While we are no stranger to choosing time over money, starting the school year with my husband on a leave of absence was a hard choice. Now that his leave is winding down, I wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at his leave and what we’ve learned.
The Start of a Leave of Absence
As of right now, we’ve been running our household on my income alone, using the small bit of added pay my husband is entitled to on his leave as an added bonus. We’ve been doing this for 11 weeks.
While I expected to draft this post, I never thought I’d arrive at this conclusion: I wish my husband could have more time at home.
I miss his paychecks. He misses his paychecks. More than that, he misses his students, his coworkers, and his career.
When we scheduled this leave, we were all but certain that one of two things would happen. 1.) It was either a complete overaction on our part. Or 2.) if, just by chance, it really was going to be as bad as we feared, his building would shut down after 12 weeks.
Somehow, we’ve landed somewhere in between.
Where We Are Now
Two weeks ago, his school district charged ahead with a full reopening. They abandoned all social distancing guidelines, meaning that one positive case can now potentially shut down an entire classroom. Kids wear masks, yes. But they are kids.
The next time you are with a group of 22 Kindergarteners, notice how many of them have their shoes tied correctly. Or even on.
By the end of the second week of their full reopening, over 15 teachers and 100 students were in quarantine. An entire grade level is full remote for two weeks due to exposure. Another 100 students chose to stay full remote regardless of the reopening, and almost 100 other students simply refused to attend in person learning by the end of the second week.
So now that my husband’s leave is coming to a close, his district decided to go full remote.
For two weeks.
The positivity rate in one of his zip codes is over 20%. The Mom Code is alive and well, with his superintendent reporting out 7 “missed” positive cases yesterday. (The families got the confirmed tests but waited to tell the school until the numbers no longer mattered for their record keeping.)
What comes after those two weeks is anyone’s guess.
As tempting as it is to stay focused on the future and allow myself to be filled with worry, it’s also important to focus on what this leave taught us.
No One Has Your Back Like You Do
If I got a dollar every time I heard someone say “But you have a union!”, I would have hit FI by now. To be honest, I probably could have cleared that milestone during the first back-to-school board meeting.
My husband and I are both protected by unions, and we had seen our unions do important things during COVID and otherwise.
Still, whatever supports are in place at your workplace don’t make up for the support that you can give yourself. No one fights for you the way you can, and we learned this the hard.
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Having FU Money is Different Than Using It
As we’ve built up our savings and our income streams over the past few years, we’ve really savored the feeling of having a few years of income set aside.
The problem is I don’t think we ever really thought we’d have to use it.
It’s not that I’m not familiar with getting fired–I am! It’s that we are both far enough along in our careers–and good enough at time, quite frankly–that there would be plenty of positions cut before anyone ever came after ours.
Then the pandemic happened, and everything we thought we knew about job security changed. Now it wasn’t just a matter of if there was a vacancy; it was about deciding if it was safe enough and worth the aggravation to fill that position.
So we dove into the leave, knowing we’d likely end up spending down some of our money. It was empowering, but it was a lot of other emotions, too. Angst, anxiety, anger–and a whole bunch of other words that don’t start with the letter A. It was a constant flood of thoughts and feelings.
Financial Independence is for Everyone
I still don’t know if I want to retire early. Isn’t that a kick in the head? After the way teachers and other education staff are being treated, I’m still thinking of sticking around for another 20 years.
Even if early retirement isn’t for you, financial independence is. It’s for everyone. Everyone deserves to be able to say no to situations that are unsafe, unfulfilling, and anything in between.
We weren’t FI when my husband started his leave (and we sure aren’t FI at the end of it!). But because we’ve been on the very slow path to financial independence for quite some time, we had enough runaway where we could weather this storm. Not everyone in education has been nearly as fortunate.
Money Isn’t Everything
I’ve often wondered if we just had a little bit (or a lot a bit) more money would have put us in a position where we both could have taken the year off. But I’m not certain we would have. When you love your job and it feels like part of your identity, it isn’t just an income that you are opting out of. It’s like setting aside a slice of who you are. The truth is that this pandemic isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last time teachers are made to feel expendable. And yet, so many of us stay. It’s true that many stay because they have no choice. But some choose to stay regardless.
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Safety Nets Matter
We qualified for a leave under FFCLA. Not everyone did. As of next month, no one else will since the act is set to expire.
I don’t know if we would have made the same choice if the leave was entirely unpaid. Perhaps we would have delayed the start or shorted it. Maybe we wouldn’t have taken one at all.
Even if we would have made the exact same decision, after my unpaid maternity leave, I can tell you a partially paid leave (even a very small one), is infinitely better than an unpaid leave. We’re grateful that there was a net to catch us, which is one of the many reasons why we will continue to support the creation of more social safety nets in the future.
Final Thoughts on The End of This Leave of Absence
This leave of absence wasn’t what I thought it would. In many ways, it was a lot more. It was a chance for my husband to spend so much extra time with our toddler. It was also a terrific opportunity for me to not wonder if the slow cooker was burning the house down.
But it was a lot of stress. It was hard for my husband to sit on the sidelines, watching his coworkers struggle. He misses his students, and I know that he’s happy to head back to doing what he loves.
The fact that so much about teaching during the pandemic is unknown, though, makes this leave of absence all the more bittersweet. Not that our family needed it, but because maybe we wish there was more to it.
So Tell Me…Have you or your family ever had to push pause on work?