Back in May, recession-related money troubles led Caitlin Shetterly and her husband, Dan Davis, to leave Los Angeles with their 3-month-old baby, drive across the country and move in with Shetterly's mother in Maine. Davis is a freelance photographer who, because of the current economic climate, hadn't booked a job since December. With a new baby, Shetterly, who works as a freelance public radio reporter and theater director, had been counting on Davis to help support them. Suddenly they had no income and nowhere to turn but home. Here, Shetterly shares her story.
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. 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 and 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.
"I don't want you to feel like if you don't get it, that our whole future is ruined because you didn't get it," I told Dan.
"I know it's not ruined," he said. "But I know that it changes our situation tremendously and makes it so we can start to climb upward and out of our situation."
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.
"At times, I feel like someone's holding my head underwater," Dan said.
But there is one thing this phase with a new baby and no money has shown him.
"I feel that I have been a better father than I ever thought I would be," Dan said. "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."
The same day Dan didn't get the job, his cell phone rang. One of the top fine arts graduate schools in the country had decided to admit him to their program in Boston. We had forgotten all about his applications. They were 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.
"We don't have the means for it to be a reality," he said. "And the one thing that could help us didn't come through."
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, he got a strong lead on a bartending job 30 minutes outside Portland, Maine. After crunching some numbers, we decided we might be able to piece this together: We could live in Portland, and Dan could commute the two-hour journey to school and sleep at my uncle's place one night a week. We'd need government loans to cover his tuition and a lot of creative thinking.
"I signed the lease on our first apartment since leaving California," Dan said. "Later on that afternoon, I was officially offered my first job in six months."
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.
"The only difference is going to be that Dan and I are going to put a bathroom in downstairs," she said. "I insist on that."
With a car full of gear, we pulled out of the driveway.
We're still unpacking boxes in our new apartment 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 is commuting to work and in a few days will also be commuting to school. I'm alone with the baby a lot, and money is very tight. But in the long run, we hope 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.