And Then There Were Three — The Oddest Job of All

Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Seven

In the previous fundraising post as part of the saga of our Odd Jobs, the Baron described the leanest of our lean years. They were hard times, but life continued on its appointed rounds, waylaying us at different points in The Garden of Forking Paths.

When I say “lean” I don’t mean we didn’t pay our bills, or that we ever went hungry. We ate well, though carefully. We received our medical care at the rural clinic, and we always had Christmas and holidays and even small vacations. I can still remember the surprise I felt when a visitor, who could tell we were umm… “poor”… asked me if we’d ever had our utilities turned off. Affronts like that are the times my dissociation kicks in. Instead of feeling ashamed or insulted I go numb and laugh off whatever has been said. I do wish I’d been more forthright and instead of simply saying, “Why, no that hasn’t happened so far”, explained in more depth my disappointment in her question — to think we’d ever live like that. But I remembered later that her emotionally unstable sister often lived chaotically, so perhaps she assumed our situation was the same. But chaos and threadbare are very different conditions.

After a half dozen years of marriage with no children, we’d given up on the idea there would be any. I was sad for thr Baron since I knew what he was missing, but you play the hand you’ve been dealt. I wouldn’t have minded adopting a child but I knew any adoption agency would laugh us out of their offices. Even though children literally go begging for homes, with our low income and the Baron’s lack of any middle class career, the ne’er-do-well artist and his older wife would be laughed out of the agency’s office. Why bother trying?

Tip jarThus when we discovered we were indeed going to be parents, it seemed a miracle. I also knew there were other miracles attendant on this birth, for what would be my final child would be the Baron’s first. I knew this deeply-lived experience would bridge the divide separating parents from the childless. It is a bittersweet, even terrifying knowledge when it happens to you. To become a parent is to be pierced permanently: suddenly life seems fathoms deeper and yet infinitely more fragile and accidental and contingent. The helplessness of infancy pulls strong unbreakable threads of attachment right out of mother’s heart and a father’s gut. Those unbreakable bonds create the cradle which will hold an amazing new being.

But first I had to get through it, with morning sickness attendant all the way. I learned to drive while being sick into a travel bag… pregnancy is so very physical…

When our son was born his name had already been decided. Or rather, it wasn’t so much decided as bestowed. In the long tradition of the Baron’s family, his son was named after the Baron’s father, just as the Baron had been named after his own paternal grandfather. It was one of those set-in-stone customs that came with the territory and I rather liked it — I’ve always preferred traditional names; they are names with reasons rather than, say, a made-up name or one taken from the entertainment world. But that’s just me: since I believe the naming of children is crucial to who they become, it’s always seemed preferable that their names follow the culture of their kinship group. My other children had been called with the names of the Irish clans from whom they’d descended. This child, on the other hand, was christened in the tradition of his English ancestors. Umm… Norman English at that.

Every child I bore was a blessing, and I gave them a secret name. If you’ve read Augustine’s Confessions then you know he called his son Deodatus — a gift from God. In the deepest part of my heart, that was also the secret name for each of my children: they were such gifts, amazing, incredible and beautiful gifts.

Parents of infants live in a different kind of time from normal reality. It is a sleep-deprived environment and one immersed in that physicality I mentioned: the endless rounds of feeding, bathing, and sleeping are punctuated by infinite numbers of dirty diapers. Minute changes in the infant are nothing short of miracles; large chunks of time can be lost simply in staring at a sleeping infant, or holding it to drink deeply of the newly-born, freshly washed baby smell. Friends without children, or whose children are impossibly old — kindergartners, perhaps — roll their eyes in boredom as besotted new parents gurgle on and on… and on.

[Warning: Oddest Job of All Alert]

For the first few months after his birth I took the future Baron to work with me. However, it wasn’t long before his baby boy needs began to disrupt our office routine — and so much for our supposedly child-friendly work environment. At any rate, the time had arrived for the Baron to take over as his son’s ‘primary caretaker’. I so loathe this jargon, the language of quarterly reports in “women’s work” institutions. It was something we’d decided to do so I could go on working. And I wanted to go on working so he could go on painting. Easy equation.

It was at this juncture I learned a painful but necessary lesson, one every mother needs to run up against and resolve on her child’s side: a father is not a stand-in mother. How he feeds, clothes and interacts with his child will be his own response, done to the dictates of what needs he perceives in his child. In other words, dads aren’t in loco parentis for heaven’s sake, they are parents. Sadly, it is the refusal to let go and let dad that makes many men throw up their hands in the face of their wives’ mother-knows-best condescension (fear) and resign in disgust. With any luck, later on fathers will be able to push past their wife’s know-it-all officiousness when childcare is not so dauntingly strange. But in the interim that bond has been frayed. In adolescence, that earlier push-away may prove to have created a chasm. This ‘fault’ could operate out of everyday awareness, especially in the child’s constantly evolving inner self, and it may prove damaging in ways that no one will be able to recall. Or it may have mended by then.

I think I mentioned the Baron’s tenacity? That quality came into play here. I was put in my place — the mom place — and the B began his own, idiosyncratic and special journey as his son’s Dadn. So it was when this Dadn left on brief trips to paint or to attend to family business, his son was grief-stricken at the separation. One time — he might have been about three — the fB tried to explain to me what was happening from his point of view. He had been prepared for several days that his father would be gone for a while. “For two sleeps” was how we explained it. The prospect obviously saddened him but until the moment came he bore up quite well. It was only as Dadn drove away that he became inconsolable. Suddenly two nights was an eternity, an unbearable calamity. Between sobs he tried to reassure me about my place in his heart (he hadn’t yet heard the expression, “chopped liver”, but that’s more or less what he was worried I’d think of “my” place in his affections). “It’s not that you’re not good enough, Mom… “ (he said between sobs)… it’s that Dadn is… “ (more sobbing)… and I suggested: “is it that Dadn is more than good enough?” The sobbing stopped abruptly and he looked at me earnestly. “Yeah”, he said, “that’s right! You know how it is… “ He heaved one last shuddering sob-sigh and fell asleep in a cuddle next to me. Being understood can solve a heap of sorrow.

No, I wasn’t upset at this display of preference. No one likes to see their child suffer, but my main response was one of gratitude. I had always wanted all my kids to feel a secure bond to their father, and with the Baron that had finally happened: he had succeeded in being his son’s father. If the fB had been my only child I might have felt competitive or second-placed. But between them it was as it should be, especially considering that Dadn was the Mom in our house. As it was, the situation felt reassuring. This deeply felt and acknowledged connection was sound. There were times I did feel more keenly about the loss my other children had experienced, what the fB had that they never known. Those were my “it’s not fair” moments; I slowly learned to let them pass when they showed up.

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We’d decided from the beginning to home school, for many reasons. It fit the Baron’s painting schedule for one thing. And our own brushes with modern American education were discouraging. For years I thought it was simply that we lived in a poor area, but as I learned more about the school systems in adjacent wealthier counties I wasn’t encouraged. So until sixth grade or so, the Baron taught him reading, math, science, history, and geography. I insisted on penmanship and keyboard skills. He was a whiz at geography. With his father’s help he’d taught himself to read, mostly via the collected “Calvin and Hobbes” strips. We directed his reading once he was adept, especially in the old children’s classics, but he was particularly enamored of the humor writers of the ’20s and ’30s. P. G. Wodehouse was a favorite, as was S. J. Perelman. On his own, he picked out volumes from our shelves, thus discovering the World War I poetry. From there he went on to war itself, especially World War II and particularly aviation.

Piano lessons began when he was nine. He enjoyed performing and would enter the yearly talent contest a local bank put on during the county festival. He won the first couple of years, but was disappointed to find that the bank was embarrassed to keep giving him the prize every year. He was the only contestant who played his own instruments. As I recall, the other singers used karaoke machines. Once he understood it had been decided he’d never win again, the fun of anticipation went out of it. But he continued to perform every week, playing the organ at our church services on Sundays. He was fortunate to have a piano teacher who’d studied organ, piano and violin, the latter in Rome. She was steeped in sacred music and could explain to him what a congregation needed — one need they had was an organist who didn’t back up and play a section over when he missed a note. That was a hard lesson…

At this juncture — somewhere near here anyway — my mother had to come to live with us. She had Parkinson’s Disease and could not be left alone. We never considered a nursing home, though moving her from city life surrounded by her many close friends and out to the country where she knew no one outside the family was sure to be a jolt. Our house had expanded by then by another room: an old porch had been converted to a sun room, then a son’s room. Now we would have to build an addition on with handicapped amenities. It needed to be done in short order, too. Soon the footers were in, only to be stopped by foul weather. The Baron had drawn the designs for the addition which the builder used, making suggestions here and there. We used the proceeds of the sale of Mother’s home — the place she’d lived since moving to Florida — and by some miracle the bank gave us a mortgage. They refused it the first time, as well they should have, but the second time it went through — though the bank manager never could figure out why her higher-ups permitted it, given our income.

They raced to get the addition finished in time for Mother’s arrival. She had to be out of the assisted living placement by a given date, so we had no leeway. We flew down to get her and the Baron drove back alone with her belongings — bed, dresser, a large old mirror that had been a pre-War wedding present, a cedar chest she’d bought when I was three, stuffed now with her favorite odds and ends — slim pickings for a whole life… In addition, her friends had gotten together to buy her a TV set, since they knew we didn’t have one.

The trip back was uneventful but the room wasn’t quite finished. I drove Mother to a motel in the small town nearby; she and I ‘rested’ until we were told they’d finished enough to permit her to move in. Years later I still find things they had to skip — no time to fill in the small nail holes in the door frames, for example.

Just as the Baron was the fB’s ‘mom’, he took on the care of his mother-in-law. She wasn’t happy with the arrangement, but managed somehow. Health care people came for her baths, or I did them on weekends. The Baron and I shared cooking; not nearly enough “spuds” for Mother, though. All those years of peeling mounds of potatoes… the idea of doing it again made me cringe. In fact, if there is anything I regret about that year we had together it is my unaware passive-aggressiveness regarding those damned potatoes. I so wish now that I could go back and redo that. I’d serve her potatoes at every meal. How petty children can be.

We had a good year with her, but by the end the Baron was wearing out. It was a lot of physical work and he wasn’t able to do as much painting — he did keep up enough for his yearly show, but many of the scenes were from the topiary gardens and orange groves on the grounds of Schloss Bodissey. Ironically, those are the ones I treasure, at least of the ones that he didn’t sell. A home is a constantly shifting work in progress, and we’re always making minor changes that add up to Real Change. But until you see the old view in a painting or photograph, you don’t realize it’s gone now…

…Yes, that was a good year, and when I drove her into the hospital because of her pneumonia I didn’t know she wouldn’t be coming home again. The Baron and I didn’t have the money to hire a full-time, muscular nurse (Mother only weighed 120 pounds, but with Parkinson’s that’s often dead weight when you don’t have the training). Our Plan For The Moment was to bring her home, have me take some time off work to help with Mother’s care, and to look into the nursing home a few miles away. By now I knew she’d enjoy the company of others after her hibernation with only us and a few neighbors for company. Mother had her own plan: in the hospital, the doctor came by to see her in the afternoon, unshaven and bleary-eyed. His own father was dying two doors down the hall. After listening to her lungs and reading her chart he told her she’d be ready to go home in a few days. She smiled and thanked him for coming by. Later she asked me for ice cream and we shared a dish. Several hours later they kicked us out when visiting hours were over. She died about six hours later. When they called us at three a.m., it was a surprise. I remember the call, and the Baron remembers that I cried, but that part is blank… we went to the hospital later to sign whatever papers and the Baron brought along The Book of Common Prayer. Against the hospital bureaucracy’s wishes, we insisted on seeing Mother and reciting the Prayers for the Dead.

The fB was quite sad — of us all, he had been with her the most, sitting for hours on her bed and being entertained by her growing dementia. One time when she couldn’t remember a word, it made her quite agitated. She turned to me in frustration and said, “You know what this means don’t you? It means I’m quite daft.” I wanted to say, “Yeah, I know and I inherited it from you,” but the time for such jokes had past. The fB’s grief made some of the grownups uncomfortable, and they awkwardly tried to comfort him by reminding him he’d see her again someday (though they doubted such a thing themselves). He waved his arm dismissively — “I don’t want to wait that long. Then I’ll be old, too.”

By then I’d left government and non-profit work behind and had taken up house-cleaning and miscellaneous tasks like marketing and taking others’ children to the doctor for minor emergencies because their parents couldn’t leave the office. I liked the make-my-own-hours part, and the good workout I got each day. Some of my children and a few of our friends were quietly appalled at my new career direction but I loved it. All that time I thought I’d wanted to save the world when what I really longed to do was clean the closets. There is a deep joy to be found in creating order. It was a more transient order and joy than the Baron’s landscapes, but it suited my character.

At this point, after Mother’s death, one of my customers who’d met our son insisted on paying for a scholarship so the fB could attend a local private school. It ended up being a mixed experience. He loved the work and the teachers. The cool ironic detachment of his classmates left him angry and confused. I recalled a co-worker warning me years before that if we home-schooled the fB he wouldn’t be “socialized” properly since he’d have no peers. Well, he had them in Boy Scouts and we’d met a few other homeschooling families so that wasn’t entirely true. But she was right: he wasn’t prepared for the tough-guy exterior of these wealthy children, aggressively atheist and more than a little like characters from “Lord of the Flies”. Some of them were appalling.

By the time he was ready to move to the Upper School, the Baron was working in a real job, more of which in a moment. Thus, we could pay the tuition now… but would we?? Not after we looked at the English Department’s curriculum. I’m not kidding: there wasn’t a single white guy, dead or alive, on the reading list. He would be assigned second and third-rate writers. Instead of William Shakespeare, he’d have Alice Walker?!? And we’d pay for it?? That wasn’t going to happen.

We were fortunate to find a small rural private school in the opposite direction from town. In fact, it was ten miles closer and it offered bus service; the tuition was half that of the more prestigious school. In addition, if there were classes he wanted that the school didn’t offer, a local college would let him take those for no cost (if we paid for them, he could have college credit). In the coming years he was to take statistics there, and French. His very liberal French teacher would annoy him so with her political views that he sharpened his vocabulary in order to argue with her. Some of the retired professors volunteered to teach the AP classes in the sciences. Thus he took Biology from the former head of the Biology Department of the college, who wanted to keep his hand in. The fB loved his lectures about the ‘real’ world.

One thread that runs through all of our Odd Jobs is that for the most part they were offered to us. Aside from my job at the University health clinic, and my decision to clean houses (I advertised at the University Wives’ Club for those jobs), each of them came from some connection or other. The Baron’s cup factory work happened because the owner (a good painter herself) saw him painting and asked him to work for her in the off-season, and part-time in the summer. The rest happened because someone called or we simply found ourselves with a new job — e.g., raising the future Baron.

There is one long-term Oddity I haven’t described and I think it’s best saved for the wrap-up. In addition, though, to finish out this post, I’ve asked the Baron to describe the adventures which ensued when a friend called and offered him… a Real Job. A real job with real pay in an office with real colleagues. When I say “a friend” I mean that in every sense of the word. He and the Baron had been at college together, we’d gone on vacations together, and he and his wife had faithfully bought paintings from the Baron each year over the whole span of his painting career. He was a Good Friend indeed… in fact, it was he who was responsible for my change from kamikaze liberal to conservative.

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Afterword from the Baron

The “Real Job” that I took in the late ’90s was another application of my motto: Never turn down an opportunity. And, strangely enough, it was the final link in a long chain of events that had begun almost two decades before in the cup factory.

I mentioned last night that I programmed computers for a demanding skinflint who owned a chain of convenience stores. He was keen on technology, and would buy each new type of computer as soon as it was unloaded off the container ship from Tokyo or Taipei. He would then install the latest software — always Microsoft products — and demand that I learn the new systems and languages. But he told me: “I’m not paying for your education.” So I learned to use the software on my own, and then delivered applications to him, charging a previously agreed-upon price for the final product.

Those conditions made me into a very effective programmer. I learned to write code quickly and accurately. I made my procedures modular and portable. I wrote using long descriptive variable names (when that was eventually allowed in the more advanced versions of compiled Basic), so that even fifteen years later I could open up an old code module and remember how it worked.

And I learned to gauge accurately in advance how long a job would take me, given the specs. I had gotten fast, so I’d add 30%-50% to that amount of time as padding, and then give Mr. Burns (not his real name) an estimate based on the hourly rate for that time. He was happy to get it done so cheaply, and I was happy with the arrangement, despite his curmudgeonly ways.

When a friend called me up and asked me if I wanted a contract job doing VB, VBA, and SQL for his engineering company, I took the opportunity. At first it involved telecommuting, but eventually I had to commute up to the Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy for several days a week. The pay, compared to any other job I’d ever had before, was astronomical.

That was when I discovered that I was a very, very good programmer — I hadn’t known that before. Thanks to Skinflint Burns, I had learned to write code quickly and accurately, and had developed a profound intuition for where any given bug might be found. I was good at the job, and liked the work. Best of all, companies were willing to pay a good rate for my skills.

That’s how the Seven Fat Years began. After the contract in Northern Virginia was done, the dot-com boom had arrived in full force, and I immediately found another one closer to home. The IT head at that company nicknamed me “The Code Guerilla”, a reference to the speed at which I could attack any given programming task.

After that came Richmond — a long commute that left Dymphna at home with the future Baron most of the week, and then later by herself, after he went off to college. The contract evolved into full-time salaried work, and lasted until I was laid off in 2006.

After that I had to stick close to home, because in the interim Dymphna had become quite ill with fibromyalgia. What had begun as annoying fatigue almost a decade before eventually became debilitating exhaustion and chronic, unremitting pain.

As a result of her developing condition, Dymphna had finally given up her last cleaning job at almost exactly the same time I started commuting to Northern Virginia. So my friend’s offer had been the opportunity we needed. It led to my being able to support my family and put my son through college.

After that I had to stick close to home, because in the interim Dymphna had become quite ill with fibromyalgia. What had begun as annoying fatigue almost a decade before eventually became debilitating exhaustion and chronic, unremitting pain.

As a result of her developing condition, Dymphna had finally given up her last cleaning job at almost exactly the same time I started commuting to Northern Virginia. So my friend’s offer had been the opportunity we needed. It led to my being able to support my family and put my son through college.

Serendipity, you might say. But we have another motto in our family: The Lord will provide.

And He did just that.

The last eight years have been pretty lean at times. No one gets rich from being a Counterjihad activist.

But the Lord will provide. And so — God bless them! — do our loyal readers.

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As we move into the final day of the fundraiser, here are the varied locales that were represented on the penultimate day:

Stateside: Colorado, District of Columbia, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas

Near Abroad: Canada

Far Abroad: Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to all who provided.


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4 thoughts on “And Then There Were Three — The Oddest Job of All

  1. I wish that I had had the wisdom to find a girl who believed in the importance of fathers in their child’s life. My short-term wife didn’t. And I see the negative effect in my daughter very often. Sad for me to think about.

    • Feminism has poisoned many relationships. They killed our traditions which possessed far more accurate knowledge about family and husband-wife dynamics then the armchair psychologists who reinvented relationships to fit their ideology.

      • Oh yes. And Mr Oz don’t forget the bigger role of the so-called democratic governments and the base level they sink when they shop for votes. And the silly ways they spend the money just to get votes at the expense of durable values. Government have a bigger responsibility because because they have the authority to make or break. It is the authority that matters because that’s the only horrible power that forces bad things on sheeple.

        • The Government became the “stay at home” mother providing comfort and safety for the increasingly infantile Western citizen.

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