Madison, Wisconsin

It took me two months to write and polish the essay – the essay where I truly open up for the first time about various experiences I had as a woman in software in the late 90s. I sent the essay to my friends, sisters, closest confidants. I workshopped it in my writing class. I read it, revised it, re-read it, over and over. When I was done back in late April (4 months ago), I continued to share it and discuss it, but I have not yet published it because I’m not ready. In the process I reviewed it upwards of 40 times, and –

Every single time I read it, I cried.

I kept thinking it would stop, but it didn’t.

You see, I’m not working right now. Recap – I have a computer science degree, worked in software for a number of years, chucked it all to become a therapeutic yoga teacher, met my husband, had 2 children, and then –

Then he died in an avalanche, leaving me a widowed single mother at 39.

I stopped teaching. Everything stopped. It was no longer my time to be anyone’s spiritual guide. I met with Sue, the woman who would become my financial advisor. Sue mostly only took clients with significantly more money than I have, but a mutual friend connected us and she received me with warmth and kindness.

Sue and I came up with a plan. I would take a few years to focus on the girls, get the family on track, and either get back up to speed on the software world or go back to school to re-train for a new career. By four years after John’s death, I was supposed to make $100,000 – an amount that should be achievable as that is what I made when I last had a full time job in software in 2002 when I was 26. I agreed to this plan. I told Sue I was excited to get back to geeky left brain analysis after years of nurturing the right side of my brain with creative therapeutic private lessons. I said I might get back into security and cryptography – an area I specialized in years ago. She told me that she saw real excitement in me and that that was how she knew that this was a path that we could embrace.

I decided that by January 2015 (7 months AD) I would begin networking and connecting with old contacts at various software companies in Seattle. In parallel, I would get back up to speed on current software trends and development practices. Except, January came and went. I kept telling myself I just needed a few more months to get my sleep in order, exercise, collect my scattered and scarred trauma brain, but those months stretched into two years. I did lots of things in those two years, including taking an intensive year-long writing class at the local University. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote; finding passion, joy, and relief; but I did not make any serious effort to get back into the world of software. The truth is, I’m still drifting, lost, very focused on the gifts of my two beautiful children but too stripped bare and exhausted to be good for much else.

So, this past spring I forced myself to go deeply into my feelings. I spent March and April writing the still unpublished essay (working title “Just One of the Assholes”). I wrote and cried, wrote and cried, wrote and cried. I finally breathed out what it felt like to be 24 years old, standing in front of a room of Vice Presidents, the CTO, the President, and the CEO – yelled at, torn down and destroyed, only to be celebrated afterwards for being so tough, only to continue to be offered promotions and more money.

I didn’t publish it, couldn’t publish it – too painful.

I finished the essay in late April and spent the rest of the spring and summer trying to truly face what was in front of me. Could I do it? What would it look like? What would that look like for the girls? To make $100k, I would need a full time corporate job. It is true that there are people who can piece together significant income consulting and being their own boss, but this would not be an option open to me for at least the first few years after being out of the industry for so long. I would be a beggar and not a chooser. And – software jobs aren’t just 8 hours a day, they are 10 or 12 hours a day. I decided to take Isabella’s pulse on the matter. She was laying in her bed, reading on her Kindle Paperwhite. I entered her room, putzed around, helping her to pack for an upcoming trip she and Melanie would take to see her Auntie in Alaska. Then I opened up.

“Isabella. You know how I’m supposed to get a job in a couple of years?”

“Mmm..hmmm.”

“Do you remember how much your dad was around when he worked at MassiveSoftwareFirm?”

She became noticeably but not horrifically sad. “Yeah. I didn’t get to see him much.”

“What would it be like if I had a job like that?”

“Well… I would miss you.” She lit up briefly. “Can’t you be a writer? I know you want to be one. Then you could write while we are in school and still be home with us in the afternoons! Then things could stay the way they are now!!!”

Her optimism crushed me. She knew what I wanted but didn’t know that I couldn’t have it.

“I would love to be a writer, but I can’t make enough money doing that to keep living in Seattle and sending you and Melanie to your lovely private school. We need health insurance and other benefits too. I wish that would work but it won’t.”

“Ok mom… well… it will be ok, Mom. Even if you do get a job like dad’s job, I will still see you some in the evenings, right?”

“But what if I date?”

Melanie and Isabella beg me to date. They even find candidates and check ring fingers for wedding rings.

Isabella got sad again, but I saw her decide internally to buck up. “Mom, I would miss you, but then I would still see you in the mornings. It will be ok.”

“But Isabella what if I exercise at all. Sometimes I think exercise is the only thing that keeps me sane. You know how much my fitness and mountaineering mean to me.”

Then she became really truly sad. She got it. “Then I would never see you, mom.”

“Right. So I would not be able to date, or exercise. It would kill me to be away from you girls all the time…. I couldn’t do it. You would need me. Melanie would especially need me… you know how much she is struggling. I either wouldn’t see you or wouldn’t have a life, or both… even if I didn’t date or exercise, I would STILL be gone a lot. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. ”

She tried to console me. “Mom, we could make it work! We don’t want you to give up dating! I would be sad if you were gone a lot but it would be ok!”

I took a deep breath and launched into part 2 of my pitch.

“What do you think about moving? We could go someplace where the houses are cheaper. Somewhere with really good public schools. I could focus more on you and Melanie and could look into a part time I’m more excited about.” What I didn’t say – a job where I won’t be yelled at, a job where I won’t feel alone in a room of over-bearing asbergic men, a job where I don’t become one of them (again).

Isabella lit up, more than I expected her to.

“Oh Mom! You could be a writer, or a high school math teacher! Like you have always wanted to!”

I started to cry. She understood.

+++++

By the time I spoke to Isabella, I had already begun searches in a few different locations. I started with the following requirements –

• Affordable housing
• Good schools, better than Seattle Public Schools
• Access to outdoorsy sports and the girls favorite activities

I honed in on three areas – Bozeman Montana, Los Alamos New Mexico, and Madison Wisconsin.

In many ways I thought I would be most at home in Bozeman, but the houses weren’t quite cheap enough and the schools not quite good enough. I spun on Los Alamos for a while – such darling and affordable pueblo houses, truly phenomenal schools, local hiking trails through gorgeous canyons. But – I don’t deal well with desert climate. And – Isabella did not like that the only climbing gym nearby was a single climbing wall at the local Y. Plus – it’s a small somewhat conservative town. It was a decent choice but I would have a hard time finding my own tribe

Madison Wisconsin emerged as a front runner. In mid-July (a month ago), I deepened my search. I analyzed neighborhoods – I would live in University Heights or perhaps the Villas and developed a list of favorites on Redfin. The girls would be able to walk or bike to the local schools, which were rated very highly. Property taxes in Madison are much higher, but houses much cheaper. I could make the big change when we got back from Spain. I asked my relator what my Seattle home would go for and ran the numbers –what I would need to pay off, what I would have left for a house in Madison. I looked at homes within that budget and showed them to the kids. I could take classes at the University and explore new career ideas as I was ready, while still having lots of time to be a mom. I mapped out the local gymnastics studios after Melanie said “Mama, make sure there is a gymnastics place where they have classes EVERY DAY.” I showed Isabella pictures of an enormous bouldering gym just 7 miles from our proposed ‘hood and she said “Oh YEAH mom that totally works. Way better than the YMCA.” On my end, I had visions of writing and teaching math, enjoying blustery winters, snowshoeing around the local trails with some sort of smarty-pants-bearded Wisconsin hottie – someone who would think I’m damn sexy when I chop wood. It could work.

To be clear, there was an ocean of tears along the way. It was not lost on me or the girls that we would lose our friends, our community. I need my tribe more than ever now. The elephant in the room, though, is this – I cannot have it all. There is nothing more important than my girls and I can sacrifice everything else besides them. They need me to not be gone all the time. They need me to be whole again, and I cannot become so if I walk back into the warzone (software) while I am already bleeding.

Come mid-August, I had everything figured out. I did not want to make this change but was resolved to do whatever I needed to do to keep my family of 3 whole. It happened that I already had a quarterly meeting scheduled with Sue. Two days before the meeting I re-read my long essay in the darkness of the early morning, cried again, and sent it to her, along with a long letter about my thoughts on changing everything and moving to Madison WI. I told her that the excitement she had seen in me before, for software, wasn’t real. I was trying to be the person I have always been – the person who rises up, takes on any challenge, and soldiers through (with brute force if necessary). But I’ve realized –

I’m different now.

I sent her the letter and cried a fucking river because I was finally ready to face the future in front of me. I was so physically haggard by that point but at the same time there was a fire inside of me, the fire of love for my girls. As I began to accept the idea of moving, I began to mourn the loss of the friends I have made over my 20 years here. I began to cry for the mountains I love that would no longer be in my backyard. I cried many times a day for weeks because I finally accepted that, now that John is gone, there just isn’t any going back. I can only go forward.

Then, the meeting with Sue. 11am Wednesday August 17.

Sue and Michael (her investing minion) magically had a brand new life plan all laid out in front of me in pie charts and graphs. She was very professional and I could feel how she allowed space for my vulnerable emotional state. It was one of those moments when I was so grateful for the fact that she was a woman, for the fact that she was able to see me both as an investment portfolio and a traumatized human being at the same time. There are many men in the world who can also hold that space, but… but those sorts of men aren’t usually the ones in powerful positions at software and investing firms.
Sue said “I’m about half way through your essay. It is gripping and saddens me. I want to discuss your plans to have this published. It’s important.”

And then

“We have to come up with a plan where you don’t have to move. You need your community right now. We will make this happen.”

I said through clenched teeth “I would rather have to someday retire to a yurt on my partially burned down Okanogan land than be absent from my girls during their time of greatest need. NOTHING is more important than my girls.”

She got it. And so, we pushed and pulled on various pivot points. I would still take a couple more years to exclusively focus on the girls, my health, and any retraining I would need to do. I would rent the basement 2br apartment in my home now that my Mother-in-Law is moving to live with her daughters in Alaska, bringing in $2k a month. The girls would still get some private school but only through 8th grade. I would use up more capital in the early years until the kids go to high school and would have to make more money later. I would still have to work, but would be more likely to be able to do it making less while the girls are young instead of 100k. I could piece together some writing work, some teaching. It would come together. I would have to have a little faith.

And so – I’m working on just that. I’m working on having faith. I’m working on breathing – in and out. I don’t know what will happen. Who really ever knows what will happen, anyway? And if Seattle doesn’t work out, I now have a backup plan – I’m moving to Madison, I’m focusing on my girls, I’m finding a rough and tumble bearded lumberjack, and I’m making some fucking lemonade.

Everything is going to be ok.

+++++++

madison-snow

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