By Garlia Cornelia Jones-Ly
Times being tough is an understatement, but how I manage has gone from a question, to a state of panic, to an action. It is what we do. Manage.
The first time my daughter received hand-me-downs, I washed them, pressed them and voila, they were like new. Friends with older daughters were eager to give away the clothing they had collected over the years, and my being in an unexpected position of need both economically and as a first time parent, I was happy to have them.
I was raised middle to upper middle class in Detroit. Instruction and private lessons in an array of classical art forms (violin, dressage, flute and ballet) turned me into the artist I am today, but art alone doesn’t automatically surrender a comfortable living. With multiple graduate degrees in tow, Sallie Mae has me on speed dial and every month I feel as if I rob Peter to pay all 12 Apostles. Times being tough is an understatement, but how I manage has gone from a question, to a state of panic, to an action. It is what we do. Manage.
It hasn’t always been like this, but since my entire child rearing experience has taken place during a time of economic upheaval in our household, I often find my parenting stifled. I am unable to be the mother I want to be 100% of the time because of the looming financial responsibilities dampening my daily situation. The embarrassment of being a millennial not financially secure and overwhelmed with debt is suffocating as my Facebook news feed overflows with the happiness of other people’s lives. We know not to compare, try not to compare, but on some level the comparisons are always there.
There are times I feel unsettled, as if my life never “began”—not that I didn’t want to be a mother, but what have I experienced that I could teach another person? What can I give a child when I have “childlike” sensibilities?
I had to sink or swim with my immersion into parenthood; I thought I’d be in a far better economic situation. In 2013, about a year after joining what felt like a natural position as “mama” and naturally never being afraid to try new things, I began to explore new ways to make money, especially from home. It was then that I joined a pyramid scheme after googling “How to make money from home.” It was a rather desperate time as I struggled to build a photography business to make ends meet. A few months later I laughed about the whole crazy thing, because after nearly 10 years at Gap and opening hundreds of credit card accounts, I was terrible at offering Motor Club memberships to people, no matter how wonderful it appeared. The few friends and family I told about my “new venture” was through a mass of laughter and embarrassment because I couldn’t believe I had fallen so low. I made a total of $80, and suspended selling and marketing activity after two months.
My patience is often thinner than it should be as I get through a 7-10 hour period with two children—a baby and a toddler—while my husband is at work. The moments where I want to sit and bask in their development: new sounds, new words, and an understanding of concepts are often spoiled by the realities of unpaid bills or dreams deferred.
I’m a writer. I have an MFA in Playwriting, and even more, I am an Obie award winning Theatre Producer—an award I won with the Producing collective Harlem9, 1 week before giving birth on the sidewalk in front of my apartment building in Harlem. While my career accomplishments exist, there still lives an anxiety because of financial instability. A life in the arts with children is more than economically unpredictable. Most theatres are not-for-profits and therefore do not have the funds to allocate towards childcare, although many parents are beginning to fight for that right. With a spouse not from the arts world, my main struggle has been justifying that my creative work at all hours of the night is part of a standard family model.
I am imprisoned by my lack of financial freedom. In the deepest moments of my frustration, I coddle less and teach my children to get back up “after a fall” more. I have walked out of a room with a crying child in order to finish something that may never get done. While I want to sit and cuddle for hours, time is sometimes money, and there is never enough of either.
Parenting without financial comforts or stability does not allow me to approach parenting with ease. I often feel there is something I am not doing if I cannot focus on my children’s education or other social opportunities because I am overwhelmed with ways to make money to afford those experiences.
Between attempting to be supermom and super-wife, I am drowning in a mound of half completed tasks, feeling less than accomplished in the home.
I worry for the social lives of my children and find as many free opportunities for classes at local bookstores or concert halls. Recently, I signed up for IDNYC as a way to take the children to multiple cultural institutions free of charge or at a discounted rate. In this city that seems to cater to the rich and discard the poor with every passing day, I often wonder, would we be happy elsewhere?
When my children are asleep, I take the opportunity to write—in my notebook… on the subway… I write for that one job, the one break that could mean a more focused and attentive mother, changing our status, removing the economic burden. No longer managing or thriving, surviving … but being.
Garlia Cornelia Jones-Ly is a writer, OBIE Award winning theatre producer and newly Licensed Real Estate Salesperson. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Howlround.com. A mother of two, she lives in Harlem with her family. Follow her on Twitter/ Instagram/ Facebook @garliacornelia www.garliacornelia.com.