we'd come), he offered the two extra seats in his car to Doug & I, and I explained that we'd need to go get him at the corner where he & I had pre-arranged to meet.

When we got out of the parking garage, it was chaos... just like a movie. Cars weaving through every which way, traffic laws ignored, bicycles cutting across, and horns blaring. It was an eerie thing, and I was so concerned; there was no way we were going to get to Doug. Just as I was sitting there worrying, one of my co-workers, Todd, said, "Hey, doesn't Doug have a yellow backpack?" I looked where he was looking, and sure enough-- there was Doug, with his backpack, fighting through traffic lanes against the flow of people walking away from the Capitol. He hopped in the car, and we were so thankful to be together, in the middle of all the chaos.

We eventually turned onto the road that passes just in front of the Capitol, and just about then was when the radio announcers began talking about a 4th plane that was still up in the air and seemed headed for D.C. It was frightening to be in that place at that time. We passed the Navy Yards, where, for the first time in my life, I saw soldiers with their fingers on the triggers of machine guns-- ready to protect and defend. It all seemed so shocking, so vivid.

A bit later, as we turned onto a major road and came up out of the buildings, we saw the smoke. That drive home... only about 15 miles... took 5 hours that day. And the smoke was there every minute, rising up from the Pentagon, reminding us of what we could not stop replaying in our minds... there had been an attack. We hung on the radio announcer's every word, and then, finally, when we got home, I think it was mid- to late-afternoon by that point, we turned on the TV. Doug saw, for the first time, what we were all so horrified about. He just hadn't fathomed how huge the holes were in the Twin Towers. And then, like the rest of you, from that time on, we were riveted by these things as we watched on TV.

After that day, our personal lives changed as well... two or three short weeks after September 11th, I became pregnant with our son Ethan, who is now almost 9 years old.

We told my mom and our families almost immediately... but I didn't want to tell my co-workers for a while, and so we didn't. I had heard so many stories about women who lost job opportunities because of maternity leave, etc., and so I didn't want to raise the issue until more time had passed, until I could hide it no longer. I was personally excited -- so excited to be on my way to motherhood-- but felt professionally cautious. So October passed, and November, and December, and still, they didn't know. Sometime in January or February, when I was-- I think-- around 20 weeks along, I told my boss, and he was shocked. And then the cat was out of the bag to everyone. Which was great, because shortly thereafter, I went from losing weight to having a clearly growing belly. :)

Doug & I talked through our options and decided that the sensible thing to do was for me to keep working, since my job was so incredibly fulfilling, had the potential to launch me into incredible heights, and since --practically-- I was bringing home the bacon. Doug had finished up his last few college credits at a community college there, while working 25-30 hours per week at the National Gallery. His job was more supplemental income than foundational, at that point.

So we came to the conclusion that I would take my maternity leave, and then continue working, and he would be able to paint and work on his portfolio to get ready to apply for his MFA in painting, while caring for our baby and bringing him/her (we didn't find out with our first pregnancy) up to nurse, etc. It seemed like the perfect plan...



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