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How I Simplified My Life

© 1999, by Colleen O'Toole

At 35, I have two kids, one born on Mother's Day 1990, the second born on Halloween 1997. At 26, I was promoted to Manager of Marketing Communications for Computer Associates Int'l (recently voted one of the best companies for working mothers). Within a month of my promotion, I was pregnant (surprise!)

I commuted over 90 miles a day while my first was an infant, lugging with me a 16 lb. medela double breast pump. (I nursed him until he was 3.5 years old). To make a long story short, about five years ago, I looked for a job closer to home in order to simplify my life and to leave the "rat race." I found a job in a similar field, but it turned out to be more work for less money, though it was indeed closer to home. Then my father became ill with a horrible disease, very similar to Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). He lived in Maryland, where I grew up, and I still live in the suburbs of New York (Long Island). I commuted over 300 miles many, many times as his disease progressed, often with my then-toddler son (who will be 9 in May).

In 1996, I was laid off from my job, a stressful event for me and my family. About the same time, my father was in what seemed to be the last stages of his illness (fall 1996). I was in deep despair. I felt I was falling, with nothing to support me. I knew ahead of time I was being laid off, due to budget cuts but chose not to take a higher paying job back in the software industry that would have put me right back in the rat race; instead, I wanted the freedom to visit my father as often as possible. I felt I was making the right choice at the time, but it was not necessarily the best choice financially or career-wise.

My father died in May, 1997; five months later, I delivered my second child, Julia, on Halloween. It hasn't been easy without my own father; I also have taken a long time to overcome the feelings of social isolation of losing my job, income and social status. I believe women need to be self-sufficient, but at this time in my life, I am choosing to be dependent (financially speaking) on my husband.

I have a new view of life due to the loss of my father and of my job so close together. My father's illness (he was completely bedridden and helpless at the end) have made me appreciate things that normally annoy us: waiting in line for example. He would have done anything in order to walk again, or talk again, feed himself, or even read (he lost vision and concentration). Yet, he did not lose his personality or his mental faculties, so through him, I saw that life was worth living and even in the worst of circumstances, one can find some joy.

So that you don't think I'm a complete pollyanna -- ha ha, I have had a very difficult transition to being a "stay at home mother" -- in fact, I loathe this term. I have tried to make a go of it at a business (financial services), but the situation did not work out. Right now, I am trying to figure out what to do next, if in fact, I need to be "doing" anything at all, other than taking care of my family's day-to-day needs.

One thing I don't miss about the conventional working world is trying to juggle my children's schedules with a corporate work week and worrying about sick child days, or snow days.

By way of background, I have a B.A. in English (with honors) from University of Maryland (College Park, MD); an M.S. in Rhetoric & Communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), and was working toward a Ph.D. when I moved to L.I., and took a job with Computer Associates.

I've been married 13 years this May to a man I met hen I was just 18. He was a naval officer who now works in New York and is working part-time toward his PhD in Mathematics Education at Columbia University, Teachers College.

My husband, Nick, is also trying to make a major change to a simpler lifestyle. He recently retired from the Naval Reserves after receiving a promotion to Commander; he left the reserves to spend more time with his family. This is the same reason he left the regular Navy in 1987, too. (The Naval Reserves required him to spend one weekend each month on duty, along with two or three weeks a year away from home -- he had been to Korea, Australia, etc. in order to fulfill his obligation -- this in addition to graduate school and a grinding 4-hour daily commute to NYC).

Like many families, we are constantly trying to simplify things. We have kept our boat, but drive two older cars, take simple vacations, and make sure to stay in touch with our large families (we're both from families of five kids).

Colleen O'Toole is a Marketing Communications Professional and an aspiring EP, and can be reached by Email: [email protected], or by Phone: 516-246-5555.

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