Laura Doyle embraces her teenage daughter Thursday at their Oak Forest home. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: July 25, 2012 6:32AM
As you know, your father was laid off three years ago. As an electrician, he has been laid off before, although it has never been for this long or this hard, and we survived it.
We are still surviving it.
And, as you also know, I went back to work as a makeup artist when your dad lost his job, but I, too, fell victim to the Great Recession and lost my job.
Remember that day? I lost my job on your little sister’s birthday, and though you spend most of your time tormenting her, you pointed out that I was ruining the poor kid’s birthday with all that crying.
I should tell you that seven days before I lost my job, we also lost our health insurance. But that is not for you to know. As parents, it is your father’s and my job to protect you and provide for you and your younger brother and sister.
It is not for you to know that when Daddy’s unemployment ran out, he withdrew funds from his pension to keep a roof over our heads.
It is not for you to know that your grandfather gave me grocery money until I could convince the Illinois Department of Human Services we were poor enough to qualify for welfare.
It is not for you to know that it took me an entire year of literal begging to get it, and how that broke my spirit. And I hope you never know the shame of being 40 years old and asking your mother if you can borrow 20 bucks to put gas in your car.
It is not for you to know that I spent my birthday money on your graduation dress, and I don’t think you’ve noticed that for three years your father and I have not exchanged Christmas gifts so that you could have the same North Face jacket all your friends were wearing.
What you should know is that we are not the only people in this boat. Many people are unemployed or underemployed, and every one of us is doing what we can to get by.
Now I’ll tell you what hurts. You think our chauffeur services — to the mall and the movies and Panera Bread — are at your disposal because your friends’ parents have “real” jobs. And there was the day you informed me that your friend’s dad could drive you only one way to the mall because, though he is unemployed like us, at least he does stuff; he doesn’t just “sit around all day and take naps and watch TV” like Dad and me.
Really? Who do you think cleans the house, makes dinner, mows the lawn, does the laundry and takes care of your pets? Leprechauns? If that were true, I really wish they’d leave bags of money every time they came over to wash the blue hoodie you have to have by tomorrow. And all those times you cried that your luckier friends got to go on all those cool vacations and we suck because we never go anywhere or do anything? Did you know that I locked myself in the bathroom and cried, too, because I was ashamed and depressed that I can’t give you those things?
Fortunately, I was your age once, and I wasn’t always very nice to my parents either.
It’s hard trying to keep up with the Joneses when you don’t have enough money even to pay attention. I hope you never have to learn the bitter irony of life that the day you lose your job, your neighbors will buy a new car or put an addition on their house. That you will look at your own house, at all the repairs that need to be done to it, and know that you have all the time in the world to fix things but none of the money.
That day after endless day with nothing to do and nowhere to go can drive you utterly insane, so you do volunteer work to keep yourself from going crazy, though it’s hard to forget that you are working for free. That when you volunteer at your kids’ school because it makes you happy to see them in the halls, your heart breaks because they pretend not to see you.
But this is not for you to know right now.
The only worry in your young life right now should be that your crush might ask your best friend to the prom, and that will suck. Or your archenemy might show up wearing the same dress as you, only it will look better on her because her much cooler mother allowed her to go to the tanning salon and get acrylic nails and hair extensions. That will suck too.
But you will get over it. You will survive.
A year from now, you will have forgotten it completely.
What you also need to know is this: Every single thing your father and I do is for you and your brother and sister. Every rare cent we earn, every accomplishment — no matter how small — is for the sole purpose that you will one day leave this house as a young woman who is better and stronger for having lived through this.
Friends will come and go, jobs will come and go, boys will break your heart, people will disappoint you in ways you never thought possible. Unemployment sucks, the life that comes with unemployment sucks; I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
You need to know you are the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Most days, I don’t want to. Sometimes it’s damn near impossible to uncurl myself from the fetal position. But I do, because you will be home from school soon and I have to make something for dinner that you probably won’t eat.
Thank God for that.
You don’t completely understand that, I suppose, and you don’t need to right now. I hope you never do. But you need to know that I love you more than life itself. I need you to respect that. I need your respect, period.
I need you to know that someday it will be better.
Maybe not today, but someday.
Laura Doyle and her family live in Oak Forest.