Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back to School

No, not Nicknack. Penn, of all people.

Penn has been trying to find a job comparable to the one he currently has for over a year now. We've known for many years that, although Seattle is a lovely city, we don't want to raise our family in a city. No offense if you do! :) We're just over it.

The problem has been that Penn has one of those needle-in-a-haystack kind of jobs. They're out there, just not anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. He's interviewed here and there. In places like Connecticut, Manhattan/Long Island, Chicago, the Silicon Valley, Vail/Aspen, etc. Places where either: a) we can't afford to purchase a home, b) we would be moving way too far away from our families, or c) we wouldn't be moving to the small-town-environment we desire. Or all of the above.

The other problem is that as Penn looks around at other opportunities he realizes that the 55-60 hours he works each week is pretty much the norm in his line of work. He works strange hours and has strange days off. And his schedule changes from week to week - he can't ever commit to anything ahead-of-time, unless it falls on a Sunday. And only then because he has INSISTED, much to his employer's chagrin, that he always has that one day off. Getting time for vacation is like pulling teeth. Last year we his boss wasn't able to commit to his vacation dates until less than two weeks before-hand. The two places we most wanted to visit were booked solid.

None of this is a big problem with very little ones at home. It's easy to be super flexible. Penn spends his time w/Nicknack in the mornings, rather than the evenings. Nicknack doesn't have a school schedule, so it doesn't matter that Daddy works most Saturdays and is home most Mondays. Or that at the last minute we have to cancel some plan or the other because Penn's employer's schedule has changed.

All of this will become problematic when Nicknack starts school. When he starts activities like Boy Scouts and tennis, or even things like Parent-Teacher conferences or school concerts. With Penn's schedule, he would rarely, if ever, be able to participate in any of those things. And I know that would kill him. Nicknack is his world.

So, after a few months of tossing around the idea, we have a new plan, and one that is a drastic change for all of us. Penn is going back to college to become a teacher. Probably a PE/health teacher.

He attended one year of college as an eighteen year old, but dropped out to take a job promotion. He was one of those people who worked full-time all through high school and his freshman year, so he never got much out of school.

Because the program he'll be entering takes five years, he'll still need more than a year at our local community college. So we signed him up for courses and he started last week. He has a major math phobia, so I think these first few quarters will be the most difficult for him. He's had to swallow his pride and go in and take the placement tests alongside sixteen year old "running start" high school students. He's also learning about the frustrating inefficiency of most college registration processes. He's been to campus this week on three separate occasions to pick up packets and books that have been added at the last minute to his course lists. Luckily, he's taking his courses online, so other than a few proctored exams, he can work at his leisure at home. I'm his trusty "secretary," getting him organized with to do lists for the weeks. I'll also be his personal proofreader/editor. I love school so much I wish I could just take his classes for him. I'm kind of jealous, even I've already taken the exact same classes before.

In about eighteen months Penn will quit his job and we are going to (drumroll, please)... MOVE IN WITH MY PARENTS in their mini-ranch, conveniently located in a small college town about 2 hours from us. They're in the process of building a new house and will convert the three-car garage for us as a small apartment. So we'll be going from our four bedroom home to a two bedroom, one-bath modified garage, using the main house kitchen and laundry room. We'll be snug as bugs!

I realize it's sort of a strange plan. As we were considering this decision and sharing it with those closest to us I kept expecting strong resistance. Something along the lines of, "So let me get this straight. Penn is going to quit his job, so that he can go to school, to make way less than half of his current salary. And your family of four, with two small children, will live in your parents' GARAGE for almost two years?!"

But, surprisingly, everyone seems to think it is a good idea. Especially my Mother (an elementary school counselor) and Step Dad (a retired high school science teacher). Which is good since we'll be invading their home and will need occasional babysitting help. They've given us a good picture of what to expect as future educators, so we aren't going into all this with rose-colored glasses.

The main thing is that Penn wants to have more time with his family. When I eventually go back to work I also plan to teach. So we'll have the same schedules. The same 14 weeks a year off. Since Penn has another 25 years to work, he'll have about 350 weeks of vacation until retirement, rather than 50 weeks. Not to mention 40 hour work weeks, on average - instead of 50, 55, or 60. Also, our family will be covered with better medical and retirement benefits than we currently enjoy. And we can find some little town in the middle of nowhere that needs a PE teacher and make it home.

We won't ever live in that big family dream house I've always imagined us in. We'll probably live in a shoebox. And the new minivan we planned to buy this fall is out. Ah well, cars are depreciating assets anyway. We'll never get to take impressive vacations. We're envisioning ourselves criss-crossing the country with some second-hand winnebago in tow. Which sounds amazing. Just think of all the historical sights and beaches and national parks we can visit "on the cheap." We'll have so much more time together that it almost seems ridiculous that we didn't think of this at least five years ago.

I wanted to share this with you so that you know why we've stopped looking for that dream job for Penn. And why the summer-after-next we'll be packing up our lovely home and moving. And why all of a sudden I've become interested in pinching pennies. I figure we'll have to save about two years worth of living expenses (utilities, health insurance, clothing for the kids, grocery money, gas, car/life insurance, tuition & books, etc.) in the next 18 months. Yikes.

But that's the plan and I'm really excited!!


Alana said...

Wow. It sounds like you guys are putting a great plan into play. My husband teaches college and the time off is worth not making the big bucks (if you ask me!).

Kelli said...

How exciting that you guys are following your dreams! You will be blessed by having him home more often!