56: The Glass Slipper

56: The Glass Slipper

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

The Glass Slipper

Simplicity makes me happy.

~Alicia Keys

We’re middle-class America, working hard for our dreams, working hard to help our children dream.

My husband, Tom, used to be a banker. I was a teacher. We started a family in the 1980s and bought a home, based on only one income. I quit work to raise our children, Adam and Lauren.

We saved and invested. We chose not to buy a bigger home. No cars for the kids when they were in high school. We bought college bonds instead, and socked away more money to pay for college. We were responsible parents. We planned for the future.

I was living the fairy tale: a house, two kids. No dog—Tom doesn’t like them. But the shoe fit. The glass slippers fit.

Then the word “deregulation” entered our lives.

The bank Tom worked for merged with another, becoming bigger.

“But if there are fewer banks, how is that helping competition?” I asked him.

“Some say it will, some say it won’t,” he said. “Time will tell.” The word “recession” entered our children’s vocabulary as Tom’s bank merged again, becoming even larger. It merged again a few years later. Then again. Now it’s a giant.

Each merger Tom was awarded with a pay cut.

Each merger reduced our health care benefits.

Each merger had a Reduction In Force.

In 2003, we inserted the term RIF on my husband’s resumé. We both sent out our resumés. My job as an adjunct English instructor brought in abysmal pay without any health care benefits. But when you’re fifty, it’s not so easy changing jobs.

In the midst of sending out resumés, my husband urged me to start writing.

“You love to tell a story,” he said. “Write your novel. This is the time to do it.”

I started writing chapters as I hunted for jobs on the Internet. Guilt filled me. I sent out more resumés.

Support came through the help of friends. Tom was offered a job as a vendor setting up displays at home improvement stores. Less than half of the pay he used to receive, but it was an income with health care benefits.

We rejoiced.

Three years later, the company went under.

Thanks to another friend, Tom secured a job as a contractor with AT&T. We had to pay for our own health care, but it was a job.

In September the following year, the contractors were let go.

All of our careful financial planning helped us stand up in this climate of downsizing, but taking our family on a vacation to Mexico or Hawaii was no longer an option. All we could afford was a weekend in Michigan, which we did do as a family. We now viewed steak as a luxury, but realize chicken is better for us anyway.

Our kids are in their twenties now, so a thinner Christmas would be no big deal to them.

The fairy tale had changed.

But had it really?

It was only in my mind that our Christmas tree should be surrounded with presents. What I was used to. What I saw as a kid. What I thought I had to keep creating for my own kids.

I shook my head and breathed deep, staring at my feet inside the glass slippers. I was still trying to fill the slippers up.

Then the light changed, helping me to see my feet more clearly. Who decided to make Cinderella’s dream shoes out of glass anyway? They must never have seen skin pressed against glass. It’s not very pretty.

That’s when I decided to take my glass slippers off.

As the fresh air reached between my toes, my mind cleared. I remembered the feel of the sand under my feet from our recent trip to Michigan. My college-age children laughing as I hopped and leaped over the stinging-hot sand. We all laughed at each other as we realized we were the whitest on the beach. We glowed on the outside and within. My children never complained about sharing cars with their parents in high school, nor did they complain now about sharing the hotel room in Michigan.

I thought I needed to provide palm trees, an ocean, and perhaps a dolphin.

I should have known that our laughter was enough.

Back home, friends asked how we got our kids to go on a vacation with us.

“We’ve always done things together,” I told them. “When Lauren was sixteen, the two of us shared the family’s first cell phone.”

Lauren and I laugh and can’t believe we did that, but we were both happy to help each other. I now see that we had invested in family bonds back then, not just college bonds.

Our present is filled with simple needs.

On weekends, my husband and I have a bonfire in the backyard, holding hands, soaking up the heat. Who needs the sun in Mexico? We have heat and smoke in Illinois!

Our daughter comes home for the weekend from college, and shares her exploits around the campfire.

Out of college, my son now lives at home rent-free. We prefer he sock his money away in the bank, planning his own financial future, and easing our minds in the process.

I serve chicken dinners at home surrounded by candles. And my husband falls asleep on my lap as I watch two Jane Austen flicks for our Saturday night date.

As I write, I discover one of the many notes of encouragement my husband has left me, supporting my writing. We have cut back these last few years to help our children, but my husband has never cut back on his support for my dreams. He believes in me, so that makes him my Prince.

I used to wear glass slippers, but I walk on the sand now, barefoot and smiling. I burst out laughing as I realize sand is an ingredient in the recipe to make glass. I’ve downsized, too.

~April Heide-Kracik

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