SCOTT SIMON, host:
We last heard from Caitlin Shetterly in May when she, her husband, Dan, their 3-month-old baby, had left Los Angeles, driven across the country and moved in with Caitlin's mother in Maine. Dan's a freelance photographer. Because of the recession, he hadn't booked a job since December. With a new baby, Caitlin, who works as a freelance public radio reporter and theater director, had been counting on Dan to support them. Suddenly they had no income, nowhere to turn but home. Caitlin Shetterly shares her story.
(Soundbite of dice rolling)
CAITLIN SHETTERLY: At night, as our baby and my mother slept, Dan and I staved off insomnia with a nightly ritual of exchanging play money in the game of Monopoly.
(Soundbite of tapping)
SHETTERLY: You've got to be kidding me. I'm playing a terrible game.
Mr. DAN SHETTERLY: What are you talking about? You're sitting on, like, a million dollars.
SHETTERLY: For real money, Dan started picking up some part-time jobs: carpentry, photographing a friend's garden, and teaching a summer school photography class. We signed up for our state's subsidized health program and with the small amount of money we had coming in, we paid our credit cards, car payment, and helped Mom with the utilities.
Suddenly, a promising job appeared on the horizon for Dan: a photography position in Maine with good benefits and a great salary. Dan interviewed. He got invited to do a test shoot. He was one of two final candidates. For a week, we sat on pins and needles.
Do you feel like our future's riding on this?
Mr. SHETTERLY: At the moment, yes.
SHETTERLY: That must be a lot of pressure for you.
Mr. SHETTERLY: Look, I know it's not ruined, but I know that it changes our situation tremendously, and it makes it so we can start to climb upward and out of our situation.
SHETTERLY: And then he got the call; they went with the other guy. I asked Dan to remember this is not his fault — none of what's happened to us is because of him. I told him I know what a hard-working and talented guy he is. Dan said: At times,, I feel like someone's holding my head underwater.
But there is one thing this phase with a new baby and no money has shown him.
Mr. SHETTERLY: I feel that I have been a better father than I ever thought I would be. Because I just feel like everything in our lives, it's beyond my control, but what is in my control is my relationship with him and his care. And that's the one thing I will not let anyone tell me I can't do.
SHETTERLY: The same day Dan didn't get the job, his cell phone rang, and one of the top fine-art graduate schools in the country had decided to admit him to their program in Boston. We had forgotten all about his applications, done in a white heat last winter as the economy started to go down the tubes. In a way, we were excited. But also, Dan said it felt insulting to see his dream of graduate school dwarfed by not getting a job.
Mr. SHETTERLY: We don't have the means for it to be a reality. And the one thing that could help us didn't come through.
SHETTERLY: Dan had dreamed of teaching photography at the college level his whole life. The day before the deadline to tell the program if he was going to come, Dan got a strong lead on a bartending job 30 minutes outside of Portland. After crunching some numbers, we decided that if we lived in Portland, and Dan commuted the two-hour journey to school, sleeping at my uncle's one night a week, we might be able to piece this together. We'd need government loans to cover his tuition - and a lot of creative thinking.
Mr. SHETTERLY: I signed the lease on our first apartment since leaving California. And later on that afternoon, I was officially offered my first job in six months.
SHETTERLY: Dan took the bartending job. Along with my freelance gigs, we're going to go for it. In early August, we packed up from my mother's. Before we left, my mom said that if things don't work out, we're welcome back.
Unidentified Woman (Mother): The only difference is going to be that Dan and I are going to put a bathroom in downstairs.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman: I insist on that.
(Soundbite of baby crying)
SHETTERLY: Bye, mom.
Unidentified Woman: I love you. See you soon.
SHETTERLY: Here we go, buddy.
Mr. SHETTERLY: Here we go, buddy.
SHETTERLY: With a car full of gear, we pulled out of the driveway.
Mr. SHETTERLY: Where are we going? We're going to Portland, bud.
(Soundbite of baby crying)
Mr. SHETTERLY: So let's go back to that plan.
SHETTERLY: We're still unpacking boxes and setting up what will be my son's first room. We're counting every penny to make this work. It's harder than either of us anticipated. Dan's commuting to work and in a few days will be commuting to school. I'm alone with the baby a lot, and money is very tight. But we hope in the long run, this will be the right choice.
In the end, through all the bumps and pitfalls of the last year, we're holding onto our dreams. This is something we can one day tell our son.
Mr. SHETTERLY: A…
Mr. SHETTERLY: …B, C…
(Soundbite of baby babbling)
SIMON: And you can find links to Caitlin's blog about her family and their journey through a recession - also Dan's photos of the new start in Portland - at the new NPR.org.
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