Monday, December 26, 2011

Bonus track: Early 2008

Our work defines us. I learned this by enduring the stops and starts of my own professional life, and saw it completely confirmed by husband's experience of rebuilding his career, then rebuilding it again. And then, oh, one more time for good measure. He's been a mechanical engineer, he's been a purveyor of kayaks and whitewater expertise and he's been, through it all, a builder of beautiful things.

In truth, my husband is an artist. It's not always easy being married to an artist, but it's always interesting.

From the sawdust comes a whole new existence

    There are small miracles happening in my garage.

    You wouldn’t know it by looking. It’s a mess in there — all sawdust and tools and barely any room for a car. But under the dust and clutter is a creative force that just blows me away.

    Every day, my husband goes out there and builds things. He built sturdy carriage doors for our friends to hang on their old-fashioned garage.

    He built a gorgeous mahogany bedroom bureau with a cleverly concealed refrigerator for some folks renovating a house in Hixson. He built sleek bookshelves and an elegant mantelpiece that transformed a sunroom in Stuart Heights.

    I’ve always known my husband was a gifted woodworker — he spent nearly a decade turning our little house in North Chattanooga into a showcase for his talents — but this is the first time I’ve seen him labor full time on these projects. And as a person who has always worked in a medium that ends up in recycling bins a mere 24 hours after its creation, I am just in awe of the enduring, beautiful things that are taking shape in my garage.

    I know this is not the life my husband envisioned. I work full time; he is self-employed and generally has sawdust in his hair. He picks up our boys from school in the afternoons, makes snacks and helps with homework. I leave home early, get back late and work the occasional weekend.

    It’s not the life we expected, but it has come together nicely.

    When my husband had to leave his full-time engineering job last year because of health problems, I worried he’d have trouble figuring out what to do next. But he almost immediately got one of the phone calls he has received periodically for years: Someone wanted him to build something.

    Before, he never had time. Between work and the kids and our own home-improvement projects, it just wasn’t possible. But he took that first job, and he made something beautiful, and more calls followed.

    Meanwhile, I went back to my job full time after six part-time years. I was glad to get back to work, but I worried my sons would miss me. A few weeks ago, I deviated from our usual schedule and swung by school to pick them up in the afternoon. As I pulled up, my 3-year-old’s face worked into a knot and he wailed as I opened the back door of the car, “I want to ride in Daddy’s truck!”

    So I think the kids are doing all right.

    In his new job, my husband takes on just one project at a time, typically spending weeks on each one to accommodate the pain that forced him from full-time work. He heads for his tools every morning at 7:30 when the boys and I leave for the office and school, and he knocks off in time to go pick up the kids at 3.

    Whenever my husband is getting close to being finished with a piece, he’ll lean into the living room, trying to minimize the introduction of sawdust into the house, and raise his eyebrows at me.

    “Come see,” he says.

    I always do, and it is always amazing.

    There are complications, of course. Our taxes are considerably more complex this year, our income is not what it used to be and I am now intimately acquainted with the psychological burden that comes with being the single steady paycheck in a family of four.

    But we have flexibility — the key to raising children without losing your mind — while each of us is working at something we enjoy. And our sons are growing up seeing that their parents are equal partners who will push through tough times and find ways to support each other.

    As my husband transforms his talent into a livelihood, he’s building more than just doors, bureaus and bookshelves — he’s building his family a whole new way of life. Which is its own kind of small miracle.

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